Roving East and Roving West - Agra And Fatehpur-Sikri - 1921

07.03.09 | Xurshid


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<b>Roving East and Roving West - Agra And Fatehpur-Sikri - 1921</b>
Fragment from book 'Roving East and Roving West'
Author: E.V.Lucas
Publisher: New York - George H.Doran Company - 1921
Language: English

AGRA AND FATEHPUR-SIKRI
E.V.Lucas


ALL the Indian cities that I saw seemed to cover an immense acreage, partly because every modern house has its garden and compound. In a country where land is cheap and servants are legion there need be no congestion, and, so far, the Anglo-Indian knows little or nothing of the embarrassments of dwellers in New York or London. To every one in India falls naturally a little faithful company of assistants to oil the wheels of life—groom, gardener, butler and so forth—and a spacious dwelling-place to think of England in, and calculate the variable value of the rupee, and wonder why the dickens So-and-so got his knighthood. Agra seemed to me to be the most widespreading city of all; but very likely it is not. In itself it is far from being the most interesting, but it has one building of great beauty —the Pearl Mosque in the Fort—and one building of such consummate beauty as to make it a place of pilgrimage that no traveller would dare to avoid—the Taj Mahal. Whether or not the Taj Mahal is the most enchanting work of architecture in the world I leave it to more extensive travellers to say. To my eyes it has an unearthly loveliness which I make no effort to pass on to others.

The Taj Mahal was built by that inspired friend of architecture, Shah Jahan, as the tomb of the best beloved of his wives, Arjmand Banu, called Mumtaz-i-Mahal or Pride of the Palace. There she lies, and there lies her husband. I wonder how many of the travellers who stand entranced before this mausoleum, in sunshine and at dusk or under the moon, and who have not troubled about its history, realise that Giotto's Tower in Florence is three centuries older, and St. Peter's in Rome antedates it by a little, and St. Paul's Cathedral in London is only twenty or thirty years younger. Yet so it is. In India one falls naturally into the way of thinking of everything that is not of our own time as being of immense age, if not prehistoric.

Opinions differ as to the respective beauties of Agra Fort and Delhi Fort, but in so far as the enclosures themselves are considered I give my vote unhesitatingly to Delhi. Yet when one thinks also of what can be seen from the ramparts, then the palm goes instantly to Agra, for its view of the Taj Mahal. It is tragic, walking here, to think of the last days of Shah Jahan, who brought into being both the marble palace and the wonderful Moti-Masjid or marble mosque. For in 1658 his son, Aurungzebe, deposed him and for the rest of his life he was imprisoned in these walls.

His grandfather, Akbar, the other great Agra builder, was made of sterner stuff. All Shah Jahan's creations—the Taj, the marble mosque, the palaces both here and at Delhi, even the great Jama Masjid at Delhi,—have a certain sensuous quality. They are not exactly decadent, but they suggest sweetness rather than strength. The Empire had been won, and Shah Jahan could indulge in luxury and ease. But Akbar had had to fight, and he remained to the end a man of action, and we see his character reflected in his stronghold Fatehpur-Sikri, which one visits from Agra and never forgets. If I were asked to say which place in India most fascinated me and touched the imagination I think I should name this dead city.

Akbar, the son of Babar, is my hero among the Moguls, and this was Akbar's chosen home, until scarcity of water forced him to abandon it for Agra. Akbar, the noblest of the great line of Moguls whose splendour ended in 1707 with the death of Aurungzebe, came to the throne in 1556, only eight years before Shakespeare was born, and died in 1605, and it is interesting to realise how recent were his times, the whole suggestion of Fatehpur-Sikri being one of very remote antiquity. Yet when it was being built so modern a masterpiece as Hamlet was being written and played. Those interested in the Great Moguls ought really to visit Fatehpur-Sikri before Delhi or Agra, because Akbar was the grandfather of Shah Jahan. But there can be no such chronological wanderings in India. Have we not already seen Humayun's Tomb, outside Delhi?—and Humayun was Akbar's father.

