Wednesday, 2 January 2013

SIKANDARA & FATEHPUR SIKRI- ROMANCE AND TRAGEDY OF THE MUGHAL HERITAGE



Extensive work has been done in the past 50 years on the archaeology of the prominent citadel at Fatehpur Sikri, particularly by Prof. R Nath, Department of History and Indian Culture, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur and Dr. D.V.Sharma, who as Superintending archaeologist spent years to investigate the unexplored site and excavated hidden iconic treasures of the Jainas from Anup Talao as well as re-discovered Ibadat-Khanah located just on the eastern fringe of the Unitary Pillar Hall. However, my intention is neither to re-tell the history nor delve into the archaeology of the citadel but only to make a few observations and convey feelings about the place.

 At 9 AM on a foggy morning when I reached Fatehpur Sikri by boarding the usual bus service available at Idgah bus station, the huge Buland Darwaza was barely visible from the main bazar street, 400 feet below, of the town. A few teashops, eateries, groceries and vegetable shops have opened. Some of them were in the process of lighting a fire to create some warmth on this winter morning of the last week of December 2012. As availability of firewood seemed scarce at this place, people had no options but to use discarded jute bags, rags, paperboards and litter to lit fire from which emanated extremely foul smell making the morning milieu intolerable. However, I thought otherwise and found that a teashop owner was sitting idle as a Poori walah was briskly selling his merchandize. The smell of the fresh street food filled my nostrils and I was driven towards him to ask for a few pieces. I had not taken even tea after starting from my Guest House room in JALMA hospital. Next, I obliged the teashop vendor who was an Aggrawal Bania from the town. A made a few enquiries about the town from him to which he enthusiastically responded and told that in the old sector of the town I could find traditional mansions. Later I discovered that there were few but none of them impressive enough to invite documentation. I just clicked a few shots for record and climbed the hillside to reach the Buland Darwaza, which was as usually occupied by vendors and urchins. The fog has become dense and cold was severe but both these natural factors had not deterred hundreds of visitors to reach the Citadel who might have come from faraway places utilizing several holidays in a stretch. Suddenly, I thought of looking at the Baoli located adjacent to the huge Buland Darwaza. The octagonal shaped Baoli, the stepped well, is in total neglect, as its water had turned murky. The architects had created with ingenuity this device in which the runoff rainwater from the roofs and courtyard of the Dargah used to collect. The Dargah of Khwaja Moin-uddin-Chisti, the spiritual mentor of Emperor Akbar, looked as inviting and graceful as ever. The edifice made from white marble stone and embellished with floral motifs made from semi-precious stones looked engulfed by the whitish fog. However, the colorful costumes of the visiting people could break monotonous whitewall. Wearing of shoes is prohibited inside the Dargah and everyone is asked to put them off at the Darwaza. I preferred wearing socks to save from the hazards of the freezing floor.

 The weather was in no mood of relenting but the ambient light increased to afford better visibility. I had spent two hours inside the sprawling premises of the Dargah during which time I had a close look at the artwork in the Jami Mosque and the Mosoleum of Saint Salim Chishti while admiring the workmanship of the crafts persons engaged by Akbar. The next was the main citadel incorporating the public and private buildings about which a lot of literature exists in books of history; most of which is now accessible through internet. The monuments were as robust as they had been in 1999 when I had seen them first time. However, the romance of the palaces and a personal account of the physical condition of the built heritage can provide addition delight if one goes through the 228 pages thick Handbook of Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Sikandara and Neighborhood monuments by E.B.Havell that can take you 108 years back in history.

