Echoes from the 'Ghost city'
Emperor Akbar's Fathpur Sikri had been abandoned for well over 4 centuries. Had the emperor knew that one day his failed capital would echo of grief in to the ears of its visitors? Shahriar Feroze pens his tale about the 'Ghost city'…
Some 38 kilometres west of Agra lies the 'Ghost city', sitting on a rocky ridge; 3 kilometres in length and a kilometre wide surrounded by a 6 km wall on its three sides with the fourth being a stretch of a barren plot which some 450 years ago boasted of being a lake.
The locale is known as Fatehpur Sikri. Emperor Akbar's much desired capital that had failed to serve its purposes.
As I got out of the CNG-scooter a kilometre prior to the southern entrance inside the city the pitched walkway leading to the city greeted with a hoard of tour-guides, money changers and brokers of sorts against the backdrop of a furious sun.
The early glimpses of the 'parched-abundant' looks of the ruins on the right sensed like scornful looks. Even though, it was somewhere between mid-February but the heat was unanticipated. The 15 minute harrowing walk ascended with a couple of turns to right and left, ended at the foot of the expanded staircase of the Buland Darwaza.
The 54 meters tall ornately designed massive gate - meant to be a 'victory arch' in relation to Emperor Akbar's successful Gujarat campaign.
Some have labelled it as the biggest of gates , some as the most charming while I branded it as a big 'contradiction' between the reason behind its erection based upon the inscription on its archway, if translated in English, it said "Isa Son of Mary said: The world is a bridge, pass over it, but build no houses on it. He who hopes for an hour may hope for eternity. The world endures but an hour. Spend it in prayer, for the rest is unseen".
The inscription - if you seriously believe in it - sarcastically but honestly - foretold the fate of this sandstone Mughal town.
Fatehpur Sikri was built by the Mughal Emperor, Akbar. He had planned this city as his capital but shortage of water had compelled him to abandon the city. Built sometime between 1571 and 1585 the ghost city today has a population of about 50,000. The deserted city has retained many of the old structures due to some well-timed efforts undertaken by the Indian Archaeological department.
Inauspiciously, in less than a decade after having the city built the new capital of the Mughals was to be shifted in Lahore.
Standing in the midst of Sikri's burnt - heated street cloaked in an arid smell the writer tried to figure out the rationality behind the making of a city in the middle of nowhere.
Legend has it that since Akbar was without an heir for a long time, he made a pilgrimage to the renowned Sufi saint, Sheik Salim Chisti, to seek his blessings for a son. When a son -- later to be known as Jahangir -- was born to him, Akbar named him after the saint as a mark of his gratitude and built the new capital to mark his birth.
If we take this reason to be the key behind building the Fatehpur Sikri then surely it was a celebratory motive driven by a mark of gratitude.
And why not, since the Taj is a monument of grief of an emperor's love- affair; Qutb Minar for celebrating Mohammed Ghori's victory over the Rajput king Prthvi Raj Chauhan; Humayun's Tomb - the necropolis of the Mughal dynasty; Delhi's Lodhi gardens for relaxations followed by innumerable concealed and open harems across the empire.
The entire sub-continent is dotted with commemorative and celebratory architectural testaments. Quite often - The majestic monuments came in to being at the cost of much bloodshed too.
Well if you don't believe then browse through the Mughal history and you would see that whims, lust and fancies trailed by greed, languor and excessive ambition to rule had caused the dynasty's rise to its downfall.
But at the same time the extinct Mughals left behind a very distinctive form of architecture. Which is an amalgam of Islamic, Persian, Turkish, Byzantine and Indian architecture, and to be seen nowhere apart from the Indian sub-continent.
Amusingly, Fatehpur Sikri Mosque is said to be a copy of the mosque in Mecca but has its designs, derived from the Persian & Hindu architecture; a culmination of Muslim and Hindu architecture. It's unique since very few or almost no particular architecture across the globe had come out of such a cultural-cum-religious fusion.
But it's the repetition of some common features almost in all major Mughal establishments like an attached mosque, Dewane aam and khass, Naubat Khana(Lower and Upper courts) and similar Minarets that at times may appear tedious to the visitor. The failed city is also not an exception for that matter.
(To be continued)
The writer is Assistant Editor of The Daily Observer, and can be reached at [email protected]