Abstract: Fatehpur Sikri is a renowned item in the itinerary of Indian Tourism and a noted shrine for childbirth in the dargah of the famous Sufi Sheikh Salim Chishti. But in 1569, it was serving as the cosmopolitan capital of one of the Great Emperors of India, Jalaluddin Akbar. The body natural being so magnificent, it is only justified that it should be reflected in the body politik as well, especially so in a city which was chosen to serve as the heartland of the latter. Hence, a conglomeration of buildings would emerge on top of the ridge at Sikri, flaunting a distinctive architecture that promised fidelity to no one tradition, bore the imprint of harmonious fusion, and spoke of a newly emerging identity called “Mughal” with a dominant tint of Hindustan in it. This was the very nature of a fusion that Akbar had in mind when he set out to consolidate his shaky Kingdom into a strong Empire. The city would be an imperial enterprise to house in its lap a spirit of cosmopolitanism, irrespective of religious affiliation and soon Sikri would be labelled for it. It would echo in stone the enlightened spirit of its creator, and, by the virtue of its enigma and grandeur, it would commanded a fascination, eternal and undiminished. The purpose of this paper is to examine how the famous ‘Akbari enlightenment’ is refracted in the architecture of the royal citadel and the activities channeled through the structures concerned – and how, in the process, the picture of a cosmopolitan capital city, unique by 16th century standards, was created.
Keywords: Fatehpur Sikri; Akbar; Empire; architecture; cosmopolitanism; enlightenment.
The large red sandstone courtyard that lies between the Anup Talao and Diwani – i – Khass is known as the Pachisi. It is so named because some of the paving stones are laid out to resemble the cruciform board on which the popular Indian board game of pachisi is played. Local legend claims that the emperor played the game using slave girls as living pieces.
Legend has it that the emperor himself often swept the floor of the mosque, and called azan. In 1579, he read the khutba, the prayer to proclaim his sovereignty, and also issued the mahzar or declaration from the hallowed precincts of Jama Masjid that assigned to him unlimited powers in religious matters.
Badauni relates the story of Devi, a Brahmin interpreter of the Mahabharata, who used to be pulled up while sitting on a charpai till he was level with the emperor’s khwabgah. Whilst thus suspended in mid – air, he instructed the emperor on the myths and legends of Hinduism (Mitra, 2002).
And it all happened how Akbar had planned it in stone, with supreme conviction.
Fatehpur Sikri, or what would become known as “a city frozen in time” (Petruccioli, 2015, p. 545) is undoubtedly the unparalleled legacy of the great Mughal Emperor Akbar, left to play unbounded tricks on the mind of the modern spectator. Today a spectre in stone, the darul khilafa or “capital city” (as Akbar would have known it) wouldn’t simply represent the architectural magnificence that came with the Mughal love for red sandstone; but also serve as the perfect manifestation of the Akbari convictions harboured, albeit for a quick spell of fourteen years (1571 – 1585), during a glittering reign, headed by an Emperor, who was Fortune’s Minion in every manner conceivable! While it gives the glimpse of a man, secured in wealth and domesticity, who had earned for himself, the leisure to reflect, innovate, and strut; it plunges one into an enigmatic abyss as to what could have possibly triggered such imperfect creativity out of the blue, in an obscure setting – a token of sovereignty that was ‘lay’ enough to be adored, yet too formidably ‘grand’ to be refuted.
The Mughal prejudice for this obscure setting dates back to Babur when he stopped at Sikri on his way to the Battle of Khanwa in 1527 to admire the landscape; and after a decisive victory against Rana Sanga, he came back, supervised the creation of a garden and a Jal Mahal (Sen Gupta, 2013) and named the place shukri or “A Place of Thanksgiving”. It would be, however, some forty four later that his grandson would repay another shukri on a more sumptuous scale – and an imperial domain would be borne out of the providential conspiracy of a childless Emperor, a Sufi Saint, and a Rajput Princess. This imperial design would be very different from those of the formidable Mughal fortresses, for this was to serve as the residential headquarters – a courtly medieval city – without disturbing the capital status of Agra (ibid., 2013).
In fact, Fatehpur Sikri was the start of Akbar’s attempt at formalization and institutionalization of the Mughal Empire; for this building of a ‘planned’ city preluded the elaboration of courtly etiquette and culture, as well as the foundation of an administrative structure, revenue system and religious policy (ibid., 2013) that would survive the test of Time. Despite the contradictions involved in the process, this ambitious structure would live to chart the period of consolidation and nascent maturity in Mughal history (Asher, 1992, p.xx), and tell the story of the evolution of Akbar, as Man and Monarch.
Sikri, since its inception as Akbar’s ‘capital’ has dwelt in both fact and fiction. Contrary to popular belief the city was not built in a single act, but in several phases and that too involved changes in the uses of built during the early phases. The nagar or shahr (city) surrounding the citadel had already existed, and the latter appears to be an aggregate of separate constructions, undertaken from 1568 – 76, and not the result of a singular act of its founding with a clear idea of what a city should be like (Mehta, 2014). This very characteristic has exposed the structures at Sikri to informal segregation: according to location – the plebeian shahr or the imperial citadel; according to essence – religious or secular (Brown, 2014, p.95); according to architectural idiom – the archetypal red sandstone building or the plain/ decorated structures constructed from roughly hewn blocks, rubble masonry and finished with a mortar (plaster) coating (Peck, 2014, p.72); and according to scholarly scrutiny: buildings whose built form and spatial arrangements match their stated purpose and are relatively easy to understand against those whose architecture or location defy purposive logic (Mehta, 2014, p.14). Despite the differences, and given the uniform alignment of the three complexes, the intermittent open spaces, and the enclosing walls, the town planning was inspired by the Mughal encampment system (Nath, 2015, p. 566). A number of the stone buildings and pavilions of Fatehpur Sikri could also have had their prototypes in the wooden raotis and cloth chandovas of the Mughal camp (ibid., 2015). The major difference between the nomadic or battle encampment and the citadel is the relationship of architecture with the ground plane. On one hand, the encampments were almost always flat, level fields and conceived of in abstract terms of organization such as centralised, axial, hierarchical, etc. The citadel at Fatehpur Sikri, on the other hand, created the ground plane with its many subtle and not so subtle variations in level (Mehta, 2014). Nonetheless, the city was no ordinary whim – it was a laboratory for the realization of many a radical visions (ibid., 2014); and therefore was bound to possess no easy architecture (ibid., 2014, p. 150). With as many interpretations as its architectural styles, it is important to locate Sikri in the wider fabric of the consolidating Mughal Empire, the contemporary political, cultural, social and intellectual intricacies, and the man called Akbar.