 It took more than two hours before I could satisfy myself and exhaust my spirit of clicking the camera. As I closely watched the art work, architecture and utilization and management of space in terms of creating admirable architectural edifices, my appreciation for the acumen of the architects, designers and shilawats (stone cutters, fixers, dressers and carvers) who had worked on site to create magnificence of a unique kind, increased many fold. The time quickly slipped with noticeable effects as it  was 3 O’clock in the afternoon and the Sun had not shown it vigor and warmth, so far. Feeling a little bit exhausted, for the last six hours I was on my legs, I thought of replenishing my strength by visiting the bazaar again to gulp a cup of hot tea. This time the Aggarwal bandhu really prepared good tea. I decided to take a second look at the narrow lane of the bazaar. Activity of life in the tunnel like bazaar street has reached its usual level despite persisting cold weather. Like every other small and neglected town of India, I wondered, how Fatehpur Sikri’s destiny could have been dissimilar. The most pinching thought is that despite architectural grandeur on the long hillock adjacent to the habitation the village of Sikri that was settled centuries earlier than the citadel of Akbar, got severely neglected in due course of time. The resident frequently complain of non-supply of electricity for hours together. Its neglect has now become historical, as all successive governments have paid no heed because the grand citadel is the responsibility of the ASI. However, a few private hotels in addition to moderate presence of UP Tourism has made the stay possible and comfortable for tourists, but the town is very filthy whose alleys and the only bazaar barely affords passage even to a person on foot. No vehicle bigger than the auto-rickshaw can negotiate the crowd and encroachments in the streets of Fatehpur Sikri. The mini-buses, however, manage to reach the bus station located adjacent to the Gate Structure in the bazaar, which a wealthy Mahajan got erected more than five decades ago. The entire village looked filthy.  

Then, I thought of loitering in the rear of the main citadel. It took 20 minutes to walk up to the rear gate from a passage provided along the eastern wall of the high enclosure wall of the Dargah. Several utility buildings such as octagonal reservoir, called Baoli, its water collection system, private residences of the ministers of Akbar, a mosque, quarters for soldiers and guards, sheds for horses, camels, and elephants, Hiran Minar and a Caravan Serai could be seen on the slope of the hill. It appeared that the chief architect who had discussed the layout plans, in person with the Emperor, had set in mind not to disturb the natural elevation of the terrain and instead fully utilized its geographical properties in achieving some noteworthy engineering feats in addition to harnessing the watershed potential of the small hillock and terraced positioning of the buildings. During rainfall the water flowed gently into a 16X6X4 feet size tank, and traveling for about 5 meters, it collected into two dome-covered structures in the middle of which was another cistern –a circular shaped reservoir, whose bottom was two meters above the bottom of the other two primary water-collection structures. The purpose of raising the bottom of the central cistern was to take only filtered water in after the mud had settled. Thereafter, the central tank discharged the water through two parallel running channels into a set of bigger masonry wells build about 20 meters away towards the south from the first point under the massive retaining walls of the main citadel. When the level of the water sufficiently arose, it started flowing through a channel towards the magnificent Baoli, which is actually a Kund. This technique could have been replicated on the classical patterns of Kunds seen even nowadays in Shekhawati region. The cisterns and the destination well was designed to hold sufficient water during rainy season. However, if it rained in torrents, the surplus water could flow into the nearby fields and used for irrigating the fields. It now becomes apparent that the water of this octagonal Kund could have been used by the passing caravans that stayed for while in the Serai in addition to serving the households of a large number of officers and service personnel of the court of Akbar and those living in the vicinity the citadel. 

Fatehpur Sikri sits on rocky ridge, 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) in length and 1 km (0.62 miles) wide, and The Palace city is surrounded by a 6 km (3.7 miles) protective wall on three sides with the fourth being a lake at the time. Its architect Tuhir Das designed the city by using Indian principles of Vastu. The buildings of Fatehpur Sikri show a synthesis of various regional schools of architectural craftsmanship such as in Gujarat and Bengal. Engaging indigenous artisans from various regions for the construction of the buildings was a necessity for Akbar. Influences from Hindu and Jain architecture are seen hand in hand here with embodiments of a few Islamic elements. The building material used in all the buildings at Fatehpur Sikri, palace-city complex, is the locally quarried red sandstone, known as 'Sikri sandstone'. The designer had provided access to the city through nine gates along the five-mile long fort wall, namely, Delhi Gate, the Lal Gate, the Agra Gate, Birbal's Gate, Chandanpal Gate, The Gwalior Gate, the Tehra Gate, the Chor Gate and the Ajmere Gate.
 
The caravan Serai is as usual but the role of the Hiran Minar, an unique monument, was for keeping a watch or making announcements to occasional large gatherings. Currently, the ASI has undertaken conservation work at the Serai and its outer gate structures.