Fatehpur Sikri? What’s that? I thought we were going to hear more about the Taj Mahal!
Yes, it’s true. The last time I wrote about our India trip, I promised more Taj Mahal photos. And you will get them, my friends! But since I know that you have never heard of Fatehpur Sikri, and that is in my view a place nearly as extraordinary as the Taj Mahal, I am going to share some information, and photos, about that as well.
To get the ball rolling, we need a bit of a history lesson. For these two places are concerned with the Mughal Empire, which ruled northern India for several centuries. And two of the most auspicious figures of that empire were instrumental in having these two places built. Since the Taj Mahal is what we know, let’s start with that. Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor (1594-1666), had the Taj built for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal (1593-1631) (yes, all the Mughal emperors had multiple wives – that will become important in our discussion momentarily), after she died in childbirth. Since the Taj would take 22 years to build, Mumtaz was originally buried in a smaller tomb on the grounds of the future funerary palace.
Original Resting Place of the Empress
There is a legend that, after building the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan intended to build a second mausoleum, a black one to match this white one, on the opposite bank of the Yamuna River. However, this building was never built. Shah Jahan’s son and successor as emperor, Aurangzeb (1618-1707), did not wish for his father to spend the money building this second mausoleum (so the story goes), wanting to use the money instead to wage wars (which Aurangzeb did). To keep his father from wasting the money, Aurangzeb imprisoned his father at the Agra Fort for the final eight years of his life.
OK, that’s enough of a history lesson for now. There will be more later. Let’s look at photos of the Taj Mahal. So yes, we had seen it the previous evening. Our second day at Agra, we got up before dawn, met our guide and went to see it at sunrise. Here is what it looked like then.
Approaching the Taj Mahal in the Early Morning
Exterior Marble Ornament
Extertior Marble Ornament Two
Sun Reflecting Off the Stone of the Taj Mahal
Sun Rising Behind the Taj Mahal
Sun Rising Over Agra
Taj Mahal at Sunrise
Taj Mahal Framed by Doorway of the Mosque
Taj Mahal Minaret with Sun
Too bad Agra has so much haze! But like much of northern India, there is so much pollution and so much dust, that there aren’t too many points in the day when the sky is blue. In spite of that, I am sure you agree, the Taj Mahal was pretty incredible at sunrise.
So, about this black Taj that Shah Jahan planned to build. Did it really exist? There is no evidence of it, only legend. Or is there evidence? You see, there is a tantalizing ornament painted above the archway of the Taj Mahal mosque.
Above Entrance to Taj Mahal Mosque
Can you see it? Wait, let’s get a little closer.
Close up of Decoration Above Taj Mahal Mosque
Just in the center? OK, let’s get a little closer still.
The Two Taj’s
Aha, there you see it. Two buildings side by side that look just like two Taj’s. And with Shah Jahan’s love of symmetry – every building in the Taj Mahal complex has an opposite to balance it out – it is easy to believe that he had the intention of building a mausoleum for himself across the river to mirror the Taj Mahal. As it is, that second building never happened, and Aurangzeb had his father buried in the Taj Mahal, thus throwing off the symmetry there (Mumtaz’s tomb is in the center, with Shah Jahan’s larger one off to the side).
So after getting up so early to see the Taj, we took a long break, and joined up with our guide Davesh and our driver Chotu for the drive out to Fatehpur Sikri, which is about 40 minutes outside of Agra. OK, next history lesson. So Shah Jahan’s grandfather, Akbar the Great (1542-1605), the third Mughal Emperor, was a ruler of great vision. He had Fatehpur Sikri built to be his capital, although he only stayed there for a little more than 10 years (1573-85).
While the Mughals were Muslims, Akbar was tolerant of all religions. Among his wives, he had Muslims, Hindus and at least one Christian wife (the Portuguese brought Catholicism to India, and Akbar’s Christian wife was one of these Portuguese). In fact, his favorite Hindu wife, Jodha Bai, was the mother of his successor, Jahangir, and lived in the most impressive of the palaces in Fatehpur Sikri. Furthermore, Akbar established his own religion which was a combination of Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Jainism and other religions. He had about 28 converts to his new religion, but unfortunately, it died when he died.
OK, on to some pictures of Fatehpur Sikri. It is a preserved abandoned city, as you will see, with a number of the buildings from the 16th century still surviving. So let’s start out with the palaces. Here is the palace that Jodha Bai shared with her fellow Hindu wives, and her individual bedchamber.
