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.
To the southeast of the Ankh Michauli is a red sandstone domed pavilion, a typical element of Indian architecture that was widely adopted by the Mughals. Called a "chhatri," literally meaning umbrella, the function of this specific chhatri is unknown. Popular legend calls it the "Astrologer’s Seat;" although records state that Akbar used to consult a group of astrologers, philosophers and yogis, there is no surviving source that verifies the assignment of a seat to one of them. It is more likely that this pavilion served as an architectural element, perhaps for the Emperor to use in relation to the distribution of copper coins.
The pavilion is square in plan, 2.74 meters per side, and is situated on an extension of the same plinth (1.07 meters high) that supports the Ankh Michauli. Traces of a stone railing, which once enclosed it, still remain. At each corner is a column, square at the base, with a carved floral motif on all sides. The column shaft is divided into two sections: the lower section is square in section and transitions via a floral design into the upper section, which is shaped into an octagonal section. Serpentine struts (toranas) emerge at a 45 degree angle from a carved stone monster’s head (makara) on the octagonal shaft, rising to meet under the center of each lintel.
Toranas derive from Jain architecture, and are widely used in Hindu architecture to indicate the ceremonial entrances into temples. Although toranas appear to have a structural function, passing the load from the lintel to the columns, they are actually ornamental. Via small pendentives, the lintels carry a pyramidal roof topped with an ornamental carved frieze of interlocking tulips at its base and a sheath of lotus petals (mahapadma). The mahapadma supports a characteristic Mughal kalash finial, which was restored in the 20th century.
Brand, Michael and Glenn D. Lowry, editors. Fatehpur-Sikri: A Sourcebook, 190. Cambridge, MA: Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1985.
Nath, R. Fatehpur Sikri and its Monuments, 83. Agra: The Historical Research Documentation Programme, 2000.
Rizvi, Saiyid Athar Abbas. Fathpur-Sikri, 37-38. Bombay: D. B. Taraporevala Sons, 1975.
Smith, Edmund W. The Moghul Architecture of Fathpur-Sikri, 24-25. Delhi: Caxton, 1985.