The architecture at Sikri would stand as the most prominent mark of this experimental enlightenment. As stated by Ram Nath, a number of determinants laboured behind the creation of Sikri. For one, Akbar’s tendency to refer to a conglomeration of kingship ideals to illustrate his idea of India left a mark on the manner in which the citadel was conceived, and later left to be perceived. His theory was more or less represented by the tradition of the salats (silawats; Skt. silpakara) which he drew from two main sources: the Jamuna – Chambal region comprising Delhi, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Dholpur, and Gwalior; and the Malwa – Gujrat – Rajasthan area (Nath, 2015). This is a neat organization of the wider umbrella terms of indigenous, and Islamic (and later foreign) architecture, employed in situ, in the typical Indian spirit of variety, and a rejection of uniformity (Sen Gupta, 2013), in the course of the Mughal Period. According to Sen Gupta,
Most creative work was a cooperative enterprise … To go back to Tillotson, the design process involved a hierarchy of craftsmen with various grades of skills, but there was no essential distinction between the functions of designer and builder: unlike in contemporary Europe, the men who worked the stone were executing their own, not other men’s ideas (ibid., 2013).
By political instinct and personal preference an Indian Monarch (ibid., 2013), Akbar at Sikri, consciously fused the indigenous Hindu and Buddhist motifs (comprising intricate figurative depictions of nature in a state of profuse anarchy) with that of the ascetic geometric symmetry of the Islamic traditions of Central Asia. He himself flouted the strict Islamic strictures that are involved in the construction of a power centre; yet allowed his craftsmen the freedom of interpretation and expression. The typical pointed arch or the double dome and the formal charbagh gardens were imported from the Islamic world. So was the building of open pillared pavilions instead of the closed, dim palaces that Hindus built with rooms where the sunlight never penetrated. The plan of the palace complex was Central Asian, reflecting the tents of the nomads which were then ornamented with Hindu motifs. The curving bangaldar roof, the intricately carved pillars teeming with natural motifs, the chhatris and the chhajas (ibid., 2013) that were drawn from local traditions .i.e., from Bengal, Gujrat, etc. Indeed, various artistic traditions converged and were reconciled through their artisanal expertise, and the power of his own dominant personality to form the most original style of medieval India (Nath, 2015): the new residential city was devised as a peaceful cornucopia of the fragments he consolidated in his vision and empire and thus resemble an architectural mosaic that was stoically majestic, intriguingly philosophical and effectively practical. In all its essence, Fathepur Sikri mirrored the supreme spirit of the construct ‘Indian Mughal’. This “fresh and virile style imbued with a spirit of catholicity” (Sen Gupta, 2013) eventually came to represent not just Mughal authority, but the cultural and social values established under them (Asher, 1992, pp. 17 – 18).
The physicality of its architecture and the activities connected with its inhibition by people constitute the essential duality of a city. The structures at the citadel, particularly within the Sahn–i Khass, have both functional and symbolic meanings which need to be understood in the context of the time in which they were built, and the values prevalent then (Mehta, 2014, p.65). In fact, Akbar’s ‘enlightened’ tendencies and the emergence of the city is no two isolated phenomena. Notwithstanding the ‘cold logic’ involved, Sikri was Akbar’s very personal living space, in the sense; it had its origins in Akbar’s sentiments. Though the Public is harmoniously synced with the Private; but as always with any medieval monarchy, the body politik couldn’t tell itself apart from the body natural. Though young, he had the benefit of both the lessons of his father’s follies, and the wisdom to learn from them, in order to avoid them in the near future. Humayun’s time with the aristocracy was a moral lesson that had played in front of Akbar’s very eyes – something he couldn’t himself risk again. He had to rein them in, subtly and coercively, and the best solution available at hand was the formalization of institutions. Veracious etiquette, in court and private, was devised, with the all – powerful Monarch at the crux of the rubric cobweb, the nobles and the ulema exposed mercilessly to the royal eagle – eye. Consequently, by the end of the 5th century, Akbar’s court became like the court of Louis XIV – a system of etiquette as run by a drill sergeant (Wink, 2009, p. 48). Moreover, Akbar wanted to innovate and ‘indianise’ – and he was threatened against this endeavour by both the land and his religion. It was a probability distant within the premises of orthodox Islam; for a Muslim padshah was expected to conduct himself, faithfully, in accordance to the principles of Islamic kingship, and there was no room for flexibility. Similarly, the land had still not gotten used to the Mughals – the memory of Babur’s conquest wasn’t a foregone conclusion, and they were still alien, incapable of inculcating in either the heartland or people. Any innovation on part of the rulers, had the potency to brew popular discontent and plunge the realm into chaos, if not topple the monarch. Akbar’s stroke was to raise himself from the position of a minority Indo – foreign group (the Muslims) to the accepted ruler of all Hindustan (Sen Gupta, 2013); and thus he was in dire need of ‘virgin soil’ to reconfigure the terms in which the Mughal domain has been laid out. Fatehpur Sikri – unkempt, abundant in resources, barren of condition and connotation of afore importance – provided the ground where he could start afresh, modify and dictate the affairs of the realm, disposing by will and whim. He plunged himself in the enterprising zone, engaging himself with the land and his subjects in a manner that was both essential and idiomatic to his rule. True, his breakout was phenomenal by 16th century standards, but what eclipsed its progenitor’s fame was the blueprint concocted out in the course. At the end, Sikri would prove to be more of a scribe of Akbar’s dynamic brainchilds and their actualizations, than be the manuscript of his relatively jejune whereabouts.
