The Oldest Monuments of Lucknow Dating from the age of Akbar – the Nadan Mahal complex of 16th century

February 29, 2024
The Oldest Monuments of Lucknow
Dating from the age of Akbar – the Nadan Mahal complex of 16th century takes you straight to the glorious buildings of Akbar’s reign in Fatehpur Sikri. It’s sandstone work , chajjas, ornamented brackets , geometric designs , graceful pillars , blue/green tilework , and a well shaped dome topped with inverted lotus is distinct from the later monuments of Nawabs of Awadh

Fatehpur Sikri, the “City of Victory”, sits 35 kilometers from Agra on a low hill of the Vindhya mountain range. Before the reign of Akbar (1556-1605), the Mughal King who built Fatehpur Sikri, the site of the future city had already earned an auspicious reputation. Babar, the founder of the Mughal Dynasty and Akbar’s grandfather, had won a battle here over Rana Sanga of Mewar. In gratitude he named the area Shukri, which means “thanks”. In Akbar’s time the site was occupied by a small village of stonecutters and was the home of Sheikh Salim Chishti, a Muslim astrologer and a Sufi Saint. In 1568 Akbar visited the Shaikh to ask for the birth of an heir.

The Shaikh replied that an heir would be born soon. Sure enough, Akbar’s wife gave birth to a boy on August 30, 1569. In gratitude, Akbar named the boy Salim after the astrologer, and, two years later decided to move the capital to Sikri. Of course, the decision to build a new capital at Sikri was determined by more than a sentiment. It was a strategic location in Rajasthan that put Akbar and his armies closer to the Gujarat region the next object of Akbar’s expansionist dreams. Gujarat was desirable because its coastal cities were ideally suited to take advantage of the lucrative trade to Arab lands.

File:Nadan Mahal Tomb.jpg - Wikipedia

Construction of the new capital began in earnest in 1571 and continued for about fifteen years. During much of this time Akbar made the area his home, but strangely, in 1586, Akbar abandoned his new capital forever. The reasons are not entirely clear, but the most plausible explanation is that Akbar needed to move his base of operations to wage the war against Kabul, which he occupied in 1585, and Kandahar, which fell in 1595. After Akbar’s departure the city was used only sparingly in the coming centuries. In the early 17th century it became the home of several queen mothers.

FATEHPUR SIKRI: THE CAPITAL CITY OF MUGHAL DYNASTY!?Photo Courtesy: https://www.bl.uk/

In 1619 Emperor Jahangir camped here for three months while a plague raged in nearby Agra. Ninety years later, the city was refurbished to host the coronation of Muhammad Shah (1709-48). After that, the city was largely abandoned until Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India for the British from 1898 to 1905, sponsored an archaeological survey and restoration efforts.

According to modern historians, work on the construction of the complex began around the year 1571, a time when the prowess of the Mughals was at their peak. Once the construction of the fort was complete, the entirety of the complex of the Fatehpur Sikri began to serve as an additional capital to that of the Red Fort at Agra, which had till now been regarded as the only capital of the Mughal Rule. The period of the Mughal rule with their capital at Fatehpur Sikri is regarded by modern historians as one of the most important periods in the annals of the History of India. It is said that many of the important administrative, financial as well as the military reforms of the Mughal era was conceptualized and implemented during this period. It is said that the fort was abandoned at around the year of 1585, when a severe scarcity of water forced the people of the fort to look for a new settlement.

Now one of the most popular tourist attractions of Uttar Pradesh, a trip to the Fatehpur Sikri in Uttar Pradesh in India is a definite must include since the monument is today a part of the prestigious World Heritage Sites as declared by UNESCO. At Sikri, the various royal palaces have been built in Gujarati and Rajasthani architectural styles, using ornate columns, fanciful jali work (intricately perforated decorative stone screens), sumptuous carving, and surface ornamentation. Most of the buildings located inside Fatehpur Sikri are a unique blend of architectural traditions flourishing at that time in India.

