Jalal al-Din Akbar was the third Mughal Emperor of India, and one of the most influential rulers of that dynasty. He was born Abu al-Fath Muhammad in 1542/949 AH in Sind (lower Indus River Valley). When he assumed the throne he took the regnal title Akbar ("Great"). His honorific name (laqab) Jalal al-Din means "Glory of the Faith." Upon his death he was given the epithet 'arsh-ashyani ("he who nests at the divine throne").
Akbar inherited the small kingdom in northwestern Hindustan surrounding Delhi that his father Humayun had reunited just before his untimely death in 1556/963 AH. Under his leadership, this kingdom would greatly expand, and by the end of his reign, Afghanistan, Sind, and Hindustan were united for the first time under Mughal rule.1
Aside from uniting a large geographic area, Akbar also achieved a major feat in facilitating the integration of Central
Asian and Indic courtly culture.2Unlike previous Muslim rulers in India, Akbar actively forged alliances by orchestrating marriages between members of the Muslim Timurid nobility and the indigenous Hindu Rajput clans, as well as allowing Rajput elites to advance in the bureaucracy and take active part in the administration of the empire.3
Similarly, Akbar was interested in
facilitating dialogue between the various religious groups in India, including
Christian, Jain, Hindu, and Muslim. Religious tolerance was encoded through imperial policy, and interfaith contact was encouraged through
the dual institutions of the 'ibadat-khana (house of worship) and
maktab-khana (translation bureau).4 The former was a space in
which all faiths were welcomed to discuss religious ideas. The
latter was an organization dedicated to scholarship where Hindu texts were
translated to Persian.
Akbar was a dedicated patron of architecture and literature, and Mughal India flourished as a cultural capital during his reign.In the architectural sphere, he is most famous for constructing
the city Fatehpur Sikri to commemorate his conquest of Rajputana. Initiation of
construction on the Red Fort at Agra (Lal Qil’a) and Lahore Fort (Shahi Qil’a) also
began during his reign.
Thackston, History of
S. Inayat A. Zaidi, “Akbar and the Rajput Principalities: Integration into Empire,” in Habib, Akbar, 15-24.
The Shabistan-i Iqbal, or Principal Haram Sara, is the largest and best-preserved of the residences of the imperial zenana (harem sara). Its popular name, Jodhbai's Palace, is probably a misnomer: Jodhbai was the daughter of Mota Raja Udaisingh of Jodpur and wife to Akbar's son Jahangir.
The palace can be approached via the colonnaded wall that divides the zenana area from the Anup Talao court, or by departing from the path that runs from the Jami Masjid through forecourt of the Daftar Khana. The haram sara is a double-storied structure composed of rooms arranged around a big open-air courtyard. Rectangular in plan, it measures 211.34 meters east to west and 196.5 meters north to south. An adjunct structure housing baths and latrines projects to the south, and a balcony connected to a viaduct projects to the north.
From the exterior, the palace appears massive; apart from the entry and its guard-towers, the only apertures in the elevations are jharokhas (projecting balconies), two of which flank each of the palace's four corners on the first storey above ground level. Each jharokha, rectangular in plan, is composed of four corner columns, two of which are engaged and flank the window. The columns carry bracket capitals and lintels that further support a projecting chhajja. A broad carved frieze runs above the chhajja.
The jharokha balcony is supported on four brackets with a jaali balustrade. Each exterior corner of the palace above the jharokha windows is further protected by a chhajja, which is in turn surmounted by a square base supporting an octagonal drum and a shallow dome. Both the base and the drum are decorated with cut and colored plasterwork. The exterior enclosing walls - constructed of red and yellow sandstone blocks - are plain but for a continuous intermediary frieze with decorative carvings, which indicates the ceiling level of the rooms on the ground floor within, and decorative merlons along the parapet interrupted only by the corner chhajjas.
