“The City of Victory ( Fateh) ” , so goes the saying. A city around 40 km from Agra, which served as the Capital of the Mughal empire for a brief period, only to be abandoned later, Fatehpur Sikri has that flavour of a place where both the past and the present coexist, where the glorious traditions of Mughal history and culture merge seamlessly into the present era, and where the shadows of Emperor Akbar, arguably one of the greatest rulers India has ever seen, still linger around.
The city was founded in 1569 by Akbar, and served as the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1571 to 1585, after the grand victories of the monarch in Chittor and Ranthambore. Akbar constructed the city in honor of the great Sufi saint Salim Chisti, who successfully predicted the birth of the heir to the Mughal throne- Akbar’s son, Jahangir. And indeed, the most notable building in this complex is the tomb of Salim Chisti, a white , imposing marblestone structure building which stands out distinctly among the red sandstone buildings.
Though the city was the capital for only a short period of time, this grand complex of buildings saw the zenith of the Mughal empire, including the cultivation of new ideas, such as the syncretic religion Din- e- Elahi, founded by Emperor Akbar in 1582, which propounded equality amongst all people, synthesizing the positive elements of each major religion. Each of the buildings have their own significance. The architectural quality is of very high standards, and these buildings prove that the Mughals were the masters of this kind of architecture, which was later manifested in other places such as the Old City of Delhi, Shahjahanabad.
Fatehpur Sikri is situated on a ridge, and is bounded by a wall 6 km long. The ridge surrounds it on three sides, while on the fourth side, the dried remains of a lake exist, which was excavated for the building of the city. There are seven grand gates which serve as entrances to the city, and we entered the complex through the Agra gate. This leads into a road to the Shahi Darwaza (Imperial Gate) , but the actual entry is through the visitors’ entrance next to the ticket office, bang opposite Jodha Bai’s palace.
Sounds familiar? Yes, the same Jodha Bai made famous by the movie “ Jodha Akbar”. A Rajput princess who became Akbar’s wife due to the complex political compulsions of the medieval era, Jodha was known for her martial skills as equally as her culinary skills. Situated at the entrance to the Fatehpur Sikri complex, surrounding a huge courtyard, are the series of buildings that made up the Queen’s residence.
Akbar was a truly colorful person , and as a refinement of the royal custom of polygamy and maintaining a harem, he had three wives of three different religions ( so mentioned our guide with a smile )- the Hindu Jodha Bai, the Muslim Rumi Sultana and the Christian Mariam. Probably this was his way of ensuring racial harmony, and by demonstrating that charity indeed begins at home, he extended the concept of religious equality to his conjugal life as well !
We could see the palaces of Rumi Sultana and Mariam quite near Jodha Bai’s palace. Mariam’s palace shows the influence of Gujarati architecture, while Rumi Sultana’s palace, built in red and yellow sandstone, is decorated by ornate chhatris and arches.
Indeed, the architecture of the Fatehpur Sikri complex is an amalgam of Persian, Hindu, Jain , Buddhist and Indo-Saracenic styles. Akbar was the most secular emperor of the Mughal era, and the free flow of ideas that took place in his time, left its impression on the architecture of the place. Muslim domes and arches abound, as do Hindu pillars and chhatris, attesting to a very high level of amalgamation of cultures that was characteristic of Akbar’s era. Pillars, ornamental arches, brackets-and-chhajjas, jharokhas, chhatris, chhaparkhats, chaukhandis are but some of the structures that one gets to see here.
On the eastern side of the complex, in the traditions of the time, Fatehpur Sikri had a Diwan I Aam ( Hall of public audience) and a Diwan I Khas ( Hall of Private Audience) .The Diwan I Aam is a huge complex consisting of a colonnaded hall surrounded by pavilions, containing within its confines a lush green lawn. Indeed, in this dusty and dry landscape, the sight of the greenery was like panacea to our eyes. Kudos to the Architectural Survey of India (ASI) for maintaining it this way! The Diwan I Khas is a plain building with four Chhatris on its sides, but the interiors of the building are ornate and the central pillar , with its magnificent ornamentation, is noteworthy. It is here that Akbar used to discuss religious discourses with his courtiers. Nearby is the Ibadat Khana ( House of Worship) , where the Din E Elahi religion was born, synthesizing the best aspects of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Jaininim and Zoroastrianism. The existence of this religion was unfortunately short-lived, but it proved to be the hallmark of the philosophy of an emperor whose thinking was far ahead of his times.
