Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Fatehpur Sikri - The Enchanting Ghost City Of India


I have always been in awe of Akbar (even before he was portrayed by Hrithik Roshan in Jodhaa Akbar), so visiting Fatehpur Sikri was something I was really looking forward to during our trip. This magnificent fortified city was founded by Emperor Akbar and served as the capital of Mughal Empire from 1571 to 1585.

As the story goes, Akbar was a follower of Salim Chishti, a Sufi saint who used to live in a village of Sikri. It is in this village, Salim predicted the birth of an heir to the Mughal throne, so when the prophecy came true Akbar built his new capital here. The city was called Fatehpur Sikri or "the city of victory" as it was built after his military victories over Chittor and Ranthambore. Now, what's so phenomenal about this trip was that we got to see both sides of the coin. By Chittor, I mean the Rajputs of Mewar- Udaipur! When we were in Udaipur we heard their side of the story and agony of Mughal Empire and 5 days later we are in the city built in honor of the same war! Talk about coming back to full circle :)

The palace complex is predominantly made up of red sandstone except for the tomb of Salim Chishti which is made of white marble. The main tomb building is enclosed by delicate marble screens on all sides and has beautiful intricate carvings. It is believed that tying sacred thread on the marble screen in dargah can make your wishes come true (which we somehow we ended up tying- at a very high price too!).

Tomb of Salim Chishti
















Intricate work on marble in the Tomb


But the main attraction of complex remains Buland Darwaza or the "Gate of Magnificence" built to commemorate Akbar's victory over Gujarat. It is the main entrance to the palace at Fatehpur Sikri and stands at a staggering height of 176 ft. It is the highest gateway in the world !

Buland Darwaza


Then there is Jama Masjid, which was perhaps one of the first buildings to be constructed in this complex and looks splendid.

Jama Masjid in Fatehpur Sikri


There are many other buildings which reflect on the splendid way he ruled his empire. For example, Ibadat Khana or "House of Worship" was the place where spiritual leaders of different religions gathered to conduct discussions on the teachings of their respective religions. Built as a debate house, Akbar encouraged Hindus, Roman Catholics, Zoroastrians, Jains and even atheists to participate.

Some of the other important buildings like Khwabgah (Akbar's residence), Panch Mahal, a five-storey palace, Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience), Ankh Michauli are surrounded by a stunning ornamental pool- Anup Talao.

Anup Talao, Photo: Sandeepachetan








Khwabgah or the "House of Dreams" as the name suggests, is the most beautiful building of the royal complex and was conceived for the emperor's personal use. It has a separate room for the emperor to hold secret official meetings with his nobles, Kutub Khana or a personal library with a number of books and official documents, a small bathroom and the bedroom of Akbar. The double-storeyed red sandstone building is one of the most well planned buildings of Fatehpur Sikri. His library supposedly had about 25,000 manuscripts written in Sanskrit, Hindustani, Persian, Greek, Latin, Arabic and Kashmiri, staffed by many scholars, translators, artists, calligraphers, scribes, bookbinders and readers (and Akbar didn't know to read/write!). He was read to everyday and had a remarkable memory.

The Palace of his beloved Rajput wife (Jodha Bai/Heer Kunwari) whom he gave the title "Mariam-uz-Zamani" Begum (Mary of the Age). Jodha remained Hindu throughout her life and their marriage influenced Akbar a lot towards embracing Hindu culture. In fact, he was the first Mughal Emperor who was accepted by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. During his reign, the nature of the state changed to a secular and liberal one, with emphasis on cultural integration. He also introduced several far-sighted social reforms, including prohibiting sati, legalizing widow remarriage and raising the age of marriage.

Courtyard of Jodha Bai's palace, Photo: Nadir Hashmi


Next was Birbal's House, now who can forget the famous Akbar-Birbal stories! Birbal was an advisor in the court of Akbar and was among his "Navrathna" or nine jewels (group of nine extraordinary people).

Birbal's House, Photo: Walwyn


Another interesting site is "Anarkali Darwaja" - a door through which Anarkali fled to Lahore after Akbar gave her death sentence for her implicit relationship with Prince Salim (Jahangir). Quite a controversy if you ask me!

Anarkali Darwaza









 
All in all the place is a treat for an outsider! With so many captivating stories and soulful live Sufi music playing in the background I couldn't help but loose myself in the glorious Mughal period.

But I think the inscriptions in the archway of Buland Darwaza sums it all up perfectly,

"The world is a bridge, pass over it, but build no houses on it. He who hopes for an hour may hope for eternity. The world endures but an hour. Spend it in prayer, for the rest is unseen".






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