Part Sixteen: Fatehpur Sikri.
*The Agra Gate* -- *The Naubat Khana* -- *The Mint* -- *The Daftar Khana* -- *The Palace* -- *The Kwâbgâh* -- *The Turkish Sultana's House* -- *Hakim's Baths* -- *Pachisi Board* -- *The Dîwan-i-Khâs* -- *The Ankh-Michauli* -- *The Yogi's Seat* -- *The Hospital* -- *The Dîwan-i-âm* -- *The Panch Mahal* -- *Miriam's Kothi* -- *Jodh Baí's Palace* -- *Rajah Birbal's House, or Birbal's Daughter's House* -- *The Hathi Pol and Adjoining Buildings* -- *The Jâmi Masjid, or Cathedral Mosque* -- *The Baland Darwaza* -- *The Stone-Cutters' Mosque* -- *The Houses of Abul Fazl and Faizi*.
Fatehpur Sikri [*IGNCA*, with discussion]; [*Washington State Univ.*, with discussion]; [*Routes*]; [*ANU: main index page*]; [*Berger*]; [*DSAL*] is the famous deserted city, about twenty-three miles from Agra, built by Akbar. It was formerly merely a village, called Sikri, celebrated as the abode of Sheikh Salîm Chishti, a Muhammadan *pîr*, or saint. In 1564, Akbar, returning from a campaign, halted near the cave in which the saint lived. The twin children of his Rajput wife, Mariam Zamâni, had recently died, and he was anxious for an heir. He consulted the holy man, who advised him to come and live at Sikri. The Emperor did so, and nine months afterwards Mariam, who was taken to Chishti's cell for her confinement, gave birth to a son, afterwards the Emperor Jahangir. He was called Sultan Salîm in honour of the saint. Jahangir, who describes all these circumstances in his memoirs, adds: "My revered father, regarding the village of Sikri, my birthplace, as fortunate to himself, made it his capital, and in the course of fourteen or fifteen years the hills and deserts, which abounded in beasts of prey, became converted into a magnificent city, comprising numerous gardens, elegant edifices and pavilions, and other places of great attraction and beauty. After the conquest of Gujarat, the village was named Fatehpur (the town of victory)."
The glory of Fatehpur Sikri was short-lived. Akbar held his court there for seventeen years, and then removed it to Agra; some say on account of the badness of the water supply, others that the saint, disturbed in his devotions by the bustle and gaieties of the great city, declared that either he or Akbar must go. "Then," replied the Emperor, "let it be your servant, I pray." The entire city was given up to the beasts of the surrounding jungle. Finch, who visited it in the early part of the next reign, describes it: "Ruin all; lying like a waste desert, and very dangerous to pass through in the night." This, however, was an exaggeration, for the principal buildings are still in a good state of preservation, probably owing to the remoteness of the place from any great highway or large town.
The city, which was some six miles in circuit,
was surrounded on three sides by high battlemented walls, which had nine
gateways. The fourth side was formed by a great artificial lake, now dry.
The principal buildings are on the summit of the high ridge which runs
throughout the length of the city.
Opposite to the Mint is a smaller building
known as the Treasury.
On the side window over the eastern doorway is a painting of a winged figure, in front of a rock cave, supporting a new-born babe in its arms. In all probability it refers to the birth of Jahangir in the cell of the Saint Salîm Chishti, which Akbar no doubt thought miraculous. Many archæologists make the great mistake of attributing every winged figure in these decorations to some Biblical story. Heavenly beings with wings, the inhabitants of Paradise, spirits of the air, or "angels," are very common in Persian and Indian painting, and are by no means a monopoly of European artists.
It is known that Akbar took a great interest in painting. Abul Fazl, in the "Ain-i-Akbari," states that "His Majesty from the earliest youth has shown a great predilection for the art, and gives it every encouragement, as he looks upon it as a means both of study and amusement. Hence the art flourishes, and many painters have obtained great reputations. The works of all painters are weekly laid before his Majesty by the Daroghas and the clerks; he confers rewards according to the excellence of workmanship, or increases their monthly salaries. Much progress was made in the commodities required by painters, and the correct prices of such articles were carefully ascertained."
