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Fatehpur Sikri: The deserted capital of Mughal Emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar is now a small town in the western part of Agra District. The Palaces and the Jama Masjid of Fatehpur Sikri are built on top of a ridge at an average altitude of 708 meters or 1011 feet above sea-level and is located at 27.05 degree latitude North and 77.39 degree longitude East. The town of Fatehpur Sikri is located in Uttar Pradesh at its border with the state of Rajasthan. The populated area lies below the ridge mainly in its southwestern area. Emperor Akbar lived in this place from about 1571 to 1585. There are many reasons why this capital was abandoned. Even when Fatehpur Sikri was flourishing most of army, arsenal, the imperial treasury and many important offices of the empire were located in Agra Fort for security and the important departments that functioned in Fatehpur Sikri could be easily moved in the event of an emergency. Among them the most important is the lack of water for the population of about 250,000 people that lived here at the peak of the glory of Fatehpur Sikri. The other practical reason was probably that Emperor Akbar had to move his court to Lahore for many years to suppress the rebellions in the Mughal territories in North Western India and Afghanistan. Between 1585 and the beginning of 20th century when first restorations at Fatehpur Sikri were scientifically carried out, the palaces part of Fatehpur Sikri was in ruins and wild plants and trees had covered most of the monuments. Lord Canning established the archaeological survey of India in 1860. Lord Curzon introduced the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act of 1904 with following words: As a pilgrim at the shrine of beauty I have visited them, but as a priest in the temple of duty have I charged myself with their reverent custody and their studious repair.
Emperor Akbar had no male heirs to the throne for many years and used to visit holy persons to be blessed with a son. In the community of stone cutters of Fatehpur Sikri, an elderly Sufi Saint, Sheikh Salim Chistie, used to live and he was very popular for his supernatural powers. When Emperor Akbar heard about him, he decided to visit him to get his blessings. The saint correctly prophesied that the Mughal Emperor would have 3 sons. When his queen became pregnant he moved to Fatehpur Sikri with her to live near the saint. Gradually the construction of the new capital started. He was personally interested in the planning and execution of the construction at Fatehpur Sikri. The Jesuit Father Monserrate visited the city in 1580 at the invitation of the Emperor and commented that the Emperor had a keen personal interest that was all consuming; he even quarried the stone alongside the workmen. Many other European travelers visited Fatehpur Sikri during the time when Emperor Akbar was living there. The architecture of the capital is very unique and reflects the religious philosophy of Emperor Akbar. Throughout his 14-year stay at Fatehpur Sikri the construction continued although most of palaces area was probably complete much earlier. By the time Emperor Akbar had settled and some initial buildings were built, Fatehpur Sikri was already a thriving center of commerce. The change from a non-descript small village of stone-cutters to an important metropolis was rapid and impressive. Ralph Fitch, the English traveler, visited Fatehpur Sikri in 1585 and mentioned in memoirs that Agra and Fatehpur Sikri are two very great cities, either of them much greater than London and very populous. He returned to Fatehpur Sikri in 1610 when the city had been abandoned already for many years. He commented in his memoirs that close inside the gate is the Sarai of the King with large stone lodgings but much ruined. Just near the Sarai on the eastern end of the ridge is another famous monument that is erroneously called the Baradari of Mia Tansen. It was probably some important building and is still in quite good state of preservation. A road leads to the Dak Bungalow of Archaeological Survey of India that was constructed between 1898 and 1905 in the period when Lord Curzon was Viceroy of India.
The city was very important in the personal life of Emperor Akbar. His first male child was born in this city 1569. His most ambitious expedition to Gujarat started from this city in 1580 and he returned to a triumphant welcome in 1585 when he renamed the city, Fatehpur or the city of victory. He built the Buland Darwaza, the highest arched gateway in the world, in his Jama Masjid to commemorate this victory. Mughal coinage was minted in Fatehpur Sikri. Many remarkable reforms and innovations in land revenue, military organization and provincial administration were carried out during the period when Emperor Akbar was living in Fatehpur Sikri. Although Emperor Akbar moved initially to enjoy the company of the Sufi saint, this imperial capital was very meticulously planned as a cultural, commercial and administrative center of Mughal Empire. A wall was built around the city that is about 6 kilometers or 4 miles long. This wall protected the city from north-eastern to south-western side while the north-western side had an artificial lake as a defense construction. This lake is mostly dry now. There were eight fortified gateways in the wall: 1) the Lal Darwaza, 2) the Akbarabadi (Agra) Darwaza, 3) the Suraj or Bir Darwaza, 4) the Ghandar (moon) Darwaza, 5) the Gwalior Darwaza, 6) the Terha (crooked) Darwaza, 7) the Ajmeri Darwaza and 8) the Delhi Darwaza. Except for the Suraj (sun), the Ghandar (moon) and the Terha (crooked) Darwaza, all the gateways were named after the direction of the cities they faced.
