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Travelogues - Fatehpur Sikri
Nov 15, 2005 10:22 PM 10322 Views
(Updated Jan 29, 2006 11:29 PM)

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Fatehpur Sikri (Place of Victory) was the world’s first planned city built with Indo-Muslim architecture. It is long forgotten ghost capital of imperial Mughal Empire built with robust red sandstones by Emperor Akbar. In their prime time, Mughals built imposing cities, forts, tombs, friday mosques (Jami Masjids), and gardens at the backdrop of Yamuna River. Among them Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri have been designated as world heritage sites by UNESCO in 1983.


Today, Fatehpur Sikri is a small town located in the state of Uttar Pradesh is just 40 km west of Agra on Agra-Jaipur Road. It is land of tomb of Salim Christi, a powerful prophet. It is home of ruins of vast imperial palace complex, once playground for Akbar’s nine jewels including Tansen, Birbal, and Todarmal.


History


Great Mughal Emperor Akbar ascended to the throne in 1556 at the tender age of 14 years after sudden demise of his father, Humayun. Once Akbar consolidated his power as emperor, he moved his capital from Delhi to Agra in 1565 and started building impressive Agra Fort.


According to legend, after Akbar lost all his children in infancy, he made a barefoot pilgrimage to the hamlet of Sikri to seek the blessings of the Sufi Saint Sheikh Salim Chisti of Sikri in order to have an heir to his throne. Saint prophesied three sons. In 1569, Akbar's Rajput wife Jodhabai, princess of Amber, gave birth to his first son. Akbar called him Salim after the sage, who later became emperor Janhangir.


After Akbar’s childlessness was ended by remarkable forecast of saint, he decided to build a grand imperial capital on the ridge of Sikri where the saint lived in his humble hermitage. Imperial capital’s Jama Masjid and palace complex occupied the hilltop, while a fortified town developed below surrounded by imposing gateways and walls. Akbar's palace complex made up of multi-tiered pavilions, courtyards, domes, gardens, pools, harems, mosques, and floor beds. His new complex was designed based on Indo-Muslim architecture to support his faith in new Din-E-Ilahi religion. Din-E-Ilahi was supposed to be an amalgamation of the universal aspects and values of Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, and Jainism. Even though imperial palace buildings built in a linear Hindu style instead of the gentler curvy Islam style, it was made up from red sandstone quarried locally of stony Muglai style instead of oak wood of Hindu style.


After his conquest of Chittor, Ranthambore, and Gujarat in 1572, he named the city Fatehpur Sikri and erected commemorative doorway of Buland Darwaza at the Jama Masjid. Fatehpur Sikri remained Akbar’s capital for around 15 years (1569-1584) until it abandoned because of lack of adequate water supply. By 1605 it was largely deserted and later plundered by Jats of Bharatpur. British created the Archaeological Survey of India to preserve the monuments of India in 1861. Later Lord Curzon, leading conservationist signed Ancient Monuments Preservation Act in 1904 to preserve Mughal monuments.


My Experience


While I was visiting Rajasthan and Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur) of India in Feb 2005, I had a chance to take side day trip of Fatehpur Sikri as we were driving from Jaipur to Agra.


Visit to Fatehpur Sikri can be divided into two sections – Sacred and Imperial Complex. Once we turned our car into Fatehpur Sikri from Jaipur-Agra road, my first impression was like just another stop at village alongside highway. As we were looking for guide, we met hordes of guides offering variety of packages. Most of all guides will treat you as a religious tourist and takes you only to Jami Masjid. After series of bargains, we hired a guide who agreed to take us to both Sacred Complex and Imperial Complex.


Sacred Complex – Buland Darwaza, Jami Masjid, Tomb of Salim Chishti


Once we parked our car in front of massive entrance of sacred complex, we were all in awe and looked at the Buland Darwaza as high as possible towards sky, highest gate of India as the entrance into sacred complex for visitors. As we climbed up a steep flight of stairs and walked into grand entrance, we presented with grand open complex of mosque and tomb surrounded by hermitages. Our guide helped us to identify monuments in complex – in front Salim Chishti’s white marble tomb built by Jahangir, at left Jami Masjid – prayer rooms, and at right Badshahi Darwaza – royal gateway for Akbar to enter into complex. We visited Mosque, Tomb, Zamat Khana – men’s tomb area, and Zanana Rauza - women’s tomb area and enjoyed couple hours quite time in vast courtyard surrounded by red sandstone buildings.


For spirituals, don’t forget to donate a chadar (religious bedspread) that can be bought locally, make a wish at Chisti’s tomb, and tie a small cotton thread on the screen around tomb – I didn’t wished for anything but you never know when miracle happens and saint make it true.


Imperial Complex - Royal Complex and Imperial Harem


Once we came out from mosque complex, we drove up to imperial palace complex. As we entered into royal complex, we stopped at Mariam's House – emperor’s Christian Wife’s palace.


From there, we visited key points in outer public courtyard of royal complex – Ankh Michauli – royal treasury, Diwan-I-khas - emperor’s private court, Pachisi Court – royal playground, Turkish Sultana’s house, Anoop Talao with beautiful platform in middle – emperor’s court musician Tansen’s stage, Abdar Khana – royal fruits and water storage, and Diwan-I-Aam – emperor’s public court.


After visiting outer courtyard, we came back at Mariam’s House and entered into inner private courtyard of imperial Harem Complex. From here we visited key sites - Jadha Bai’s Palace – empress’s house, Haram Sara – emperor’s private chambers with queen’s apartments, Nagina Masjid – royal ladies private mosque, Hawa Mahal, Birbal’s House, and Panch Mahal.


Although there is lots of hustle and bustle outside the gates of the royal and sacred complexes, it’s very quiet and peaceful in vast red sandstone courtyards with lowest amount of tourists you ever notice in historical places.


Conclusion


Fatehpur Sikri is rare historical and Muslim spiritual place in India and visiting this picture perfect described town in books, I had mix feelings because of local government’s inability to treat as a tourist place. Even though present Fatehpur Sikri is unkempt and unattractive tourist place, its historical monuments are almost perfectly preserved. I would advice that you should prefer to stay overnight in Agra and visit Fatehpur Sikri as a day trip. If you are history buff and wants to see unfortunate chapter of Muglai history then Fatehpur Sikri provides a unforgettable escape into the past.


NOTE: Subhash Ghai’s Pardes’s Do Dil Mil Rahen Hai and Nahin Ho Na Tha songs and climax scenes were shot in Fatehpur Sikri.


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