Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
New Delhi, or Shāhjahānābād
On the 22nd of January, 1836, we went on twelve miles to the new city of Delhi, built by the Emperor Shāhjahān, and called after him Shāhjahānābād; and took up our quarters in the palace of the Bēgam Samrū, a fine building, agreeably situated in a garden opening into the great street, with a branch of the great canal running through it, and as quiet as if it had been in a wilderness.
We had obtained from the Bēgam permission to occupy this palace during our stay. It was elegantly furnished, the servants were all exceedingly attentive, and we were very happy.
The Kutb Mīnār stands upon the back of the sandstone range of low hills, and the road descends over the north- eastern face of this range for half a mile, and then passes over a level plain all the way to the new city, which lies on the right bank of the river Jumna. The whole plain is literally covered with the remains of splendid Muhammadan mosques and mausoleums.
These Muhammadans seem as if they had always in their thoughts the saying of Christ which Akbar has inscribed on the gateway at Fathpur Sīkrī:
'Life is a bridge which you are to pass over, and not to build your dwellings upon.'
The buildings which they have left behind them have almost all a reference to a future state—they laid out their means in a church, in which the Deity might be propitiated; in a tomb where leaned and pious men might chant their Korān over their remains, and youth be instructed in their duties; in a serai, a bridge, a canal built gratuitously for the public good, that those who enjoyed these advantages from generation to generation might pray for the repose of their souls.
How could it be otherwise where the land was the property of Government, where capital was never concentrated or safe, when the only aristocracy was that of office, while the Emperor was the sole recognized heir of all his public officers?
The only thing that he could not inherit were his tombs, his temples, his bridges, his canals, his caravanserais. I was acquainted with the history of most of the great men whose tombs and temples I visited along the road; but I asked in vain for a sight of the palaces they occupied in their day of pride and power.
They all had, no doubt, good houses agreeably situated, like that of the Bēgam Samrū, in the midst of well-watered gardens and shrubberies, delightful in their season; but they cared less about them—they knew that the Emperor was heir to every member of the great body to which they belonged, the aristocracy of office; and might transfer all their wealth to his treasury, and all their palaces to their successors, the moment the breath should be out of their bodies. If their sons got office, it would neither be in the same grades nor in the same places as those of their fathers.
How different it is in Europe, where our aristocracy is formed upon a different basis; no one knows where to find the tombs in which the remains of great men who have passed away repose; or the churches and colleges they have founded; or the serāis, the bridges, the canals they formed gratuitously for the public good; but everybody knows where to find their 'proud palaces'; life is not to them 'a bridge over which they are to pass, and not build their dwellings upon'.
The eldest sons enjoy all the patrimonial estates, and employ them as best they may to get their younger brothers into situations in the church, the army, the navy, and other public establishments, in which they may be honourably and liberally provided for out of the public purse.
About half-way between the great tower and the new city, on the left-hand side of the road, stands the tomb of Mansūr Alī Khān, the great-grandfather of the present King of Oudh. Of all the tombs to be seen in this immense extent of splendid ruins, this is perhaps the only one raised over a subject, the family of whose inmates are now in a condition even to keep it in repair.
It is a very beautiful mausoleum, built after the model of the Tāj at Agra; with this difference, that the external wall around the quadrangle of the Tāj is here, as it were, thrown back, and closed in upon the tomb. The beautiful gateway at the entrance of the gardens of the Tāj forms each of the four sides of the tomb of Mansūr Alī Khān, with all its chaste beauty of design, proportion, and ornament.
The quadrangle in which this mausoleum stands is about three hundred and fifty yards square, surrounded by a stone wall, with handsome gateways, and filled in the same manner as that of the Tāj at Agra, with cisterns and fruit-trees. Three kinds of stones are used—white marble, red sandstone, and the fine white and flesh- coloured sandstone of Rupbās. The dome is of white marble, and exactly of the same form as that of the Tāj; but it stands on a neck or base of sandstone with twelve sides, and the marble is of a quality very inferior to that of the Tāj.
It is of coarse dolomite, and has become a good deal discoloured by time, so as to give it the appearance, which Bishop Heber noticed, of potted meat. The neck is not quite so long as that of the Tāj, and is better covered by the marble cupolas that stand above each face of the building. The four noble minarets are, however, wanting. The apartments are all in number and form exactly like those of the Tāj, but they are somewhat less in size. In the centre of the first floor lies the beautiful marble slab that bears the date of this small pillar of a tottering state, A.H. 1167; and in a vault underneath repose his remains by the side of those of one of his grand-daughters.
The graves that cover these remains are of plain earth strewed with fresh flowers, and covered with plain cloth. About two miles from this tomb to the east stands that of the father of Akbar, Humāyūn, a large and magnificent building. As I rode towards this building to see the slab that covers the head of poor Dārā Shikoh, I frequently cast a lingering look behind to view, as often as I could, this very pretty imitation of the most beautiful of all the tombs of the earth.
On my way I turned in to see the tomb of the celebrated saint, Nizām-ud-dīn Auliā, the defeater of the Transoxianian army under Tarmah Shīrīn in 1303, to which pilgrimages are still made from all parts of India. It is a small building, surmounted by a white marble dome, and kept very clean and neat. By its side is that of the poet Khusrū, his contemporary and friend, who moved about where he pleased through the palace of the Emperor Tughlak Shāh the First, five hundred years ago, and sang extempore to his lyre while the greatest and the fairest watched his lips to catch the expressions as they came warm from his soul.
His popular songs are still the most popular; and he is one of the favoured few who live through ages in the every-day thoughts and feelings of many millions, while the crowned heads that patronized them in their brief day of pomp and power are forgotten, or remembered merely as they happened to be connected with them. His tomb has also a dome, and the grave is covered with rich brocade, and attended with as much reverence and devotion as that of the great saint himself, while those of the emperors, kings, and princes that have been crowded around them are entirely disregarded.
A number of people are employed to read the Korān over the grave of the old saint (scil. Nizām-ud-dīn), who died A.H. 725 [A.D. 1324-5], and are paid by contributions from the present Emperor, and the members of his family, who occasionally come in their hour of need to entreat his intercession with the Deity in their favour, and by the humble pilgrims who flock from all parts for the same purpose.
A great many boys are here educated by those readers of their sacred volume. All my attendants bowed their heads to the dust before the shrine of the saint, but they seemed especially indifferent to those of the royal family, which are all open to the sky. Respect shown or neglect towards them could bring neither good nor evil, while any slight to the tomb of the crusty old saint might be of serious consequence.
In an enclosure formed by marble screens beautifully carved is the tomb of the favourite son of the present Emperor, Mirzā Jahāngīr, whom I knew intimately at Allahabad in 1816, when he was killing himself as fast as he could with Hoffman's cherry brandy.
'This ', he would say to me, 'is really the only liquor that you Englishmen have worth drinking, and its only fault is that it makes one drunk too soon.'
To prolong his pleasure, he used to limit himself to one large glass every hour, till he got dead drunk. Two or three sets of dancing women and musicians used to relieve each other in amusing him during this interval.
He died, of course, soon, and the poor old Emperor was persuaded by his mother, the favourite sultana, that he had fallen a victim to sighing and grief at the treatment of the English, who would not permit him to remain at Delhi, where he was continually employed in attempts to assassinate his eldest brother, the heir apparent, and to stir up insurrections among the people.