A conscious effort was made in the architectural layout of the city to create conspicuous spatial effects by placement of very individual structures surrounded by clear spaces in a non-repetitive design. Sometimes one feels the spaces in between are as important if not more significant than the buildings that are in the background. Commanders of the army of Emperor Akbar had led campaigns in distant Gujarat in the west and Bengal in the east of India. Skilled craftsmen must have been lured to the Mughal capital by the royal patronage. In Fatehpur Sikri predominantly Hindu, Buddhist and Jain architectural elements from these two provinces and elsewhere were utilized. The structures in this capital are completely in contrast with the rigid symmetry of earlier and also later Islamic constructions in India. The entire plan of the city is very informal and improvisational. The building material used was quarried on the location because the ridge on which the structures stood had red sandstone.
As one moves further inside the city from its eastern entrance one comes to the Naubat Khana, an open square with 4 gateways. The balconies on top of these gateways were the stages where musician would sit to beat the drums and play other instruments to welcome the Emperor. This road leads to the Diwan-i-Am, the hall of public audience. There is no enclosed structure for the noblemen and the common folk in Fatehpur Sikri in contrast to Agra Fort or the Red Fort of Shahjahan in Delhi. Instead it is a huge open courtyard with covered verandah all around. The western verandah is interrupted by a rectangular raised platform with pillars supporting a sloping roof. This space was used by the Emperor to sit when he held audience for general public. A small doorway on one side of the Pavilion of the Emperor leads one to the next courtyard that occupies a much bigger open space. On its northern side is the Diwan-i-Khas or the hall of private audience. This building is perhaps the most impressive one in the entire city. There is a central, octagonal pillar that has simple geometrical designs carved in red sandstone. This pillar supports a platform that is created with the merging of the Buddhist and Jain torana arches in a circular form. The torana arches have been used in innumerable Buddhist and Jain monuments but no where has one attempted to form a capital like the one that supports the platform on which the Emperor used to sit in this Diwan-i-Khas. Four bridges emerging from four corners of the hall converge into this central platform. Most probably the Emperor would walk on one of the bridges to sit on a throne in the center and the ministers or the various religious priests would be seated on the remaining three bridges and on the surrounding balconies when Emperor held private audience. Some historians believe that this structure was the Jewel House or the Ibadat Khana (place of worship). There is another rectangular building just west of the Diwan-i-Khas and this was most probably the Treasury. On the south eastern corner of the Treasury is a beautiful square kiosk that also has torana arches between its four corner pillars. This is popularly called the Kiosk for the Astrologer but it was most probably used for some other purpose. It could have been the place where the Emperor sat when he distributed golden coins to distinguished officers or in charity to the needy poor subjects. A high wall separates this courtyard from the next one in its western side. A little further south this wall is interrupted by a lofty structure of five floors, the Panch Mahal. This was called the Badgir – the building has 84 pillars, a number regarded as holy by the Hindus. Considering that Emperor Akbar was keenly interested in the mystical philosophies of Hinduism and other religions, it is quite possible that the number of pillars was deliberately chosen. The building was designed to have cross ventilation. In front of the Badgir is a spacious open courtyard. The center of this courtyard has the Pacchissi Court, an ancient board game, marked by a different hue of red sandstone. Live figures were used to play this game. At the southern most end of this courtyard is the Daulat Khana or the private palace of the Emperor. In front of this palace is Anup Talao, a square pool with steps leading into it from all four sides. In the center of this pool is a square stage that can be approached by four bridges from four sides of the pool. It is believed that Mia Tansen, the favorite musician of Emperor Akbar used to perform for his pleasure sitting on this center stage while the Emperor sat on a balcony of his palace to the south. Mia Tansen held an esteemed position in the imperial court, he was one of the Navratna or the nine jewels – the nine most important courtiers of Emperor Akbar. Just beyond the northwestern corner of Anup Talao is the palace of the Turkish Sultana or Hujra-i-Anup Talao. The relief carvings on this palace are so intricate and clean that one tends to think that they were engraved on wood rather than red sandstone. It is not certain that this palace was used as a female quarter because it so near the male only area of the palace. Badauni, a contemporary historian, mentions in his writings that Emperor Akbar held a very significant religious conference in Hujra-i-Anup Talao.
