This is in continuation of the last story on road, that I shared in the previous posting. When we reached Agra with all the intention to see Taj with our kids, after the smooth, pacy and yet the adventurous ride on the new expressway, we got stuck for a couple of hours in the traffic snarls of ill-prepared Agra. Agra never witnessed such flood of vehicles ever in its history, in its narrow lanes. It could not entertain the huge rush from Delhi that took the newly inaugurated expressway. So, quickly we exited and headed towards Fatehpur Sikri, that I have never visited before. Thanks to Indira and Mallika who insisted on going there at any cost to untie the knots at the chisti’s abode that they tied a couple of years ago, praying for our second child. Now that Svwara arrived in our life, we headed to the chisthi.
Thus we reached Fatehpur Sikiri and I was flabbergasted at the expanse of Mughal Architecture and its finery. I am always astonished at the Vision, Design, Execution and craftsmanship that go into making such grand structures, that have been existing in this land of INDIA for a cover 2000-3000 years, many are still standing majestically!
According to contemporary historians, Emperor Akbar took a great interest in the building of Fatehpur Sikri and probably also dictated its architectural style. Seeking to revive the splendours of Persian court ceremonial made famous by his ancestor Timur, Akbar planned the complex on Persian principles. But the influences of his adopted land came through in the typically Indian embellishments. The Easy availability of sandstone in the neighbouring areas of Fatehpur Sikri, also meant that all the buildings here were made of the red stone. The imperial Palace complex consists of a number of independent pavilions arranged in formal geometry on a piece of level ground, a pattern derived from Arab and central Asian tent encampments. In its entirety, the monuments at Fatehpur Sikri thus reflect the genius of Akbar in assimilating diverse regional architectural influences within a holistic style that was uniquely his own. Built during the 16th century, the Fatehpur Sikri is one of the best preserved collection of Mughal architecture in India
The Imperial complex was abandoned in 1585, shortly after its completion, due to paucity of water and its proximity with the Rajputana areas in the North-West, which were increasingly in turmoil. Thus the capital was shifted to Lahore so that Akbar could have a base in the less stable part of the empire, before moving back Agra in 1598, where he had begun his reign as he shifted his focus to Deccan. In fact, he never returned to the city except for a brief period in 1601. In later Mughal history it was occupied for a short while by Mughal emperor, Muhammad Shah (r. 1719 -1748), and his regent, Sayyid Hussain Ali Khan Barha, one of the Syed Brothers, was murdered here in 1720. Today much of the imperial complex which spread over nearly two mile long and one mile wide area is largely intact and resembles a ghost town. It is still surrounded by a five mile long wall built during its original construction, on three sides. However apart from the imperial buildings complex few other buildings stand in the area, which is mostly barren, except of ruins of the bazaars of the old city near the Naubat Khana, the ‘drum-house’ entrance at Agra Road. The modern town lies at the western end of the complex, which was a municipality from 1865 to 1904, and later made a “notified area”, and in 1901 had a population of 7,147. For a long time it was still known for its masons and stone carvers, though in Akbar time it was known for ‘fabrics of hair’ and ‘silk-spinning’. The village of Sikri still exists nearby.
Fatehpur Sikri sits on rocky ridge, 3 km. in length and 1 km. wide, and palace city is surrounded by a 11 km wall on three side with the fourth being a lake at the time. Its architect was Tuhir Das and was constructed using Indian principles. The buildings of Fatehpur Sikri show a synthesis of various regional schools of architectural craftsmanship such as Gujarat and Bengal. This was because indigenous craftsmen from various regions were used for the construction of the buildings. Influences from Hindu and Jain architecture are seen hand in hand with Islamic elements. The building material used in all the buildings at Fatehpur Sikri, palace-city complex, is the locally quarried red sandstone, known as ‘Sikri sandstone’. It is accessed through gates along the five-mile long fort wall, namely, Delhi Gate, the Lal Gate, the Agra Gate, Birbal’s Gate, Chandanpal Gate, The Gwalior Gate, the Tehra Gate, the Chor Gate and the Ajmere Gate.
1. Tomb of Salim Chishti:
The most sacred place among the abodes in Fatehpur Sikri is Sheikh Salim Chisthi’s tomb, which is frequented by thousands every day. The belief is that, your wishes will come true if you pay respects at this tomb. The folklore is that, Akbar was blessed with his first child after a long time, after he paid respects to Sheik Salim, the pious sufi saint here and as a respect Akbar built the tomb in his honour.
A white marble encased tomb of the Sufi saint, Salim Chisti (1478–1572), within the Jama Masjid’s sahn, courtyard. The single-storey structure is built around a central square chamber, with has the grave of the saint, under an ornate wooden canopy, encrusted with mother-of-pearl mosaic. Surrounding it is covered passageway for circumambulation, with carved Jalis, stone pierced screens all around with intricate geometric design, and an entrance to the south. The tomb is influenced by earlier mausolea of the early 15th century Gujarat Sultanate period. Other striking features of the tomb are white marble serpentine brackets, which support sloping eaves around the parapet.
