Fatehpur Sikri is one of India’s none-too-rare examples of a town that actually centres around just one major attraction. Like Khajuraho, Mahabalipuram, Orchha and Mandu, Fatehpur Sikri, built in the 16th century by the Mughal emperor Akbar, is also a modern township that survives simply on the tourist trade. And with one of India’s biggest tourist draws (and glory be, now also one of the Seven Wonders of the World!) – the Taj Mahal – in nearby Agra, just 40 km away, this splendid fortress is right in the heart of exotic India.
There are two distinct sections of the amazing palace and mosque
complexes at Fatehpur Sikri. The one most Indian visitors come for is the busy, noisy complex of the Dargah of Salim Chishti, approached through the impressive gate known as the Buland Darwaaza (the High Gate). Indian pilgrims, both Muslim and Hindu, come here in droves, braving scorching heat and pelting rain to offer prayers at the shrine of a much-revered Sufi saint. The marble tomb, the dargah of Chishti, is thronged by pilgrims, many of whom spend hours sitting, sleeping, or walking in the other buildings that flank the tomb: the Jamaat Khaana and the Jama Masjid in particular.
Just about five minutes’ walk from the mosque complex – back through the Buland Darwaaza, down the main road, and then over the hill to the left – lies a distinctly different complex: the palaces of Fatehpur Sikri.
The palace complex is built almost exclusively of red sandstone, exquisitely carved and embellished with paint and tile work. The buildings, as would be expected in a fully-functional fort that housed an entire court, run the gamut of uses. There’s the Diwan-e-Aam (Hall of Public Audience); the Diwan-e-Khaas (Hall of Private Audience); the Pacheesi Court, the mint, the slavegirls’ and maidservants’ quarters, the dovecote, and, very importantly, the palaces of each of Akbar’s favourite wives. Quiet gardens, green lawns, vast paved courtyards and panoramic views make the palace complex absolutely unbeatable. Keep it for after you’ve seen the dargah – the comparative tranquility here is like a breath of fresh air after all those crowds.
According to popular beliefs the most probable occupants of this palace were Akbar's two senior queens, Ruqayya Begum and Salima Sultan Begum. Birbal's house stands near the northwest corner of Jodhbai's palace. It is one of the marvelous buildings of imperial Harem. It was built in 1571. It consists of fours-quare rooms, each measuring 16'-10" (5.13m) square side, all interconnected through open doorways and two oblong entrance porches on Northwest and Southeast corners. While all the four rooms, have flat ceilings, porches have triangular chhappar ceiling with pyramidal roof. The interior of the building is divided into three days by richly carved pilasters. Shafts of these pilasters have been divided into three zones, which contain three different kind of decoration like single border designs, arabesque geometrical designs and stylized floral designs.
Capitals of these pilaster bears lotus petals and stalactite designs. The first floor has beautiful Jharokhas overlooking the court below and a simple chajja. Each dome of the upper rooms rests on an octagonal drum, which is also carved with a raised trefoil pattern. The domes are crowned by an inverted lotus and kalash finials and also bear traces of tile work. Though the entire construction is composed of lintels and beams, but beautifully carved brackets have been used to span the spaces between the pillars and ornamental arches. These brackets are carved on both faces with lotus and arabesque designs. Spandrels of the arches also bear arabesque and floral design.