SITE – Basic information
Type of religious site: Dargah
Religious communities attending: Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus
No of communities attending: 3
Languages used for ceremonies and prayers: Urdu, Hindi
Approximate size of the site: 400m2
Year of construction: after 1544AD
Pilgrimage location: YES
Pilgrimage season: All year round, particularly during annual Urs in April-May (according to the lunar calendar)
Names and dates of the main festivals celebrated in situ: Urs, Id, Moharram
Website page of the site: http://www. ajmertaragarhdargah.com/index. html
Name and title of the in-charge of the site (if known): District Magistrate, Ajmer
SITE – Overview of the site
The shrine at Taragarh is the second most important Dargah in Ajmer, and is dedicated to Syed Meeran Husaain. Hussain was the Governor of the fortress of Taragarh and was killed by the Rajput in 1202AD. The tomb of Hussain did not become a sacred site immediately. It attained sanctity only after roughly three centuries when Akbar visited the tomb during one of his visits to the shrine of Moinuddin Chisty in Ajmer. Since then, the shrine started to attract pilgrims, although it is only some twenty years back that the road was greatly improved which facilitated pilgrimage to the top of this high hill.
Another transformation started to take place post the improving of this road to Taragarh. From a Sufi shrine, the Meeran Hussain Dargah has turned into a Shia Dargah. The shrine is now adorned with glistening golden pillars closely replicating the pillars at Karbala. Not only that, a Roza of Imam Hussain is created a few metres away which also replicates the famous monument at Karbala.
This second transformation raises a number of important questions – what is the identity of this Dargah, a sufi place where qawwalis are celebrated, or a Shia monument where music is haram? How does this Dargah relate to the Ajmer Sharif which sees itself as a Sunni-Sufi Dargah? What about the relationship between the Shias on Taragarh hill and those in Ajmer city? Are there also external influences, particularly from Iran, which play a role in this transformation? These are some of the questions among others that we explore currently.
SITE – Economy of the site
Unlike the Ajmer Sharif that is bustling with economic activities, where the properties are unimaginably expensive, Meeran Hussain Dargah presents a very different picture. The shrine is surrounded by a Shia ghetto, narrow and littered streets, and a few shops. Some shops sell food, others rose-flowers to offer at the shrine. Some men stand with a couple of camels and horses, and a camera to give instant photo to the tourists. Since the shrine is far on the hill-top, there are dozens of private jeeps that bring up and down the tourists. The toll-tax to enter the hill (even though it is part of the city’s municipal boundaries, and the only area in Ajmer where it happens!), and the offerings by the pilgrims constitute the principle economic sources at the shrine.
SITE – Conflicts revolving around the site
A noticeable conflict around the site is related to its identity – do the khadims and the managers respect the norms of a sufi interpretation of Islam, or that of Shia Islam.
There are conflicting claims over the legend of some smaller sites or miracles associated with them by both the Taragarh Dargah and the Ajmer Sharif, but in no way it affects the Ajmer Sharif. It is mostly a strategy at the Taragarh Dargah to get a share of pilgrims that visit the Ajmer Sharif downhill.
The sectarian conflict between the Shia and Sunni in Ajmer does not really exist. On the contrary, during Muharram, the Sunnis come from the city downhill to Taragarh to participate in one of the evenings of mourning.
Dargahs do not exist in isolation. They are part of networks which form the notion of ‘pilgrimage circuits’. They assert their specificity in relation to others, and in doing so they engage in forms of competition. This nature of competition itself qualifies the notion of “shared sacred spaces” which becomes an extended space rather than a closed space. Taragarh Dargah is one such Dargahs that is related to Ajmer Sharif, but also in competition with this site. It is important to keep in mind this distinction while studying a shared sacred space, and seeing how it is organically, historically, mythically or geographically linked to other sacred sites.
SITE – Bibliography pertaining to the site
Akbar, Sohail. 2018. “Ajmer Sharif’s Photo Booths Capture an Islam that is Diverse and Local.” Econmic and Political Weekly, 53(5), pp. 3320-3331.
Metcalf, Barbara D. 2009. Islam in South Asia in Practice.Princeton University Press.
Sarda, Har B. 1941. Ajmer: Historical and Descriptive.Fine Art Printing Press.
Tirmizi, SAI. 1968. Ajmer through Inscriptions [1532-1852 AD.Indian Institute of Islamic Studies.
For Photos of the Taragarh site: see here
And for a comparison, see photos of the Feroz Shah Kotla
Fieldwork conducted by Prof. Christophe Jaffrelot and Jusmeet Singh Sihra