The cradle of new ideas it may have been, but the town of Fatehpur Sikri had an unfortunately short-lived occupancy. It was abandoned by Akbar in 1585 due to the paucity of water and his the diversion of his attentions to other, more troubled parts of his empire, due to which he had to shift his capital to Lahore. Thereafter, it was occupied only once again by the Mughals in 1619, when Emperor Jahangir had to shift there due to an outbreak of plague in Agra. Thereafter, it was abandoned once again, only to be rediscovered in 1892 as a part of an archaeological excavation. Today, this town is an UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the “ must do” places in North India for tourists. What impressed us greatly was the fact that, even after the ravages of time, these buildings had been preserved in an immaculate fashion, which is more than can be said for many other buildings of similar heritage.
We moved on to the Panch Mahal, a palace of five stories, influenced by Buddhist style of architecture , each story gradually diminishing in size, till the topmost one, which is a single-domed chhatri. This building was used by emperor for recreation, and he used to enjoy the coolness of the evenings sitting on the topmost story. A passage led to the Haramsara ( residence of the concubines) , and the ladies could visit the Mahal through a passage way. In true style , thus, the emperor could enjoy his nocturnal escapades! Decadent it might be , but I was left appreciating the ingenuity of the Mughal monarch in enjoying the pleasures of life !
Nearby is the Anup Talao, essentially a water reservoir with a red sandstone open pavilion in the centre.It is here that the legendary Tansen, one of the Navratnas ( nine geniuses) of Emperor Akbar’s court, would hold his musical performances, singing his trademark Mian Ki Malhar raga , and bringing rain from the skies (so goes the legend) . It was Akbar who gave this genius the title of Mian, and to his goes the credit for many of the ragas of Hindustani classical music, such as Mian ki Todi, Mian ki Malhar, Mian ki Mand, Mian ka Sarang, Darbari Kanada, Darbari Todi, and Rageshwari.Visualising Tansen singing on a moonlit night to a packed audience at the Anup Talao, I felt thrilled indeed.
After Tansen, can Birbal be left far behind? Birbal, originally Mahesh Das, was another of the Navratnas and certainly the wittiest one among them , and every self- respecting Indian child has been brought up on his witty stories, courtesy Amar Chitra Katha. In Akbar’s court, he was the closest to the emperor, despite being a Hindu, and their association was legendary. Birbal’s palace, an imposing red and yellow sandstone structure, is situated close to the emperor’s palace, and he was the only courtier of his time honoured in this way.
Nearby is an ornate building popularly known as Jodhabai’s Kitchen, but which may have been an annexe of the Haramsara. This building is noteworthy for the refined ornamentation on its surface.
Through the Shahi Darwaza ( Imperial Gate), we entered a huge courtyard which contains three of the most noteworthy structures of Fatehpur Sikri – the tomb of Salim Chisti, the Jama Masjid and the Buland Darwaza.
Salim Chisti (1478–1572), was one of the most prominent Sufi saints, who was held in deep reverence by Emperor Akbar. His tomb is distinct in that it is built purely in white marble, among the red sandstone buildings. At the centre of the building is the grave of the saint. One is supposed to ask for blessings by tying red threads on the intricate jaalis on the exterior or the building. And true to tradition, we made some wishes that had been pent up for quite some time, hoping the ritual would work well for us.
To the left of Salim Chisti’s tomb is the tomb of Islam Khan I, a notable Mughal general who was the grandson of the saint. A red sandstone building decorated by small chattris and topped by a white dome, it also contains the graves of several of Salim Chisti’s descendants.