Akbar himself remarked, "Bigoted followers of the law are hostile to the art of painting, but their eyes now see the truth. There are many that hate painting, but such men I dislike. It appears to me as if a painter had a peculiar means of recognizing God; for a painter, in sketching anything that has life and in drawing its limbs, must feel that he cannot bestow personality upon his work, and is thus forced to think of God, the giver of life, and will thus increase his knowledge." The enlightened court of Akbar was evidently a paradise for artists.
Opposite to Akbar's apartments is a large
square tank with a platform in the centre, approached by four narrow stone
paths. The tank was filled from the waterworks near the Elephant Gate,
and the water was kept constantly fresh by an overflow channel connecting
with the tank at the back of the Dîwan-i-Khâs.
There would be nothing primâ facie improbable that Akbar should have caused some events of Biblical history to be painted on the walls of his palaces; but on the other hand, there is nothing whatever to connect this fresco with the Annunciation. The winged figures here represented are of the type commonly found in paintings of stories from Persian mythology.
Perhaps the most interesting of all the paintings is a portrait in a panel in one of the rooms. One would like to know whether this was the lady of the house; but there seems to be no tradition connected with it.
Judging from the style of the frescoes, it
would seem probable that this was not the residence of Mariam Zamâni,
but of one of Akbar's first two wives, whose connections were mostly with
Though "Miriam's House" is generally regarded as the abode of Mariam Zâmâni, there is a great deal to support the view that the spacious palace known as Jodh Bai's Mahal [*ANU: views of Jodh Bai's Palace*], or Jahangiri Mahal, was really her residence. It is undoubtedly one of the oldest buildings in Fatehpur.
We know that Akbar went there on Mariam's account; and, after Jahangir's birth, Akbar's first care would be to build a palace for the mother and her child, his long-wished-for heir. Mariam was a Hindu, and this palace in all its construction and nearly all its ornamentation belongs to the Hindu and Jaina styles of Mariam's native country, Rajputana. It even contains a Hindu temple./15/ It is also the most important of all the palaces, and Mariam, as mother of the heir-apparent, would take precedence of all the other wives.
On the left of the entrance is a small guard-house. A simple but finely proportioned gateway leads through a vestibule into the inner quadrangle. The style of the whole palace is much less ornate than the other zanana buildings, but it is always dignified and in excellent taste. It must be remembered that the severity of the architectural design was relieved by bright colouring and rich *purdahs*, which were used to secure privacy for the ladies of the zanana and to diminish the glare of the sunlight.
Archæologically its construction and
ornamentation are very interesting. Many of the details are of Jain origin,
and of the same type as the mixed Jain and Saracenic style, which was being
developed about the same period in Gujarat. The arrangements of the palace
are shown in the annexed plan. One of the most interesting features is
the Hawa Mahal, a pavilion projecting from the north side, enclosed by
pierced stone screens. Here the ladies could enjoy the cool breezes and
the view of the lake with the distant hills beyond, without being exposed
to the vulgar gaze. The palace was formerly connected with Akbar's private
apartments by a covered way, supported on pillars, near the entrance. This
was removed some years ago. Another private passage led from the Hawa Mahal
to the zanana garden opposite, and, probably, from thence right down to
the tower known as the Hiran Minâr.
Rajah Birbal was a Brahman minstrel, who came to Akbar's court in the beginning of his reign, and by his wit and abilities gained the Emperor's favour. He was first created Hindu Poet Laureate; from that dignity he was raised to the rank of Rajah, and became one of Akbar's most intimate friends and advisers. Birbal was one of those who subscribed to Akbar's new religion, "The Divine Faith." When he perished in an unfortunate expedition against some unruly Afghan tribes, Akbar's grief was for a long time inconsolable.
