Situated 26 miles west of Agra is the deserted imperial city Fatehpur Sikri, built by Mughal Emperor Akbar as an act of gratitude to Sheikh Salim Chishti, a sufi saint. Akbar made it the capital of Mughal Empire for only 15 years and for some inexplicable reason, like shortage of water supply, abandoned it.
Fatehpur Sikri is regarded as Emperor Akbar’s architectural legacy and because he was a tolerant ruler the buildings at Fatehpur Sikri blended both Islamic and Hindu architectural style. The numerous halls, palaces, and masjids at Fatehpur Sikri satisfy his creative and aesthetic impulses. The great Mughal emperor Akbar experimented and expressed his visions and ideals at Fatehpur Sikri.
NEED OF AN HIER AND SHEIKH SALIM CHISHTI’S PRDICTION
During Akbar’s reign the royal treasury overflowed with tribute and there was peace in the land, but his only grief was that, he was without an heir for a long time, so he made pilgrimage to sufi saint, Sheikh Salim Chishti, to seek his blessings. Sheikh Salim Chishti prophesied that Emperor Akbar would have three sons. The following year Akbar had a son who was named after the saint as Salim. In 1571 as a gratitude to the saint he began building a mosque at this site. The saint died in 1572 and a tomb for Sheikh Salim was built within the mosque complex.
CAPITAL OF MUGHAL EMPIRE Akbar built a beautiful palace complex at Sikri and gradually the royal court shifted here and built a new capital of Mughal Empire. Fatehpur, meaning the city of victory, was added to Sikri by Akbar to commemorate his conquest of Gujrat and thus named his new capital as Fatehpur Sikri. The construction of new ceremonial capital of the Mughal Empire began in the year 1571. Elaborate palaces, formal courtyards, reflecting pools, harems,tombs and a great mosque was build at Fatehpur Sikri.
ABANDONEMENT OF FATEHPURSIKRI
It took almost 15 years to build the pristine complex at Fatehpur Sikri and when the construction of the complex completed then due to lack of adequate water supply it was abandoned. However the reason behind abandonment of the city is still a mystery. It is believed that other reason could be Emperor’s loss of interest in the city. Akbar moved away from Fatehpur Sikri in the year 1585 and Fatehpur Sikri was never again the capital of Mughal Empire.
The structures here include palaces and courtyards, as well as official buildings like public halls, heram, the treasury, and soldier’s barracks. The pristine complex comprises the main mosque, the shrine of Sheikh Salim chishti and a lofty gateway (Buland darwaza).
The tolerant nature of the emperor is also reflected in these structures because the architecture here is a blend of Islamic and Hindu elements. The building material mainly used is red sand stone.
Jama Masjid or the Friday mosque is the most sacred site in Fatehpur Sikri and is perhaps the largest mosque in India. It is said to be a copy of main mosque at Mecca and is noted for its design, which has Persian and Hindu elements. This is the first major structure built at the site. The spacious courtyard, which could accommodate ten thousand men for prayer, adds to charm to the place. The prayer hall has three domes and the entrance is an arched iwan. Typical of a grand Mughal architecture are the pillared Dalan and Chhatris on the roof of Jama Masjid.
The Jama Masjid is entered through two main gates, a small private entrance from the palace on the east side and a monumental public entrance on the south side, Buland Darwaza. Buland Darwaza, the gate of victory was built to commemorate Akbar’s victory over Gujrat. It echoes early Mughal design with simple ornamentation. Giving additional height to the Mosque, the Buland Darwaza is approached through stairs that are 12 m from ground level. Buland Darwaza is designed in colored sandstone and marble and stands at southwestern end of the royal city complex.
DARGAH OF SHEIKH SALIM CHISHTI
Within the complex of Jama Masjid, sacred shrine of Sufi Saint Sheikh Salim Chishti is located. The tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti is one of the significant Sufi shrines of the region. It was originally built in red sand stone but later lattice marble screens replaced it. It was built as a gratitude to the saint, who prophesized that the Emperor would have three sons. The following year Akbar had a son and he was named after the saint as Salim. Even today the belief holds strong and many childless parents visit Jama Masjid, especially the shrine of Sheikh Salim Chisthi and tie threatds on the Jalis seeking fullfilment of their wishes. There is another tomb within the masjid complex of Islam Khan, grandson of Sheikh Salim.
