Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri

We arrived in the so-called “ghost town” of Fatehpur Sikri during the largest festival of the year, celebrating the end of Ramadan – and with the insane crowds, it was anything but a ghost town!

Brief History:

The city has a unique history. Akbar, the 16th-century Mogul emperor, was not as yet blessed with any sons, despite having three wives. So he took a pilgrimage to Sikri to meet a Muslim saint, the Shiek Salim Chishti, who predicted that he would have three sons. He shortly afterwards had a son, and promised to built a city at Sikri, which was just a small village at the time. The city was built quickly, and Akbar installed his capital there in 1571. But the city’s decline came just as rapidly. It was abandoned 14 years later when Akbar moved his capital to Lahore. In the space of 20 years, it was a deserted city and has remained so until this day.

Partly because of the resistance of red sandstone, from which the buildings are constructed, the city is very well-preserved and is an excellent example of a Moghul city at the height of the Empire. During his stay in Fatehpur Sikri, Akbar spent a lot of time studying non-Islamic religions. He developed a new religion, Deen Ilahi, which took elements from several different religions. The city, through its architecture, can be seen as an example of this spirit, mixing Islamic architecture with decorative Hindu, Jaina, and Catholic art.

The Outer Courtyard:
The outer courtyard of the abandoned city contains the King’s Gate, the Jama Mosque, and the Tomb of the Sheik Salim Chishti. One reaches the courtyard by climbing many steps and entering through the Victory Gate, 54 m. (162 ft.) high. Horseshoes, a symbol of good luck, cover the door. The Mosque is interesting in that it is a copy of the one at Mecca, and contains Persian and Hindu elements. The “mihrab,” which looks towards Mecca, is an essential part of all mosques and is inscribed with Arabic prayers. The dome is taken from traditional Catholic architecture, while the stepped arches were inspired from Hindu temples. Muslim, Christian, and Hindu influences…just like his three wives, who were Muslim, Christian, and Hindu. The Muslim gravestones have beautiful carved inscriptions. Just like in the Muslim culture, where the women are covered and not to be seen, the women’s gravestones are inside the building, whereas the men’s gravestones are outside. Most of the graves were sprinkled with fuschia flower petals.

The Sheikh’s tomb, built in 1570, has some of the most beautiful marble work ever chiseled in India. Tiny star windows allow one to look out but not to see in. Like Akbar over 4 centuries ago, women come to the Sheik’s tomb today in the hopes of becoming pregnant. People lay flowers on the tomb and pray. The ceiling was entirely covered by a plush, red velvet cushion.

During the festival, a market and stalls were set up inside the courtyard, and the ground was littered with trash. As you had to take your shoes off at the large entrance gate, it meant that you were walking barefoot in the dirt, trying to step over mountains of trash and to avoid stepping on things that squished between your toes.

The Inner Courtyard:

The inner courtyard is a palatial complex comprised of 46 buildings. Its layout is reminiscent of the Mogul forts in Agra and Delhi. Its buildings likewise are made of the beautiful red sandstone.
The first building inside the ancient city is the Palace of Jodh Bai, wrongly attributed to the Hindu mother of Akbar’s son and successor, the Emperor Jehangir. There are Hindu columns and Muslim cupolas. There is also the Birbal Bhavan, built for the raja Birbal. It has been variously described as a very small palace or a very large jewellery box. It looks upon the Lower Haramsara, which was thought to have been an immense stable with 200 stalls for elephants, camels, and horses. Today, researchers suggest that it was in fact the servants’ quarters.

Then there is the “Golden House,” the palace for Akbar’s Christian wife, which had been entirely covered in gold. Another small palace was five storeys high, each one smaller than the last until it finished in a small kiosk at the top. The beautiful Treasury building is ornamented with monsters, which were thought to protect the Imperial Treasury. The elevated seat in the middle of the room is supposedly where the treasurer sat to survey the counting of the riches. For a long time, the building was known under the name Ankh Micholi, which can be translated as “Hide-and-Seek.” The Emperor was known to have played this game with the ladies of the harem.

The Diwan-I-Khas, or Pavilion of Private Audiences, is known under the name House of Jewels, and has a sculpted stone column in the center that supports a 6-meter high throne. Near the Pavilion of Public Audiences is the Pachhisi Court, which is like an immense chessboard, where Akbar played Pachhisi (a sort of chess) with young slave girls as chess pieces. It is said that our game of Parcheesi originated here.

From the Hiran Minar, a minaret erected on the sepulcher of his favorite elephant, Akbar shot upon animals that were pushed in front of him.

The ancient deserted city was extremely well-preserved and could have almost been said to have been a haven of peace and tranquility away from the noise and the masses in the streets, if it hadn’t been for the Indian tourists running after us and asking to snap our photo every ten seconds!