In his time he may have been the most powerful man in the world.
He came in fashionably late and occupied his cushioned seat atop the intricately carved marble structure upon which his throne rested.
It was a hot tropical morning but his heavy robes actually kept him cool and shielded from the searing wind. His diadem laden crown felt heavy and he refrained from turning his head for fear that it would fall.
He looked at the pulsing, seething crowd below and, instantly, they fell to their knees in homage. A far larger crowd had gathered outside the mammoth, red sandstone, walls of his palace.
There was anger in the air but it was rapidly changing to fear.
He was about to help that transformation accelerate.
Today was not an ordinary court day. Today he would let his subjects know what happened when they forgot that he, and he alone, was their divinely appointed ruler.
He leaned forward slightly to look directly below him. A dozen naked men were there, each held in chains by two burly guards. They were in sorry shape. Many had broken limbs with white bones showing through torn skin. Flesh, charred with branding irons, was suppurating.
One was comatose and only the chains kept him upright.
They had all confessed. Under enhanced interrogation from his most skilled intelligence officers they had given up comrades and exposed the conspiracy. Even now his horsemen were pursuing the one surviving leader. He would soon be captured.
Now it was time to teach his subjects a lesson they would never forget.
He raised his hand.
There was instant silence.
He pronounced sentence. They would all die the traditional death of traitors. And they would die in public. A dozen pits had already been dug in the maidan – field – outside. They would be buried up to their necks and then the royal execution elephant, decorated and gaily caparisoned, would stroll through the maidan. Skulls would flatten with a sickening pop while bloodthirsty crowds cheered.
He would not be there. His favorite queen had arranged special entertainment for him. Her men had finally captured the giant tiger, known as Sher Khan, that had achieved such renown that even he had hard of it. This evening there would be wine and music and dancing girls as Sher Khan was pitted against his war elephant in a battle to the death.
He looked forward to it. It had been a tiresome day.
This is not fiction. Scenes, exactly as described, happened with some frequency during the reign of Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor who is better known as the builder of the Taj Mahal.
His palace, the Red Fort, was constructed in 1648 and is now a World Heritage Site. You can see a portion of it behind me in the picture. At the time the Mughal Empire held sway over more than 150 million persons and comprised nearly a quarter of the world’s economy.
The kingdom did not come easy to Shah Jahan. He was born Prince Khurram, the third son of his father, the Emperor Jahangir.
He killed his older siblings in fratricidal war to grab the throne. Immediately after his victory he ordered the execution of his younger brother, Shahryar and the imprisonment of his father’s favorite queen.
He certainly did not foresee that his third son, Aurangzeb, would slay his brothers to grab the Mughal throne and then imprison him in Agra Fort. He could see the Taj Mahal take shape but could not visit till he died and was laid to rest beside his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
The intricately carved marble structure, from which he surveyed his subjects in the royal darbar, is now in a sorry corner of the castle.
Random tourists, such as myself, gape at it and take selfies.
Think about what you, today, are striving to achieve. Think of the tremendous expenditure of emotional energy, of the pain and suffering, of the hopes and fears.
One day, regardless of whether you win or lose, all of it will be equally forgotten and disregarded.
Does this mean that you should stop striving?
Not at all.
But it does mean that you should be exceedingly careful about what you are striving for and why you are striving.
And recognize that the true value of what you are doing is not in the ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of your efforts but in the changes it produces in you.
That is the most valuable life lesson for you.