In 60 hours a set of splendid temples at Ajmer were converted into a masjid Friday, Jul 24 2009 

8. Instant Vandalism

A furlong beyond the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti is the triple temple complex built by an ancestor of Prithviraj Chauhan. The complex also contained the Sanskrit pathshala or school founded by the same Chauhan Vigraharaja III around 1158 AD. He was an avid litterateur who wrote plays. One of these called Harakeli Natak was carved on plates of black stones which are even today displayed in the Rajputana Museum in the Akbar Fort in Ajmer. Also, on exhibition are rows of pretty carvings numbering about a hundred, brought from the complex. Another drama written by a court poet Somadev was similarly found. The sand stone statuettes have survived nearly 900 years except that the faces of all the figures were hacked out systematically. The temple complex also has a long store room which houses more of the many pretty relics. The lesser relics litter the compound as if they are there for anyone to take away.
This mosque, called Adhai Din Ka Jhopra, is a ready object of shuddhi or purification to again becoming a temple. Certainly that is what Cunninghum implied. In the ASI report written by him in 1864-65, he found it difficult to follow some parts of the plan of the Quwwatul Islam mosque at Delhi, but nearly every part of the plan of the Ajmer mosque is still traceable, so that the original design of the architect can be restored without much difficulty..

Externally it is a square of 259 feet each side, with four peculiar star-shaped towers at the corners. There are only two entrances, one to the east and the other to the south, the north side being built against the scarped rock of the hill. The interior consists of a quadrangle 200 feet by 175 feet, surrounded on all four sides by cloisters of Hindu pillars. The mosque itself, which forms the western side of the quadrangle, is 259 feet long by 57/1/2 feet broad, including the great screen wall, which is no less than 11 1/2 feat thick and 56 feet high.

The complex is, for the last 800 years, popularly known as “Adhai Din Ka Jhopra” (the shed of two and a half days). So called, because the triple or three temples were converted into a masjid over only two and a half days. After the second battle  of Tarain in 1192 AD, in which Shahabuddin Muhammad Ghauri defeated and killed Prithviraj Chanhan, the victor passed through Ajmer. He was so awed by the temples that he wanted them destroyed and replaced instantly. He asked Qutbuddin  Aibak, his slave general, to have the needful done in 60 hours’ time so that he could offer prayers in the new masjid on his way back.

The Jhopra is among the first in a series of temple desecrations perpetrated by foreign rulers of India. The earlier atrocities were by Mahmud Ghazni, who raided but did not stay back to rule. The triple temples were so attractive that the desecrator chose to retain all, or most of the pillars. There are 70 of them under three roofs, which meet and appear to be one integrated whole. And there are other pillars beyond the covered edifice, which looks like a pavilion in splendid stone.
The pillars are some 30 feet high gorgeously carved either with exquisite designs up to a height of about 26 feet, thereafter adorned with delicate figurines. Uncannily, there is not a single figure whose face has not been cut off. Nowhere on Europe does one see such acts of vandalism, except what the original barbarian vandals themselves perpetrated under their king Gaiseric, in the wake of the conquest of Rome in 455 AD. Hereafter, the word vandal became synonym with wilful desecration and destruction. The figurines on all the relics on display at the Rajputana Museum as well as those salvaged by the Archaeological Survey of Indi (ASI) duly locked in the compound of the Jhopra have been systematically defaced.Amongst the thousands of stone heads, not a single nose or an eye is visible.

Mind you, the ASI has done nothing to excavate or salvage anything in the comlplex since independence. With the passing of the Protection of National Monulmeets Act, 1951 (see Annexure II), all archaeological activities have been frozen.The credit for the excavations goes to Cunningham and Dr. D R Bhandarkar; duing the first half of the 20th century by the latter. Details, are available in the Rajasthan District Gazetteer, Ajmer, 1966.
Muhammad Ghauri presumably Offered prayers within the stipulated two and a half days Subsequently in about 1200 AD the Adhai Din Ka Jhopra was completed with a well-carved facade which is best described in the words of the ASI Report for 1893 : 

The whole of the exterior is covered up with a network of tracery so finely and delicately wrought that it can only be compared to a fine lace. Cunningham described the exterior of the Jhopra even more eloquently: For gorgeous prodigality of ornament, beautiful richness of tracery, delicate sharpness off finish, laborious accuracy of workmanship, endless variety of detail, all of which are due to the Hindu masons, this building may justly vie with the noblest buildings which the world has yet produced.

To come back to Hindu sculpture, Mulkraj Anand has said:  

This relief in Ajmer Museum is carved of intricately related figures, obviously intended for decorative effect. It rises above mere adornment by the delicate application of the chisel to achieve a composition which is compact and balanced. 

But there was no mention of the pathos of defacement and desecration. In fact, there is nothing either compact or balanced about the edifice. The exterior added by Aibak and his successors comprises carvings of the verses from the Holy Quran on a yellow and distinctly softer stone compared to the Hindu edifice behind it. This crudity of effort is overlooked by Mulkraj Anand, presumbaly as a tribute to his idea of secularism.
Such then was the vandalism with which the sultanate in Delhi began. As with the Quwwatul Islam masjid next to the Qutb Minar, which was also built by Sultan Aibak, so with Adhai Din Ka Jhopra at Ajmer. Both are indelible specimens of humiliation perpetrated by the victor upon the vanquished.