They say the leopard and the jackal keep
The courts where Akbar gloried . . .

—this adaptation of FitzGerald's lines ran through my mind as we passed from room to room and tower to tower of Fatehpur-Sikri. There is nothing to compare with it, except perhaps Pompeii. And in that comparison one realises how impossible it is at a hazard to date an Indian ruin, for, as I have said, Fatehpur-Sikri is from the days of Elizabeth, while Pompeii was destroyed in the first century, and yet Pompeii in many ways seems less ancient.

The walls of Fatehpur-Sikri are seven miles round and the city rises to the summits of two steep hills. It was on the higher one that Akbar set his palace. Civilisation has run a railway through the lower levels; the old high road still climbs the hill under the incredibly lofty walls of the palace. The royal enclosure is divided into all the usual courtyards and apartments, but they are on a grander scale. Also the architecture is more mixed. Here is the swimming bath; here are the cool, dark rooms for the ladies of the harem in the hottest days, with odd corners where Akbar is said to have played hide-and-seek with them; here is the hall where Akbar, who kept an open mind on religion, listened to, and disputed with, dialecticians of varying creeds—himself seated in the middle, and the doctrinaires in four pulpits around him; here is the Mint; here is the house of the Turkish queen, with its elaborate carvings and decorations; here is the girls' school, with a courtyard laid out for human chess, the pieces being slave-girls; here is a noble mosque; here is the vast court where the great father of his people administered justice, or what approximated to it, and received homage. Here are the spreading stables and riding school; here is even the tomb of a favourite elephant.

And here is the marble tomb of the Saint, the Shaikh Salim, whose holiness brought it about that the Emperor became at last the father of a son—none other than Jahangir. The shrine is visited even to this day by childless wives, who tie shreds of their clothing to the lattice-work of a marble window as an earnest of their maternal worthiness. It is visited also by the devout for various purposes, among others by those whose horses are sick and who nail votive horseshoes to the great gate. According to tradition the mother of Jahangir was a Christian named Miriam, and her house and garden may be seen, the house having the traces of a fresco which by those who greatly wish it can be believed to represent the Annunciation. Tradition, however, is probably wrong, and the princess was from Jaipur and a true Mussulwoman.

From every height—and particularly from the Paneh Mahal's roof—one sees immense prospects and realises what a landmark the stronghold of Fatehpur-Sikri must have been to the dwellers in the plains; but no view is the equal of that which bursts on the astonished eyes at the great north gateway, where all Rajputana is at one's feet. I do not pretend to any exhaustive knowledge of the gates of the world, but I cannot believe that there can be others set as this Gate of Victory is in the walls of a palace, at the head of myriad steps, on the very top of a commanding rock and opening on to thousands of square miles of country. Having seen the amazing landscape one descends the steps to the road, and looking up is astonished and exalted by seeing the gate from below. Nothing so grand has ever come into my ken. The Taj Mahal is unforgettingly beautiful; but this glorious gate in the sky has more at once to exercise and stimulate the imagination and reward the vision.

On the gate are the words: "Isa (Jesus), on whom be peace, said: 'The world is a bridge; pass over it, but build no house on it. The world endures but an hour; spend it in devotion.' "

Having seen Fatehpur-Sikri, where Akbar lived and did more than build a house, it is a natural course to return to Agra by way of Sikandra, where he was buried. Sikandra is like the Taj Mahal and Humayun's Tomb in general disposition—the mausoleum itself being in the centre of a garden. But it is informed by a more sombre spirit. The burial-place of the mighty Emperor is in the very heart of the building, gained by a sloping passage lit by an attendant with a torch. Here was Akbar laid, while high above, on the topmost stage of the mausoleum, in the full light, is his cenotoph of marble, with the ninety-nine names of Allah inscribed upon it. Near the cenotaph is a marble pillar on which once was set the Koh-i-noor diamond, chief of Akbar's treasures. To-day it is part of the English regalia.

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