A unique capital city

Akbar had established himself as a great and powerful monarch with a steadily expanding empire while he was still in his mid twenties. He had everything he desired; power, wealth, respect, loyalty and love, yet, happiness eluded him because he did not have an heir despite his several wives. He visited many shrines, undertook many pilgrimages but to no avail. At last he went to seek the blessings of a Sufi Saint, Sheikh Salim Chisti, who lived in a humble hermitage in a tiny village inhabited by stone cutters at Sikri, near Agra.

Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

The great emperor’s joy knew no bounds when his Hindu wife, Jodha Bai was blessed with a son in 1569, who was named Salim in honour of the Saint. (He later came to be known as Jahangir) Akbar vowed to build a new city on a rocky ridge 38 kilometers from Agra as a gesture of immense gratitude for the venerated Sufi mystic, which undoubtedly was a rare instance of thanksgiving. As Jahangir, was to later mention that ‘’in the course of 15 years, that hill full of wild beasts, became a city containing all kinds of gardens, buildings, lofty edifices and pleasant palaces.’’

Akbar employed local craftsmen and gave them the liberty to make use of their own imagination and traditional skill. The result was a unique ‘’Akbari style’’ Akbar employed local craftsmen and gave them the liberty to make use of their own imagination and traditional skill. The result was a unique ‘’Akbari style’’ which depicted a fine fusion of Hindu and Persian decorative motifs in a largely Islamic design and layout.

Construction of the city began with the Jama Masjid situated on the west side of the complex, which is also the largest and highest building built at that first one being known as the Badshahi Darwaza. The main sanctuary hall of the mosque, which stands on a raised platform Is made from red sandstone and decorated with white marble inscribed with Quranic verses and surmounted by five square cupolas.

In complete contrast to this large mosque is the single storeyed jewel like marble tomb of the venerated mystic Saint in the courtyard. The square shaped architectural masterpiece rests on a marble platform. On entering through an ebony door in incense filled surroundings exuding peace and serenity, can Be seen the Saint Chisti’s tombstone lying under a beautiful canopy made of brass, mother of pearl, ebony and lapis lazuli and covered with exquisite lattice work on marble screens surrounds the central chamber to facilitate couples belonging to different religions throng the sacred place for the Saint’s blessings. They offer prayers and tie coloured threads on the marble screens for fulfilment of t heir wishes and often return to untie (any thread) when their prayers have been answered.

Second gateway to the mosque is the Buland Darwaza, on the southernend. This 54 meters high majestic gateway built in 1595, commemorates Akbar’s triumphant return from a battle in Gujarat. Facing outwards and approached by a steep fight of steps, it offers a panoramic view of surrounding areas. Decorated with small domes, kiosks and large cupolas, this carved portal is believed to be one of the largest in the world. It bears an inscription of Jesus Christ on its,’’ after the construction of Buland Darwaza, the new capital city earlier called Sikri, appropriately came to be known as Fatehpur Sikri, or the City of Victory.

The Diwani-i-Am, or the Hall of Public Audience, which lies to the west of Hathiya Pol, is a large enclosed quadrangle courtyard with colonnades and an elaborate throne pavilion. The royal seat was enclosed by two exquisite screen on both sides. The large size and elaborate architecture of the hall shows that it was designed for occasions when the emperor and his public could come together under a single roof. The carved walls have recesses which were originally painted.

The double storeyed Imperial Palace Complex or the Khaas Mahal appears distinct with its Hindu embellishment like fancy brackets and carved pedestals. At the south end is the Hathiya Pol or Elephant Gate, which was the imperial entrance and the Naqqar Khana or the drum house where ceremonial drums were beaten.

Across the wide courtyard is the Diwan-i-Khas or the Hall of Private Audience which seems like a double storeyed structure but is actually a single high ceilinged chamber. Regarded as the most singular building in the complex because of its unique interior, its dominant feature is an exceptionally beautiful red sandstone column in the centre of the room with long supporting branches of brackets clustered around it to look like a crafted flower. Four passages from it lead to an equal number of corners while a circular gallery along the wall connects all the four passages.

To the north east is the Turkish Sultana’s Palace, a small square shaped intricately carved composition which belonged to one of Akbar’s wives. The Jodha Bai Palace on the other hand is large with double storeyed symmetrically built apartments with Hindu style architecture and decorative motifs. Maryam’s Mansion, though simple is distinguished by its open pavilions, sculpted brackets, murals, paintings and Persian inscriptions.

Akbar’s principal courtier Birbal’s house lies close by. It is a red sandstone double storeyed building with cubical chamber and embellishment in the form of bas reliefs and a carved dome.

The most intriguing edifice in the entire complex however is the five storeyed panch Mahal which rests on pillars. The first two pavilions of the palace have almost equal dimension while the third, fourth and fifth diminish in size gradually. The last one is open and provides a spectacular view of the historical city of Fatehpur Sikri. This was said to be a pleasure retreat for the royalty.

There are a variety of other trabeated buildings scattered round the complex, like the Pachisi Court, where a chess like game was played with human figures, the Royal Banquet Wall, the Royal Banquet Wall, the Hiran Minar with stone projections resembling elephant tusks, the treasury House, the Khwabagh or the emperor’s sleeping chambers and others whose function remain a mystery. All the structures, however, bear Akbar’s unmistakable imprint, involved as he was in every minute detail of the venture. But this dream city remained his capital only for fourteen to fifteen years. It was either scarecity of water or the escalating tension on the northwest frontiers of his massive empire, that Akbar decided to abandon the city and shifted to Lahore.

Today more than 400 years after it was created, this epic n sandstone, stands deserted and desolate; its ruins echoing the tales and fables of the life and times of one of the greatest monarch of India. Abul Fazi, his biographer couldn’t have been more correct when he wrote, ‘’His majesty plans splendid edifices and dresses the work of his minds and heart in stone and clay.’’