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City Study

It is a universal condition of public space in historic urban areas that different moments of history will have shaped them and left traces, and that different groups of people will use them in different ways and invest them with different histories and meanings. This situation can be particularly intense in India, not least in cities where rulers and citizens of varied origins and religion have left successive legacies, and which remain centres of sacred significance to different communities.

Ajmer is a prime example of such a city. Its history has seen periods of turbulence, but has also exemplified harmonious coexistence and symbiosis. Early medieval capital of the Rajput Chauhans, remnants of its many Hindu and Jain temples from that era are visible in museums and reconfigured in the great Adhai-din-ka-Jhonpra Mosque (c. 1200) of Qutb-ud-Din Aybak, Sultan of Delhi. Following a succession of Hindu and Muslim rulers, Mughal emperor Akbar (1542-1605), whose palace (Akbari Qila) remains at the heart of the walled city, gave significance to Ajmer through his devotion to the Sufi saint Khwaja Muin-ud-Din Chisti (1143-1235). The saint’s Dargah or tomb, within a 17th-century mosque built by Shah Jehan, is a hugely important pilgrimage destination for Muslims, with the festival of Urs attracting many thousands. Members of other faiths also revere the saint. Merchants from Marwar and Jaipur have left fine havelis (courtyard houses) in the city from the eras of the Marathas and the British (Jain 2004), and temples that they patronised. Numerous temples in the city are visited by scores of devotees on a daily basis, such as the Soniji-ki-Nasiyan, a 19th-century Jain temple near Akbari Qila. Eleven km west of the city is the lake of Pushkar, sacred to Hindus, centred on the famous Brahma temple, and visited by thousands of pilgrims year round.

Work is in progress to make a digital interactive map of the historic areas of Ajmer and Pushkar. The purpose here is to build up an overview of the city as a whole, including human movement across larger distances. Initial work will bring out the aspects of urban grain, public space, routes, and religious/heritage nodes.