A small gateway in the western wall of this courtyard leads to the next enclosure where one views immediately in front the rectangular House of Maryam that is also popularly called the Sunahara Makan or the golden house. It was called the Sunahara Makan because of the mural paintings inside the house that also used gold foil. This was the house of the mother of Emperor Akbar, Hamida Banu Begum who had been honored with the title of Marayam Makani or dwelling in the house of Mary, the mother of Lord Jesus Christ. Marayam Makani was the most important female in the household of the Emperor because she had custody of the imperial seal without which no Farman or a document signed by Emperor had validity. Just near this house in one corner is a building that is popularly called the Kitchen of Jodh Bai. It is not certain how this building was utilized. Further west of the Kitchen of Jodh Bai is a very impressive entrance to a very large palace. This palace has been variously called Palace of Jodha Bai, Haram Sara and Shabistan-i-Iqbal. Jodha Bai was the principal queen of the Emperor and belonged to the Hindu Rajput family of Amber, the ancient capital of Jaipur Maharajas. The queens of the Emperor used to live together in a communal setting although they had some privacy. This building could have been used by Jodha Bai along with his other Muslim and Christian wives. Emperor Akbar was unique in allowing his wives to practice their respective religion within the Harem. Wives of noblemen and women of chaste character were also invited to live in the Harem for a short period to bestow honor and dignity to the family to which the invited lady belonged. The Jesuit priest, Monserrate mentions in his memoirs that more than 300 ladies dwelt in the Harem.
Behind the palace of Jodha Bai is the house that is popularly called the palace of Raja Birbal. Raja Birbal was the favorite minister of Emperor Akbar and jokes about his quick wittedness are still popular in India. The building seems to be divided in two distinct sections and its most probable occupants were the two Muslim queens of Emperor Akbar, Ruquayya Begum and Salima Sultan Begum. Being within the Zenana or female quarters it is not possible that Raja Birbal would have lived in this building. Like all other buildings in Fatehpur Sikri this one is also very richly ornamented with carvings and relief-work in red sandstone. Just near this house is a building that is popularly believed to be the stables of the Elephants.
Going out of the Zenana quarters one can see the eastern Badshahi Darwaza of the Jama Masjid built by Emperor Akbar. This mosque is the largest building in the Fatehpur Sikri. The mosque has three domes of which the central one is very large but almost completely hidden behind its central arch. The interior of the mosque is very richly carved and also has geometric designs made with inlay of white and black marble in red sandstone. In the interiors of the arches and domes there is some painting decoration also. The Sufi saint died on February 14, 1572 at the ripe of 92 years. He was buried at the same spot where he sat during the last years of his life. Emperor Akbar had his mausoleum placed very prominently in the courtyard of the mosque. With this placement he probably emphasized the co-existence of the mystical side of Islam with the more orthodox Sunni Islam in his empire. The mausoleum of the Sufi saint was originally also made of red sandstone predominantly. Emperor Jahangir mentions in his memoirs that his foster brother, Qutubuddin Khan Koka, had outer white marble screens installed and a white marble ambulatory floor paved in 1606. The complete lamination of the exterior of the mausoleum was completed much later in 1866. Continuing the tradition started by Emperor Akbar many followers of the saint belonging to both Muslim and Hindu communities still come to seek his blessings to have a child or for the fulfillment of some other wish. They tie a red thread in the interior screens of the tomb and when their wish is fulfilled they come back to untie one thread.
To the east of the tomb of the Sheikh is a massive red sandstone building that was originally Jamat Khana or the place of gathering of the disciples of the Sufi saint. The descendents of the Sufi saint were buried in this building. It is also called the tomb of Islam Khan but his grave is not placed in a central location inside the building and therefore it was not built for him alone. Between this building and the tomb of the saint in the wall behind there is an arched gateway that lead into a dark building with many rooms. It is believed that the Sufi saint met with female disciples and also with Emperor Akbar in this building.
To commemorate his victory in Gujarat Emperor Akbar had Buland Darwaza, a gigantic arched gateway, in the southern side added to the Jama Masjid in circa 1585. The arch of this massive gate is 40 meters or 131.2 feet high. The stairs leading to it from the road below are another 12 meters or 39.4 feet high. The total structure is 52 meters or 170.6 feet higher than the road. On one of the interior walls of this gate is a quote from the bible: the world is a bridge, do not build houses on it.
The renovations and archaeological research is still continuing in Fatehpur Sikri in 2007. There used to be an ancient lake near Fatehpur Sikri. In 1999-2000 the Archaeological Survey of India undertook excavations on a site called Birchhabili Tila and discovered a large number of Jain sculptures with inscriptions. The most unique find was a Jain Sruti Sarasvati sculpture that has inscriptions on its pedestal mentioning the date Vikram Samvat 1067 corresponding to 1010 CE. A stone fragment bearing Brahmi script in Sanskrit language was another important find in this site. In the Khwabgah in Daulat Khana section of the palaces a massive red sandstone storage jar measuring 12 feet in height and 8 feet in diameter was found. In contemporary accounts this jar has been called the Abdar Khana or Ganga Sagar and was built for storing water that was brought from Ganga River. Near Anup Talao an underground passage and chamber was discovered that seems to the Kasana or a cool place mentioned in many Persian language records.
Goverdhan Tourist Complex - 18 rooms
Sunset View Guesthouse - 7 rooms
Hotel Vrindavan -
Distance from Fatehpur Sikri in Kilometers and Miles:
Agra: 40 Kilometers or 25 Miles
Bharatpur: 10 Kilometers or 7 Miles
Mathura : 64 Kilometers or 40 Miles