The keynotes that were consistently harped at Sikri were of liberalism, and harmonious fusion; under the wider umbrella of enlightenment – a habit that would reflect itself in the majestic structures growing out of the ground. From the mason who materialised the intricate designs of his mind in stone at Sikri, to the learned scholar whose manuscript in the Kitabkhana provided the inspiration concerned, the Emperor seemed to radiate undiluted freedom. The fear of ‘change’ wasn’t in the agenda, nor was orthodoxy – this suited Akbar’s temperament which would soon be responsible for the arrogant label of Sikri as a cosmopolitan hub of a capital and the emergence of the radically enigmatic Din–i llahi. But in 1565, before his city of victory and fortress of dreams would soar high enough to shelter him from the furies of orthodoxy and stagnation, Akbar would have to be content with introducing variations along the fringes of the core of his essentially Islamic way of life. This is evident from the fact that the layout of the Sahn–i Khass is entirely Islamic, divided typically into the Diwan–i–Aam, Daulat Khan–i–Khas, and the Haramsara; as well as containing their respective ‘units’ – all in close parameters to the Sahn–i ‘Ibadat (see Figure I). Yet if viewed as a conglomeration forced into homogeneity, the structures appear predominantly Hindu, studded with Islamic iconography.
For instance, the Diwan–i–Aam or Diwankhana–i–Aam courtyard has a colonnade with the Emperor’s pavilion where Akbar held audience with the general public. The construction is trabeate including components such as corbelled capitals, and chajjas derived from indigenous temple architecture; the geometric patterns on the jalis are the only conspicuously Islamic features (Mitra, 2002, p.22). The purpose served is universal to all monarchies, yet the place ‘ornamented’ to play host to this purpose sends across the conspicuous message – the easy accessibility of the ‘Indian’ Emperor to the ‘Indian’ subject in an ‘Indian abode’ on ‘Indian soil’. However, what should be taken note of, at Sikri, are not the recognizable aspects of the structures, but the ones which are beguiling. Nor should it be wise to assume that all structures at Sikri had practical backings – a number were commemorative, or associated with cultural activities or beliefs, and some were entirely symbolical (Nath, 2015). Interestingly, the Ibadatkhana, the Diwani–i–Khass, and the Anuptalao – have been flatteringly branded as ideological/symbolic buildings as opposed to the more mundane categorization of administrative or religious. What’s striking is that they tow the middle line between the known structures with ‘obvious’ purposes and the unknown structures with ‘dubious’ purposes – as structures with ‘possible’ purposes. Unfortunately, there has been a tendency in scholarship to impose a normal purpose on the rare abnormal structures, dismissing them as mere architectural whims or follies that have found fame because of their departures from the widely ‘accepted’. But it is in these red sandstone shadows of Fatehpur Sikri that Jalaluddin Akbar should be sought.
One of the iconic buildings of Sikri and an example of a shrewd Hindu – Islamic Fushion, the Panch Mahal or “Palace of Five Stories”, at the edge of the mardana and zenana areas, in a pillared structure open on all sides, in five receding storeys, overlooking the public court (ibid., 2015). Made entirely of columns with the four upper storeys supported by a total of 84 pillars, the first with 56, the second by 20, the third by 12, and the uppermost floor, which is a single domed kiosk, by 4 pillars. No two pillars are exactly identical, some are circular, and others octagonal and they are covered in patterns of vases, flowers, bells, and chains and topped by intricately carved lintels. But the structure is not a pyramid shape; instead the storeys are reduced toward the south only, creating a slope like a hill (Sen Gupta, 2013, p. 134). A variation to the general principles of architecture employed at Sikri – the treatment of the exterior is remarkable for its appearance of horizontality due to the constant use of the exceedingly wide eaves, and the deep shadows they cast across the elevation. Added to this, there are the horizontal lines of the parapets and also the string – courses all of which emphasize the same effect. There is of course the countering influence of the pillars and brackets which introduce useful vertical passages of light and shade, but the broad horizontal masses and the level lines are the keynote of the external design (Brown, 2014). Modelled on the Persian badger or “wind – catcher” (with the Mughal twist) meant to mitigate the intense summer heat (Mitra, 2002, p.45), it was a place for the royal family to enjoy the summer breeze. Though noted for its elegant embellishments, it is not as enigmatic as the Diwan-i-Khass.
Traditionally held to be either the Hall of Private Audience or Treasury, the Diwani–i–Khass/ Ekstambha Prasad situated strategically between the private Daulat Khana–i Khas and the public Diwan–i–Aam attracts the eye on account of its peculiar interior arrangement, the exuberance of its carved decoration and the small industry of scholarship it would command over its intended purpose.
The building is divided at about half its height by a gallery on brackets contained around its four sides, with other narrow hanging galleries thrown diagonally from corner to corner. Where the diagonal galleries meet in the centre of the room, a circular platform has been inserted, the entire construction being supported by an immense cluster of 36 closely set voluted and pendulous serpentine brackets forming the capital of a column that rests on the ground (Brown, 2015, p.191). The column is richly decorated in an intricate maze of floral and geometric patterns – is square at the base, then octagonal, and then dividing into sixteen sides (Sen Gupta, 2013, p.126). As Percy Brown suggests, the idea underlying such a curious structural contrivance was that the Emperor would sit enthroned on the central platform while listening to theological arguments from the religious leaders and philosophers gathered there, the whole arrangement signifying what has been termed his “dominance over the Four Quarters” (Brown, 2014, p.96); because of which many had speculated it to be the much mentioned yet vanished Ibadatkhana. Rizvi calls it the Jewel House, one of the three treasuries, where royal treasures were stored. Others feel the central pillar was the Satun-i-Adl or the Column of Justice, and Akbar announced important decisions from the top. Some think it as the version of the Hindu Mandala, and the seat was used for ritualistic purposes like annual religious festivals with the king being placed in the centre of the universe (Sen Gupta, 2013, p.129). Typical of this is the argument of Ram Nath,
It was built to represent Akbar’s belief in sun worship and to symbolise the ancient Indian concept of worlds’ sustenance through the axis pillar of the cosmic order as daily measured by the Surya Purusa. This axis (ekstamba = unitary pillar) sustains the three worlds in all quarters of space: ‘alamba – stambham – ekam – tribhuwana – bhuvanasya’. It has been commemorated to the tradition of sthuna, skambha, mahame u – dhvaja- stambha, trailokya-mahagrha- stambha, and kirtti- stambha, in which Maharana Kumbha built his Kirttistambha tower in Chittorgarh around the middle of the fifteenth century. Akbar’s ekstambha had its prototype in the typical unitary wooden pillar of Gujarat, such as the bird roost. An awareness of the ideological and symbolic aspect of Akbar’s architectural style is vital to its correct understanding; much of it was inspired by, and is a reflection of, his thought and personality (Nath, 2015, p.570).