The house which is named after him was originally enclosed within the precincts of the imperial zanana, and a covered way connected it with Jodh Bai's palace. It is one of the most richly decorated of all the adjacent buildings, and next to Jodh Bai's palace, the largest of the imperial residences. As in so many other instances, the vague local tradition which assigns this palace to Rajah Birbal seems to be at fault. Abul Fazl, that most careful and precise biographer, records that Akbar ordered a palace to be built for the Rajah, and that when it was finished in the twenty-seventh year of his reign (1582) the Emperor honoured it with his presence. An inscription discovered by Edmund Smith upon the capital of a pilaster in the west façade of the building, states that it was erected in Samvat 1629 (A.D. 1572), ten years before this date, and three years after the commencement of the city.
Though the Rajah was one of Akbar's most trusted friends, his palace would hardly be placed within the enclosure of the Emperor's own zanana and connected with it; nor is it likely that Akbar would provide Birbal with a residence so incomparably more magnificent than those he gave to his other two intimate friends, Abul Fazl and Faizi, by the side of the great mosque.
All the probabilities are that this was one of the imperial palaces occupied by Akbar's wives, which were the first buildings erected at Fatehpur. Fergusson's assumption that Birbal's daughter was one of Akbar's wives would explain everything; but the fact that Abul Fazl makes no mention of such a daughter, is very good evidence that Akbar was not connected with Birbal by marriage.
The house is a two-storied building, splendidly
ornamented with carving, both inside and out. From the construction, it
would appear that Hindus were the architects; but the decoration, from
which it is easy to discover the taste of the occupants, is nearly all
Arabian or Persian in style, and conveys no suggestion that the palace
was built for a Hindu rajah or his daughter. Though on a much smaller scale,
it is of the same type as Akbar's splendid palace in the Agra Fort, and
was evidently intended for one of the highest rank in the imperial zanana./16/
Close under Birbal's house is the main road leading down to the great lake--now drained, the embankment of which formed the north-west boundary of the city. It passes through the gateway called the Hathi Pol, or Elephant Gate, from the two great stone elephants, mutilated by Aurangzîb, standing on either side of the outer archway. On the left of the gateway are two buildings, the so-called Pigeon's House, probably intended for a magazine; and the Sangin Burj, a great bastion supposed to be part of the fortifications begun by Akbar and left unfinished, owing to the objections of Shaikh Salîm Chishti. A little beyond this, on the right, are the remains of the waterworks which supplied the whole city. Opposite to these, is the great traveller's rest-house, or Karwân-serai, in a very ruined state.
The, furthest of this block of buildings is a curious tower called the Hiran Minâr, or Deer Tower, 72 feet in height, ornamented with stone imitations of elephant tusks. According to tradition, it was built by Akbar in memory of a favourite elephant, and used by him as a shooting tower; the plain on the margin of the lake being the haunt of antelope and other game.
The splendid stretch of water, six miles long
and two in breadth, induced many of the princes and nobles to build pavilions
and garden houses on this side of the city. This was the place for great
tournaments and festivities, and in the palmy days of Fatehpur all the
chivalry of the Mogul Court must have made a brave show here. The Hiran
Minâr was connected with the zanana by a covered way, so that the
ladies might assist at these spectacles and enjoy the cool breezes from
The great mosque [*ANU: views of the Jama Masjid*] of Fatehpur is worthy of its founder's lofty ideals and nobility of soul. It is one of the most magnificent of all Akbar's buildings; the historic associations connected with it combine with its architectural splendour to make it one of the most impressive of its kind in the world. It is said to be copied from one at Mecca; but this cannot be altogether true, because, though the plan and general design follow Muhammadan precedent, many of the details show Akbar's Hindu proclivities.
Within the great mosque, Akbar frequently held religious discussions with the learned doctors of Islam; and here, also, after the chief Mullahs had signed the famous document which declared Akbar to be Head of the Church, the Emperor mounted the pulpit, and stood before the congregation as the expounder of "the Divine Faith." He commenced to read a Khutbah, or litany, which Faizi, Abul Fazl's brother, had composed for the occasion--
"The Lord, who gave to us dominion,But before he could finish three lines of it, the sense of the tremendous responsibility he had undertaken overpowered him. He descended the pulpit trembling with emotion, and left the Imam of the mosque to continue the service.
