The Akbar’s Fort and the Government Museum was situated in the heart of Ajmer city. It is said that Emperor Akbar’s rule started in 1556 AD after he defeated Hemu in the second battle of Panipat. At that time, Akbar was only 13 years old. With the help of Bairam Khan, in next two years, his forces captured a lot of territories in North India. Thus, Ajmer came under Mughal sultanate in 1558 AD and a fort was built there in 1570 AD. It was really a wonderful feeling to see that structure standing for so many years keeping in its folds the memories of many events that took place in past four centuries. Unlike other forts, the Akbar’s fort in Ajmer was not situated on any hill. It was right in the city and could be thought more as a residential building than a military fort.
The first thing that caught my attention was a red-coloured window situated above the front gate of the fort. The moment I saw this window, a historic event of 1615 AD came to my mind. I was trying to visualize the scene when Mr. Thomas Roe, the ambassador of East India Company, was standing on the very place on the ground where I was standing. Mughal sultanate was at the peak of their rule and the East India Company had sent their emissary to seek permission to do business in the Mughal territory in the then princely India. The difference in their status was so huge that the emperor Jahangir gave Mr. Roe an audience from that window above and read out the firman which permitted the East India Company to do business in India. Ironically, in next 230 years, the same company went on to dislodge the Mughals and to establish the British Raj in India. That thought made me cold. I just stood there thinking about the present day permissions being granted to foreign based establishments to do business in our country. I shuddered to think about the possibilities of another foreign domination, if Indian democracy disintegrates in future.
It is also said that after winning the fort of Chittorgarh in 1568, Akbar had performed the journey from Chittaur to Ajmer on foot to pay homage to the Dargah. During the same time, Akbar came into contact with Shiekh Salim Chisti, a sufi mystic of Chistiya order and a disciple of Moinuddin Chisti. It is said that with the blessings of Salim Chisti, a son was born to Akbar in 1569 AD. Shahjada Salim, later ruled India as Emperor Jahangir. With the birth of his son, Akbar became so grateful to the Dargah of Ajmer that he performed the journey from Agra to Ajmer for 12 years in a row. Thus, in 1570, this fort was built to provide accommodation to Mughal royalty during their visits to this city.
The fort was square in shape. At each of the corner, an octagonal bastion was constructed. The side of the square had double story construction. In the middle courtyard, a great historical building was situated, which looked like a hall for public audience or meetings. That audience hall was surrounded by the walls of the fort. That hall was so beautiful that I stood in front of it as if I were under any spell cast by its striking features. The guard-cum-ticket collector of the museum informed us that the entire military planning for the Haldighati battle in 1576 was drawn in that very hall.
Haldighati battle was an important milestone in Mughal-Rajput history. Though Rana Pratap never surrendered to the authority of Akbar, he went as fugitive and the entire Rajputana came under the control of Akbar. Later, it was Amar Singh, the son of Rana Pratap, who signed a conditional treaty of peace with Jahangir. When I stood watching that hall, the building started telling me… “O traveller! Come near me as the Emperor Akbar wish to see you. Come near but come with your sword for there is a war going on.” I replied in my mind saying that… “O mighty building! I might have wielded a sword centuries ago. But for now, let us not encourage a blood bath!” I kept looking at that hall and the imaginary scenes of soldiers and their war cry kept coming to my mind.
Suddenly, the ticket collector broke my reverie and informed about another event connected with the same hall. It was the time of Jahangir, who also continued visiting the dargah and the city of Ajmer just like his father. During such visits, the royal entourage used to stay in this fort. While his stay there, the Emperor Jahangir used to give private audience to Mr. Thomas Roe, the emissary of East India Company. It is said that intimacy and friendship grew between them gradually and they used to have wine together in that very hall. After hearing about this event, my imagination turned to the year after 1615 AD. The hall started telling me……“O Traveller! I tried to stop the emperor from taking wine with the foreigner, whose conduct I did not like. But I failed!” I could sense the painful emotions of the hall and replied in my mind….“ O mighty building! Do not bother about that anymore. Rest in peace as you did not have the power to change the destiny of an Emperor.”
Now, I started looking at this hall with even more curiosity. The imaginary scenes of historical events of 1576 and 1615 were flashing before my eyes. I was thinking about the hall, which had seen the battle of Haldighati in 1576 AD when Akbar was the emperor. Thereafter, it had also seen Akbar’s son, growing intimate with the British.
