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 plateau running along the west side of the Anup Talao and the Pachisi Court was the area dedicated to the imperial harem (zenana). It was originally fully enclosed by a stone wall.
West of the Anup Talao court and placed in the center of its own courtyard is a red sandstone building known as the Sonahra Makan (Golden House), on account of its rich interior murals. It is also popularly named "Miriam's Kothi" (residence), after the legend that it housed one of Akbar's wives, a Portuguese Christian named Miriam. However, Akbar's chroniclers make no reference to Bibi Miriam, and it is more likely that this name is linked to Maryam uz-Zamani (d. 1623), the daughter of Rajah Bihari Mall and mother of Prince Salim, Akbar's first-born son. In terms of function, this structure, with its open and formal character, profuse ornamentation, and lack of bathroom facilities, was likely not used as a residence but rather as a drawing room (baithak) where Akbar would receive his court artists.
The Sonahra Makan stands on a platform (two treads up from the ground paving) and an additional plinth (another three treads up from the platform). The plinth and platform are decorated with a cornice carved in an inverted leaf pattern. Steps access the platform from the center of each side. On the north, east, and west, additional steps up the plinth lead into the portico and then into doorways entering into the central hall. The steps on the south side of the plinth lead directly into the central room/bay of the southern elevation.
Measuring 18.24 by 14.75 meters on the exterior, it is bilaterally symmetrical along its long (north-south) axis. Divided into 5 bays along the north-south axis, the building has two main parts. The southern elevation houses two stories, each with three small rooms, 2.90 meters in height. These rooms are divided on the southern elevation into five exterior bays by pilasters. On the ground floor, lintel-topped doorways open into the outer two southern and into the central bay. The two blind bays each feature a small niche set into their centers.
The interior partitioning walls are approximately 1.2 meters thick. The remaining 9 bays contain a central oblong hall with a niche at its northern end. The hall is 5.18 meters in height and surrounded on its east, north, and west by a high colonnaded portico that fills the outer 7 bays. From the outside, the entire building appears to be single-storied; however, while the central hall and porticos are single-height, the southern rooms occupy two stories.
A continuous stone chhajja (restored ca. 1952) runs along each elevation, supported on carved brackets. The carvings depict Hindu deities, symbols, and motifs such as rows of elephants, swans, and kirttimukhas (monsters, lit., "faces of glory"). Above the chhajja is a parapet divided by a horizontal stone detail, a continuous line. The zone below the line is plain, with only two small openings for rainwater discharge on each side; the upper zone is carved into a continuous pattern of outlines of pointed arches.
The building has a flat roof, with a rectangular chhatri over its northern section. This chhattri is composed of eight columns with bracket capitals, carrying lintels that support a projecting horizontal eave. A projecting stone "seat" runs along the lower part of the chhatri's exterior elevations, excepting its entrance. The chhatri has a modified hip roof supported on a tall rectangular base. Along this base is a carved frieze; the ridge is also carved in a leaf pattern and decorated with two molded finials.
Both the interior and exterior walls of the building were entirely painted, mostly in a figurative style, directly on the surface of the stone. These paintings resembled Akbarian miniatures, and depicted elephant fights, hunts, battle scenes, tournaments, and architectural subjects. Within the color scheme, deep blue, red, and gold predominated. Indian flora and fauna, as well as typical clothing, was worked into the design.
Brand, Michael and Glenn D. Lowry, editors. Fatehpur-Sikri: A Sourcebook, 185-186. Cambridge, MA: Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1985.