There are two entrances, approached by broad flights of steps. The one on the east side is the Emperor's Gate, by which Akbar entered the mosque from the palace, and the other, the majestic Baland Darwaza, or High Gate, which towers above everything on the south side, and even dwarfs the mosque itself with its giant proportions. The latter gate, however, was not a part of the original design, but was added many years after the completion of the mosque, to celebrate Akbar's victorious campaign in the Deccan.
The mosque itself was built in honour of the Saint of Fatehpur, Sheikh Salîm Chishti, whose tomb, enclosed in a shrine of white marble, carved with the delicacy of ivory-work, glitters like silver on the right of the quadrangle. Barren women, both Hindu and Muhammadan, tie bits of string or shreds of cloth to the marble trellis-work as tokens that if blessed with a son they will present an offering to the shrine. Close by is a plainer, but much larger mausoleum, for his grandson, Nawab Islam Khan, who was made Governor of Bengal by Jahangir. This also contains the remains of many other of the Sheikh's male descendants. A separate vault, called the Zanana Rauza, for the women of his family is formed by enclosing a portion of the adjoining cloisters.
The mosque proper contains three chapels, crowned by domes. The principal one, in the centre, is screened by the façade of the entrance, the doorway being recessed, in the usual style of Saracenic buildings, in a great porch or semi-dome. An inscription over the main archway gives the date of the completion of the mosque as A.D. 1571. The chapels are connected with each other by noble colonnades of a decidedly Hindu or Jain character. The Saracenic arches combine most happily with the Hindu construction, and the view down the "long-drawn aisles" is singularly impressive. Much of the charm of the interior is due to the quiet reserve and dignity of the decoration, which is nearly all in the style of Arabian mosques, and may account for the statement on the central arch, that "this mosque is a duplicate of the Holy Place" (at Mecca).
At each end of the mosque there is a set of
five rooms for the mullahs who conducted the service; above them are galleries
for the ladies of the zanana. Spacious cloisters surround three sides of
the quadrangle; these are divided into numerous cells for the maulvis and
There are three doors recessed in the immense alcove on the front of the gate. One is the horseshoe door, so called from the numerous votive offerings of owners of sick horses, donkeys, and bullocks, which were nailed on in the hope of obtaining the favour of the saint. The doorway on the right of this has the following inscription carved over it in Arabic:--
"His Majesty, King of kings, Heaven of the Court, Shadow of God, Jalâl-ud-din Muhammad Akbar, Emperor. He conquered the kingdom of the South and Dandes, which was formerly called Khandes, in the 46th Divine year [i.e. of his reign] corresponding to the Hijira year, 1010 [A.D. 1602]. Having reached Fatehpur, he proceeded to Agra. Said Jesus, on whom be peace! The world is a bridge, pass over it, but build no house there. He who hopeth for an hour, may hope for eternity; the world is but an hour, spend it in devotion; the rest is worth nothing,"Over the left doorway is the following:--
"He that standeth up in prayer, and his heart is not in it, does not draw nigh to God, but remaineth far from Him. Thy best possession is what thou givest in the name of God; thy best traffic is selling this world for the next."Akbar himself died four years after this great sermon in stone was written.
The Stone-Cutters' Mosque.
At the back of the great mosque is a graveyard containing the tomb of an infant son of Sheikh Salîm. The legend concerning him is, that at the age of six months he addressed his father, telling him that all of Akbar's children must die in infancy, unless some child died for them. He therefore had resolved to sacrifice himself for the Emperor's sake, and immediately after this miraculous speech he died. Jahangir was born nine months afterwards. Sceptics have suggested that he was really a son of the Sheikh, substituted for a still-born child of Mariam Zamâni.
