Far from the din and bustle of India’s capital, New Delhi, yet not too far on the Delhi-Agra route, lies Fatehpur Sikri, a city that was once the capital of the Mughal Empire (albeit for a brief period). It now bears a desolate and haunted look, yet serves as an excellent reminder of the architectural genius of the Mughal era, which gave us the spectacular Taj Mahal, many years later.
The imperial city of the Mughal dynasty, Fatehpur Sikri (The City of Victory), was built by the great Mughal Emperor— Akbar. The construction began in 1570 and it was built in honour of the Sufi Saint—Shaikh Salim Chisti, who lived on the ridge at Sikri village about 40 kilometres from Agra and foretold the birth of the emperor’s son (the future Jahangir)— who was named Prince Salim after the Saint.
Akbar experimented with architecture and art, this city being a fine example of his ideals and vision. Sikri was the first planned city of the Mughals and reveals innovative town planning through its efficient drainage and water-supply system. The architecture of Fatehpur Sikri has a definite all-India character and embodies the noble ideals and the tolerant bent of Akbar’s mind.
The monuments exude the prolific and versatile Indo-Islamic composite style. These red sandstone monuments are one of the finest masterpieces of Mughal architecture and Fatehpur Sikri is a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE site.
Buland Darwaza : The gate was erected in 1602 to commemorate Akbar’s victory over Deccan. It is the highest and most grand gateway in India and ranks among the biggest in the world. This gate can be approached from the outside by a 13-metre flight of steps which adds to its grandeur.
Semi-octagonal in plan, it has traditional pillars and chattris that are typical of this architecture. Made of red sandstone, there is a lot of intricate inlay in black and white marble on its walls. There are also several Quranic calligraphy inscriptions on its pillars.
This fifteen storey gateway is an imposing structure that has few parallels and is located at the north-eastern entrance to this glorious city that was abandoned fifteen years after it was built.
The Astrologer’s Seat : This is where Emperor Akbar consulted his team of astrologers, spiritual leaders and philosophers. Toranas (serpentine struts) typical of Hindu temple architecture further reflect how Akbar liberally brought together the myriad influences of culture in this part of the world to create this marvellous piece of architecture.
The Dargah of Sheikh Salim Chishti : The lattice work in the Dargah is among the finest to be found anywhere in India. This Dargah, built in 1570, is situated to the North of Jami Masjid.
The spectacular carved jaalis, stone-pierced screens all around with intricate geometric design, and white marble serpentine brackets that support sloping eaves around the parapet—all truly magnificent.
Diwan-i-Khas : Famous for its central pillar supporting a circular platform where Akbar hosted representatives of different religions who congregated to discuss their faiths.
The raised throne connects to a gallery by four bridges where representatives of various religions were seated. It is a fascinating place and reveals Akbar’s liberalism, religious interests and tolerance. On the right, you can see jaali-work on the windows of the Diwan-i-Khas. Below, you can see the majestic throne pillars with heavy relief work on it.
Anup Talao : Located in the central open courtyard in front of Akbar’s private apartments (Khawabgah), this was the place for cultural performances.
Panch Mahal : This five-storeyed airy, palatial structure where the wives of the Emperor observed the lively activities in the palace court was designed in a manner that kept the interior cool. Each floor is somewhat smaller than the preceding one, giving it a beautiful shape.
Palace of Jodha Bai : The Harem Sara—Imperial Harem—covered a large area of the complex and included three palaces, the largest and most important one (with beautiful canopies) is the palace of Jodha Bai, Akbar’s wife, and the Rajput Princess of Amber. This spacious palace was assured of privacy and security with its high walls and a 9 metre guarded gate to the east.
What is most interesting in the Harem structure is the meeting of two worlds—architecturally and culturally. The worlds of Rajputs and Mughals as personified by Jodha Bai and Akbar. The union of these distinct traditions reflected in the use of traditional Hindu motifs alongside Mughal architectural definitions.
Birbal’s Palace : The two storeyed palace to the north-west of Jodha Bai’s Palace is called Birbal’s palace. Birbal (Raja Birbal, Akbar’s brilliant Hindu Brahmin Prime Minister) was Akbar’s favourite courtier.
Fatehpur Sikri was Akbar’s capital for about fifteen years. Within fifteen years of the city’s foundation, the lake that was the natural source of water for this city could not provide enough water to the growing population in this region. There were also constant disturbances from the north-western frontier. All these factors led to Akbar’s decision to abandon Fatehpur Sikri and make Lahore his new capital, to fight against the Afghan tribes. Ever since, this beautiful city wears a desolate look, almost as if it is waiting for its inhabitants to return some day.
Read the full feature on Prismma Magazine
Sanghamitra Bhattacharjee is based in Singapore and runs the popular blog