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Fatehpur Sikri: The Silent Sentinel 

Great Mughal emperor Akbar developed this city as his alternate capital. Tansen's melodies filled its hallowed precincts. Birbal and Jodhabai lived here. Devotees still throng the shrine of Sufi saint Salim Chisti. Four hundred years later, this ancient palace city retains its charm, its precincts a fine fusion of the best of Indian and Islamic architecture. Welcome to Fatehpur Sikri

HARPREET KAUR

The 40-km drive from Agra to Fatehpur Sikri through wide open spaces can be described long and tiring. On way, the monuments keep you company and break the monotony of continuous landscape. A complete planned city within its fort containing palaces, mosques and administrative buildings, Fatehpur Sikri is worth a full day's stop. 

The story goes that Emperor Akbar was without an heir and a worried man in 1568, when he visited Sheikh Salim Chisti, a Sufi saint at Sikri. He blessed Akbar with three sons and in gratitude, Akbar ordered a great mosque and a palace to be built under Salim Chisti's supervision in the small village of Sikri.

The third Mughal emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar ascended to the throne at the age of 14. He established his dominion over the north and central India, including Bengal. He also secured the North West frontier by controlling Kabul. Akbar’s most important territorial gain was Gujarat, which as a commercial centre, would provided the Mughal empire with enormous wealth. It would also give open access to the Arabian Sea and the opportunity to do trade with Europeans and the Turks.

Situated on the Vindhya range overlooking a lake, Fatehpur Sikri dominates the skyline for miles. The hamlet of Sikri was named Shukri (thanks) by Babur. Akbar named it Fatehpur (fateh - victory) making it the city of victory after his conquest over Gujarat in 1573. He was also the first great Mughal patron of the arts. Of his various building projects, the most ambitious was this new capital city - Fatehpur was built mostly between 1571 and 1585, when Akbar had adopted Lahore as his principal residence. 

Akbar proceeded to transform Fatehpur into a complete planned city. A fine blend of Islamic and Hindu architecture, Fatehpur has north-Indian style post and beams roofed with Islamic-style vaults and domes. Several elaborate palaces, courtyards, pools, harems, tombs and a great mosque were built here. A large number of masons and stone carvers toiled in an area over two miles long and a mile wide; they used locally available bright red sandstone which provides the buildings with much of their sheen. Fifteen years later, lack of adequate water supply and no means to bring it up from the lake led to the city being abandoned.

The sprawling city is divided into two parts, the Palace Complex which has nine monuments and the Mosque Complex. 

The Mosque complex houses the Bulund Darwaza (the entrance) which leaves any visitor mesmerized. This massive doorway was built to commemorate the victory over Gujarat and is visible for miles at a stretch. Walking in through these gates is quite an experience. It leads into the huge mosque and a vast courtyard. Herein lies the white marble mausoleum of Sheikh Salim Chisti. Pilgrims come here to pray for a child and tie strings to the jali -- lattice work which is the most outstanding work of this mausoleum). Originally built in red sandstone by Akbar, it was later converted to marble by Jehangir. To the right is the mosque constructed under the saint’s supervision. Further down are a set of buildings, also referred to as the palace complex.

The Palace complex hosts nine monuments within. The Ankh Michauli built in white marble, is a single-storey building with huge galleries and rooms behind it covered in jali. Here, the queen and her friends played hide and seek. From this building, one can take a peek behind into what was called the Meena Bazaar with a victory tower in the centre. It has a wide path with open structures on the side. It was here that the royal women organised a weekly market selling clothes, jewellery, food stuff etc and showed off their skills in all fields possible including the art of war. The invitees were men of the royal family and the royal entourage.

The Panch Mahal or the five-storey building has pillars and is open on all sides. It was built with pierced stonework forming walls, behind which there was the royal harem. From here, the women could observe all that was going on in the yard. Diwan-i-Khas, from the outside, appears to be of two storeys, but has only one. It is supported by a central column with ornate brackets, and has nine seats in small galleries positioned strategically from across the centre. Here, Akbar sat in the centre and listened to his navratans or nine gems, the advisers. 

Across this building stands the Anup Taloa, with a central stage with four paths leading to it. According to historical evidence, this is where Tansen sat and performed many of the beautiful ragas for Emperor Akbar. 

On the periphery of the city and away from the administrative buildings in the centre are the personal palaces like the Sunehra Mahal (golden palace) sporting vivid wall murals. Nestling alongside this palace lie Jodhabai's and Birbal's Palaces. 

Diwan-i-Am is where Akbar took general audiences with the public. Close to it lies the Pachisi court or the pavilion, where the floor is marked in black and white and chess was played with humans as chessmen, with both players sitting on either side. 

The Panch Mahal and the Bulund Darwaza are today marked as the finest specimens of Mughal architecture with Fatehpur Sikri as a World Heritage Site. Fatehpur's innovative architecture has a vast array of disparate styles with a fusion of Indian and Islamic details. Both are used in a distinct manner and not repeated anywhere else. The palace buildings at Fatehpur Sikri reflect a synthesis of Timurid traditions of Iran and Central Asia with indigenous traditions of Hindu and Muslim India.

During his reign, which lasted nearly fifty years (1556 to 1605), Akbar succeeded in consolidating the empire and establishing a strong administrative system. He was deeply interested in spiritual and religious issues, and in 1582 formulated a new code of religious behavior. It was here that Akbar held his famous religious discourses with leaders of many faiths. And it is only fitting that Fatehpur should be a blend of various styles. 

HARPREET KAUR
 

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