Reliving a fabled past

History

Welcome: Buland Darwaza, the main entry gate of Fatehpur SikriThe history of the place, which was once a small, nondescript village called Sikri, goes back to the 14th century when it was held by the Sikarwar Rajputs hailing from Dholpur. It became a Turkish settlement once the Sultanate of Delhi got established. Babur, after defeating Rana Sangha in 1527 AD in the battle of Khanua, renamed the village as Shukri, meaning, ‘thanks to God’.

My very knowledgeable guide, Prasad, gave me a good dose of history with Akbar as its main architect. In 1564, Akbar built a resort named Nagarchain, near Sikri. It is said that Akbar used to visit Sikri to seek the blessings of the great Sufi saint, Salim Chisti, in order to have an heir to his throne. The saint prophesised that he would have three sons. As per his instructions, Akbar erected a beautiful palace, now known as Rang Mahal, for his Rajput queen. It was in this very same palace that Prince Salim was born in 1569, and the queen was given the title of ‘Maryam-uz-Zamani’.

Akbar planned a new capital and selected the site on the Sikri ridge, which had a  view that stretched as far as Bharatpur. Red sandstone was chosen to be the base of all construction. The capital city, originally designated as Fatehabad, after Akbar’s conquest of Gujarat, came to be popularly referred to as Fatehpur Sikri.

While palaces were built to the east, the city was planned below the palace site, along the border of the ridge. The walls were fortified with rubble and covered with lime plaster. It was enclosed on three sides by walls and on the west, by a large artificial lake. It had nine gates, namely: Delhi Darwaza, Lal Darwaza, Agra Darwaza, Surajpol or Birbal Pol, Chandra Pol, Gwalior Darwaza, Terha Darwaza, Ajmeri Darwaza and Hathi Pol, besides a Chor Khirki. There was also the Naubat Khana or Chahar Suq, the market place. On the right side of the road was Taksal, which once served as an imperial workshop where coins were struck.

Diwani-I-Aam, the hall of public audience, is a huge, rectangular, walled-in courtyard where petitions were heard, proclamations made, visitors received and celebrations held. The royal balcony, set within a frame of jail screens, appears on the western front. In front of the royal seat, a stone hook can be seen embedded in the ground.

At the northern corner stands a small but grand single-storey structure of Diwan-I-Khas, with a magnificently sculptured stone column at the centre of the hall. It bursts forth into a set of 36 closely placed, vaulted and pendulous brackets, supporting a circular platform from which radiate four passages. It is supposed to be the famous Ibadat-Khana where Akbar initiated religious discourses amongst diverse religious groups.

Occupying the highest point of the ridge is the grand Jami Masjid and with its lofty portal, the celebrated Buland Darwaza. Here, one can see the most gorgeous ornamentation in the floral arabesques and ingenious geometrical patterns in brown, red, turquoise, black and white. The spacious courtyard adds a stately charm to the place. At one time, it could accommodate 10,000 men for a prayer service. Akbar was so enthusiastic about this mosque that he occasionally swept the floor and gave azan (call for prayer).

Sheikh Salim Chisti’s mausoleum was the place we were looking for. We wanted to tie the red thread there. The story goes that in 1580-81, eight years after the saint had died in 1572, Akbar had built his tomb in red sandstone. In 1606, Qutubuddin Khan Koka, on orders from Jehangir, had the edifice covered in white marble.

The magnificence of the splendid jali screens carved out of huge marble slabs show a rare perfection of craftsmanship. The dramatic serpentine brackets supporting the wide chajja on all four sides of the edifice have an amazing grace. The real grave lies in an undisturbed repose in the crypt, closed to visitors. Devotees, especially women longing for children, come here and tie coloured threads in the jalees.

Soon, we were in front of the Buland Darwaza, the colossal triumphal arch which dwarfs all other buildings in the neighbourhood. The towering portal is 176 feet tall from the ground level and 134 feet over the top step. The grand recessed central arch is the most magnificent of its kind in the entire range of Mughal architecture in India. I was quite intrigued at the inscription on the inner side of its walls, Jesus Christ’s famous line: “The world is but a bridge: pass over, but build no houses on it.”

We called it a day at the Hiran Minar, which was 80 feet in height, and said to be the tower from where Akbar used to aim for deer. According to Prasad, Akbar’s favourite elephant is supposed to have been buried under it.

Fatehpur Sikri’s glory is reflected in the feel of rich red sand stone. The city puts you in a time warp, reflective of Mughal splendour. A World Heritage Site as per UNESCO, Fatehpur Sikri is today one of the greatest prides of the Mughal era.

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