Nonetheless, none of the explanations is plausible in the face of the awkward picture, this arrangement commanded. No contemporary writer talks of this compelling structure and it can be said the contexts as well as the key to understanding this, as the Mughals might have understood, are lost.
The next series of structures mentioned are not enigmatic by structure but in the manner they were deployed. The Khwabgah/ Khilwatkada-i-Khas or the “House of Dreams” in the mardana court housed the Emperor, and enjoyed a special association with the institution of Akbar’s Jharoka-i-Darshan. There is a window set high on one wall from where Akbar showed himself to his subjects every day in a ceremonial manner –
A group of khasa, khailan … and other lowly people …. every morning (would) stand near the jharoka and (declare) that miswak, eating or drinking is forbidden (haram) for them till they see His Majesty. And every evening the needy among the Hindus and Muslims … would assemble there and no sooner has His Majesty finished chanting (tasbiih) the one thousand and one names of the nir-i Azam (Great Luminary) and step out in the balcony, this assembly would prostrate itself…
This served the purpose of telling the people that they were a part of an orderly realm, ruled over by a healthy king with secured succession. This window seemed to have been Akbar’s window to the world because Badauni writes that a Brahmin named Devi, who was a scholar of the Mahabharata, would be pulled up, sitting on a string bed till he was in level with the jharoka; and hanging in mid – air, he had long discussions with him about Hinduism (Sen Gupta, 2013, p.140). Similarly, the Anuptalao, or the “Peerless Pool”, built in 1575 as a square tank with the plan of a central seat and connecting passages; outside the Khwabgah – served as the stage for Tansen’s midnight serenades with a throng of omrahs, and harem ladies accompanying the Emperor as the audience. It also served the ceremonial whims of His Majesty, as evident from a 1578 account of Jahangir – when Akbar was out hunting in the forests of Punjab, he had a mystical vision, upon which the hunt was cancelled and all the animals corralled for slaughter were released. On his return to Sikri, he had the Anuptalao filled with copper, gold and silver coins and distributed these to his subjects, so that the “general public might receive an abundant share of the sublime beauty” (ibid., 2013, p.137).
Yet the most enigmatic of all the imperial structures is the Ibadatkhana that exists abundantly in the contemporary chronicles and fancies with no empirical proof. According to records, Akbar decided he needed a special building for theological seminars on a grander scale. This is what motivated him to repair the cell of a former Chishti Sufi, Shaykh Abdullah Niyazi Sirhindi, in Fatehpur Sikri, and to build a spacious hall around it, next to a tank, which, when it was completed by 1576, he called the ‘Ibadatkhana or “House of Worship” (Wink, 2009, p.97). The Diwan-i-Khass is a strong contender, given Badauni’s description-
Every Sabbath evening he invited sayyids, shaikhs, theologians and nobles, but ill feeling arose in the company about the order of precedence, so that his Majesty commanded that the nobles should sit on the east side, the sayyids on the west, the theologians on the south, and the shaikhs on the north. His Majesty would go to these various parties from time to time and converse with them to ascertain their thoughts (Sen Gupta, 2013, p.190).
Rizvi identifies the ruins of a building behind the main Haramsara that falls on the right as one leaves the royal enclosure to walk to the main gateway to the mosque. Now just a large platform with a pile of rubble, it is left to the imagination to visualise the scene of passionate debate. Other buildings which have been identified as the Ibadatkhana include the Abdarkhana, the quadrangle to the north east of the Charkhana which regulated the entry into the Daulatkhana, and the area around the Daftarkhana. What is a more unanimous conclusion than its location is its architectural style: it had atleast four aiwans (verandahs) and was located close to the palace. The main importance of this building lay in its role as an institution. It was a place where, to quote Abul Fazl, “the just and perceiving ones of each sect emerged from haughtiness and conceit, and began their search anew. They displayed profundity and meditation, and gathered eternal bliss on the divan of greatness” (Rezavi, 2013, p.75). It would be again to this very institution that he would again attribute the merit of the ultimate transformation of the Emperor into the Mujtihad (jurisconsult) of the Age, and the emergence of the controversial Din-i llahi – “The Religion of God”.
However, the progressive aura of these buildings of enigma and of Sikri in general would fade away if considered alienated from the consequences of Akbar’s enlightened city, and the reason behind its epithet of cosmopolitanism. The liberal atmosphere proved to be a paradise for many – tradesmen were drawn to the prosperity and were inspired to contribute to the prosperity, the establishment of the Kitabkhana and Karkhanas drew in talented craftsmen from across the globe, and the Jesuits arrived at court and would lend the first tint of Christianity to the religions of the land. The Kitabkhana or the atelier was not only the proof of Akbar’s ardent desire for knowledge, but also the cauldron wherein cultural intake was not only a habit, but also a religion. Besides preserving invaluable manuscripts, the Kitabkhana had an adjacent Tasvirkhana or the painter’s bureau wherein a hundred painters were retained, under the watchful eye of two Safavid artists – Mir Sayyid Ali and Abdus Samad. These painters were mostly local dastaks and given a free hand, brought Indian sensibility to the art of painting, creating a style that was uniquely Mughal (Sen Gupta, 2013, p.225). Also they studied the print copies of European art, assimilating them in their creations with the Rajput, Hindu and Islamic traditions. Of particular interest were the Italian prints, from which they developed the skills of perspectival illusion, sfumato, and Chiaroscuro shading. This was clearly an outcome of Akbar’s own interest in painting for strict Muslims thought that painting was an abomination (Harris, 2015). The Kitabkhana at Sikri was credited with the creation of bejewelled manuscripts (Dastan-e Amir Hamza, Tutinama, Baburnama, Humayunama, Akbarnama) by a team of painters and scholars. A complete book with calligraphy and painting took years to complete, for it underwent a lengthy process that was extended into the replications of the concerned manuscript, that were meant for the personal library of the aristocracy –
