Agra, 13 February 1893

The morning was again rather harsh, cold and rainy, very different from what one expects from „Indian weather“ so that we were clad in thick clothes and overcoats and still were cold in our cage palace.

We intended to go to Fatehpur Sikri and took along our rifles as the distance was 36 km, a decision we did not regret. The drive itself offered few attractions;  the road led through a monotonous flat land, now and then we drove through a poor native village and otherwise only saw a tree here and there in the fields so that we started counting the number of mile indicators to track the progress to our destination.

The fauna compensated the monotony of the landscape. Immediately after we had left the city, I shot a couple of large vultures (Gyps indicus and Gyps bengalensis) out of the carriage, also one of the often seen Egyptian vultures and some pariah kites. Shortly thereafter, still within the sights of the city, I bagged an eagle which I shot close to its nest; we identified it as an Aquila mogilnik, a so called Russian eagle. Also from its nest built on an avenue tree I shot a specimen of another eagle species, namely an Asian Tawny Eagle (Aquila vindhiana). Also two  honey buzzards (Pernis ptilonorhyncha), similar to our wasp buzzard, made their way into the rucksack. At a puddle on a tree sat two painted storks (Tantalus leueocephalus), which I took down with a lucky coup double. They were very beautiful large specimen with remarkbly pink red feathers on their wings. During the remainder of the journey I bagged common coucals (Centropus rufipennis), one Sirkeer Malkoha (Taccocua sirkee) and two white-eyed buzzards (Butastur teesa).

We finally reached Fatehpur Sikri, Akbar’s palace city, having followed the road that leads straight in a south-western direction. The foundation of the city in the year is explained in the following legend: Wandering in thoughts from Agra to the sandstone hill on which now stands the palace city, Akbar met there the fakir Selim Chisti, a sage and pious beggar who noticed the sad mood of the Mughal which was incomprehensible to the otherworldly hermit and looked for a reason why the mighty ruler was so sad. Akbar lamented that even though he was a mighty prince his reign was bound to disappear after his death. All the sons borne by his wife died soon thereafter in the child bed. „Build“, said the prophetizing fakir, „your palace on this holy hill sanctified by my prayers and make it your domicile. Nine moons after your entry through the gates of the new palace, you will have a heir whom heaven has promised long life, force and power. Your son will succeed you on the throne of the Grand Mughals.“  The prophecy came true. In the new palace of  Fatehpur Sikri was born Jehangir, Akbar’s heir.

With the exception of the parts of the palace city maintained by the British government, Fatehpur Sikri  is a ruin out of which rise walls, pillars, parts of halls and rooms and other decaying buildings — on the spot where Shah Babur had defeated the princes of Rajputana in open battle in the year 1527. As a sign of commemoration of the former size and beauty of the palace city it is enclosed by a high, crenellated wall of over 11 km in length, completely surrounding the hill of Fatehpur Sikri.

The main reason for the rapid decline and decay of Akbar’s palace city, a giant endeavor said to have employed thousands of men during many years — in contradiction of the legend which speaks of a fast construction of Fatehpur Sikris, is said to be that Akbar’s son did suddenly find the water and the air unpleasant and left the palace behind to the destructive powers of wind and weather. Fortunately under the Indian sky the decay of the buildings isn’t happening so fast that we couldn’t still see parts of Fatehpur Sikri in good condition.

Like other princely residences in India, there is true profligacy  in space and precious construction material. First entering Diwan-i-Am, we viewed the grand platforms and terraces enclosed by pillar halls that once had been the location of festive processions and shining receptions.  Near Diwan-i-Am is a platform that is said to have served for the Pachisi game. There are many mosques, ceremonial halls and living quarters of all kind which are constructed out of Fatehpur Sikri’s local red sandstone.

The most beautiful examples of how the artisans have used and decorated sandstone in the palace city is the House of the Turkish Queen (Stambuli Begum). Here there is no wall, no pillar, no space where there aren’t the finest of ornaments chiseled in. Not far away is the House of the Christian woman (Bibi Mariam Zumani); today without decoration, it once was called Sonahra Makan, that is the „golden house“ as it was painted and gilded inside and outside. Between the two houses of the women stands Chab Ghar, Akbar’s House of Dreams which has in its upper floor the simple sleeping chamber of the Grand Mughals.

