Agra - An Architectural Magnificence (Part II) 😍
Our 1st day in Agra ended after visiting one of the Seven Wonders in the world, Agra Fort and also the other historical monuments in Agra.
As Agra was the capital of Mughals, we had heard of few other structures in the vicinity of Agra. Amongst the most important one is the Fatehpur Sikri which was one of the Akbar’s three Capitals.
Fatehpur Sikri :
We checked a cab for Fatehpur Sikri at the taxi counter opposite our hotel and the counter fellow gave us a good deal for the full day trip to Fatehpur Sikri, Mariam Tomb & Akbar tomb at Rs. 1250/-. He also assured us that he would arrange for a guide at Fatehpur Sikri. Next day we left Agra at 6.30 am in the morning. Our taxi driver also told us that a guide will meet us outside Fatehpur Sikri. Akbar ruled from Fatehpur Sikri for nearly 15 years. Akbar’s choice for Fatehpur Sikri as his capital was influenced by the presence of Shaikh Salim Chishti who had predicted that Akbar would be blessed not just one but three sons.
The monuments in Fatehpur Sikri show the abundant use of Red sandstone. Akbars’ capital was planned as a cultural, commercial & administrative center of his empire. The city is surrounded with fortifications and the some of which are nearly 6 kms long.
As we entered Fatehpur Sikri, we passed through the entry gate (Agra Gate). There are other gates or darwajas like the Ajmeri, Delhi, Gwalior, etc. and so called because the roads lead to these towns through these gates. The gateways are all identical in design, but the Agra gate is most frequently used by the tourists as Fatehpur Sikri is visited by Tourists who come to Agra.
Imperial Palace Complex :
Our guide took us to the Imperial palace complex. After paying a nominal entry fee we entered into the palace complex. It looked like we were the first tourists to visit Fatehpur Sikri that day.
We passed by some monuments before we stopped in front of Anup Talao. This is a square pond with a man-made island at the centre. There are bridges connect the island from all four sides. Our guide told us that Tansen, one of the navratnas of Akbar's court, used to sit on the island of Anup Talao and used to sing for Akbar. Akbar used to listen to Tansen from Panch Mahal which is a Five storey structure near Anup Talao.
Panch Mahal :
This extraordinary structure is entirely columnar consisting of 4 storeys of decreasing size. The structure has 176 columns in total. The Ground floor has 84 columns, the first storey has 56 columns, the second 20 columns, the third 12 columns and top storey is a single domed Kiosk supported on 4 pillars. However, this structure is now closed for tourists.
The large courtyard of red sandstone between Panch Mahal and Diwan-E-Khas is known as Pachhisi. It is so named because some of the stones that are led out resemble the cruciform board which is a popularly known Indian board game of Pachhisi. Our guide told us that Akbar played this game using slave girls as living pieces. It was a private game between the King & his Queens. There is a table in the centre of the Pachisi, we also enjoyed the virtual game of Pachisi by sitting on the table.
Diwan-I-Khas & Diwan-I-Aam :
Our guide took us to the most coveted structure in Fatehpur Sikri - Diwan-I-Khas. This structure is one of the most fantastically conceived structures in Fatehpur Sikri and is the most widely photographed monument here. This place where Akbar sat with his nine courtiers to discuss certain administrative matters of the kingdom. The most important structure in this Diwan-I-Khas is a richly carved pillar at the centre. Akbar sat atop this Pillar and his courtiers all around him. The staircase in Diwani-i-khas is also closed for general public & tourists.
Diwan-I-Aam is located near Diwan-I-Khas and is an open courtyard. This is the place Akbar used to meet the citizens.
Our guide then led us to another structure which is called the Astrologers Seat. This building has some luxuriously carved stone brackets placed between 2 pillars. The Astrologers Seat is the part of the Building where the imperial treasury was located.
Jodhabai's Palace :
We now moved to the Jodhabai's Palace. This is the largest and the most important building in Haram Sara. This building has a single entrance and faces east. At the Entrance there used to be an idol of Lord Krishna which was destroyed by the later Kings mostly Aurangzeb. Upon entering the Palace, there is a wide courtyard at the center. This massive palace has balconies at the corners which offers an outside view. This double storeyed structure is a mixture of different styles of architecture. The bases, columns in the central room are carved in the Hindu style of architecture and the plan draws inspiration from Rajput traditions.
The last important structure in the Imperial Palace Complex which our guide showed us was the Kitchen area. Our guide further informed us that as Jodha was vegetarian. Her kitchen was separated from the rest of the members of the family.
