Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
Fathpur-Sīkrī—The Emperor Akbar's Pilgrimage—Birth of Jahāngīr
On the 6th January we left Agra, which soon after became the residence of the Governor of the North-Western Provinces, Sir Charles Metcalfe. It was, when I was there, the residence of a civil commissioner, a judge, a magistrate, a collector of land revenue, a collector of customs, and all their assistants and establishments. A brigadier commands the station, which contained a park of artillery, one regiment of European and four regiments of native infantry.
Near the artillery practice-ground, we passed the tomb of Jodh Bāī, the wife of the Emperor Akbar, and the mother of Jahāngīr. She was of Rājpūt caste, daughter of the Hindoo chief of Jodhpur, a very beautiful, and, it is said, a very amiable woman.
The Mogul Emperors, though Muhammadans, were then in the habit of taking their wives from among the Rājpūt princes of the country, with a view to secure their allegiance. The tomb itself is in ruins, having only part of the dome standing, and the walls and magnificent gateway that at one time surrounded it have been all taken away and sold by a thrifty Government, or appropriated to purposes of more practical utility.
I have heard many Muhammadans say that they could trace the decline of their empire in Hindustan to the loss of the Rājpūt blood in the veins of their princes. 'Better blood' than that of the Rājpūts of India certainly never flowed in the veins of any human beings; or, what is the same thing, no blood was ever believed to be finer by the people themselves and those they had to deal with.
The difference is all in the imagination, and the imagination is all-powerful with nations as with individuals. The Britons thought their blood the finest in the world till they were conquered by the Romans, the Picts, the Scots, and the Saxons. The Saxons thought theirs the finest in the world till they were conquered by the Danes and the Normans. This is the history of the human race.
The quality of the blood of a whole people has depended often upon the fate of a battle, which in the ancient world doomed the vanquished to the hammer; and the hammer changed the blood of those sold by it from generation to generation. How many Norman robbers got their blood ennobled, and how many Saxon nobles got theirs plebeianized by the Battle of Hastings; and how difficult it would be for any of us to say from which we descended—the Britons or the Saxons, the Danes or the Normans; or in what particular action our ancestors were the victors or the vanquished, and became ennobled or plebeianized by the thousand accidents which influence the fate of battles.
A series of successful aggressions upon their neighbours will commonly give a nation a notion that they are superior in courage; and pride will make them attribute this superiority to blood—that is, to an old date. This was, perhaps, never more exemplified than in the case of the Gūrkhas of Nepal, a small diminutive race of men not unlike the Huns, but certainly as brave as any men can possibly be.
A Gūrkha thought himself equal to any four other men of the hills, though they were all much stronger; just as a Dane thought himself equal to four Saxons at one time in Britain. The other men of the hills began to think that he really was so, and could not stand before him.
We passed many wells from which the people were watering their fields, and found those which yielded a brackish water were considered to be much more valuable for irrigation than those which yielded sweet water. It is the same in the valley of the Nerbudda, but brackish water does not suit some soils and some crops.
On the 8th we reached Fathpur Sīkrī, which lies about twenty- four miles from Agra, and stands upon the back of a narrow range of sandstone hills, rising abruptly from the alluvial plains to the highest, about one hundred feet, and extends three miles north-north- east and south-south-west. This place owes its celebrity to a Muhammadan saint, the Shaikh Salīm of Chisht, a town in Persia, who owed his to the following circumstance:
The Emperor Akbar's sons had all died in infancy, and he made a pilgrimage to the shrine of the celebrated Muīn-ud-dīn of Chisht, at Ajmēr. He and his family went all the way on foot at the rate of three 'kōs', or four miles, a day, a distance of about three hundred and fifty miles. 'Kanāts', or cloth walls, were raised on each side of the road, carpets spread over it, and high towers of burnt bricks erected at every stage, to mark the places where he rested.
On reaching the shrine he made a supplication to the saint, who at night appeared to him in his sleep, and recommended him to go and entreat the intercession of a very holy old man, who lived a secluded life upon the top of the little range of hills at Sīkrī.
He went accordingly, and was assured by the old man, then ninety-six years of age, that the Empress Jodh Bāī, the daughter of a Hindoo prince, would be delivered of a son, who would live to a good old age. She was then pregnant, and remained in the vicinity of the old man's hermitage till her confinement, which took place 31st of August, 1569.
The infant was called after the hermit, Mirzā Salīm, and became in time Emperor of Hindostan, under the name of Jahāngīr. It was to this Emperor Jahāngīr that Sir Thomas Roe, the ambassador, was sent from the English Court. Akbar, in order to secure to himself, his family, and his people, the advantage of the continued intercessions of so holy a man, took up his residence at Sīkrī, and covered the hill with magnificent buildings for himself, his courtiers, and his public establishments.
The quadrangle, which contains the mosque on the west side, and tomb of the old hermit in the centre, was completed in the year 1578, six years before his death; and is, perhaps, one of the finest in the world. It is five hundred and seventy-five feet square, and surrounded by a high wall, with a magnificent cloister all around within. On the outside is a magnificent gateway, at the top of a noble flight of steps twenty-four feet high.
The whole gateway is one hundred and twenty feet in height, and the same in breadth, and presents beyond the wall five sides of an octagon, of which the front face is eighty feet wide. The arch in the centre of this space is sixty feet high by forty wide. This gateway is no doubt extremely grand and beautiful; but what strikes one most is the disproportion between the thing wanted and the thing provided—there seems to be something quite preposterous in forming so enormous an entrance for a poor diminutive man to walk through—and walk he must, unless carried through on men's shoulders; for neither elephant, horse, nor bullock could ascend over the flight of steps.