The Razmnama text is a translation into Persian of a great Hindu epic, Mahabharata, originally written in Sanskrit. The project, commissioned by Akbar, began with the assembling at Fatehpur-Sikri of learned Hindus, who could recite the text orally. They were set to work with scribes and translators, one of whom, the orthodox Muslim Abdu-i-Qadiribn-i-Muluk Shah al Badaoni, was appalled at the task. The text, he wrote, was full of “puerile absurdities at which the eighteen thousand creations might well be amazed.” Several men made a rough translation, which was then handed over to a major poet – in this case Faizi, brother of Abu’l Fazl – to form a final polished version. As the translation was proceeding, painters were set to work planning and executing the illustrations. This particular manuscript, reportedly with 176 illustrations, was finished by 1586. Akbar then ordered the chief nobles to make copies for their own libraries, assuring that knowledge of and familiarity with this important Hindu text would spread throughout Mughal territories; a contemporary chronicle states: “When fairly engrossed and embellished with pictures, the Amirs had orders to take copies of it, with the blessing and favour of God. (Beach, 2002, p.40)
Herein lies the genius of the Akbari liberalism – he was shrewd enough to understand the political utility of art. The manuscripts so propagated served to spread widely among the intelligentsia of India and the Islamic world – the intellectual, as well as the artistic, interests of the Mughal emperor and his court (ibid., 2002). The acquisition of foreign techniques, and technologies; and their intermingling with the indigenous styles helped bolster Mughal global power (Harris, 2015). The Karkhanas or royal workshops at Sikri included the production centres for decorative arts, to cater to the demands of the royal establishment. There were Karkhanas of silk and cotton weavers, wood carvers, potters, metal workers and jewellers, ‘collected’ from across the Empire and beyond. Care was taken to patronize them for they not only contributed directly to the lavish picture of Mughal pageantry and commerce – but also sent out two inferences about Fatehpur Sikri: first this was a city that employed many artisans; and second, these artisans were not exclusively beholden to the styles of Islam. Other religious and cultural traditions were welcomed, and considered even fashionable there (ibid., 2015, p.122). Sikri would be the capital of the Empire which the Jesuits beheld in 1579 – with the towering Buland Darwaza and the highly visible battlements, the city was the testimony to the might and wealth of the Mughals, even earning the verdict that “it is not second to any city in Europe”. The liberalism of its chief resident would surprise them further, compelling them into “believing that it was the will of our Lord to manifest to this great Prince the abundance of his mercy and goodness; and each one of them desired the happiness of being sent to him” (Du Jarric, 1926, p.9).
In every way, Sikri was the epitome of a cosmopolitan city with a legendary cosmopolitan spirit channelled through its cosmopolitan architecture. But the legend is never the whole story. It was achieved at the cost of ‘fickleness’, though such a conviction is irrelevant in face of the glory achieved with the white lie. Akbar did dive into contradictions for the realization of an Augustan dream of uniting the diverse elements of a highly cosmopolitan empire centred on the person of the padshah (emperor) (Hambly, 1977, p.54); and the skin deep paradoxes that would envelop the city would survive to haunt it to this day. Firstly, a city and its aspects so important should find its way into contemporary chronicles, and paintings – but they fail to mention the innovative aspects of the architecture. And even if adequate mention is made, important aspects like the location of the Karkhanas should be neglected. Secondly, the dargah of a Sufi saint should have, as a gateway, a triumphal arch that was commemorating a ruthless and bloody victory. True, the Buland Darwaza at Sikri served the same purpose as the Arch of Galerius and Rotunda at Thessaloniki: it was essential in the proclamation of the city as a mighty capital and for the arrogant display of Mughal power – besides serving as a picturesque threat to those who dared defy the Emperor. We could only fall back to someone like Akbar who could put religion and violence in a single statement, and get away with it! It also had the most contradictory message an imperial monument could ever have –
“Isa, Son of Mariam said: 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” (Wikipedia, 2016).
Thirdly, an imperial capital in a saint’s wilayat was unheard of under the Delhi Sultanate, but then the times were changing and the close proximity between the Sahn–i Khass and Sahn–i ‘Ibadat at Sikri would only prove that the once ruthless struggle over dominance between the ‘spiritual sultan’ and the ‘temporal sultan’ had become fables. Akbar had gone his way to build his father’s mausoleum near the legendary Nizamuddin Auliya’s dargah, who had abhorred royal association; and he would repeat the same pattern at Sikri. Indeed Sheikh Salim Chishti would prove to be more indulgent of royalty, and could afford to be seen under Akbar’s patronage. Fourthly, it’s also ironic that a person longing to break the chains of orthodox Islam should fall back to an order of popular yet orthodox Islam for legitimacy. The Chishti site would prove to be two – faced: it would house a khanqah that would provide a ‘fickle’ Emperor with the validating canopy of Islam. It would also house an Ibadatkhana which would “become the home of the inquirers of the seven climes, and the assemblage of the wise of every religion and sect … (where) reason was exalted . . . and the bigoted ulama and lawyers of orthodoxy found their positions difficult to defend” (Wink, 2009, p.99). The duality which made Badauni to comment and Abul Fazl agree in essence – “They cast the emperor, who was possessed of an excellent disposition, and an earnest searcher of truth, but very ignorant, a mere novice, and used to the company of infidel and base persons, into perplexity, until doubt was heaped upon doubt, and he lost all definite aim, and the straight wall of the true Law was broken” (ibid., 2009, p.99) – was evident. Even the capital of an Islamic Empire didn’t follow the Islamic ground rules of symmetry. Fifthly, the point of extreme “Indianization” of the architecture at Sikri, the invention of the institution of Jharoka-i-Darshan and celebration of the “infidel customs” of India were, in part, done solely by Akbar to pose as the “People’s King”, albeit with a degree of divine detachment. But the Mughal Empire that Akbar established was a complex centralized, hierarchical, and bureaucratic state with the Emperor as the single source of political legitimacy and authority. Sikri, being the capital reflected this nature of polity; special care was taken to maintain the hierarchy. It was a series of concentric circles, with the Emperor at the centre – each circle became more private, more difficult to get into, until one found his way to the public space of the imperial citadel; thus along these lines, the Emperor’s accessibility could be really questioned. Sikri was magnificent, but it also had the squalor of poverty which grew more intense after Akbar turned his back to it. But the greatest inconsistency displayed by Akbar would be against Sikri itself. In 1569, he would be seen dedicatedly creating his own very original concept of a place where a ruler could feel really at home. For fourteen enthusiastic years, he would labour to materialise his much cherished vision, only to desert it in 1585. Apparently, he had the devotion to watch it rise, but not devoted enough to witness its fall from grace.
And at the end, the ghost palace would be left like a mistress cherished … and a mistress discarded.
