The Mughals: Akbar: Part 2: (1569-1605 AD)

Salam Walekum and welcome once again to ‘saga in stone’. With Agra fort, Akbar had proved his potential as a great builder. He then made his ultimate tour de force-the epic city of Fatehpur Sikri.

In 1568-69 Akbar, who was heirless, heard of the holy man called Sheikh Salim Chisti. Sheikh Salim Chisti lived an ascetic life in a village called Sikri, 38 km east of Agra. When Akbar visited him, the Sheikh assured him that he would have three sons.

On 30 August 1569, the long-awaited son - the future Jahangir, was born at Sikri. With him was born the idea of a grand city. Soon after, Akbar got two more sons and the prophecy of the saint was fulfilled.

Situated on the highest place on the ridge, the khanqah complex is the site's focal point. Within this religious compound are masterpieces like Jami Mosque, the tomb of Sheikh Salim Chisti, Buland Darwaza and Badshahi Darwaza.

The construction of the great city began in 1571 and most of the work was finished within a year. The city was built under the personal supervision of the king. Father Monsorrete* who was there during the construction work writes: “He even quarried stone himself, alongside the workmen”, and “sometimes put his hands to the other menial tasks." His respect for the saint certainly knew no bounds.

The city is surrounded by 11kms of wall in the east west and north sides. On the southern side, there used to be a lake long since dried up.

The great Jama Masjid is the most awesome presence in the complex.

This mosque was at that time largest in the Mughal empire.

The façade of the mosque presents an imposing picture. Side wings are surmounted by a row of kiosks or chhatris.

The interiors look like a garden filled with splendid patterns of traditional decorative art.
It is said that Akbar himself at times swept the floor and called the prayer at this mosque.
The tomb of Sheikh Salim Chisti is built at the place where his private meditation chamber (Zawiya) once stood.

It is a white marble, single-domed square building, measuring about forty square ft. The original verandah was of red sandstone. In about 1606, Qutd ud Din Khan Koka, a foster brother of Jahangir, laid the marble floor and enclosed the tomb with exquisite marble jaalis .
It is covered with a wooden canopy. Tiny scales of mother-of-pearl add to the beauty of the design.

Ironically, by 1580-81, the time this tomb was completed, Akbar had begun to change his mind about venerating saints. In 1579, he had made his last annual pilgrimage on foot to the shrine of Muin Ud Din Chishti in Ajmer. After that, Akbar’s spiritual search concentrated on the divine himself instead of concentrating on persona and rituals.

The world famous Buland Darwaza is a reflection of Akbar’s ambition and his imperial grandeur. It was built to commemorate the victory of Gujrat in 1572.

The Buland Darwaza is a complete structure in itself, beside being a gateway. It is over 150 ft in height. The lofty stepped terrace adds to splendor of the gateway.

This gateway establishes Akbar’s credentials as a great secularist with its biblical inscriptions. But the choice of the inscription is rather odd keeping in mind the structure. The inscription says,

“ Jesus, son of mary, (on whom be peace) said :the world is a bridge. Pass over it, but do not build houses on it.”

The choice of Quranic inscriptions is also rather interesting. One says,

“Praise be unto God, who hath….made us to inherit the earth’ and another one say
“hereafter we will show them our reigns in the regions of earth.”

All putting in place the divine credentials of Akbar, whose name itself meant great.

Buland Darwaza consists of a large hall and smaller apartments.

Abul Fazl, in his typical syncophanctic exaggeration, has said that Akbar had 5000 women in his harem.

Jodhabai, a Hindu princess, was Akbar favourite queen. Jodhabai’s Palace, fittingly, is the largest building in the imperial harem.

The architecture of this monument is Hindu in style. The bases, columns, and capitals in the rooms surrounding the courtyard are all carved in the Hindu manner.

The splash of color made by the glazed tiles on the roof of upper rooms is an outstanding feature of this palace.

The Hawa Mahal or the ‘Palace of Breezes’, is an addition to the Jodhabai’s Palace.

This is supposed to be the place where the Emperor used to relax in fresh air with a few chosen ladies.

This was also the place where Akbar performed havana, the Hindu ceremony, which got him a lot of flak from the Muslim orthodoxy.

Panch Mahal looks like a Buddhist vihar frozen in time. This extraordinary four storied structure is entirely columnar.

No two columns on the first floor are alike. One of these columns carries a beautiful version of the Hindu bell-and- chain motif.

An interesting capital presents a vase with three floral sprays on all four sides. They are separated by a stylized and upside-down version. The capitals representing an arch are also attractive.

On the north-east of the principal Harem palace stands a structure known as Sunehra Makan, or the “Golden House”. The house was splendidly decorated throughout with paintings, which till mid-eighteenth century were still glowing with gold. Hence the name.

Another name for this monument is Mariyam ki Kothi. This name was probably given later, for the convenience of the European tourists. Though it could also be that Akbar’s mother Maryam Makhani stayed here.

The frescos depicting Lord Rama attended by Hanuman, and Lord Krishna playing the flute in the Mughal attire deserve special notice. The lintels supporting the ceiling of the verandah were inscribed with couplets reputedly written by Faizi.

Poor Birbal probably never set his foot inside this palace which is called Birbal’s Mahal. Birbal was one of the nine jewels of Akabr’s court. His legendary wit has ensured his popularity with children down the ages. Akbar is known to have ordered a house built for him but this is not that one. The so-called Birbal Mahal was probably occupied by two senior queens, Ruqayya Begum and Salima Sultan Begum. This house was an integral part of the Harem Sara.

