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Fatehpur Sikri and its Architecture
chillibreeze writer — Ravindra Nath Shrivastava
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While in India, travelling to Agra and Fatehpur Sikri is a lifetime experience. Built during the second half of the 16th century by the Emperor Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri (the City of Victory) was the capital of the Mughal Empire for about ten years. The complex of monuments and temples, all in a uniform architectural style, includes one of the largest mosques in India, the Jama Masjid. Fatehpur Sikri was Emperor Akbar's capital for 15 years. It is situated about 40km from another famous city in northern India -- Agra (famous for the Taj Mahal).
Fatehpur Sikri is unique, architecturally intriguing and complex to digitally model in 3D and to virtually explore.
The city of Fatehpur Sikri is very large to model completely. The city is divided into two parts, namely the Palace Complex and the Mosque Complex. For the walk through, only the palace complex has been modeled.
The palace complex houses nine monuments.
The monuments in the palace complex are:
This structure was used as an imperial treasury, not as a place to play Ankh Micholi, a game of hide and seek enjoyed by the ladies of the harem, as the name wrongly suggests. Instead, Akbar bestowed his personal attention upon the management of revenue and expenditure with great care.
It is a four-room structure forming a semi-open space. The central room is 5m by 7m. Two staircases lead to the flat roof. The hollow walls have recesses with openings at their bases for storing treasures. Akbar being a collector stored artifacts and rare manuscripts here along with family heirlooms.
Traditional guards of the treasure in the form of a head of monsters with serpentines form the bottom of struts, which rest on corbels projecting from walls.
Buland Gate: This gate is the entrance into the courtyard around the great mosque at Fatehpur Sikri, the Jama Masjid, also known as the Jami Masjid, which served as a model for later congregational mosques built by the Mughals.
Darga Salim Chisti: This white marble structure contains the tomb of Shaykh Salim Chishti, the Sufi holy man who was Akbar's advisor and teacher. Akbar came to him originally because he was unable to produce a male heir, and Shaykh Chishti promised that Akbar would have a son if Akbar entrusted the education and upbringing of the boy to Shaykh Chisti. The prediction came true, and Akbar's son Jahangir was raised by the Sufi holy man. In addition, Akbar had the entire city of Fatehpur Sikri built around Shaykh Chisti's abode, which was about 24 miles west of Agra. Originally the tomb was built out of the red sandstone that was used throughout Fatehpur Sikri, as well as the rest of the architecture commissioned by Akbar in Agra and Delhi, but Jahangir had the building rebuilt in white marble, which is the building material preferred by the Mughal emperors who followed.
Diwan I Khas
The Diwan-I-Khas is also known as the The Jewel House or the Ekstambha Prasadam, Palace of a Unitary Pillar.
A fine taste in jewelry and knowledge of the market was a part of being an accomplished Moghul gentleman. In this royal chamber for imperial gems and jewels, Akbar sat on the top of the capital to inspect precious treasures. Abul Fazl records that three separate treasuries were maintained here. One for gold (muhrs) and silver (rupees), one for gems and jewels and one for copper (dams).
This elegant structure with unusual interiors is composed in two stories from the outside, but is single chambered with a high ceiling inside. It is surmounted by 4 kiosks and lies in the middle of a court. Four entry doors lead to the most astonishing pillar of Mughal architecture. Deep overhangs and a balcony projection are dominant architectural features. A solitary pillar, 2m high in the center with 36 brackets, supports a circular platform connected diagonally with 4 stone bridges to the galleries running along the upper story. Low screens fence the galleries reached by staircases from kiosks at the corners.
The purpose of this pillar is an enigma. The symbolic exemplification of the central column with four bridges signifies a cosmic power sustaining enthroned Akbar as a ruler of four continents. Akbar's belief in Hindu religion reflects in his architectural interpretation of sun worship and world sustenance through the axis pillar of the cosmic order as daily measured by Surya Purusha, illustrated here. Some believe that the column signifies Akbar's break with Islam and the founding of 'Din-I-Ilahi', virtues of all religion. Inspiration was sought from the Hindu and Buddhist fables of creation of humanity from a lotus originating from Bramha's naval. The column supported with jaina corbels signifies the lotus, the seat of learning and creation.
