Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Fatehpur Sikri

Took R to Agra this weekend. Enroute we stopped at Fatehpur Sikri(My second visit).

Royal Quarters
On my first visit to Fatehpur Sikri, I had learnt all about the Diwane-e-aam and Diwan-e-khas where Akbar met his courtiers and general public respectively; the dais in the middle of a small pool from where Tansen sang, I imagine, to a rapt Akbar; the X-marked blocks where people stood and moved when Akbar played “pacheesi” from a balcony above.

The three palaces of his three wives - – the muslim wife Roqaiya, the christian Mariam (her rooms where in the form of a cross) and the largest of them all – Jodha Bai’s mother of his only child Jehangir. Infact the last was a complex in itself – with a temple, summer and winter palace, courtyard etc. The palaces of the other two were really large rooms in comparison. Felt a bit sad for the childless (and perhaps) sidelined 1st two wives. Then there was the pillared and wall less “panch mahal”, where the wives did their own thing on each floor. Visions of the three wives ‘doing their own thing’ and studiously ignoring the other, popped up and had me giggling. Perhaps they were all rather friendly.

The mighty Jalaluddin Akbar, with his visions of religious harmony and who after Ashoka was the only other Emperor to rule over a such a vast empire, the guide told us, was a very short, rotund and fellow. Despite his undenieable greateness, the thought of him sprinting in between the three palaces has me in splits! Or were the wives summoned?

The guide informed us that the now bare walls were once bejewelled and gilted, gouged out by some one or other in India’s chequered past. It was difficult to imagine the dusty bare floors were once covered with persian carpets and cushions on which lolled (even more difficult to imagine, given the stifling heat) resplendent royals in heavy brocades and silks, heavily jewelled. How was it back then? Courtiers and guards, villagers and royalty, servants and mastersand amid all that, the mighty Akbar.

As our guide rattled out the history and geography of it, it all seemed so idyllic. School rooms for children, a maternity block, a khwab mahal or dream palace, a meena bazar where the royals shopped. The architecture was a pleasing melange of persian, muslim, christian and hindu motifs. Domes and lotuses, jain carvings and crosses all co-existing in splendid harmony for over 400 years.

Here and there, one could see some vibrant shade of blue of some wall painting that somehow survived. The other survivors were the aqua marine blue tiles on top of Jodha Bai’s summer palace. It looked strangely out of place. Everything else was red sandstone and bare walls. And then suddenly some blue.

And yet, today, the place was so desolate, so forlorn, so abandoned.

The guide was very informed but he was very keen to show us around and then move on to the next group and so we were really rushed and in a short while, found ourselves at the exit. The only thing I took back from the place was the terrible terrible emptiness and silence. Not even the hordes of tourists and eager guides could fill that.

The Prayer area (for the lack of a better word)
The other side was the prayer area. The entrance was through the smaller gate (quite big actually) – the one used by the royalty to get inside the enclosed courtyard which housed the mosque and the dargah of Salim Chisti. The mighty Buland Darwaza – the highest gate way in Asia which was used by the public during his time. Not so any more. Everyone uses the smaller entrance.

Childless Akbar had been to Ajmer and the guide told us that he had even been to Vaishno Devi (don’t know the authenticity of that one) but in vain. And then he dreamt of a sage, a ‘baba’ who lived atop a hill in Sikri village. He came and met him and was blessed by him and soon, Jehangir was born. Salim chisti’s descendents – the 16th generation, still live inside.

We went out to the other side to take a look at the Buland Darwaza. The granite was really hot and we had blisters but I had to take a look at it and that meant braving outside to get a full view of the highest gateway in Asia. The throngs of tourists and hawkers and the heat and dust and the centuries of grime some how made it less grander…a pity since it was and still is the a magnificent piece of architecture.

The huge doors were studded with horse shoes of people who prayed for the recovery of their sick horses and the outsize ones stuck by Lord Curzon. On both my visits, the guides pointed them out underlining the fact that no horse has hooves that size!

Pathetic little urchins, dressed in rags, ran among the chattering tourists, trying to sell their wares. One even ran after me, insisting in English, “I’ll wiat for you”. As I walked in between the tombs of the chisti family, another kid, a little girl in a torn frock, bare feet on the hot granite block, shaved head dotted with scabs tried to sell me something else. What a sad decline in the mighty grandeur of Akbar’s empire.

Like the last time, the guide stopped at a seller of chadars and flowers…there were others dotting the courtyard each guide had obviously a pact with each one.

I was a bit irritated at his insistence of buying the most expensive chadar to drape over the mazar of Chisti. House of god is free to all, after all. Isn’t that how its supposed to be?

‘Chadar nei dena to rumal hi de do sister’. (Buy an handkerchief if you don’t want buy a shawl). Aur dhaga bandho (and tie the threads) – baba never fails. And when your wish is fulfilled, come and open it or feed two needy people or fakirs. ‘But my wish hasn’t been fulfilled’, I asked him.

Never mind, baba bula hi lega (Baba will call you back).

Perhaps he did. R had mentioned going to Mathura and the Taj instead of Fatehpur Sikri and the Taj. It was me who decided in favour of FPS!

Perhaps, Baba ne bulaa hi liya. (Baba really did call me back).

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