Wah Taj – My Agra Diary (Part 4)

In India, Islam had spread much less by the sword then by the Sufis. After all, Sufism with its holy men, visions and miracles, and its emphasis on individual search for union with god, had always borne remarkable similarities to the mysterious side of Hinduism.

Sufism in India had many orders; however the most influential was the chisthi order. One of the main reasons that made Akbar a great emperor was perhaps the influence of Sufism, especially Salim Chisthi, who had his abode at an isolated ridge, some 35 km away from Agra, the imperial Mughal court. The influence was so much that Akbar decided to shift his capital here.

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Fatehpur Sikri, a world heritage site was a splendid Mughal city, and most of its structures have remained intact, thanks to its relative isolation and abandon just after it was completed.  The remains of buildings show remarkable fusion of Hindu – Rajput and Persian – Central Asian styles. Divided into two distinct zones, Fathepur and Sikri, the former is the sacred abode of Chisthi’s dargah. Even 400 years after, the place has retained its sanctity as it used to be at the time of Mughals.

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Shaikh Salim bin Baha’u’d – Din Chisthi had migrated to Sikri with his parents, but was brought up by his brother here. According to historical sources Salim’s ancestors were descendents of Baba Faid from Punjab. Widely travelled in the Muslim world (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey and Iran), Salim with his intense mortification and meditation, resulted Sikri becoming a centre for Sufis, alms and the poor.

The birth of prince Salim in 1569, who later came to be known as Jahangir – Akbar believed this as the result of Shaikh Salim’s prayer. He decided to shift his capital to the ridge as a gratitude to his spiritual teacher.

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Under Shaik’s personal supervision, a splendid mosque and khangah were built into a complex. After his death on 14th February 1572, he was buried in a temporary tomb of red stone which later was converted into a beautiful structure of white marble.

On my day 2 I visited Fatehpur Sikri. As the cab left the chaos of Agra and headed to the highway, i was welcomed by a series of kos minars on regular intervals. These used to be milestones in Mughal Era.

Once I was at Fatehpur Sikri, a huge gate welcomed me to enter the abode of Salim Chisthi. It is said that Akbar used to enter through this gate to pay homage to the saint. It was however not the iconic Buland Darwaza.

The tomb of Salim Chisthi has been constructed on a platform which is about 1 m high. The main tomb building is enclosed by delicate marble screens on all sides. The marble building is beautifully carved with arabesque and bears inscriptions from the Quaran.

The impressive Jama Masjid was the first building to be constructed in Fatehpur Sikri and was the largest in India at the time of its construction. Consisting of seven bays it has three miharebs. The central mihareb is covered by a massive dome, and is decorated with marble inlay in geometric patterns.

On the left side of Salim Chisthi’s tomb stands a red sandstone tomb of Islam Khan I, the grandson of the saint. The tomb contains a number of graves of all the male descendents of Salim Chisthi.

The main draw of the sacred centre is however the impressive Buland Darwaza or the gate of magnificence, the biggest gate anywhere in the world. The gate had been built to commemorate his victory over Gujarat.

(To be continued)

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