These stone grills around make the corridor of the chisthi bright and shiny, at the same time adding beauty because the scun peers into the corridors making grand designs.
Once their wishes come true, the believers come back, pay their obeisance and untie the knot; only to tie the next one for the next set of wishes!
2. Nawab Islam Khan’s Tomb :
On the left of the tomb, to the east, stands a red sandstone tomb of Islam Khan I, son of Shaikh Badruddin Chisti and grandson of Shaikh Salim Chishti, who became a general in the Mughal army in the reign of Jahangir. The tomb is topped by a dome and thirty-six small domed chattris, and contains a number of graves, some unnamed, all male descendants of Shaikh Salim Chisti.
This complex of Nawab Islam Khan has resting places of too many of the descendents and family members in its rear block, where tradition of praying every day continues.
3. Buland Darwaza
Set into the south wall of congregational mosque, the Jama Masjid at Fatehpur Sikri, this stupendous piece of architecture is 54 metre high, from the outside, gradually making a transition to a human scale in the inside. The gate was added some five years later after the completion of the mosque ca. 1576-1577 as an ‘victory arch’, to commemorate the Akbar’s successful Gujarat campaign. It carries two inscriptions in the archway, one of which reads: “Isa(Jesus) Son of Mary said: The world is a bridge, pass over it, but build no houses on it. He who hopes for an hour may hope for eternity. The world endures but an hour. Spend it in prayer, for the rest is unseen”.
The central portico comprises three arched entrances, with the largest one, in the centre, is known locally as the Horseshoe Gate, after the custom of nailing horseshoes to its large wooden doors for luck. Outside the giant steps of the Buland Darwaza to left is deep well.
4. Jama Masjid:
The place of prayer in the complex, Jama masjid is very majestic and grandeur and it is placed to the left, when you enter from the grand BULAND DARWAJA.
It is a Jama Mosque meaning the Friday Mosque congregational mosque, and was perhaps one of the first buildings to come up in the complex, as its epigraph gives AH 979 (A.D. 1571-72) as the date of its completion, with a massive entrance to the courtyard, the Buland-Darwaza added some five years later. It was built in the manner of Indian mosques, with Diwans around a central courtyard. A distinguishing feature is the row of chhatri over the sanctuary. There are three mihrabs in each of the seven bays, while the large central mihrab is covered by a dome, it is decorated with white marble inlay, in geometric patterns.
This complex is vast, as you can see in the given map. We managed to go through a few of the spaces that I cover here..
5. Panch Mahal:
A five-storied palatial structure, with the tiers gradually diminishing in size, till the final one, which is a single large-domed chhatri. Originally pierced stone screens faced the façade, and probably sub-divided the interior as well, suggesting it was built for the ladies of the court. The floors are supported by intricately carved columns on each level, totalling to 176 columns in all.
the Diwan-i-Khas, or Hall of Private Audience, is a plain square building with four chhatris on the roof. However it is famous for its central pillar, which has a square base and an octagonal shaft, both carved with bands of geometric and floral designs, further its thirty-six serpentine brackets support a circular platform for Akbar, which is connected to each corner of the building on the first floor, by four stone walkways. It is here that Akbar had representatives of different religions discuss their faiths and gave private audience.
7. Diwan-i-Aam :
Diwan-i-Am or Hall of Public Audience, is a building typology found in many cities where the ruler meets the general public. In this case, it is a pavilion-like multi-layed rectangular structure fronting a large open space. South west of the Diwan-i-Am and next to the Turkic Sultana’s House stand Turkic Baths.
8. Anup Talao:
An ornamental pool with a central platform and four bridges leading up to it. It is believed that Tansen used to sit on this platform and sing while Akbar used to hear from his bedroom or portico just across the Talo.
Some of the important buildings of the royal enclave surrounding the Anup Talo include Khwabgah (House of Dreams) Akbar’s residence, Panch Mahal, a five-storey palace, Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience), Ankh Michauli and the Astrologer’s Seat, in the south-west corner of the Pachisi Court.
There are many more structures that I could not cover, hope to do them on my next visit..
Incredible India! Fatehpur Sikri – Mughal Architecture at its best, a set on Flickr.
Like my Facebook Photo and Visual arts Page
– Indus Art Gallery, Campus – Indus World School of Business, Greater Noida
Display / Collections
– At my Alma mater : Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore
– Various schools of Indus World School chain
– Private collections
Recent Publications featuring my work and in Media [know more]
– The India Idea, Wisdom Tree publications for Ministry of External Affairs, Public diplomacy division, Aug 2011
– Penguin India, Top 5 “India through my Lens” 2011
– Femina Magazine, Anniversary issue, October 14, 2011
– Photographs featured with poetry in the book Hindustani Poems ‘Shayad, Yaheen kaheen se ho’ by Satya, April 27, 2012