The ceiling is ladao or wagon vaulted, made up of stone ribs and panels. With the help of temporary centering, builders were able to place the ribs in position by an interlocking system. Thus, the load is transferred on to the beams and lintels.
This kiosk is set aside for Hindu astrologers and Muslim munajjims, highly trained in various systems; each expected to pronounce the Emperor's prognostications before any major decision was taken. The daily horoscope for every activity was read. Even colors for the Emperor's robes were in accordance with his astrologers' advice. Akbar's ruling planet was Jupiter and he wore colors like yellow, violet and purple with ornaments of sapphire, his birthstone.
The open planning of this kiosk and its proximity to the Jewel House also enabled the Emperor to watch the distribution of coins, heaped in the courtyard, to deserving people. Another regular occupant of this place was the eunuch Phul Malik. He was ennobled by Akbar as Kwaja-Sara-I'Timad Khan and assigned the chief treasurer's post to observe the carrying and counting of coins.
About 3m square, this open structure is an extension of the jewel house platform. An elaborate toran (decorative arch) derived from Jain architecture adorns all four openings. The kiosk is crowned by a chhatri (umbrella).
The tallest building of the complex, Panch Mahal is built in five successively receding stories. This open structure comprises eighty-four columns on the ground floor, a number regarded highly auspicious by Hindus. This number is derived by multiplying seven classically known planets with twelve zodiac signs. The topmost story is a single domed kiosk supported by columns making 176 in all. This is an interestingly asymmetric building with stairs connecting each level.
Akbar's Muslim Begums came to Panch Mahal to see the new moon while his Rajput princesses visited here to see the full moon. The ground and first floor were originally divided in various apartments with screens to serve as living quarters for zanana. This was a place to enjoy the view and cool air.
This open structure mitigates heat by deflecting and cooling the harsh summer breeze. It also offers a breathtaking view of the surroundings. A covered passage connected the Emperor's private apartments to this place. It is structured in Hindu style, but built like a Buddhist Vihara. The ground floor measures 22m by 18m. The first floor contains 65 columns, the second has 20, the third has 12 and the top floor has 4 columns topped with a chhatri. Each column on the ground floor is unique in style and embellishments.
There are contradictory stories describing this structure as a girl's school and/or as a water and fruit store. One theory suggests that this building being in the center of the court would not allow girls to use it freely according to Islamic traditions. Other theory describes this as a place where Akbar's 'water of immortality' was preserved in the care of a trusted nobleman. The imperial store for the fruits was also established here. Shelves were inserted between columns for storage. The structure was later enclosed by screens. The forty courses for the Emperor's meal was tasted here and served in great style.
The Turkish Sultana's House is also called the Anup Talao Pavilion or Chitrashala.
This is a place for repose, specially built for Akbar's first wife, Istamboli Begum, a Turk. It was later connected to the girl's school at the northwest side and to the Daulat-Khana, emperor's palace to the southeast side with colonnades. Three stone rings are evident 1.98m above ground level on the northern side lintels. These were used to fasten rings to tie canvas tents, as described by Mulla Badouni, when important discussions took place. Its terrace was used as a painting atelier.
Situated in the northeast corner of the private court of Mahal-I-khas, it consists of a single storied apartment, internally measuring 3.96m by 1.37m, enclosed within pillared verandahs. On the west is a portico 2.64m by 4.97m, almost as high as the roof of the main chamber. The northwest end of this single storied building consists of a one-room apartment enclosed within pillared verandahs. Though simple in structure, the pavilion is decorated with an intricate floral design, partially mutilated by Akbar's fanatical descendants who believed in the Islamic tradition of avoiding representation of living beings. A bath with elaborate plasterwork with supply of hot and cold water is situated close by.