THE ROYAL COMPLEX
The royal palace complex is one of the largest building complexes at Fatehpur Sikri and is approximately 250 m square. With three main areas, the public area, the mardana or men’s area, and the Zenana or women’s area, the layout is similar to that of other imperial Mughal palaces.
Visitors approach to the palace through a gateway and Diwan-i-amm or the hall of public audience is the first building beyond the entrance. Surrounded by colonnades, the diwan-I-amm is an enclosed space and there is a pavilion on the western face where the emperor, surrounded with his courtier sat in honor. Here major events including the marriage of prince Salim with Hindu princess were celebrated. The hall of public audience has beautifully carved jail or trellis screens. A small entrance behind the Diwan-I-amm leads to the protected private domain of the imperial palace, which contains mansions for the royal harem and the ladies-in-waiting, residencies for the ruler and living quarters. The mardana or gentlemen’s court are the personal palaces of the king.
Diwan I KhasThe most enigmatic structure and the architectural gem of the structure of the whole complex is the Diwan-I-khas. The building from the exterior has two storeys with a balcony supported on heavy corbels. Inside of the building appears that it is not two storeyd but is one is one high-ceilinged room. There are domed chhatris at each corner on the roof. Supported by a center pillar is the balcony connected by bridges that run diagonally from the corners of the gallery. The pillar is richly carved in the hindu tradition.The building is square in shape with a central pillar and has intrigued the historians because some of the historians see it as a Hindu mandal.
According to the tradition of the Mughal Empire, diwan-I-khas is the place where the emperor met ambassadors and governors and heard reports from officials. But however many other buildings have also been identified as the Diwan-I-khas.
Ankh Michauli is the name given to the hall, which is located west to the Diwan-I-Khas and romantic tales, are being weaved of how Emperor Akbar played ankh michauli with the women of the harem. But however it is skeptical because this palace is in the mardana section where women would not venture.
Anup Talao is a delightful ornamental pool with embellished edges with a platform at the center that can be reached by narrow bridges. The pool forms main part of the mardana or men’s area and faces the private palace of the emperor called the Khwabgah or palace of Dreams. It is said that the royal court singer Tansen used to perform from the seat in the center of the pool.
THE PANCH MAHAL
Panch Mahal, a five-storied palatial structure is one of the buildings that surround the courtyard. There are 176 intricately carved columns at the bottom floor of the mahal. The palace is crowned with a domed chhatri that overlooks the men’s area. The first two floors of the mahal are of equal size while the next are graded, and on top is a single kiosk or open pavilion. The pillared halls of each floor are open to the breeze and it is believed to have been used by the royal ladies to enjoy the magnificent view of the fort and the palace. Top of the panch mahal provides a beautiful view of layout of the imperial city, the private areas and the public ones and the courtyards linking them together.
JODHA BAI’S PALACE
Jodha Bai’s palace is at the heart of women’s area and is a rectangular courtyard separate from rest of the rest of the palace. This is the main palace of the zenana or harem but since the harem life was communal so it was probably the residence of several of Akbar’s principal wives. The palace is entered through a single fortified gateway on the east side. Arcades on all the four sides surround the courtyard. The roof of the palace is covered with blue tiles. The plan and the architecture resemble many Rajput palaces.
Hawa Mahal or wind palace is a raised pavilion where the women of the harem could sit and enjoy the view and the cool breezes. The walls of the palace are made entirely of stone lattice work.
Located to the west of Jodha Bai’s palace is an elaborated palace that the local guides claim to be the residence of Akbar’s advisor Birbal. However this is hard to believe because no one outside the royal family would have been allowed to live within the palace enclosure. It is believed to be the earliest parts of the palace.