 Literally meaning the “city of victory”.
 However, Lucy Peck is of the opinion that the palace and city of Sikri was not frozen in time after Akbar left, later occupants like Jahangir, Shahjahan and Muhammad Shah made additions in and around the central palace area (Peck, 2014). The city, though it would never attract the same attention as under Akbar, would turn into a refuge in times of epidemic, temporary encampment, and a city to celebrate state occasions. Building projects after Akbar’s time would include baolis, enclosed park, the Shahjahani daulatkhana, a charbagh, etc. Sikri, as a city was not abandoned. It was simply faced a decline in status from a capital city of the Mughal Empire to that of an ordinary Town (Rezavi, 2013). Technically, the royal citadel, excluding the dargah of Salim Chishti, is the “Ghost Palace”.
 Several factors make Sïkrï unique. First, its spiritual origin is the most significant. The humble cave of Salïm Chishtï became a key point in the town concept. Secondly, the enormous speed of its construction helped to maintain the mood. Thirdly, the comparatively open plan of the city because of Chishtï’s influence on the king. Fourthly, the complex and extraordinary personality of young Akbar. Finally, its short life-span, which was responsible for the preservation of its theme and character.What comes through with startling clarity is the active and keen mind of Akbar, his immense ambitions, intellectual subtlety, exquisite taste, and the sense, the drama, of royalty. Each building reveals his imaginative and inventive genius. The growth of the town reflects the growth of Akbar’ s mind, whose horizons were widening even faster than the boundaries of his expanding empire. Akbar was discovering himself. He was discovering the people and the country around him, and was interested in distant parts of the world as well (Davar, 1975, p.784).
 Before Akbar, Sikri was mentioned as Saik (“an area surrounded by water”) in the Mahabharata, and as Sekrikya in the inscription of a Jain Temple dated 1010 (Sen Gupta, 2013). The foremost medieval textual reference to Sikri was during the reign of Sultan Mubarakshah in the Tarikh-i Mubarakshahi – as a paragana. The area was under the control of the Sikarwar Rajputs from which the name “Sikri” was derived. The place was a flourishing township under the Delhi Sultanate as evident from a sprinkling of pre – Mughal mosques and tombstones (Rezavi, 2013).
 The garden was named Bagh-i Fath (“The Garden of Victory”) and a pleasure pavilion and a water pavilion was included. It was probably the name of this garden that inspired Akbar to rename the city Fathpur or Fathabad in his time (Rezavi, 2013).
 Legend goes that in 1568 a twenty – six year old heirless Akbar, on his way back to Agra from the shrine of Sheikh Muinuddin Chishti at Ajmer, visited the reclusive preacher, Sheikh Salim Chishti, when the Sheikh uncompromisingly predicted that the Emperor would have three living sons. Within a few months, one of Akbar’s wives – the Princess of Amber – was declared pregnant and an overjoyed Akbar sent her to live near the seminary of the saint in her confinement. In 1569 – 72, his three sons – Salim, Murad and Daniyal – were born. A grateful Emperor, convinced that the Sheikh’s blessing had saved him from a dynastic disaster, relocated his capital to Sikri in 1571; and within three years the royal citadel was built to house his court and harem. However, military reasons might have compelled Akbar to shift his ‘capital’, for Sikri would soon be strategically located at the heart of his expanding empire, within close reach of Rajputana, Bengal/ Bihar and Gujarat.
 The palace – fortresses at Lahore, Allahabad and Agra.
 A capital was wherever the Emperor and his court were located. Agra was never abandoned – it was kept fortified with its own treasury; Sikri was in fact its twin city in the imperial axis. The lack of decisive battlements suggest that all along, Sikri was considered a temporary open, vibrant courtly city located at the vicinity of Agra; so that in times of disturbances, the imperial establishment could easily shift to the safer stronghold. The latter half of Akbar’s reign was marked by disturbances, particularly caused by his heir apparent, Salim – and this might have been the reason behind the abandonment of Fatehpur Sikri in 1585 (Sen Gupta, 2013). However, the common cause behind the abandonment is considered shortage of water and resources that could no longer support the elaborate Mughal establishment that Akbar created by the 1580s.
 The importance of the town and city in the development of Islamic civilization hardly needs elaboration. Samuel Stern remarked that this was already a common place, and not a very meaningful one either, given that most civilisations that have existed have been urban ones anyway. It is nevertheless true that, from the time of the establishment of the armed camps of the Arab warriors in places like Iraq and Egypt, Islam has been a religion with a strong urban orientation. An assumption took shape that, whilst rural peoples or desert anchorites could indeed be faithful Muslims, the good Islamic life could best be lived in an urban community where (as an obvious manifestation of group solidarity) the faithful could gather in a congregational mosque for Friday worship. Much has been written on the post-conquest development of the Islamic city. There is its continuity in sites with pre-Islamic urban settlements, from such disparate regions as Syria and Egypt of Classical Antiquity and Yemen of ancient South Arabian civilization, and there is a continuity with the ancient world in public institutions like markets and baths. But there are differences in spatial development; admittedly, the Islamic city has a core of religio-public and communal buildings, as in the Classical world, but its residential areas stretch outwards to the periphery in a less planned, often apparently higgledy-piggledy, pattern, with a network of enclosed, private, blind alleys, often gated for defence. Nor can one posit for it a juridical and political basis, as with its Greco-Roman and Byzantine predecessors (though such a basis was in any case not to be found in the cities of e.g. Sasanid Persia or of Central Asia), and as with the towns of Western Christendom when they emerged from the Dark Ages into the High Middle Ages. Nor is there any kind of urban autonomy from the central power when that power is strong and able to enforce its control; it tends to be in times of loosened authority that target of rebellions against governors or outbreaks of internal, sectarian and factional violence (Bosworth, 2007, p. introduction).
 Besides the garden, the encampment was the only form available to the Mughals the redesign in the semblance of the royal image – of Indian cities was undertaken with the intention of eliminating direct contrast between the cities and their citadels. There was an existence of a close functional relationship between the disposition of the camp and that of the palace, in a blend of nomadic and sedentary culture. The world of the tent persists, however, in the form of built architecture, the juxtaposition of courts and buildings, in the pavilions, the skyline of the roofs, the mouldings and other decorative details, to the extent of justifying for the opulent palaces of the Mughals the definition of ‘a camp in stone’ (Petruccioli, 2015, p. 544).
