River-like generosity, sun-like affection, earth-like hospitality.
– Attributes that endear man to the Divine, in the words of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti
AKBAR HAS AN ENVIABLE RECORD of victories. He has the people’s awe and his courtiers’ attentions, but even with his teeming harem, he does not have a successor. He approaches a Sufi mystic of the Chisti order. Shaikh Salim Chisti who lives in a modest dwelling at Fatehpur Sikri, tells Akbar with preternatural conviction, that he will have three sons.
Akbar is buoyed and when in a few weeks, news arrives that his Rajput wife, Jodha Bai, is with child, Akbar sets off barefoot on a thanksgiving pilgrimage to the dargah at Ajmer. On August 30, 1569, a son is born to him – he is named Salim after the mystic who foretold his arrival. He will later be known as Jahangir, but even when he grows up, Akbar will only ever call him by his pet name, Shaikhu Baba.
Akbar resolves to build up the town of Fatehpur Sikhri, in honour of his spiritual guide, Shaikh Salim Chisti. Heavily inspired by local and Rajput aesthetics, the royal palace and fort takes shape from the red sandstone of the area. He has already instructed that the Diwan-i-khas (Hall of Private Audience) be designed on the principles of the mandala.
One afternoon, after telling off a quarellsome right-winger in his service and assigning him the task of translating the Mahbharata into Persian, Akbar heads out to his pleasure city at Nagarcin, south of Agra, where a polo match awaits him. He arrives late in the evening and the match is played in spite of the darkness thanks to a suggestion that they set fire to the ball. They quench their thirst with sherbets cooled from ice that has just been carried off the boats from the mountains beyond Punjab.
Before he retires for the day, he thinks of the city taking shape at Fatehpur Sikri and for a brief moment remembers his own father’s unfulfilled ambitions for Dinpannah – a refuge for the aesthete and the spiritualist. He will succeed where his father has failed. There is a reason why Fatehpur Sikri is called The City of Victory. It will be emblematic of the composite future of the country. It will embody Sarv Dharm.