The Natural HR Theory by Dr IVNS Raju

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VIII

WITH all his achievements Akbar lacked and greatly longed for a thing which fortune had so far denied him. He had scores of wives, but he had no son. There had been twins, but both had died in infancy. He made pilgrimages to holy shrines and offered up many prayers, but he was still denied what to men like him, craving a successor to continue his work, is the crowning boon of life. There was a certain ascetic who had his hut among the rocks at Sikri, some score of miles from Agra, called Shaikh Salim, and he prophesied to the emperor that his prayers would be granted and that three sons would be born to him. And when Akbar heard with joy that his Rajput wife, the daughter of the Rajah of Jaipur, was with child, he sent her to Sikri that she might be delivered there, where the saint of ahppy prophercy had his dwelling. At the end of August 1569 a boy was born and received the name Salim after the saint. In June of the following year a second son was born, the child of a concubine, and was called Murad. Akbar rejoiced exceedingly. Could he have foreseen his sons’ fortune, his joy would have been tempered.

It was in commemoration of the birth of his sons in that spot, now sacred in his eyes, that Akbar now designed to build there a new capital. The building of the city was begun fortwith and carried on for about fourteen years. So mosques and palaces arose, and schools and baths and gardens, and a circus for polo and elephant-fights, and, a wall of red sandstone built around the city; and an artificial lake, six miles long, formed to provide water for it. And after the conquest of Gujerat, the city was called Fatehpur-Sikri, the City of Victory. On the great portal of the mosque was the famous inscription : ‘So said Jesus, upon whom be peace. The world is a bridge; pass over it, but build no house upon it.’

It seemed as if wall and tower could not rise fast enough to keep pace with Akbar’s furious energy. Like Timur at Samarcand, he would stand over the throngs of builders and artificers, urging them on, supervising every detail of the work at once. Building possessed him like a passion. He eyed the blocks of red sandstone with an eye that penetrated through them to the shapes, already in his mind, of column, lintel, cornice. At times, nothing would content him but he must quarry the stone himself, along with the other workmen. So the buildings rose with fantastic speed. It was as if Akbar heard always at his back ‘Time’s winged chariot hurrying near’; as if some premonition warned him that all his magnificence was perishable, that the hour would come when the words inscribed on the sentence of Fate, and all his labour of creation appear as the fabric of a dream. After being a chief centre of Asiatic culture, one of the most brilliant cities of its time in the world, it was to be abandoned by its creator as suddenly as it had been conceived and planned. Was it because it proved unhealthy, or because the water supply failed? Perhaps : but it is just as likely that it was for some reason that was no reason, some superstitious instinct or some unaccountable prompting from within, which drove Akbar to his sudden resolution.

An English traveler, one of the first to reach India, has described it as ‘much greater than London’ and very populous, ‘a great resort of merchants from Persia and out of India, and very much merchandise of silk and cloth, and of precious stones, both Rubies, Diamonds, and Pearls’. But when Ralph Fitch passed through Fatehpur-Sikri, it was on the very eve of its desertion; for Akbar, who held his court there from 1569, left it in 1585 and never, save for one brief visit, returned. In 1604 Father Jerome Xavier, of the Third Jesuit mission, passed through the city and found it ‘totally demolished’ save for the great buildings made by the emperor. The swarming population had abandoned it : the streets were empty. The City of Victory was a city of desolation, left to the jackals and the bats. ‘Here, we might say,’ wrote Xavier, ‘stood Troy.’

But in the early days of its splendor, Fatehpur-Sikri rivaled or surpassed Heart in the time of Baisunqur in its assemblage of architects and painters and calligraphers, poets and musicians and philosophers, and might almost recall, were it not for the difference in quality, the feverish intellectual and creative activity of the cities of Italy in the heyday of the Renaissance. Only, just as the city itself was the sudden embodiment, created at fabulous expenditure, of a single imperious will, so this brilliant and busy centre of the various arts hand in it a certain element of artificiality. As the barren leges of rock had been transformed into palaces and gardens with stretches of shining water, and as the flowers has been shown in the gardens, and trees planted in the alleys, so artists had been collected from all quarters and settled in the palaces and workshops, and bidden to flourish and create. There was no local root of tradition, no gradual flowering from the soil.