The palace is can only be accessed via a single monumental gateway in the center of its eastern wall. This gateway is a double-storied structure, symmetrical along its vertical axis, projecting 2.28 meters from the eastern elevation. In plan, its east face of the gate is 13.26 meters long; the walls angling northeast and southeast to join the east elevation are each 3.20 meters long in plan.
The entrance opening is in the center of the gateway, 3.31 meters high and 2.28 meters wide and flanked by engaged columns that support stone brackets and a massive lintel. This bracket-and-lintel configuration is further framed by a blind arch decorated with a fringe of radiating lotus bands. Over the entrance arch is a band of five small arches; the four outer arches are blind and the central one is fitted with a stone screen. At ground level, the entrance is flanked on either side by a small decorative arched iwan, or large niche. Above the iwans and to either side of the band of five arches are two jharokha windows supported on brackets. A parapet carved in a merlon pattern runs along the top of the gateway, the angled walls, and upon reaching the east elevation, it descends vertically until the approximate midpoint of the elevation, whereupon it changes direction to run horizontally along the elevation as the intermediary frieze referred to above. Resting on the roof of the gateway and vertically aligned with the jharokhas are two chhatris, each with four columns and a dome and finial. The gateway is further protected by a small detached stone guardhouse roofed with a gabled roof to the southeast.
Passing through the gateway, one follows a "Z"-shaped path without a direct view into the inner courtyard. The entrance vestibule is divided into six bays by columns that support the roof via lintels resting on brackets. Between the wall piers are characteristic torana niches framed by small columns standing on projecting brackets.
The inner courtyard measures 54.9 meters by 49.32 meters. Its central sunken area, 46.95 by 41.85 meters, is accessed via a single step running along all four sides. In its center stands a small square tank. Around the inner court are double-storied residential quarters at the corners and formal "suites" in the centers of each side, excepting the east, which contains the entrance gateway. Along the north and southern walls, the suites are nearly identical. The rooms on the south are two deep, comprising a colonnaded arcade and an inner chamber. Corridors on either side of the chamber lead to hammams in the rear and the latrines (located in the wing that projects from the palace to the south). On the north, there is no corridor, but stairways that access the upper-level terrace. Of a completely different character, the western suite comprises a large colonnaded hall with torana niches and a raised central platform. Oriented to face east, it may have been a temple. This space was adorned with exquisitely carved pillars, brackets, and other characteristically Hindu architectural elements.
On the upper story, one finds a square domed room at each corner, two colonnaded pavilions (above the eastern and the western sides) and two rectangular pavilions with a characteristic khaprel ceiling over the southern and northern suites. The khaprel ceilings over the northern and southern pavilions are overlaid with distinct blue tiles (19.05 by 8.90 cm each). This ceiling is essentially a gabled roof, with stone panels as infill between stone ribs running down from a stone ridge beam.
On the north side is an extension of the upper storey commonly referred to as the Hawa Mahal. Screened on all sides by jaalis that ensured privacy and helped keep the interior cool, this space extended further north in the form of a viaduct, 8.23 meters tall and supported on arches. Originally entirely screened, this viaduct ran from the haram sara to the Hathi Pol (Elephant Gate), and beyond to the Hiran Minar, a watchtower to the northwest of the Hathi Pol. Another, destroyed viaduct ran from the haram sara to the Daulat Khana, crossing the courtyard south of the Sonahra Makan to join the colonnades running west along the Anup Talao court. Through it, the Emperor had easy and private access from his khwabgah to every palace in the haram sara.
Koch, Ebba. "Mughal Palace Gardens from Babur to Shah Jahan, 1526-1648." Muqarnas XIV (1997): 146.
Nath, R. Fatehpur Sikri and its Monuments, 21. Agra: The Historical Research Documentation Programme, 2000.
Rizvi, Saiyid Athar Abbas. Fathpur-Sikri, 57. Bombay: D. B. Taraporevala Sons, 1975.