North of Miriam’s house stands Panch Mahal,  storied terraces rising , original pillars, ornamented colonnades and the Diwan-i-Khas of Akbar. On the giant capital on the high splendidly chiseled pillar and ornamented with pilasters that rises in the middle of the hall is said to be the place of Akbar’s throne. This pillar is connected by a small stone stair to four sitting places in the four corners of the hall where the four viziers of Akbar would have taken their seats when Akbar spoke from his throne on his pillar. I could not resist imagining the comical situation of Akbar up on the small stair in the middle of the hall balancing on his pillar while the four viziers are cowering in their corner seats. As ridiculous as this appeared I could not forget that in this hall the well-being and woe of whole peoples was decided, that here many decisions were taken whose influence continues to be relevant today.

Most remarkable is furthermore a long covered corridor which leads from the female quarters to a rather distant gate from which the women of the Mughals could view the land of their lord and master, when he went out into the plain before the palace to hunt. Perhaps this activity would be artificially adapted to have more prey and be more interesting by overeager courtiers in similar manner to the Mughal’s fishing in Fort Agra …

A small snack we took in the former study of the Mughals and a short rest made us ready for new visits to the sights of the palace city. I would here raise the problem among the knowledgeable of aesthetics in relationship to the human physiology that nothing makes one as hungry and tired as a detailed visit of a large number of art objects.

Especially beautiful is Birbal’s palace — a Hindu minister of Akbar — a small two-storey building that has been so decorated inside and outside that it is either the smallest of all palaces or the biggest of all jewel chests according to Victor Hugo.

Much bigger but not less ornamented is the palace of the princess Jodh Bai in the middle of the palace city. She was a wife of Akbar and the mother of Jehangir. Without having to describe all the remaining monuments in and around the walls from the heyday of the Mughals, I still must mention the Dargah, the „holy square“ which contains the tomb of Sheik Selim Chisthi as well its mosque.

The Dargah, a rectangle, is enclosed by arched halls in whose midst is a pool. On the Northern end of the rectangle stands the tomb of Salim Chishti, the fakir whose prophecy has caused Akbar to build the palace city. While almost all buildings in the palace city are made out of red sandstone, the tomb is gleaming, a true miniature of the Taj of Agra, in blinding white marble so that I had to admire the beauty of the chasing, the splendid work of the cut marble lattices of the mausoleum. The lattices carry colored bands and colorful clothes given by pilgrims asking for children at the tomb of Selim Chisthi.

On the Western side of Dargah, it connects with the about 23 m high mosque. For the wealth of its ornamentation and its tasteful execution of the curved and interlaced ornaments of this mosque speaks the fact that I found a painter standing within who was copying these unique spatial decorations for a work which the British government will publish about the pearls of the Indian art.

When I left the mosque, an old muezzin, eager for baksheesh, gave an incomprehensible strange speech, shouted and gesticulated.

South of Dargah rises the famous 43 m tall victory gate of Buland Darwazab on a hill accessible by an open stair. A remarkably large number of wasp nests prevented our ascent to the battlements of the gate which is said to offer a great view.

At the foot of the gate, outside of the wall, is a walled basin close to the ruined baths to which every foreigner is led to assist productions which consist in natives jumping fearlessly and not without danger from the rim top to dive into the basin filled with water. Two days before our arrival, one of the natives was killed by performing a similar dive jump.

The surroundings of the mosque offered me ornithological catches. In the ruin field, I bagged a Laggar falcon (Falco jugger) and a rare Indian grey hornbill (Ocyceros birostris). The number of striped squirrels was astonishing. They scampered around on the stones and the trees.

The return drive was much more pleasant than the journey there as the weather had improved a bit and the sun peeked friendly from behind the clouds. On the return trip I shot, besides some vultures, a metallic gleaming stork with a white neck (Ciconia leucocephala) which resembles our black stork very much, as well as two marabous, one of which was an old male with snow-white breast and long fuzzy feathers.

In the palace at Agra I was expected by the archbishop Monsignore van den Bosch, with two of his priests, who paid me a visit. Belgian-born he has been working in India for a long time.

Links

  • Location: Agra, India
  • ANNO – on 13.02.1893 in Austria’s newspapers. The Emperor has given 10.000 francs for the relief of the victims of the earthquake on Zakynthos.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater plays a comedy “Verbot und Befehl“, while the k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is performing a comical opera „Gute Nacht Herr Pantalon“.

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