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 Daulat Khana courtyard is framed on the east by a garden connecting the imperial apartments (Khwabgah) with the Emperor's pavilion in the Diwan-i 'Am. Along its west is the Panch Mahal palace, the highest building of the Fatehpur Sikri complex. The courtyard in front of the Panch Mahal, paved with large slabs of red sandstone, measures 66.29 by 46.93 meters and is known as the "Pachisi Court."
In the center of its east side is an arrangement of square paving slabs in the form of a symmetrical cross, resembling a board for the game of Pachisi. In the middle of the "board" is an elevated platform, 1.47 by 1.29 meters. It is possible that the board was originally covered with marble in alternate colors.
Legend claims that Akbar played Pachisi on this human-scaled board with slave girls dressed in different colors as living pawns. Chroniclers have recorded that Akbar played Pachisi; however, there is no mention that he played in this courtyard using living pawns. While working out the concepts and ideas of his new religion (Din-i Ilahi), Akbar created many highly symbolic objects; therefore, it is possible that the cross was never used for Pachisi at all.
Brand, Michael and Glenn D. Lowry, editors. Fatehpur-Sikri: A Sourcebook, 188-189. Cambridge, MA: Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1985.
Nath, R. Architecture of Fatehpur Sikri: Forms, Techniques & Concepts, 69-70. Jaipur: Historical Research Documentation Programme, 1988.
Rizvi, Saiyid Athar Abbas. Fathpur-Sikri, 35-36. Bombay: D. B. Taraporevala Sons, 1975.