Suddenly, the walls of the fort started laughing at me and they said…..“O curious traveller! Why are you standing still? Are you not satisfied with the tales of Haldighati and Thomas Roe? If not, then listen carefully to the sounds of banter of children that were born here under my shelter.” I stood there motionless and started listening to the sound of laughter of children coming out from the walls of that fort. Gradually, the sound of laughter turned into the sound of wailing women. I was astonished and so enquired from the fort…..“ O mighty fort! Who were those children and why were they laughing? And then why women were crying?” The walls of the smiled at me and replied in the grave tone….“O curious traveller! The voices of laughter that you heard were coming from the two children of Shahjahan who were born at this fort. I nursed and took care of Dara Shikoh and Shah Shuja and saw them growing into two fine and handsome men. Later, I heard that these two children were murdered by Aurangjeb, their own brother, for a throne. The voices of crying that you heard were coming from wailing women, who cared for them”.
I was stunned to hear the reply coming from the walls of the fort. I never knew that Dara Shikoh and Shah Shuja, two sons of emperor Shahjahan were born at Ajmer fort. I was also very sad to know about their untimely death over the question of rule over the sultanate. I was so depressed that I wanted to leave. But the walls of the fort stopped me and said….. “O sad traveller! Are you going? Just wait for a while as you have come here after a very very long time. When the Mughal empire fell, I went into the possession of Marathas. Those Marathas handed over me to British, who started using me as a tehsil office. I had to see the tears of more than 572 men when they were forced by British to go to First World War from this fort.” This piece of history was also very new to me. I had never thought that prisoners were kept at this fort. But when I heard the silent voices of those hapless prisoners coming out of its walls, their plight ran into my imagination. I started visualizing the scenes when British soldiers would have loading those prisoners onto the military trucks to throw them to one of the fiercest battle of that time. I told to the fort in my mind……“O mighty fort! I can feel the pain of a humiliated nation through your history. I can only wish that such days should never come to your long life again.” I was deeply moved by the history of the long standing fort. I kept standing there deep rooted in my thoughts.
Suddenly, the fort again started saying…….“O curious traveller! Don’t you wish to know what happened when a young India was born? The Indian government has established a museum here. Originally, the idea of this museum came into the mind of one Lord Curzon, who was dividing Bengal at the same time. I have seen the happiness of Independence. Presently, I am passing my time by watching the people of a free nation, who come to this museum.”
The moment I heard the fort saying about the present time, the spell was broken and I found myself in front of the very Government museum that is housed in this historical fort.
The museum fell to the right of the enclosure. First two halls display pictures of the important events and also of the important personalities connected with the fort and museum. The next hall had the collection of pottery and other artefacts found in the nearby area. Mainly Mohanjodro relics were on display. The section on inscriptions was quite rich. When Ruchir was touching one of the inscriptions pertaining to the era of Prithivi Raj Chauhan, I was thinking about the development of administrative practices in the history. Every government requires issuing notifications in written form. These days such notifications are issued in digital forms. But imagine the effort required to notify a government instruction by inscribing it on the stone or on metal.
One granite statue of Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi caught my attention. I was really wondering about the pairs of Indian Gods and Goddesses. I think every pair represents something of a great tradition of India. For example, Vishnu is married to Lakshmi, Goddess of wealth. It means, if Vishnu is to provide for all, he is associated with the Goddess of wealth. Similarly, Shiva, the Lord of destruction is associated to Parvati, the Shakti. Imagine, what would happen, if Vishnu is associated to Parvati!
Throughout Rajasthan, the gallery on arms and ammunitions are generally rich. Swords and daggers were the main weapon for thousands of years. In their heydays, different scientists of that era would have spent long hours in developing better and classy swords and the shields. Swords for military use may be different from the sword for policing. For that matter a ceremonial sword would have been crafted more artistically. I was thinking about all those craftsmen, who have melted swords for generations. Where have they all gone? The collection of guns was also quite good. Medieval Indian royalty also used the guns manufactured in England, France and Germany. In the collection there, one of the guns resembled the “kartusi” gun, which initiated the massive revolt in 1857 by Mangal Pandey. Either it was the “Smoothbore Brown bess”, which was used by the Indian sepoys prior to the revolt, or, it was “1853 Enfield musket”, that started the revolt. Both look the same so, I could not say with authority.
When we decided to come out of the fort its walls again told me “O traveller! How should I tell you all of my stories? Some of my bricks are tainted with blood and some are buzzing with the sound of laughter of children and merrymaking. Some of the bricks have religious sentiments and some are burdened with power and responsibilities. My life is a roller-coaster, whose height and depth can not be fathomed.” I understood and said in my mind… “O worthy fort! From the period of Akbar to present day democracy you have seen all. Transfer of power from one form to another and from one ruler to another you have seen regularly. Please continue to stand still as places like you are always destined to take part in changing ways of life.”
With this, I bade farewell to this fort and came out. My son Ruchir, who came out first, was already waiting by the car. So, we proceeded to our next destination.