As once the capital of the Mughal empire, the city of victory, also known as Fatehpur Sikri bears exceptional testimony to the once grand and highly influential era of reigning kings and queens.
Located approximately a two-hour drive away from Agra, Uttar Pradesh, this Indian city was founded in the year 1569 by the Mughal Emperor Akbar. It remained as the capital city from the year 1571 to 1585 during which it was regarded as one of the most influential eras of all time.
Emperor Akbar began work on this capital in the year 1571 and it was said to have been completed in a matter of two years. The architect who worked on the main palace was Tuhir Das. Apart from being influenced by Persian architecture, Indian principles (including Hindu, Jain and Islamic elements of architectural design) can also be seen. Carved beams and posts, decorated pillars, ornamental arches, detailed brackets and balconies are a constant feature. Domes on the other hand have been built very sparingly. An efficient and well organized system of drainage and water supply was also adopted suggesting an intelligent and far-thinking planning strategy by the emperor.
All in all, the then city comprised of a series of palaces, public buildings, harems, places of worship (mosques), as well as living areas for the emperor’s entire court, army and servants as well as the entire population of commoners. Although it is probable from the ruins of mud huts on the plain surroundings that the people of Fatehpur Sikri were not well-off, the area was rich in sandstone which was primarily used to build the entire city and its main buildings.
The royal palace of Fatehpur Sikri stands tall (even to this day) on a rocky plateau, bound on three sides by a 6km wall and fortified by towers and gates. A man-made lake was said to have planked the fourth side but this does not exist today. Regardless of how many years this palace had been abandoned, visitors throng to this part of the city just to get a glimpse of the architectural grandeur and splendour of its yesteryears. Each section of the palace was constructed, keeping in mind of how best each section could be used and also in keeping with its natural surrounding – including a hall for the public audience, a jewel house, a pavilion, an entertainment hall, stables and also a grand mosque.
Standing at 54 metres at the entrance of the palace complex is the Buland Darwaza – a wall-like fortification entrance gate gradually making a transition to human scale on the inside. The emperor was known to have been a very pious man and many places of worship and religious monuments were constructed during his reign, including the grand mosque – Jama Masjid – which lies beyond the Buland Darwaza. It can accommodate over 10,000 worshippers and was said to have been built sometime during the completion of the main palace. High red sandstone walls flank this mosque and at the centre of the court lies the tomb (made of white marble) of Sheik Salim Chisti (a devout follower and Sufi saint of Islam). The tomb is elaborately decorated with carvings and floral patterns and the sarcophagus itself is surrounded by detailed work and excellent craftsmanship only known to the Mughal era. Jodha Bai (Emperor Akbar’s wife) was gifted a palace of her own which lies in close proximity to the mosque and main royal palace. This too consists of a large main courtyard at its centre which is surrounded by a continuous gallery.
Above this gallery rise rows of buildings on the north and south end of the palace. Made of the famous red sandstone, the courtyard opens up to the Panch Mahal also known as the five-storey building and the private audience chamber (also known as the Diwan-i-Khas). Whilst the Panch Mahal is of five galleries, one above the other and adorned with carved motifs, the private audience chamber consists of an enormous octagonal pillar, a circular centre and four separate galleries that run to the corners of the chamber. This is where the Emperor Akbar met with the general public and adhered to their grievances and requests. It is known that he also gathered his many representatives of different religions here and discussed their faiths.
At the centre of the second large courtyard lies the Anup Talao – an ornamental pool with a central platform and four small bridges leading up to it. The other buildings of the royal enclave are situated around this, including the drum house, another public court and the house of Emperor Akbar’s favourite minister, Birbal.
World heritage site
Fatehpur Sikri is in fact well kept and fortified even centuries later. One description of a visitor’s personal account goes on to say “the palace was deserted, not ruined, and its lord was not dead but abandoned… everything is carved in a sandstone so fine and compact, that, except where injured by man, it appears nearly as sharp as when first chiselled. The amount of labour bestowed on this city throws the filigrees of the Alhambra quite into the shade and it is unlike anything that I have ever seen.”
Although the Taj Mahal is the most known monument in the region of Agra, the grandeur of Fatehpur Sikri should not be underestimated. There truly is no other facade of this kind, be in form of structure or architectural brilliance. There is a sense of simplicity that welcomes you even amongst the grand decorated pillars and endless rows of galleries. A mere hour or two would not suffice here; its best to take time and spend at least half a day walking through the rooms, stopping to take in the view of the land beyond the palace, sit by the ornamental pool whilst a light breeze fills the air and image a group of men singing khawalis at dusk.