This house is remarkable for its elegantly decorated exterior.

Its pilasters and brackets deserve special notice. Each pilaster is finely carved with a pleasant geometrical pattern. The bases are typically Hindu.

The Imperial Palace known as Daulat Khana, literally meaning "Abode of Fortune", comprises the two-roomed Diwan Khana-i-Khas, a beautiful room on the first floor, spacious cloisters on the ground floor, and a square pool in the center. The Turkish Sultana's house, and a pillared structure of two storeys are also part of it.

Emperor's private room, popularly known as khwabgah (“Sleeping Chamber”) is on the first floor. It was beautifully decorated with now-faded mural decorations. The gold lettered Persian verses praising the building in elegant nasta'liq script adds to the charm of the bedroom of this great emperor. The quite scenes on the panels of Khwabgah indicate the secret longings of Akbar’s heart.

It is said that a Brahmin called Devi used to teach the emperor about the Hindu myths and legends. He used to sit on a charpai which was then pulled up to the level of the khwabgah and the teaching would take place. Certainly, one of the strangest class room in the world history. But then, this was the classroom of a maharaja, and maharajas are allowed their eccentricities.

Anup Tala'o, or the “Peerless Pool”, called Kapur Tala'o by Father Monserrate and Jahangir, is a very pretty tank. It was completed in 1575, simultaneously with the Ibadat Khana.

Now it is only 1.37 meters deep, having been filled and given a new floor in the early 1840's. It was here that Akbar engaged in discussions regarding Islamic law with leading Muslim theologians. Maybe this was also the place where the seeds of Din-I-Ilahi were first sown in Akbar’s mind. Din-e-illahi was the religion that Akbar started, a result of his own considerable knowledge of various religions and theosophy. This synthesis created by him was elevating but it died with his death.

It is also said that he filled this tank with golden coins and distributed them to sheikhs and amirs.

Turkish Sultana's Palace is located at the Anup Tala'o. It is a tiny room with a highly ornamented verandah. The representations of flora and fauna are a delight. These also mark a departure from the Islamic traditions. But then, Akbar was too great a man to be constricted by religion.

The house has often been described as a "superb jewel casket". Elaborate carvings on its brackets, friezes and cornice on the caps of the coupled columns, pillars, pilaster piers and carved dado panels make it appear the work of the wood carvers of Kashmir.

It is said that here Akbar played hide-and-seek with the women of his harem.

It is popularly known as the Aankh Michauli or 'Blind Man's Buff House’. But facts indicate that it was the Royal Treasury. Also, the above theory is rebuffed by certain experts because of Akbar’s image of a workaholic, who slept very little and ate only once. But then, it is said that all work and no play makes jack a dull boy. And Akbar was anything but dull.

The most noteworthy features of this building are the struts resting on corbels projecting from the walls. The bottom of each strut is shaped into the head of a trunked monster from whose open jaws a raised serpentine scroll emerges. Such beasts are the traditional guards of treasure in Indian legend.

At the southwest corner of the Treasury, stands a small square kiosk. Traditions ascribe this kiosk to an astrologer or a yogi.

Extravagant stone brackets are placed in each of four openings. These remarkable decorative elements, known as torana are derived from Jain architecture.

An elegant structure lies across the courtyard from the Treasury kiosk. This structure is highlighted by an amazing capital.

A circular arrangement of brackets seeming to branch out infinitely, supports a circular balcony to which little bridges run from each corner of the building.

It is widely believed that it was the Emperor's private audience-chamber (Diwan-i-Khas), or the famous Ibadat Khana, where Akbar initiated his well-known religious discussions in 1575. Another theory is that Akbar sat on the central platform, which projecting himself as the chakravartin or the universal ruler as described by the ancient Hindu theories of kingship. Also, he was projected as the dominant figure of the Mughal state, its axis and the pillar of its state.

Some experts also believe that it served as a storehouse for the Imperial hoards of gems and jewels.

Daftar Khana, or Record Room is located at southern end of the palace enclosure.
It stands on a platform supported on piers and arches. The northern façade is striking; six pairs of tall double columns, with a group of four at either end, sustain rich bracketed capitals. The grouping of the double columns, with their fine brackets, one on the outer and one on the inner aspect produces from a distance a suggestion of arches.

This large window was Akbar's jharokha, the window at which he displayed himself to his subjects. It is said that on Humayun's death, a man resembling the deceased ruler appeared at a similar Jharokha in Delhi to reassure the public, and keep enemies at bay.

From the Daulat Khana complex, a closed doorway leads to the Diwan Khana-i-Aam or the 'Enclosure for Public Audience'. Here Akbar sat to dispense justice. It is said that an executioner stood by throughout the hearings, with various instruments of torture in his hands. But he never used them. They were there only to instil fear.

The great stone ring at the foot of the colonnade are popularly believed to have been used to tie the elephant, which crushed the condemned to death. This seems unlikely, but important elephants brought as a trophy of victory might have been tied here from time to time.

In 1585, Akbar left Fatehpur to defend his Northwest Frontier. With him, the glory of Sikri also departed. A city, tastefully founded by him just fifteen years ago. A city most secular in character of all the medieval cities was left abandoned forever. Akbar, now, was looking for something else. New dreams were taking him away.

The magic of the great Mughals was yet to reach its climax. In next episode, we’ll move one step further towards it. Shabba Khair, Khuda Hafiz, Take Care.

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