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Friday, Jul 24 2009 

Desecration near Qutb Minar

7. Qutbuddin And 27 Mandirs

Reporting on the monuments of  Delhi in 1871 AD, J.D. Beglar of the Archeological Survey of India, had an interesting theory after he explored the Quwwatul Islam mosque which is situated next to the Qutb Minar, ASI Report 1871/72. In his own words:

it remains only to add a suggestion that the unsightly layer of irregular stones that cover up the courtyard be removed; it will then be possible to state definitely whether or not a central grand temple existed. From examples elsewhere, I am sanguine that traces of a central shrine will be found on careful examination.

The legendary world traveller Ibn Batuta was categorical about the mosque being a conversion from a cluster of temples. On the site of the mosque, he wrote, there was a butkhana or a house of idols. After the conquest of Delhi, it was turned into a mosque. Even today one cannot fail to notice the image of Ganesh on the rear plinth of the mosque.
Proximity induces apathy rather like familiarity breeding contempt! Countless people visit Qutb Minar each year. But how many of them remember having seem the mosque next door, Quwwatul Islam? The story of this mosque is told on the tablet displayed on the spot by the Archaeological Survey of India. It is a story of how 27 temples were desecrated and how their rubble was used to build a mosque in their place. It was to announce to the regional populace that the Raja was gone and the Sultan had taken over.
In those days, there were no means of communication other than the beating of drums which could not reach very far beyond a village. On the other hand. a popular temple was a place of pilgrimage, several times a year. The devotees would suddenly discover that the sanctum of their beloved avataar had been broken into pieces and rebuilt with something that, in their eyes, was devastatingly offensive. Most often the old stones and statues that earlier adorned the temple walls could be recognised. For, they had been used in building the mosque. This viewpoint has limited validity.
The desecration had its vicarious side. For, there is no record or mention any-where that the idol of the presiding deity of the mandir was removed and handed over to the priest for taking away to another temple. In fact, in many cases, there were gleeful references to how the idol was destroyed and its broken pieces were buried under the entrance of the mosque. So that they would be routinely stepped on by those who came visiting for their ibadat.
The desecration at Mehrauli was probably the first perpetrated by Muhammad Ghauri. It is situated next to the famous Qutb Minar. The masjid was named after its builder, Qutbuddin Aibak, as Quwwatul Islam, which, translated into English, means the Might of Islam. The name itself is arrogant; for a place Worship it is even more so.
The mosque was located at the citadel which came to be known as Qila Rai Pithora. The conversion began soon after the second Battle of Tarain, in 1192 AD, wherein Muhammad Ghauri defeated and killed Prithviraj Chauhan. It might be recalled that in the first battle of Tarain, it was Prithviraj who had defeated Ghauri and did not kill him, but let him go. Kshama veerasya bhushanam or forgiveness beholds a hero is what the then ruler of  Delhi must have had in mind.
Let us quote the version given in the Oxford History of Islam: 

The immense Congregational mosque in Delhi known as Quwwat al-Islam (Might of Islam) was one of the first built in India. Begun in 1191, the mosque stands on the site of a pre-lslamic temple whose ruins were incorporated in the structure. The tall iron pillar in the courtyard, originally dedicated to the Indian god Vishnu around 400, was re-erected as a trophy to symbolize Islam’s triumph over Hinduism.

Many centuries earlier, Alexander of Macedon had defeated King Porus in 326 BC on the banks of the Jhelum and promptly made him his ally. Ghauri, evidently, had a killer instinct, so lauded in the West, as necessary for victory. Anyway, to kill or not to kill is the privilege of the victor. But monumental humiliation cannot be the doing of any one except a coward.

The Quwwatul mosoue was converted from 27 Hindu and Jain temples that were destroyed. It is a monument to a people’s humiliation. If it were not so, all the statuettes that still adorn the pillars in the mosque need not have been so blatantly displayed. Even after 800 years, they are, as it were, alive for the conquered to see. And not only for the conquered but for all their successors who would ever visit this mosque.Surely, it is un-Islamic to have anything to do with images. Portraits and statues are haraam and yet Quwwatul Islam has displayed them. If Aibak had been even slightly considerate, not just towards the conquered, but even towards his own religion, he would have covered the figurines with lime and sand.

However, when one reads what Sir Syed Ahmed Khan of Aligarh fame proudly wrote about the destruction of 27 temples, one’s impression of Islam gets shaken. What he wrote is best read in his original words, (from his Urdu book, Asar-us-Sanadid, translated by Prof. Khaleeq Anjum, Delhi in 1990, Volume I):

Quwwatal-Islam Masjid’d Din Sam alias Shihabu ‘d-Din Ghauri, conquered Delhi in AH 587 corresponding to AD 1191 corresponding to 1248 Bikarmi, this idol-house (of Rai Pithora) was converted into a mosque.The idol was taken out of the temple. Some of the images sculptured on walls or doors or pillars were effaced completely, some were defaced. But the structure of the idol-house kep standing as before.

Material from twenty-seven temples, which were worth five crore and forty lakh of Dilwals, were used in the mosque, and an inscription giving the date of conquer and his own name was installed on the eastem gate. .

When Malwah and Ujjain were conquered by Sultan Shamsu ‘d-Din in AH 631 corresponding to AD 1233, then the idol-house of Mahakal was demolished and its idols as well as the statues of Raja Bikramajit were brought to Delhi, they were strewn in front of the door of the mosque.


The relish with which the founder of Aligarh Muslim University appears to have written this, is indeed surprising. At that time, the capital of India was still in Calcutta. Had it been transferred to Delhi, his pleasure might perhaps have been greater. For, the Raisina Hill from where India is governed, is only a few miles from Mehrauli where this monument to Hindu humiliation still stands.

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