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Front of a merchant's house, Ajmere.

Front of a merchant's house, Ajmere.

Photographer: Unknown

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1880

Shelfmark: Photo 50/2(36)

Item number: 50236

Genre: Photograph

Photograph showing the facade of a house in Ajmer in Rajasthan, taken by an unknown photographer in the 1880s, part of the Bellew Collection of Architectural Views. Ajmer was a major centre of Jainism in the 8th century, but developed under the Rajput Chauhans (Chahamanas) from the 10th century, especially Prithviraja Chauhan (ruled 1178-92) who constructed numerous buildings. In the late 12th century, after being sacked by Mohammed of Ghur, the city was taken by Qutub-ud-din Aibak and became part of the Delhi Sultanate. Hereafter it became best known as the home of the great Sufi saint Muin-ud-din Chishti (1142-1256), who founded the foremost of India's Sufi orders, the Chistiya order, and is buried in Ajmer. After a period of Rajput rule begun in the late 14th century, Ajmer was finally annexed by the Mughals who made it an administrative centre. With the decline of the Mughals, the city reverted to the Rajputs. The British annexed Ajmer in 1818.

This photograph shows the style of vernacular urban Indian architecture known as the haveli, which was the main domestic house-type until the 20th century in the cities and towns of north India. Although there are regional differences, broadly speaking a haveli was the large dwelling of a well-off family. Planned around courtyards and entered through grand doorways with narrow passages leading to the interiors, the havelis would have ornate windows and balconies opening on to the street, especially on the upper floors. The finely fretted windows would enable the women of the house to peer out unseen.

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