Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fatehpur Sikri (Uttar Pradesh)

A further 30 kilometres west of Sikandra is Akbar’s other capital of Fatehpur Sikri. The Palace complex was built between 1569 and 1585 in recognition of the prediction and blessings of the Chishti Saint Shaikh Salim Chishti who lived in the village that Akbar (then childless) would have three sons.
Intended as the joint capital with Agra after 1585 it gradually fell into disuse as Akbar’s attention shifted to his border in the West where he made Lahore his capital and due to water shortages.

Arriving on the Eastern end of the village and palace complex you pass through the outer wall and parking near the ticket office is amongst some of the ruins of the workshops built to supply the palace.
The Palace complex is entered into a large courtyard by the Diwan Khana I Am (Public Audience Hall), but on both my visits in 2001 and 2004 I took a detour off to the right of the complex to explore the outer buildings that are not so well preserved.
You can make your way out to the “rear” of the palace complex where the Hiran Minar (Deer Tower) overlooks a massive dried up reservoir.

There is a ruined Caravanserai (on the right in this picture) at the base of the hill that the palace is built on with a large bastion alongside the Hathi Pol (Elephant Gate).

Sadly the elephant carvings on this large sandstone gatehouse have not survived.

Below the gate is a large pumping station which despite looking in decent condition was not accessible on either of my visits in 2001 and 2004. Water was pumped up to the Palace complex by water buffalo power.

Returning to the entrance “proper” the main Palace buildings are in magnificent condition and the complex includes separate houses for Akbar, his three official wives and his 365 unofficial wives.
Immediately to the right is the Diwan I Khas (Hall of Private Audience) that is also known as the Jewel House. Outwardly this appears to be a fairly simple two storey square building with roof chhatris.
In fact there is a single vaulted chamber with a magnificent central pillar that has a square base and octagonal column that together with an array of brackets supports a central circular platform.

Wrongly designated the Ankh Michauli (Blind Man’s Bluff House) due to its numerous small connected chambers this building was the Imperial Treasury of silver and gold coins.

At the opposite end of the courtyard is the Diwan Khana which appears to have inbuilt book shelves in abundance and a large sandstone bed for Akbar. The upper level has a window overlooking from which Akbar is said to have presented himself to the people every morning.
In 2001 the bed was home to a large family of bats, although my guide insisted they were moles!
The Diwan Khana I Am lies behind the Diwan Khana I Khas and overlooks a large garden courtyard. The walls includes many large cut recesses that may have been decorated.

The view across the courtyard from the Diwan Khana with the Jewel House at the opposite end illustrates just how much space Akbar had to play with in planning his Palace complex. Immediately to the front is the Anup Talao, then going round from the left is the Abdar Khana with rising above it to its rear the five storey Panch Mahal, the Treasury buildings and then the Jewel House.

The next courtyard moving into the complex houses the Sunahra Makan (Maryam’s Mansion), thought to be the house for Akbar’s mother. The building has four rooms and a staircase to a small roof pavilion.

The roof brackets are all carved in the form of Hindu deities including Rama and Hanuman, together with elephants and geese. Some of the painted frescoes have survived making this building particularly notable.

Beyond this courtyard is the area known as the Jodh Bai Palace, being the most important and central harem building although the palace here was unlikely to be any longer in use when Jodh Bai became one of Akbar’s wives.
There is a large gatehouse that leads into the courtyard that has around it the harem quarters, some baths and a pavilion. Some of the palace roof is decorated with blue tiles.

The final courtyards are further harem buildings, the main building being referred to as Birbal’s House (a senior minister at Akbar’s court) although it is thought more likely this was home for two of Akbar’s senior wives.

The sloping sun shades around the exterior have a series of ornate brackets supporting them.

The final structure beyond Birbal’s house is a colonnaded rectangular enclosure that is thought to have been the accommodation for the maid servants to the ladies of the court.

You have to return through the Palace complex to get to the Religious courtyard. Access is through the King’s Gate that sits atop a large flight of red sandstone steps. As with most gateways this is made of red sandstone with marble inlay decoration.

This is a massive courtyard with the Jama Masjid filling the far side. On the right is Selim Chisti’s tomb, a gleaming white marble contrast to all the red sandstone buildings and in front of it a collection of graves of descendants of the saint in front of the tomb of Islam Khan Chisti’s grandson and a general in the Mughal army.
Chisti’s tomb is a single story with a square central chamber where the grave is housed under a wooden canopy and is decorated with cloth and the “offerings” of visitors. There is a passageway around the tomb lined with stone pierced screens to which ribbons are tied as a tribute in return for a wish. I made a “traditional” three wishes at the tomb in 2001 – none have come to fruition to date!

The mosque was one of the first buildings completed (in 1572) and is of red sandstone with white marble inlay in geometric patterns.

In the South Wall is the Buland Darwaza or People’s Gate and was built as a victory arch in 1576/7 to celebrate Akbar’s successful campaigns in Gujarat.
This gate is impressive from inside the courtyard but outside sitting above a large flight of very steep steps it dominates the village of Fatehpur Sikri at 54 metres high. The central archway is also known as Horseshoe Gate as there is a custom of nailing horseshoes to the wooden doors for good luck!

Below the steps of the Buland Darwaza is a Hammam in front of the village and to the right a large well of horrendously stagnant green water that local youngsters will offer to jump into off the high walls for a suitable fee!

Fatehpur Sikri photo collection:
More on Akbar:

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