India is a country of contrasts. When I say this, I am not only talking about the landscapes but of ideas and beliefs too. Many of the past visitors have tried to paint our country in their own colour. Still, what they could leave was only the tint of their culture. Mughals too fall in this league, especially, Jehangir and Aurangzeb, who brutally enforced their ethos. However, when their predecessor Akbar is in question, he has a different story altogether. He was a witty man who was here to stay so he never forced his culture and faith, rather he introduced a new religion named Din-e illahi. You would be amazed to know that except for his few court men nobody accepted it. There is so much about him that we still do not know. And what better than his abandoned capital, Fatehpur Sikri, to time travel in his era and know him and his city.
Rise of the first planned city of Mughals – Fatehpur Sikri
Kingdom and offspring have often made Kings desperate and Akbar had been desperate for both of them. While the first desire was satiated with a huge army but for the second one, he had to make many pilgrimages to saints. It is said that the great Sufi saint of that time, Sheikh Salim Chisti, blessed him and forecasted that he would have three sons. Then as prophesized, his Rajput wife, popularly known as Jodhabai, got pregnant with a Child. Akbar not only named his child, Salim in the honour of the sage but decided to develop a city in the village, Sikri, where Sufi Saint lived. Thus, 36 Kilometer away from Agra, an architectural wonder came into existence and it was named Fatehpur Sikri.
Though short-lived, this Mughal capital (1572-1585) has many stories anchored. So while you take up the tourist bus (coz that is free. Or else take a shared auto if you miss it) to reach Fatehpur Sikri from the parking lot, do erase all your past knowledge about the Mughal King, Akbar. Believe me, the dreamy fables which the TV serials have cast is nothing but fiction.
The Royal complex – The queen’s abode
The love tales of Jodha and Akbar have awed many but I don’t understand how is this possible when Akbar had over 5000 women in his harem which were of varied Cast and Creed, be it Russian, Afghanistani, Turkish, Iranian, Tibetian, Portuguese or Hindu. He would ask them as a gift, as a wife, minor wife, Kaneez, Paramars, dancers and I do not know where the list ended for him. (Remember the tale of Rai Parveen!) Like any treasure has to be guarded, his harem was too guarded by an army of Eunuchs and Men were strictly forbidden.
You can see the palaces of the prime queens, like, Jodhabai Palace, Ruqaiya Begum Palace and one palace of his Christian wife. As these palaces have many rooms, I guess the other wives resided with them and in other rooms of the harem. While these palaces that have been carved and sculpted with excellence and fusion of Indo-Islamic style, were a treat to watch, what amazed me most was the board of ASI outside Jodhabai’s Palace. The board questions the existence of Jodhabai and says that she is not related to this place and somehow she has been wrongly attributed to this palace. Ironically, the board still calls it Jodhabai Palace. (It happens only in India!)
Anoop Talao and Tansen
People didn’t have televisions and mobiles that time but the entertainment quotient was quite high. In this Akbar’s capital too, Anoop Talao had all doses of entertainment intact. It is said that the water of Anoop Talao was perfumed, ironically, now you can only see the green algae as the imperial effect. In fact, this is the place where Deepak Raga was performed for the first time by Tansen. It is said that when he sat to perform the miraculous music symphony, his body generated so much heat that the lamps had ignited with it. He would have died at the very moment as this Raga can be lethal for the performer but the acumen of his daughter saved him.
However, the entertainment for Akbar and his consorts was not limited to Anup Talao. Whether sitting on the top of Panch Mahal for enjoying the breeze or playing Aankh Micholi with the women of Harems in the so-called Treasury, the King of Fatehpur Sikri had it all. In fact, he had better games then PUBG. As per one of his Navratan Abul Fazl, in the Pachisi court, he played Chausar with people as pieces and didn’t stop before playing 14 rounds. Whoever got upset standing as the board piece was given a cupful of alcohol. Now, that’s called addiction!
A glimpse of Akbar’s beliefs
My friend had once told me that in Fatehpur Sikri, while you move towards Deewan-i-aam, place where people shared their problems and came for justice, there is an open ring where the guilty ones were crushed to death by an Elephant. When I saw that I couldn’t stop myself from imagining that how the heart of the guilty would have jumped with horror when Elephants would have thumped the ground. Crime rate must have been very low then!
And Yes, as it is quite popular about Akbar, he had interests in all the religion and he was quite curious about them, Deewan-i-Khaas is the evident proof of this. The hall is four laterally divided and each of the corners is connected with a pathway and all the pathways meet at the place of his throne. It is said that on each corner sat the experts of different religion and Akbar sat in the centre. The centre pillar which held the circular dais for the King’s throne is decorated with different styles of artwork from different religion and is a masterpiece to see. I can’t imagine how beautiful this hall would have looked in those time with the Peacock throne (which was later stolen by Nader Shah of Persia) and water flowing on the ground of the hall. (Yes, a stream of water used to flow during Akbar’s Reign)
However, ASI has a different opinion about it too. The board call it Ibadat Khana, just like it calls the Daulat Khana as Khwabgah. This place is particularly very peculiar. The stone bed is over 4 feet in height and I wondered how Akbar would have climbed up? Ladder? He was King he would have managed but this was also the place where he kept around 50000 valuable manuscripts. He loved books and would carry them anywhere he went. This may sound unspecific to you, though it is quirky as Akbar was illiterate.
From Lively Capital to Abandoned Capital
You would be roasted by now if you visit Fatehpur Sikri in summers. The red sandstones literally turn into burning pans and the lack of foliage makes it too hot. This makes me trust the common stories about the abandonment of Fatehpur Sikri. It is said that this city got abandoned due to the shortage of water after the reign of Akbar got over. But one thing that bothers my faith, is that, the Yamuna flows quite close to Fatehpur Sikri and when such great architectures can be made, how come Akbar did not think of bringing a small trail of the river to the city? With no historical record about the desertion, we could only make guesses!
A visit to Fatehpur Sikri is an experience of its own kind but if you plan to in summers, get ready to be roasted. Especially, when you visit the mosque complex which houses Jama Masjid and Saint Salim Chisti’s tomb with the grand Buland Darwaza enclosing it, as a part of this complex has to be visited bare feet.