Not that Akbar lacked sensibility, or was merely bent on self glorification. He came of a race in which a restless and stormy life could not dull the taste for art and letters. He does not indeed seem to have had the extraordinary sensibility to beauty in nature which is so remarkable in Babur; but in his feelings for it there was infused a semi-religious sentiment. His son Jahangir was to be the typical patron, collector, connoisseur : but to Akbar art was an avenue to the glory of the creative world and a means of apprehending the Creator. He himself had learned to draw as a boy when Humayun had brought the Persian artists to Kabul : and those two Persian masters were the chiefs of his school. Gradually, however, Hindu artists were attracted to the court and came quite to outnumber the Persians. The Indian style absorbed the Persian and a new school began to flourish : a school almost entirely of portraiture and illustration, delighting in animated and crowded scenes, in dramatic motives. One notices how fond these painters are of figures in running movement; as if Akbar had communicated to them his own exuberant energy. Not a great art, perhaps; but since there were no artists of supreme gift, how much better that they should be employed in vivid portrayal of the contemporary scene than in heroic and ideal compositions! How often we are moved to deplore that in Europe gifts adequate to portraiture have wasted themselves in misguided ambition! Through these artists whose at any rate, Akbar as he lived, sought, hunted, prayed; and all his surroundings.

Yet art was not Akbar’s dominant passion or chief recreation : and all this artistic production was after all but a department of the multi-farious activity of the capital. Amid the bustle of active men, the comeand-go soldiers, politicians and adventurers, the concourse of administrative officers, the artists, though treated with favour and regard, could hardly have felt themselves to be the recognized glory of the city; in the world of great affairs, of which Fatehpur-Sikri was the pulsating centre, they counted for little. The atmosphere resembled that of imperial Rome rather than that of Florence in the time of Lorenzo the Magnificient : a post-meridian atmosphere, not the morning fervor which abounds in glorious promise yet to be fulfilled. Akbar’s artists looked back to no struggling primitives behind them, but to the finished achievements, supreme in this kind, of the Persian masters. And his patronage would have resulted in less of value had it not been for the example and opportunity it gave for revivals of the indigenous schools of Indian art in local centres. The Hindu element, after his death, came to infiltrate more and more the Mogul school, while outside the capital provincial rajahs encouraged artists to give fresh life to ancient native traditions. The whole Mogul school reflects Akbar’s political aspirations : its aim is to fuse the Persian, the Muhammadan, with the Hindu style.

Having the Persians as their models, the Mogul school at this period devoted themselves chieftly to the adornment of manuscripts. And here the penmanship was even more valued than the painting. Akbar valued his fine calligraphers, and, though he could not write himself, he could distinguish and appreciate. A subordinate army of binders and gilders worked under the painters and calligraphers. At his death, Akbar had a library of 24,000 volumes, all in manuscript, many with costly illuminations. There were weekly inspections, at which the emperor gave rewards and adjusted salaries. But the painters were not only called on to produce small portraits and book-illustrations; there were frescoes to be painted on the walls of public buildings, though these unfortunately have almost entirely perished. The buildings remain, and in the architecture is the most splendid monument of Akbar’s magnificence. The planning of Fatehpur-Sikri was his own.

Frequently Akbar would pass from his palace to the adjoining workshops where the painters, the goldsmiths, the tapestry-makers, the carpet weavers, and the armourers were at work, and watch them with keen enjoyment. And from there he would return to his palace and mingle with the groups of learned men, theologians and poets. It is true that the greatest poet of his time, Tulsi Das, the author of the Hindu epic Ramayan, and one of the greatest names in Indian literature, seems to have been unknown to Akbar. He lived and died in Benares. But this can hardly have been from any conscious neglect.

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