REASON behind CONSTRUCTION of CITY by AKBAR

Akbar was the first Mughal ruler who had the time and means to undertake architectural activities on a large scale. Just as he built up an extensive empire by incorporating local kingdoms, Akbar evolved a new style of Indian architecture by utilizing the service of the local talent drawn from different parts of the country. He built a number of forts, palaces, mosques and mausoleums.

The site of the city of Fatehpur Sikri was selected by Akbar on a hillock or ridge near the village Sikri. The construction of the new capital started in 1569 and was completed in fifteen years. The city was spread over seven miles and was walled on three sides. As compared to the buildings in the Agra fort, there is more unity in the architecture of Fatehpur Sikri. Critics have described the city as “an epic poem in red sandstone”. Describing the monuments within the city of Fatehpur Sikri, Dr. Mulk Raj Anand, the well-known art critic writes, “The total complex of private palaces, residences as well as the Imperial establishments and the great mosque with a giant gateway is one of the most remarkable in the history of world architecture.

The town was founded in 1569 by the great Mughal emperor Akbar. In that year Akbar had visited the Muslim hermit Chishti, who was residing in the village of Sikri. Chishti correctly foretold that Akbar’s wish for an heir would be gratified with the birth of a son; the child, Salim, was born in Sikri that same year, and he would later rule as the emperor Jahangir. The grateful Akbar decided that the site of Sikri was auspicious and made it his capital.

He personally directed the building of the Jami Masjid (Great Mosque; 1571), which stretches some 540 feet (165 meters) in length and contains an ornate tomb for Chishti. The mosque’s southern entrance, the colossal gateway Buland Darwaza (Victory Gate; 1575), is one of India’s greatest architectural works. The monumental gateway is constructed out of red sandstone and is attractively carved. Fatehpur Sikri contains other early Mughal structures, exhibiting both Muslim and Hindu architectural influences. They include the palace of Akbar’s wife (Jodha Bai), a private audience hall, and houses. The Mughal capital was moved to Delhi in 1586 because of Fatehpur Sikri’s inadequate water supply. Now maintained as a historic site, Fatehpur Sikri was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986. The short-lived capital of Emperor Akbar between 1571 and 1585, Fatehpur Sikri was a fortified city about 40 km west of Agra, and a fine specimen of Indo-Islamic architecture.

FATEHPUR SIKRI: THE CAPITAL CITY OF MUGHAL DYNASTY!?Photo Courtesy: https://www.lonelyplanet.com

Fatehpur Sikri held a special meaning for Akbar after the time he visited the village of Sikri and was foretold about the birth of a son and heir to the Mughal throne, by renowned Sufi saint, Sheikh Salim Chishti. Akbar was thrilled when the prophecy came true, and after Jahangir’s second birthday commenced the construction of what would be his capital for days to come. Fatehpur’ meaning city of victory seemed apt a name for the new capital city that brought with it happy tidings of Akbar’s Gujarat campaign which led to Gujarat becoming a Mughal province in 1573.

ARCHITECTURE

Akbar ruled for 51 years, from 1556 to 1605, extending his domain over most of northern and central India. This monumental complex embraces a palace, courtyards, gardens, gazebos, ceremonial gates, an artificial lake and the Jami Masjid, a mosque big enough for 10,000 worshipers. The buildings are made of the local red sandstone, and they reflect Akbar’s expansive worldview, incorporating Persian, Hindu and Muslim elements in their design and decor. “There is hardly a more impressive city in all India,” the British travel writer Eustace Alfred Reynolds-Ball opined in 1907. “Here we see the impress of Akbar’s architectural genius, as if fresh from the builder’s hands.” Eighty years later, scholars Michael Brand and Glenn D. Lowry wrote that the buildings “represent a splendid achievement of planning, design, craftsmanship and good taste”—a place that would project Akbar’s image as an “absolute ruler.” The emperor himself supervised the work, which may explain why it took only three years, from 1570 to 1573.