 For instance, the enclosed and covered passages from the Kutubkhana to Khwabgah on the ground floor, or from the Sahn-i-Rayyat to the Sahn-i-Khass and to the Panch Mahal are stone translations of canvas and carpet sarapardas. Similarly, the khaprel roofs of the Khwabgah resembles the five – awning chandova of the Mughal camp. The oblong chhaparkhats that constitute the super – structure for a number of buildings are stone replica of wooden raotis (Nath, 2015, p.568).
 The ridge at Fatehpur Sikri was sloped in the north – easterly direction, and had to be terraced. The highest terrace held the sacred complex (Sahn-i-Ibadat) including the Stonecutters’ Mosque, the Jami Masjid, and the tomb of Salim Chishti. The imperial complex (Sahn-i-Khass) lay on the second terrace at a much lower level and included the royal mansions e.g., the Raniwas, Mahal-i llahi and the Baithak. The Shahi Bazar and the Mina Bazar on one side and an outdoor garden on the other were built on still lower levels. Open spaces were kept for ventilation and for water supply. It was designed to be a residential complex and hence was enclosed and secured. The buildings of all three complexes on three receding levels are oriented on the north – south axis of the ridge facing either east or north. The structures were built according to the dictates of the terrain, climate and social conditions – and validated by drainage and water supply (Nath, 2015).
 There ia an inexorable tension at its core which emanates from the fact that it is perpetually and precautiously perched in a narrow space between comprehension and enigma. At a more immediate level the inability of the human senses to respond to the stimulus in tandem with the eyes adds to the tension. This tension is embodied in the constantly shifting axes, complex rhythms, raising or lowering of the ground planes, juxtaposition of mythical symbols, and the conflicting pulls of traditions and human will. Endowed with perception, the mathematical precision and the rigorous proportional system employed for the individual buildings appeals to the mind and is a clear counterpoint to the whole urban order, which privileges the senses. The conflict is left unresolved or at best left to the discernment between spiritual purity, righteousness of geometry and the tempting sensuousness of space. The resulting architecture acknowledges and confirms one of the fundamental tenets of ancient Indian thought, .i.e., the indeterminate nature of all existence (Mehta, 2014, p.150).
 The first half of Akbar’s reign saw the development of a new set of administrative institutions and practices, a new conception of kingship and the constitution of government and society, a new military system, and new norms of political behavior”. Or again, “The Mughal polity, so long as it functioned with any effectiveness, say, until the early years of the eighteenth century, continued basically with the organizational forms that Akbar instituted”. Many have concluded that this is the reason why Akbar should be seen as the real founder of the Mughal Empire. There is perhaps only one other general characteristic of Akbar’s reign that contemporary historians are equally unanimous about, namely that Akbar, for all his “genius for organization,” invented virtually nothing that was completely novel in his time but in fact elaborated, systematized, reformed, or transformed an institutional heritage that was passed on to him by either the immediate or the medieval predecessors of the Mughals (Wink, 2009). On top of this, he added his patronage of everything Indian: art, music, painting, and architecture, in consonance with the mizaj (temperament) and tahzib (culture) of his all-embracing and all absorbing personality (Nath, 2015). It was an essentially cosmopolitan approach to kingship.
 Abul Fazl presented India as more than a mere territorial unit. He showed great respect for Hindu traditions, his statements tempting a pride in India with a critical spirit. His major contribution was the recognition of India as the birthplace of an important culture, and looking to much beyond a parallel coexistence of cultures or to a composite traditional Indian culture, a mere synthesis of traditions. He made his bow to the cultural coexistence and the key instrument of the sovereign was Suhl-i Kul or absolute peace when it came to imparting justice. Tolerance of existing beliefs was a part of the sovereign’s duty’ persuasion to follow reason and so reject traditionalism was a necessary complementary one. Abul Fazl’s conclusion justified Akbar’s promotion of both rationalism and social reform (against sati), in order to construct a ‘Hindustan’ that would stand out in the world (Athar Ali, 2006).
 The former had established guilds and absorbed newer elements in their art. The latter faithfully translated wooden forms into stone; sastra was core to their practice. They gave forms laid down in the dicta laid down by silpa texts on house and palace architecture like the Samarangana – Sutradhara of Bhoja, the Parimana – Manjari of Malla, the Silpa – Dipaka of Gandhara, and the Raja – Vallabha of Mandana. Nonetheless both schools combined, turning their folk elements into creatures of imperial art at Fatehpur Sikri (Nath, 2015).
 The “taming” or “civilizing” of the originally nomadic Mongols was, of course, a gradual process that took place over centuries. Under the Timurid princes, many Mongols had already attained a more sedentary, post-nomadic condition. The great transformation of Mongols into Mughals was well on its way when Akbar came to the throne. But it can be argued that it was completed by Akbar in the sixteenth century, and then taken to its highest levels by his successors on the Mughal throne. This meant that a gap – ever-growing – opened up between the Mughals of India and the remaining nomadic and rude “Tartar” tribes that continued to roam the steppe lands stretching out to the Russian frontier. Perhaps Akbar understood better than anyone else the necessity of taming the Mongol nobles. Such understanding may have come naturally to him as a consequence of the extreme insecurity of his own early years. If so, this may help explain Akbar’s extraordinary emphasis on self-mastery and etiquette as a mode of political control. For one thing, the old Mongol custom of informal fraternizing at frequent entertainments of commanders with soldiers, accompanied by excessive drinking was gradually abandoned. The abandonment of informal fraternizing went hand in hand with increasingly rigid court formalities. Barely into the fifth year of his reign, Akbar had one of his Mongol nobles arrested for saluting him from horseback. Abu-l-Fazl’s Ain-i-Akbari, the great gazetteer of Akbar’s reign, presents detailed regulations for admission to the court. It makes clear why these regulations were introduced at Akbar’s command. Court etiquette went hand in hand with a new and thus far unknown discipline. As already alluded to,all of Akbar’s nobles were given, apart from their titles, numerical ranks or “mansabs,” and were thus formally fitted into a quantified status hierarchy which expressed uniformity, discipline, and cohesiveness and which was constantly reviewed and adjusted by the emperor himself. Akbar’s philosophy was that the presence of the king should promote humility, since humility was the foundation of the moral order. With the view, then, to promote genuine humility, Akbar in his wisdom issued regulations prescribing prostration and new modes of salutation (one should bend down the head while keeping the palm of the right hand placed on the forehead). No one, except the royal princes, was to be allowed to remain seated in his presence, he declared. All present had to remain standing at their places, according to their rank, with their arms crossed. Enforced by his successors as “Akbar’s rule,” this could cause considerable embarrassment in the case of royal visitors. The Mongol nobles were used to carrying arms from an early age and always remained proud and generally arrogant, even insolent; they were not people naturally inclined to unquestioning obedience. For all that, Akbar did in due course find ways of challenging their authority and bending them to his will. One of his more radical weapons was to assert his right to confiscate his nobles’ accumulated wealth at their deaths, as he did from time to time. But his ultimate weapon was poison, an insidious device that he appears to have perfected and made routine, passing on the habit to his heirs. him. A confidential aide to the emperor would then administer poison to the cuffs and hood of a robe of honor that would be given to such suspected courtiers – it was a gift they could not refuse. Or Akbar gave the poison to them with his own hands, in a folded betel-leaf – another honor that could not be turned down in open court (Wink, 2009, pp. 46 – 49).
