Located an hour's drive away from the Taj Mahal in Uttar Pradesh, the city of Fatehpur Sikri was the first planned city of the Mughals. It was constructed by Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, the third emperor of the Mughal empire, and was to be the cultural, commercial and administrative centre of the empire.
Fatehpur Sikri served as the empire’s capital from 1571 until 1585. The complex of monuments and temples is a uniform Indo-Islamic architectural style. The city was planned on a mathematical grid and was built from red sandstone which gives it a beautiful glow during sunset.
The city was abandoned after only 14 years because the water supply was unable to sustain the growing population. In 1585, Akbar chose Lahore as the new capital.
Fatehpur Sikri became the seat of the great Mughal court only once more for three months in 1619, when Jahangir sought refuge there from the plague that devastated Agra. After that, the site was abandoned until its archaeological exploration in 1892.
The founding of Fatehpur Sikri is an interesting story. Concerned that he had no heir, Akbar sought the council of the Sufi saint, Salim Chisti, in the village of Sikri. Chisti correctly foretold that Akbar would have three sons. The first, Prince Salim (named after the Sufi), was born in Sikri in 1569. The grateful emperor ordered the building of a mosque and palace complex in the city, which he renamed Fatehpur Sikri ("City of Victory") and made the capital of the Mughal Empire.
The white marble tomb of Salim Chisti is set on a raised platform across from a small pool. The original structure, completed in 1581, was finished in red sandstone. In the early 17th century, the marble exterior of the present-day structure was added at the behest of Emperor Jahangir.
The Anup Talao, or "peerless pool," surrounded the emperor’s private quarters. Completed in 1576, the pool is a red sandstone masonry tank. In the center is a beautiful platform enclosed by a jalied balustrade (lattice carved railing). The island platform is supported on columns with exquisitely carved relief capitals, designed to be seen above the water, that form a corridor encircling a closed central volume below the water. Some historians postulate that this volume might contain a chamber, formerly accessible by a stair from the pavilion atop the platform.
Four bridges connect the platform with the various quarters such as the emperor’s quarters/sleeping room (Khwabgah) and the five storeyed palace for his courtmen (Panch Mahal). The tank was connected to the water system to the north of the city to ensure the inflow of freshwater and to the Sukh Tal outside the southern wall to avoid an overflow of water.
The Anup Talao& is associated with Akbar's legendary court musician Tansen, - a prominent Hindustani classical music composer, musician and vocalist - who, it is said, could light oil lamps with the magic of his voice. Tansen would perform different ragas at different times of day, and the emperor and his select audience would honour him with coins.
Akbar's court historian, Abul Fadl, records a 1578 order to fill the Anup Talao with copper, silver and gold coins. These were later distributed in charity by Emperor Akbar himself.
The Diwan-E-Khas ("Hall of Private Audience") is in the northeast corner of the royal complex. This square red sand stone building with the impressive four double-storeyed facades is believed to have been a place where Akbar 1) met with ministers and nobles, or 2) had religious discussions, or 3) stored his jewels and gemstones. The four kiosks at each corner of the building are octagonal in shape with a circular dome and inverted lotus on the top, providing additional height to the building. There is an beautiful and ornate column that adorns the inside of the building.
The city is a World Heritage Site and according to UNESCO: "Owing to the piety of Akbar, many religious and votive monuments were constructed at Fatehpur Sikri. The great mosque (Jama Masjid), one of the most spacious in India (165 m by 133 m) could accommodate some 10,000 faithful; it was completed in 1571-72 and according to the dedicatory inscription deserves no less respect than Mecca. "
While the site of Fatehpur Sikri is a ghost town today, the surviving palace and mosque are a major tourist attraction.
Under the Ancient Monuments, Archaeological Sites and Remains Act of 1958, films can receive permission from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to use any of the 3,597 protected monuments in India as the backdrop to a scene at a specific price per day. The Act specifically prevents misuse of the India's monuments but leaves the interpretation open to ASI officials.
Documentary Photographer Sanjay Austa, highlights his experience photographing the site:
Filmmaker Subhash Ghai had just shot the super hit song "Do Dil Mil Rahen Hai" here for his blockbuster movie Pardesh and there were complaints that his crew had damaged some portion of the monument. I was one of the journalists sent to investigate along with a photographer. It was getting dark and I was somewhat irritated by the photographer’s incessant complaints about the fading light. I wondered what all the fuss was when the guy could very well use his flash.
I visited this magnificent 16th century monument again in May 2008 - this time in the avatar of a photographer myself. I then clearly realised what the fuss was all about. I was doing a book project on Indian Monuments and I spent so many frustrating days just waiting for the right light.
The following video playlist features a short video highlighting the history and architecture of Fatehpur Sikri followed by two item numbers from the film Pardes - "Do Dil Mil Rahe Hain" and "Nahin Hona Tha" - which were filmed at the site.