The best part of visiting Fatehpur Sikri in early morning was that there were no tourists apart from both of us and the early morning sun rays are ideal for photography of the red stone monuments. The early morning sun-rays add a tinge of brightness to the photographs. The monuments at Fatehpur Sikri have a mark of Akbar's style architecture which is a mixture of Persian and Indian architectural styles.
After taking a round around the monuments at Fatehpur Sikri, we were surprised as to why Akbar moved his capital from Fatehpur Sikri to Lahore after 15 years of reign. We asked this question to our guide & he informed us that Fatehpur Sikri was suddenly abandoned because the water supply was inadequate to meet the demands of this capital city. Though Akbar built huge water tanks for the citizens but they often dried up in summers.
Jama Masjid and Chishti Tomb Monuments :
The Jama Masjid is the principal building in Fatehpur Sikri. The construction of the mosque was completed in around 1572. Akbar had a deep gratitude & respect for Shaikh Salim Chishti and hence after his death, Akbar must have built this white marble dargah. The Jama Masjid follows the conventional structure of the mosque and it comprises an open courtyard with pillared cloisters and western end occupied by sanctuary.
The Salim Chishti Tomb is located in the center of Jama Masjid and is an architectural cameo. The artistic carvings on the Windows of the dargah display the high level of craftsmanship.
All the other structures in the Jama Masjid are built in Red sandstone. Hence, the white Chishti tomb is a prominent structure in the Jama masjid. The Salim Chishti tomb is frequently visited by the devotees who offers chaddars for fulfillment of their desires. The main desire of the devotes who visit the Dargah are for a Heir to their lineage.
The Buland Darwaja :
The entrance to this Jama masjid is the biggest gate which is visible from a great distance. This gate is called the Buland Darwaja which is at an imposing height of 40 mtrs added to the 12 mtrs of steps leading to the entire composition of 52 meters above the road. Akbar had built the Buland Darwaja in celebration of his Gujarat victory in June, 1573. It is after this victory, Akbar renamed this quite town Sikri as Fatehpur or city of victory.
Fatehpur Sikri is also famous for marble momentos. It is advisable to buy mementos from Fatehpur Sikri as the same are cheaper here compared to Agra. After spending around 3-4 hours in Fatehpur Sikri we moved towards Sikandra and Mariam tomb.
Mariam Tomb :
We drove from Fatehpur Sikri towards Agra. On the way we first took a stop at Mariam's tomb. This monument is relatively less crowded and unknown to the general public. However this one storey structure is one of the well built symmetrical monuments. The tomb of Mariam is in an underground chamber which is close to the public.
From Mariam Tomb we moved to the Akbar tomb which is Sikandra.
Akbar's Tomb :
Sikandra is one of the superb Mughal buildings which is situated about 7 kms from Agra city. Akbar himself selected this place for his burial. This mausoleum stands in a big garden called as Bahishtabad in an area of 150 acres. The gateway of Sikandra is extremely beautiful. It is made of red sandstone. The upper storey of the gate had Naubat Khana. The gate has four towers or white minars on top of it. These Minars make the entrance attractive and eye catching. The main building is squarish and is four storeyed high. The three storeys are of red sand stone and fourth one is of white marble. The building has resemblance with of Panch Mahal of Fatehpur Sikri. In the center of the building is the grave of Akbar.
Near the main gate of the Akbar tomb is the building called Sheesh Mahal constructed by Jahangir called Noor Jahan but the structure is in a dilapidated condition today. The Sheesh Mahal was also out of bounds for the tourists.
This area surrounding the Akbar’s Tomb has been kept as sanctuary for wild life and we can spot some deers, sambhars apart from the migratory birds.
This monument is touching the highway and it was a surprise to find deers and sambhars in the hustle-bustle of the city traffic.
Just one day prior to our departure from Agra, we came to know that the Taj is open after sunset on 5 days. These 5 days are around the Full Moon day i.e. 2 days prior to the full moon day, full moon day & 2 days after full moon day. The moonlight would give a different view of the Taj. But we couldn’t visit this during our trip to Agra. The tickets for these 5 days are available at the Archaeological office in Agra.
In the whirlwind tour of Agra, we visited not just Taj Mahal & Agra Fort but also baby Taj, Fatehpur Sikri, Sikandara. However, we also missed visiting the Taj at Night, the Ram Singh Palace where Shivaji was imprisoned, the Taj from across Yamuna river, etc. The Uttar Pradesh Tourism offers diverse places to visit and we may come back for another visit to Agra/Uttar Pradesh.
- Mohini Nabar