 The reforms of the Fathpur Sikri period (1571– 85) were radical and revolutionary, and the young emperor probably felt that he had a greater chance of success away from the established centres of political, economic and religious orthodoxy. He had to deal with difficult (though different) problems of religious authority and legitimacy, and their solutions were reflected in the build and layout of their new capitals. For Akbar the problem was the religious and ethnic complexity of his empire. A conventional Muslim as a young man, Akbar was fascinated by the Sufi orders of his day, especially the Chishtiyya. In Fathpur Sikri the architectural expressions of Akbar’s religious interests were, on the one hand, Shaykh Salim Chishti’s mausoleum and the nearby congregational mosque and, on the other, the Ibadatkhana (House of Worship). The mosque and mausoleum reflected the emperor’s early piety and orthodoxy, while the House of Worship symbolised his curiosity and efforts to fashion a new cultural policy for the complex ethnic and religious environment of early modern India. A remote, temporary and intermittently compromised imperial centre may actually have been of great assistance during this controversial period of reform and transition. That the new capital was intended to be a symbolic, impermanent monument to Akbar’s new order can be seen by examining its history after 1585 (Bennison and Gascoigne, 2007, pp. 145 – 156).
 Badauni quoted (Rezavi, 2013, p.72).
 The fountain and the Diwan-i-Khass embody complex symbols, make up at the same time an allegory of spiritual pilgrimage on the part of the Sufi Akbar from the terrestrial world toward Universal and Celestial Harmony, at the centre of which is placed Akbar in the role of Cosmocrat. The royal citadel made up the setting for a theatrical scheme of arrangement ‘an Aula Regis as a simulacrum of the Cosmos’ where a subtle play of equivocation between Cult of the Throne and the Cult of the Divine spreads out from Sikri to the entire Mughal Domain. In this sense, every aspect of Mughal architecture was a public spectacle that demonstrated and celebrated the divinity of the Emperor (Petruccioli, 2015, p. 545).
 The historians of Akbar’s reign recorded a millenarian jumble of titles used in documents issued by or on behalf of Akbar. It was characteristic of the new Religion of God that it at once established Akbar as the “Mahdi,” as the “Just King” (Sultan-i-’Adil), the “Caliph of the Age,” the “Mujtahid of the Age,” and arguably, as will be seen, as God himself. The title of “Just King” (Sultan-i-’Adil) or “Just Imam” (Imam-i-’Adil), according to one such document mentioned by Badauni, was conferred by the principal ulama in 1579.While conferring the title of the “Just King,” or the “King of Islam,” and the “Shadow of God” on Akbar, the ulama at the same time acknowledged he was the highest religious authority in the country. The document, signed or sealed by the principal ulama and lawyers (against their will in some cases, according to Badauni), explicitly stated that, from the year 1579 onward, in religious questions Akbar’s opinion would overrule the opinions of the Mujtahids, the highest religious dignitaries, throughout Hindustan – now the center of security, peace, justice, and benevolence. Akbar’s orders would be binding for all, provided only that they would be in accordance with some verse of the Koran and of real benefit. The same document is mentioned by Abul Fazl, who wrote that it established the spiritual primacy of the emperor as the “Imam of the Age” and the “Mujtahid of the Age.” The year 1579 was the year in which the emperor was anxious to unite in his person both the temporal and the spiritual authority of his dominion – he had heard that the Prophet, some of the Caliphs, and some powerful kings such as Timur had also led the Friday prayers themselves – and most of all to establish himself as the “Mujtahid of the Age.” He did indeed mount the pulpit. But when he began to recite the Friday prayer in the chief mosque of Fatehpur Sikri, he stammered and trembled, and quickly came down from the pulpit, handing over the duties to a court reader. The mahzar or decree of 1579 – sometimes called Akbar’s “Infallibility Decree” – has been a subject of controversy ever since it was issued. It has been argued, on good grounds, that it aimed not merely at establishing Akbar’s spiritual supremacy but also at rejecting the nominal overlordship of the Shi’a Safawid emperors of Iran, which Babur and Humayun had been forced to accept as a condition for Safawid military support in the conquest of Hindustan. In this regard it may be significant that the Mughal historians applied the title “Caliph of God” or “Caliph of the Age” to Akbar – as well as to his successors, by endowing the Sufi term “Caliph” with what was regarded as its full Sunni connotations. From then on, Sunni Islam in Mughal India stood for independence from Persia, while Shi’ism stood for Persian suzerainty. It also meant that the Mughal capital became the “Home of the Caliphate” and this in turn induced the emperors to assume a leading role in the prayers, as we see at times throughout Mughal history from Akbar onward. But in 1579, when Akbar determined publicly to use the sentence “There is no God but God, and Akbar is his Caliph” it caused commotion, and the objection was raised that it would enrage the Sultan of Constantinople. Akbar then decided to restrict the use of this sentence to the palace (Wink, 2009, pp.103 – 104).
 There is evidence of foreign craftsmen at the Akbari karkhanas like William Leeds (a jeweller), James Story (a painter), and Mandu Firangi (a naqqash). The last even contributed to the Mughal Ramayana (Harris, 2015).
 Jesuits, quoted (Harris, 2015, pp.118-119).
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