Some distance beyond this tomb there is a small mosque, built in honour of the saint by the quarrymen of Fatehpur, before he had attracted the notice of the great Emperor. It is called the Stone-Cutters' Mosque, and is supposed to have been erected on the site of the cave where he lived the life of a hermit It is an unpretending little building; the brackets which support the cornice are the only noticeable architectural features. They are direct imitations of wooden construction, and are copied, with greater elaboration of carving, in the marble shrine inside the Jâmi Masjid. The cell where the saint is said to have lived is on the right-hand corner of the mosque.
The birthplace of Jahangir is pointed out
in a dilapidated palace not far from this mosque. It is occupied by a lineal
descendant of Salîm Chishti, and is only rarely shown to visitors.
The houses where these two famous brothers, the friends of Akbar, lived, are close under the north wall of the great mosque. Their father, Sheikh Mubarak, was one of the most learned men of the age, and the sons were as distinguished as the father. Faizi was the Persian Poet Laureate, and tutor to the Royal Princes. He was also employed on many diplomatic missions. Abul Fazl was the author of the celebrated "Akbarnâma," a history of the Mogul Emperors down to the forty-seventh year of Akbar's reign. He was for a long time Akbar's Prime Minister; he took a prominent part in the religious discussions inaugurated by the Emperor, and often discomfited the orthodox followers of Islam with his arguments. Sheikh Mubarak drew up the famous document declaring Akbar to be the Head of the Church, and both his sons subscribed to it. Abul Fazl declares that the document "was productive of excellent results: (1) The Court became the resort of the learned men and sages of all creeds and nationalities; (2) Peace was given to all, and perfect tolerance prevailed; (3) the disinterested motives of the Emperor, whose labours were directed to a search after truth, were rendered clear, and the pretenders to learning and scholarship were put to shame."
Notwithstanding his high character and generous disposition, Abul Fazl had many enemies at Court. He was at last assassinated at the instigation of Jahangir, who believed him to be responsible for a misunderstanding between himself and his father.
There is nothing architecturally interesting
about the two houses, which have been for some time used as a *Zillah*
N O T E S
/14/ It is known that in 1575 Akbar completed a great building at Fatehpur, called the Ibadat Khana, or hall in which the learned men of all religions assembled for discussion. It was described as containing four halls, the western for the Sayyids, or descendants of the Prophet; the southern for learned men who had studied or acquired knowledge; the northern for those famed for inspired wisdom: the eastern hall was reserved for the nobles and state officers. Thousands of people from all quarters of the world assembled in the courtyard. The Emperor attended every Friday night and on holy festivals, moving from one to the other of the guests and conversing with them. Keene, in his "Handbook to Agra," suggests that possibly the Dîwan-i-khâs may be the building thus described (taking the word aiwan, or hall, to mean a side gallery), as no other building at all answering to the description now remains at Fatehpur. This supposition is highly improbable, if only for the reason given by Edmund Smith, namely, that an assembly of this kind would not take place within the precincts of the palace. The description given by Abul Fazl and Badâyûni clearly indicates a building like the Dîwan-i-âm, enclosing a great quadrangle.
/15/ Keene suggests that Akbar's first wife and cousin, Sultana Raqia Begam, lived here, but she was a Muhammadan. It is quite possible that the name of Jodh Bai (Princess of Jodhpur) really refers to Mariam, and not to Jahangir's Rajput wife (the daughter of the Raja of Jodhpur), as is commonly supposed. Miriam's family resided in the province of Ajmir, which adjoins Jodhpur. She might have been known as the Princess of Jodhpur. In any case, it is easy to see how a confusion might have arisen between Jahangir's mother and his wife, both Hindus and Rajputs.
Birbal's house is now used as a travellers' rest-house for high officials
and "distinguished" visitors; which is not only very inconvenient for the
undistinguished who may wish to see it, but involves alterations which
should never be permitted in buildings of such unique artistic and archæological
interest. Neither the Daftar Khana nor this building should be devoted
to such purposes, merely to avoid the paltry expense of providing proper
== Havell index page == Glossary == FWP's main page ==