FATEHPUR SIKRI: THE CAPITAL CITY OF MUGHAL DYNASTY!?Photo Courtesy: https://www.thrillophilia.com

IMPORTANT STRUCTURES

1. Diwan-i-Aam: Diwan-i-Am or Hall of Public Audience, situated near Agra Gate, was the place where Akbar heard petitions of the general public and did justice every morning. In the afternoon, he used to inspect his offices situated adjacent to this spacious complex. The colonnaded dalan surrounding it is divided into 111 bays by the use of square pillars. The most impressive feature of this complex is the Throne Chamber facing east. It is said that it was so built because of Akbar’s belief in ‘sun worship’.

2. Diwan-i-Khas: Diwan-i-Khas or Hall of Private Audience is situated in the northeast corner of the royal complex with a huge and richly carved pillar in the center. The central platform attached to the pillar was the seat of the emperor while the diagonal galleries are believed to be the seat of ministers and nobles that were entertained here. However, since the galleries were too narrow to accommodate all ministers of the court at once, some people think that this building was actually the storehouse for the gems and jewels of the royalty and emperor used to come here only to inspect his jewels. According to Abul Fazl, Akbar had three treasuries that were close to each other and one of them was used to store gems and jewels only.

3. Panch Mahal: Panch Mahal is located on the northeast direction of Jodha Bai’s palace. It is a five-floored pillared pavilion. This extra ordinary building was called badgir or wind tower, which was constructed to alleviate the heat and is a very popular architectural mechanism of Persian architecture. Originally, it was connected with main Royal chamber and Jodha Bai’s palace. The first floor has 84 pillars with row of eight pillars arranged in north to south direction and row of six pillars arranged in east to west direction. The second floor has 56 pillars with row of six pillars in north to south direction and row of four pillars in east to west direction and also beautiful carved pillars with unique designs.

4. Palace of Turkish Sultana: Though some people suggest that this building near Anup Talao was the home of two Turkish queens of Akbar called Salima Sultan Begum and Ruqayya Begum, Turkish Sultana’s House is too small for being a residential building. It is more probably the ‘Hujra-i-Anup Talao’, mentioned by Badauni; a pleasure pavilion attached to the pond and might have been used by the Turkish queens for this purpose. The pavilion has square piers. It is connected to the ground floor of the Khwabgah complex through a colonnaded verandah and has a portico in the west.

Intricately carved like wood, this building is also known as ‘superb jewel casket’ and each of its stone slab has a different design such as arabesque designs on the pillars of verandah and bell shaped, floral and herring-bone carvings on the brackets supporting the roof. The dado panels depict scenes of forests and gardens. There are animal motifs and swastika patterns too.

FATEHPUR SIKRI: THE CAPITAL CITY OF MUGHAL DYNASTY!?Photo Courtesy: https://www.solobackpacker.com

5. Khas Mahal: Khas Mahal is situated along the Anup TalaoThis building was the royal residence of The Mughal Emperor. This building consists of two rooms at ground floor and a well-ventilated pavilion at the first floor.  This ventilated pavilion is known asKhwabgah. The rooms at lower floor were probably used as a library and a dining hall. There is a big window in one portion of the lower floor that is known as Jharokha. The Emperor showed himself daily to the general public through this Jharokha.

6. Jodha Bai Mahal: It was built as a form of homage to the memory of the memory of the great Sufi saint, Sheikh Salim Chishti, who, it is said, blessed the emperor with an heir to the Mughal throne in India, who was to be later known as Jahangir, Fatehpur Sikri was built in 1571 and stood as the capital of the Mughal empire till the year 1585 when it was abandoned due to what, today is guessed by historians to be a severe water shortage. Declared recently as one of the prestigious World Heritage Monuments by UNESCO, Fatehpur Sikri is today one of the most popular tourist destinations while on a trip to Uttar Pradesh.