The Palace of the Hindu Wives, Fatehpur Sikri
Ornamental Column and Capital, Jodha Bai’s Palace, Fatehpur Sikri
Ornamental Braces, Jodha Bai’s Palace, Fatehpur Sikri
Hindu Shrine in the Jodha Bai’s Bedchamber, Fatehpur Sikri
Entrance to Hawa Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri
Decorative Column, Jodha Bai’s Palace, Fatehpur Sikri
Bedchamber of the Favored Hindu Wife, Jodha Bai, at Fatehpur Sikri
As with the entire city, here there are many large gaping windows and open archways. This begs the question of what they did to protect themselves from the weather. Apparently, they used large heavy carpets to cover doorways and other large openings in the winter, and in the summer they were very clever about using screens and water sources to provide cooling. It is also important to remember that no men were allowed to see Akbar’s wives except for him – thus the screens provided protection, where the wives could keep cool and be connected to what was happening in the city (say, musical performance) without being seen.
Next, I have just one photo the Christian wife’s palace.
Home of Maryam, Akbar’s Christian Wife, Fatehpur Sikri
Third, here are some photos of the Muslim wife’s home.
Tassle Ornaments, Muslim Wife’s Palace, Fatehpur Sikri
Palace of Akbar’s Muslim Wife, Fatehpur Sikri
Highly Ornamented Wall of Muslim Wife’s Palace, Fatehpur Sikir
Cross Ornaments, Muslim Wife’s Palace, Fatehpur Sikri
There is some question as to whether this was actually the Muslim wife’s home. After all, it is one of the smaller homes in the city, much smaller than those of the other two principal wives. However, there are two things that may confirm that this was indeed her home. First of all, while many other palaces in Fatehpur Sikri are decorated with a mix of Muslim, Hindu and Jain architectural ornaments, this home is only decorated with Islamic ornaments. Second, as our guide suggested, it didn’t matter that she had a small house, since she was the favorite wife of Akbar, and spent most of her nights in his palace.
Speaking of Akbar’s palace, here it is.
Kwabgah, Akbar’s Royal Residence at Fatehpur Sikri
Directly across from Akbar’s palace was a lake with a raised platform in the middle of it, where musicians might gather to perform for the emperor.
Anup Talao, Ornamental Pool Opposite Akbar’s Residence, Fatehpur Sikri
While many of the most impressive buildings in the city were built for members of the royal family, there was one exception to that. Akbar had built for his most important minister, Birbal, an incredible house, as recognition of Birbal’s importance to him.
Birbal’s House, Fatehpur Sikri
Hindu Shrine, Birbal’s House, Fatehpur Sikri
Ornamented Arched Doorway, Birbal’s House, Fatehpur Sikri
Wall Ornament, Birbal’s House,
Two of the most important buildings in the city were the Hall of Public Audience, or Diwan-i-Aam, where people could come and address the emperor, and the Hall of Private Audience, or Diwan-i-Khas, where Akbar would consult with his closest advisers. It was in the latter hall that meetings of Akbar’s new ecumenical religion took place – the central pillar is reputedly an amalgam of Hindu, Muslim, Western and Jain design.
Diwan-i-Aam, or Hall of Public Audience, Fatehpur Sikri
Diwan-i-Khas, or Hall of Private Audience, at Fatehpur Sikri
Pillar at the Center of the Diwan-i-Khas, or Hall of Private Audience, at Fatehpur Sikri
One last building to consider – the Panch Mahal, a five-story building which housed the town’s girl’s school. It was reputed that the top story, which held space for just one person, is where Akbar could sit and observe things going on in the city.
Panch Mahal at Fatehpur Sikri
To finish up, let me show you some of the ornamental details from the various buildings, lest you should think that these were plain buildings unbecoming of a royal capital.
Ankh Michauli Entrance
Carved Geometric Wall Ornament, Fatehpur Sikri
Carved Window Grating, Fatehpur Sikri
Ceiling Decoration, Fatehpur Sikri
Elephants Fighting, Wall Decoration, Fatehpur Sikri
Geometric Ceiling Decoration, Fatehpur Sikri
Geometric Ceiling Ornament, Fatehpur Sikri
Ornamental Brace, Fatehpur Sikri
Ornamented Doorframe, Fatehpur Sikri
Painted Stone Decoration, Fatehpur Sikri
Painting of a Woman, Wall Decoration, Fatehpur Sikri
Roof Butresses, Fatehpur Sikri, with Original Paint
In my next posting about our India trip, I will finish up Agra by showing you the Agra Fort.