To the right of Salim Chisti’s tomb is the Jama Masjid, one of the earliest buildings to be built in Fatehpur Sikri. It is one of the largest mosques in India and can accommodate 10,000 people, and is the only building in the complex being accessible for public use . The interiors are richly decorated, with grills, columns, arches , some of which is interestingly influenced by Hindu architecture, one of the few instances of its kind in our country,one more example of Emperor Akbar’s liberal and secular thinking.
To the south of Jama Masjid is the Buland Darwaza ( Grand Gate) , a magnificient structure, marked by three arched entranceways and topped by chhatris, which was built in commemoration of Akbar’s victory in Gujarat. Inscribed over the archway, are written the following words,
“Isa, Son of Mariam, 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”.
A philosophical and wise piece of advice indeed, attesting to a time-tested truth that all life and creation has but a fleeting footstep existence ! Nothing brings out this truth more than the fact that the grand capital of Emperor Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri, built with pomp and splendour, had a short existence and is today an abandoned city , albeit one which has made its mark on the sands of time. Lit by the rays of the setting sun, the red sandstone buildings assuming an appearance that was ghostly and enticing at the same time, we exited the grand complex of buildings that is the town of Fatehpur Sikri, through the Buland Darwaza and made our way back to the city of Agra, happy to have visited one of the most notable historical spots in this part of the country.
> Distance from Agra : 40 km
> Getting there
a) Road- Tourist Buses/ Regular Buses (UPSRTC) and Taxis/ Cabs connect it to Agra. Buses are available from the Idgah bus stand in Agra. The bus stand in Fatehpur Sikri is at the eastern end of the bazaar- the bus journey takes about an hour and half. Cabs can be hired for Rs.3000- 3500/-; b) Train- nearest railway station is the Fatehpur Sikri Railway Station, about 1 km. from the city centre, c) Air -nearest Airport is the Agra Airport (also known as Kheria Airport), 40 km from Fatehpur Sikri
> Open from : Sunrise to Sunset
> Entry fees
-Indian Visitor and citizen of SAARC and BIMSTEC countries:
Total Rs.20.00 (Rs.10.00 by ASI as Entry fee and Rs.10.00 by ADA as Toll tax).
-Other Foreign Visitors :
Total Rs.260 (Rs.250/- by ASI as Entry fee and Rs.10/- by ADA as Toll tax).
> Guides: Licensed Guides are available. Audio guide facility is also available near ticket counter.
> Museum: There is an Archaeological site Museum near Diwan-I-Am booking counter. It is open from 9.00 AM to 5.00 P.M, closed on Fridays.
> Best season to visit: October to April
More info at:
Jodhabai’s palace…. the residence of the Hindu wife
Jodhabai’s palace….note the chhatris and columns, typical of Rajputana architecture
Jodhabai’s palace… red and yellow sandstone combination
Diwan i Aam…the hall of public audience
Diwan i Aam…. soothing greenery amongst the stones
Diwan i Khas….hall of private audience
Diwan i Khas… intricate central pillar
Panch Mahal….the leisure pavilion
Panch Mahal.. the five stories
Panch Mahal… contrast of green, red and yellow
Mariam uz zamani’s palace.. the residence of the Christian wife
Mariam uz zamani’s palace
Rumi Sultana’s palace… the residence of the Muslim wife
Anup Talao… the venue of many a memorable performance by Tansen
Birbal’s palace… the residence of the wise courtier
Columns of history..light and shade
One of the smaller buildings
Haramsara offices ( Jodhabai’s kitchen)
Haramsara offices- notice the intricate inscriptions on the wall
Ornate arches and collonades
Shahi Darwaza.. the imperial gate
Salim Chisti’s tomb..where your wishes come true
Salim Chisti’s tomb
Salim Chisti’s tomb.. pure white marble
Jama Masjid …one of the biggest in India
Jama Masjid…beautiful ornamentation inside
Jama Masjid…intricate carving and ornamentation
Islam Khan’s tomb
Buland Darwaza…Grand Gate
Buland Darwaza… awesome structure