The palace of Jodha Bai or the Rajput queen of Emperor Akbar, the Palace of Jodha Bai in Fatehpur Sikri is one of the most charming examples of the amalgamation of the apparently opposing architectural styles of the Rajputs and the Mughals. The palace, which is located on the eastern side of the entirety of the fort, was used, according to modern historians as a residence for the various queens of Akbar as well as the other members of the harem.

7. Miriam Mahal: Located within the main fort complex of Fatehpur Sikri, the Mariam-uz-Zamani Palace is a lovely Mughal themed palace that was the home of Akbar’s wife Jodha Bai. It was the seat of power during both Akbar and his son’s Jahangir’s reign. Another belief goes that the palace was also known as Turkish Sultana’s House because it served as the residence to his wife, Mariam-uz-Zamani. However, this is disputed due to the small size.

8. Birbal Mahal: At a distance of 1 km from Fatehpur Sikri Railway Station, Birbal’s Palace is situated in the northwest corner of Jodha Bai’s palace inside the complex of Fatehpur Sikri Fort. Birbal’s Palace is one of the important monuments in Fatehpur Sikri and is the residence of Raja Birbal; Akbar’s Hindu Prime Minister, one of the most trusted persons and was also one of the Navratnas or Nine Jewels in Akbar’s court. It was built in 1571 and is believed to be part of the Imperial Harem and housed Akbar’s senior queens, Ruqayya Begum and Salima Begum. The architecture of the Birbal’s Palace is based on the typical Mughal style.

9. Hiran Minar: Hiran Minar is located in the open plains. This 21.34m high tower got its name after Jahangir converted the polo ground around the tower into a sanctuary for hiran (antelopes). The tower is entered through a flat-topped door bordered by sand stone panel and flanked by closed arched panels. There are 53 steps leading to the top inside the tower. One can get a bird’s eye view of Fatehpur Sikri from the top of the tower. The tower is octagonal up to the height of 3.91m and circular to the rest of the height.

10. Jami Masjid: Jami Masjid or the Friday Mosque is one of the most beautiful and largest mosques of the world. This elegant building is the most sacred building and the principal mosque of the town and thus situated on the highest point of the ridge where Fatehpur Sikri is situated. In fact, the Buland Darwaza commemorating the victory of Akbar over Deccan and the Tomb of the famous Sufi Saint Sheikh Salim Chishti are a part of this spacious mosque complex. Built in the supervision of the saint himself and his descendants, it was completed in 1571.

11. Buland Darwaza: Buland Darwaza or the loft gateway at Fatehpur Sikri was built by the great Mughal emperor, Akbar in 1601. Akbar built the Buland Darwaza to commemorate his victory over Gujarat. The Buland Darwaza, approached by 42 steps and 53.63m high and 35 meters wide, is the highest gateway in the world and an astounding example of the Mughal architecture. It is made of red and buff sandstone, and decorated by carving and inlaying of white and black marble. An inscription on the central face of the Buland Darwaza throws light on Akbar’s religious tolerance and broad mindedness. The Buland Darwaza towers above the courtyard of the mosque.

Mughal age could be considered as the second classical age in India after the Gupta age, especially in the field of architecture. The variety of buildings erected during the Mughal period, especially during the reign of Akbar, the harmonious blending of Indian and extra Indian elements, the exquisite beauty and grace of the monuments, cities especially that of the Fatehpur Sikri and other buildings mark the Mughal period as one of the memorable epochs in the history of Indian architecture. The architecture of Fatehpur Sikri has a definite all India character. It is prolific and versatile Indo-Muslim composite style, which is a fusion of the composite cultures of indigenous and foreign origins.

Author: Gayatri Rede.

[ References: Lotha Gloria, (2015, August 25). Fatehpur Sikri India. The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/place/fatehpur-Sikri

Sharma V.D, “Archaeology of FATEHPUR SIKRI: New Discoveries”, Aryan Books International Publication, ed, 30th November 2007.

Rizvi.A.A.S, “FATEHPUR SIKRI: World Heritage Site”, New Delhi India, Archaeological Survey of India in association with Eicher Goodearth Limited, 2002. ]