Arhai-din-ka Jhompra literally means 'Two-and-a-half-days Shelter'. The name could possibly refer to the two-and-a-half day festival held at Ajmer since pre-Islamic times, or the time it took to demolish the Hindu temple on which the mosque was constructed. The discovery of six inscribed stone tablets containing Sanskrit plays in honor of Chahamana King Vigraharaja confirms the existence of a Vaisnava temple that was demolished upon the arrival of Muslims in the area.
The construction of the mosque is attributed to Qutb al-Din Aibak (1206-1210) The original mosque is thought to have been of modest proportions. The current form of the mosque is the result of the additions made between 1220 and 1229 by Shams al-Din Iltutmish (1211-1236). The mosque is made of yellow sandstone and many of the building materials are the spoils of razed Hindu and Jain temples.
Situated in the middle of a valley, the mosque sits on a raised platform of 840 square feet (256 square meters) and is framed on all sides by hills. A wide stairway leads up to a pointed entrance archway from the east. A secondary entrance consisting of a small pavilion is to the south. The mosque is a square courtyard surrounded by arcades and corner towers. The entrance archway has a heavy horizontal architrave and is flanked by two protruding balconies, which is in keeping with the Rajput and Gujarati style buildings.
The monumental façade that conceals the prayer hall on the western side was added on by Iltutmish and was similar to that of the Quwwat al-Islam. The façade consists of seven arches. All seven are corbelled arches, six of them lobate while the central is larger with bold lines and surmounted by two stellate minarets what have mostly collapsed now. Framing the central arch with ornamental minarets attached to the quoins spread from here and was successfully utilized in many later Mughal buildings The arches are also important in the development of the multifoil arches in Indo-Islamic architecture.
The prayer hall consists of five aisles parallel to the west (qibla) wall and is roofed by a variety of lantern and corbel ceilings that are direct from the Hindu and Jain temples. Five domes that rise above the mosque are false domes. They are filled-in exteriors of the corbelled ceilings that are based on a 'mandapa' (columned temple hall) plan 'Amalaka' (flat, ribbed, melon-shaped ornament) has been used to cap the cupolas.
The ceiling of both the arcade and prayer hall are supported by three rows of Hindu pillars that are stacked one on top of the other and hence reach a considerable height of 23'-0" (7m). The Hindu pillars with their carved reliefs lend an atmosphere that is more Hindu than Muslim. The niches in the spandrels of the arches evoke the decorative configuration used in Abbasid Iraq and Fatimid Egypt.
The carvings executed during the expansion under Iltutmish contrast sharply with that of the Hindu spoil materials. Instead of matching the exuberant and figural ornamentation of the Hindu carvings, the carvings were now flat, geometric bands of small repeat motifs that alternated with beautifully cut Naqshi and Kufic inscription. The Quranic inscriptions are highlight through the dramatic contrast created craving the inscriptions in high relief.
Arhai-din-ka Jhompra mosque is a refinement of many of the decorative and building techniques used in Quwwat al-Islam, with better proportions and combinations. It set the precedence for many innovative roofing techniques and played an important part in the development of the arch and decorative inscriptions. The mosque is also an excellent record of the Hindu builders response to the introduction of the arch. This is best demonstrated in the entrance archway where the Hindu builder added a heavy lintel across the arch to give extra support since he was not completely prepared to rely on the strength of the arch to support the heavy load above.
Alfieri, Bianca Maria. Islamic Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2000. 23.
Nath, Ram. History of Sultanate Architecture. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1978. 15-18.
Hoag, John D. Islamic Architecture. Milan: Electa Editrice, 1975. 146-147.