In all these places the staircases, on the contrary, are as disproportionately small; they look as if they were made for rats to crawl through, while the gateways seem as if they were made for ships to sail under. One of the most interesting sights was the immense swarms of swallows flying round the thick bed of nests that occupy the apex of this arch, and, to the spectators below, they look precisely like swarm of bees round a large honeycomb.
I quoted a passage in the Korān in praise of the swallows, and asked the guardians of the place whether they did not think themselves happy in having such swarms of sacred birds over their heads all day long.
'Not at all,' said they; 'they oblige us to sweep the gateway ten times a day; but there is no getting at their nests, or we should soon get rid of them.'
They then told me that the sacred bird of the Korān was the 'abābīl', or large black swallow, and not the 'partādīl', a little piebald thing of no religious merit whatever.
On the right side of the entrance is engraven on stone in large letters, standing out in bas-relief, the following passage in Arabic:
'Jesus, on whom be peace, has said, "The word is merely a bridge; you are to pass over it, and not to build your dwellings upon it".'
Where this saying of Christ is to be found I know not, nor has any Muhammadan yet been able to tell me; but the quoting of such a passage, in such a place, is a proof of the absence of all bigotry on the part of Akbar.
The tomb of Shaikh Salīm, the hermit, is a very beautiful little building, in the centre of the quadrangle. The man who guards it told me that the Jāts, while they reigned, robbed this tomb, as well as those at Agra, of some of the most beautiful and valuable portion of the mosaic work.
'But,' said he, 'they were well plundered in their turn by your troops at Bharatpur; retribution always follows the wicked sooner or later.'
He showed us the little roof of stone tiles, close to the original little dingy mosque of the old hermit, where the Empress gave birth to Jahāngīr; and told us that she was a very sensible woman, whose counsels had great weight with the Emperor.
'His majesty's only fault was', he said, 'an inclination to learn the art of magic, which was taught him by an old Hindoo religious mendicant,' whose apartment near the palace he pointed out to us.
'Fortunately,' said our cicerone, 'the fellow died before the Emperor had learnt enough to practise the art without his aid.'
Shaikh Salīm had, he declared, gone more than twenty times on pilgrimage to the tomb of the holy prophet; and was not much pleased to have his repose so much disturbed by the noise and bustle of the imperial court. At last, Akbar wanted to surround the hill with regular fortifications, and the Shaikh could stand it no longer.
'Either you or I must leave this hill,' said he to the Emperor; 'if the efficacy of my prayers is no longer to be relied upon, let me depart in peace.'
'If it be your majesty's will,' replied the Emperor, 'that one should go, let it be your slave, I pray.'
The old story:
'There is nothing like relying upon the efficacy of our prayers,' say the priests, 'Nothing like relying upon that of our sharp swords,' say the soldiers; and, as nations advance from barbarism, they generally contrive to divide between them the surplus produce of the land and labour of society.
The old hermit consented to remain, and pointed out Agra as a place which he thought would answer the Emperor's purpose extremely well. Agra, then an unpeopled waste, soon became a city, and Fathpur- Sīkrī was deserted.
Cities which, like this, are maintained by the public establishments that attend and surround the courts of sovereign princes, must always, like this, become deserted when these sovereigns change their resting-places. To the history of the rise and progress, decline and fall, of how many cities is this the key?
Close to the tomb of the saint is another containing the remains of a great number of his descendants, who continue to enjoy, under the successors of Akbar, large grants of rent-free lands for their own support, and for that of the mosque and mausoleum.
These grants have, by degrees, been nearly all resumed; and, as the repair of the buildings is now entrusted to the public officers of our government, the surviving members of the saint's family, who still reside among the ruins, are extremely poor.
What strikes a European most in going over these palaces of the Moghal Emperors is the want of what a gentleman of fortune in his own country would consider elegantly comfortable accommodations. Five hundred pounds a year would at the present day secure him more of this in any civilized country of Europe or America than the greatest of those Emperors could command. He would, perhaps, have the same impression in going over the domestic architecture of the most civilized nations of the ancient world, Persia and Egypt, Greece and Rome.
1. The Act of 1833 (3 & 4 William IV, c. 85), which reconstituted the government of India, provided that the upper Provinces should be formed into a separate Presidency under the name of Agra, and Sir Charles Metcalfe was nominated as the first Governor. On reconsideration, this arrangement was modified, and instead of the Presidency of Agra, the Lieutenant-Governorship of the North-Western Provinces was formed, with head-quarters at Agra. Sir C. Metcalfe became Lieutenant-Governor in 1836, but held the office for a short time only, until January, 1838, when Lord Auckland, the Governor-General, took over temporary charge. The seat of the Local Government was moved to Allahabad in 1868.
From 1877 the Lieutenant-Governor of the North-Western Provinces was also Chief Commissioner of Oudh. The name North-Western Provinces, which had become unsuitable and misleading since the annexation of the Panjāb in 1849, could not be retained after the formation of the North-West Frontier Province in 1902.
Accordingly, from that year the combined jurisdiction of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh received the new official name of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. The title of Chief Commissioner of Oudh was dropped at the same time, but the legal System and administration of the old kingdom of Oudh continued to be distinct in certain respects.
2. The civil establishment and garrison are still nearly the same as in the author's time. The inland customs department is now concerned only with the restrictions on the manufacture of salt. The offices of district magistrate and collector of land revenue have long been combined in a single officer.
3. Akbar married the daughter of Bihārī Mal, chief of Jaipur, in A.D. 1562. There is little doubt that she, Mariam-uz- Zamānī, was the mother of Jahāngīr. See Blochmann, transl. Aīn, vol. i, p. 619. Mr. Beveridge has given up the