Wah Taj – My Agra Diary (Part 5)

In 17th century, an unfortunate Mughal Prince, Dara Sikoh used to identify India as Majma – ul – Bahrain, which means ‘the confluence of two oceans’. Dara was Shah Jahan’s eldest son and was unfortunate because of the conspiracy of his younger brother Aurangzeb who not only let him become the next emperor but also killed him brutally. Otherwise, the history of India would have turned into an entirely different chapter, based on what his great grandfather Akbar visualized, the harmonious confluence of Islam with the ancient Hindu Civilisation.

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More than four centuries after his death, Akbar – the Great still looms larger than life over India’s history. Much before he became known for his religious tolerance he had made a pilgrimage to Ajmer to pray and meditate at the blessed dargah of the famous Sufi Saint, Khwaja Muin –ud Muhammad Chisthi. Crossing into Rajputna, he was greeted by Raja Bhar Mal of Amber who offered him his eldest daughter in marriage. Akbar gladly accepted and that became a major turning point in India’s architectural history to what his great grandson Dara referred as the confluence of two oceans.

Fatahbad (City of Victory) or Fatehpur Sikri as it is known today became a major centre of India’s architectural heritage by fusing ideas from Rajputna, Gujarat, Malwa, Bengal and Muslim heartlands of Persia and Central Asia. Once a rocky ridge, where there had been nothing but wilderness, changed dramatically with construction of palaces, mosques, towers and gates. The city was surrounded by 11 km wall, except on the south, where there was a lake.

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The largest complex in the royal zone is the Public Audience Hall. It was also the focal point of the palace. From here the emperor presented himself to all levels of nobility. In the centre of the west wall is a projection where Akbar sat enthroned.

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To the west of this public audience hall was his private enclave, where is located the scenic Anup Talao, a square pond with a pavilion at its centre. Here Akbar engaged in serious discussion regarding Islamic law with leading Muslim theologians.

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Surrounding the pond there are a number of low rising structures, the most prominent being the Turkish Sultana House, which is completely covered with carvings of geometrical patterns, trees, flowering vine, birds and animals, showcasing the richness of Timurid tradition.

On the south edge of Anup Talao was Akbar’s sleeping chamber, a rather plain building. However, if someone scans its walls thoroughly would definitely come across a surprise, traces of floral paintings.

Another interesting building at the royal zone is Diwan – Khas, the private audience hall. Its interior is unique in the entire subcontinent. There in the centre of the building is an elaborately carved faceted pillar, a fusion of Gujarat, Mandu and Lodhi architecture. The brackets of the pillar support a circular pattern. The next important building is Panch Mahal, the tallest in the royal complex. It was used by the women of the imperial harem. In between there is another slice of Rajputna – Gujarat architecture, the astrologer’s seat which has serpentine toranas, so unique to Gujarat and Rajasthan.

The largest among these small palaces is the majestic Jodhabai Palace, which is heavily influenced by the architecture of Gujarat. But last not the least is Birbal’s house, a magnificent mansion of carved stones.

(To be continued)

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