Also called The Peerless Pool or Kapur Talao.
This was a recreation place for the Emperor. In March 1577, a long mosque of canvas was erected near the Anup Talao where Akbar performed his obligatory prayers five times a day in congregation and granted interviews. Sri Saiyad Ahmad Khan, a government official of Fatehpur Sikri, constructed a new floor between 1817-1898. Steps give access to the water, which came from the northern waterworks; a channel emptied surplus into the Hauz-I-Shirin on the steep southern slope outside the palace. Musical concerts were held
Tansen sat on the platform and entertained guests. During festivals the whole tank was filled with coins, which were handed out in fistfuls.
Akbar, hearing great tales of Mirabai, even went undercover and visited Chittor to listen to her music, paid his respect by touching her feet and worshipping the Hindu god, Krishna, with her. His musicians used Mirabai's devotional songs to compose dance sequences. Akbar visited Vrindavan to meet saint Tulsidas, another Krishna devotee, when he refused to sing in his court. Surdas's Rama bhajans and Haridas's classical compositions, Vrajabhasha, and local dialects also gained popularity. Folk songs merged with classical styles, evolving in to ghazals and quavalis. Thumari evolved in the later phase. Thus, Hindustani music evolved from pure folk songs to intricate patterns of Sur and Taal, Raags and Raginis. Sufi exponents also popularized music by Hazrat Amir Khusharoo.
The power of music was recognized in Deepak Raag sung by Tansen to light lamps and Megh Malhar sung by his disciples to bring rain. Different Raags were played at different times of the year. Raag Hindol in Basant, Dipak in Grishma, Megh in Pawas, Shree in Sheet, Malkauns in Hemant, and Bhairav in Shishir. Specific notes were identified to be played at particular times of the day. Shadej in morning, Madhyam at Noon and Gander in the evenings. Seven Swaras, adapted from seven planets, were assigned colors; Shadaja-red, Rishbh-blue, Gandhar-white, Madyam-orange, Pancham-black, Dhaivat-yellow and Nishad-black.
The Diwan-Khana-I-Khas - Emperor's Living Room
The lower walls of this structure are hollowed internally and the openings were closed by sliding stone slabs to store books, which were read out to the Emperor regularly. This was also used as a dining room. The large room behind this chamber has a platform projecting from its south wall. The Emperor sat here with his legs crossed on scarlet velvet rugs with sentries to the court standing in line according to their ranks. To the east of the room is a small bathroom provided with water through conduit pipes fitted in the channels under the floor. The main chamber is 8m by 5m with walls and the roof was once decorated with gold.
In the west wall there is a doorway, now closed, which gave direct access to the noblemen and clerks from the Daftar Khana to wait upon the Emperor. In 1575, Akbar received his relative, Mirza Sulaiman, fugitive ruler of Badakhshan, in this area. The first Jesuit mission was also received here. A window looked onto the quadrangle from near the platform. The Emperor showed himself to his subjects from here daily. He was worshipped like a God and some wouldn't eat their food unless they saw his face. Such was the rapport of Akbar with his subjects. This ceremony was called 'Jharokha Darshan'. Exactly above this is another window looking on to a terrace. As Badauni recalled, in February 1578-79, a Brahmin interpreter of the great Hindu epic Mahabharata used to be raised sitting on a charpai, an Indian string bed, till he was at level with the Emperor. This is when he instructed the great ruler about the myths and legends of Hinduism. Akbar's keen interest in absorbing knowledge from different religions is laudable.
Diwan -e- Am
Directly approached from Agra Gate through Naubat Khana, Diwan-I-Am is the judgement hall where Akbar presented himself to his subjects and dispensed justice for about three hours after sunrise. An executioner stood by throughout the hearings with instruments of torture; never actually used, but meant to instill discipline. Akbar visited here again in the afternoons after examining the animals in the imperial stables, rewarding or punishing the grooms and to attend to the management of the karkhanas (workshops) and the court.
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