Exploring Fatehpur Sikri, the abandoned fort of Akbar the Great

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri is a desolate fort complex, originally built to serve as the residence and seat of power of the great Mughal emperor Akbar. Unfortunately, a shortage of water forced the Mughals to shift their capital to Agra only after 14 years of completion of this fabulous fort. A desolate Akbar, in quest for an heir to the Mughal throne, undertook an arduous pilgrimage and walked barefooted to the revered Sufi saint Khwaja Moinnuddin Chishti of Ajmer. On his way, he visited Salim Chisti who prophesized Akbar’s 3 sons. When Akbar’s first son, Jahangir, was born, he was named Salim in honour of the Sufi saint. Akbar, often visited the mazar or mausoleum of Salim Chisthi and built a dargah in memory of the saint and later Jahangir adorned it with marble which is the earliest instance of usage of marble in Mughal monuments.

Today, this abandoned fort is a UNESCO World Heritage site and an epitome of the expert craftsmanship of the sculptors of the bygone era. The fort is also a testament to the religious tolerance of Akbar. Akbar founded a syncretic religion Din-i-Illahi – a fusion of Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity which as the tour guide informed was influenced by the three wives of Akbar who belonged to different religions. The fort architecture is also essentially a mélange of the three art forms.

After 3 days in the holy twin city of Mathura and Vrindavan, we headed for Fatehpur Sikri in what would be the last site in our week-long excursion which started from Kasol in Himachal Pradesh. We boarded a local bus from Mathura bus station to Agra and then took another one from Agra to reach Fatehpur Sikri around 2 PM. There is another shorter route via Bharatpur but since we had been travelling as it comes, without a plan, we hardly did any research on our destinations. After reaching Fatehpur Sikri, we wandered about looking for a good nonveg restaurant and were disappointed to find none in the vicinity. Not wasting more time, we settled for a dilapidated eatery near the bus stand which served us a cynically overpriced lunch.

Fatehpur

The first glimpse of the fort was the gigantic Buland Darwaza which is the highest gateway in Asia and is right behind the bus stand. As we walked closer, we were accosted by touts disguised as guides. As we later found out, these touts have no knowledge and earned their living through commissions by coaxing visitors to buy chaddar, flower, and sacred threads. Stay away from these touts. Should you opt for guides, only hire the ASI certified guides from the ticket counter at Sikri.

Should you opt for guides, only hire the ASI certified guides from the ticket counter at Sikri

 

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri

Fathepur has a large courtyard surrounded by ramparts with four entrance gates opening to four directions – Buland Darwaza to the south served as the entrance for the general public while the Badshahi Darwaza, the eastern gate facing Sikri was meant for the entrance of Akbar and members of the royal family. Buland Darwaza, the magnificent, loft gateway was constructed using red sandstone to commemorate the Mughal victory over Gujarat. Verses of Quran inscribed on the Buland Darwaza is believed to have influenced similar inscriptions on the iconic Taj Mahal. Along the north wall is the revered dargah of Salim Chisti. Behind the dargah are tombs of the descendants of the saint with the women members buried inside a chamber with lattice walls conforming to the hijab culture in Islam. A band of musicians sings melodious Sufi Qawalis dedicated to Salim Chisthi in the portico in front of the dargah. After about 30 mins at Fatehpur, we headed towards Sikri which is the adjoining royal enclosure.

Fatehpur Sikri
The dargah of Salim Chisti
Fatehpur Sikri
Melodious Sufi Qawali in front of Salim Chisti dargah

Sikri

While there is no entry fee for Fatehpur, presumably because it’s an ancient place of worship, to enter Sikri, you are required to buy entry tickets. On exiting through the western gate, there is an ASI ticket counter where tickets are available for varied prices for Indians (Rs.50), BIMSTEC, SAARC, and other country nationals. Here authorized guides are available and it is highly recommended to hire one if you are interested in understanding the history and architecture of the fort. You can approach them in private for a much cheaper deal as compared to the government approved prices.

The guide was knowledgeable and gave us lots of information about the monuments. The first monument we came across was the Jodha Bai Palace. Since Jodha Bai gave birth to Jahangir, the Mughal heir, she was honoured with the most extravagant palace. Jodha Bai was a Hindu princess, so there was a small temple within her palace. Although the idols are absent, yet the alter, a place for tulsi plant in front and other arrangements are enough to testify the religious tolerance of Akbar, a quality notably absent in his successors who engaged in the desecration of temples throughout the country. There were less generous palaces for the other queens. There were two kitchens – a veg one for Jodha Bai and a nonveg kitchen for the Muslim and Christian queens.

The next important monument was the Panch Mahal, a five-storied structure supported only by pillars. The top terraces would provide cool breeze and panoramic views of the fort and adjoining areas so, this place was used presumably by Akbar and his queens for relaxation and recreation; also for religious ceremonies.

Fatehpur Sikri

Then there is the private chamber Akbar with a large king sized bed like set up for the emperor. In front of this monument is a tank with a platform in the middle. The guide informed that the renowned musician Tansen performed on this platform in the evenings while the emperor and his consorts enjoyed the melodies from the chamber in front. There is also the Diwan-i-Aam, hall of public audience of the king and Diwan-i-Khas, hall of private audience of the king in the open courtyard in front of the Panch Mahal. In the centre of the courtyard, is a mundane stone throne with white squares around it. The guide informed that Akbar sat on this throne to play pachisi, an ancient Indian board game while women servitors stood in the square boxes as pawns.

Fatehpur Sikri
Private chamber of Akbar with a platform in front where Tansen performed

Fatehpur Sikri

There are few other noteworthy monuments like the palace of Birbal, the royal treasury, the palace of Raqaiya Sultan begam, the zeena quarters and the interesting Hiran minar, tomb of the favourite pet elephant of Akbar who infamously killed the convicts pronounced death sentence by trampling them.

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri is a perfect place to understand the Mughal history and lifestyle. Tourists visiting Taj Mahal should set aside a day to visit Fatehpur Sikri and the tomb of Akbar at Sikandara to understand the Mughal heritage. In fact, one should start from Fatehpur Sikri followed by the tomb of Akbar at Sikandara, Agra Fort and at last the Taj Mahal. Unfortunately, I did the exact opposite since I visited the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort in 2016 and due to a shortage of time had to skip Fatehpur Sikri during my last visit. Being a history buff, I thoroughly enjoyed my day at Fatehpur Sikri. I would use this post to appreciate and thank the guide for all the information he provided. I hope you liked this post. Please share your views in the comments section below. Do contact me for any other information. Travel and Spread Love.

Fatehpur Sikri

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