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 Diwan-i 'Am quadrangle flanks the eastern side of a zone measuring 82.90 meters from east to west by 170.40 meters from north to south, comprising the semi-public palatial buildings, including the spaces used for political administration. It can be divided in three main parts organized around three adjoining courtyards. The first part, on the north, is the courtyard entered when exiting from the west side of the Diwan-i 'Am. Around this courtyard are the building with a central column (better known as the (attributed) Diwan-i Khass), the (attributed) Treasury (Ank Mikauli), and the Astrologer’s Seat.
The Building with a Central Column (Diwan-i Khass):
The free-standing structure situated in the center of this courtyard has come to be identified as the Diwan-i Khass. Other theories describe this structure as having been used for religious discussions (Ibadat Khana) or as a "Jewel House," where the Emperor would store and inspect his gemstones. The building’s plan is unique, and has attracted many interpretations based on its symbolism.
Built in red sandstone, it is a square, symmetrical building measuring 13.18 meters/side on the exterior. It stands on a paneled plinth, 0.75 meters high. From without it appears double-storied; its four elevations are identical. On the ground floor, each elevation is pierced along its central vertical axis by a doorway 2.21 meters wide. The doorways on the north and south sides are flanked with large deeply recessed windows filled with a perforated stone screen (jaali). On the east and west sides there is only one jaali, found to the right side of the entrance. Evidence of socket holes in the lintels and thresholds of the doorways indicate the former presence of stone doors.
A peripheral balcony with a jaali-filled stone balustrade, carried on heavy decorated corbels, runs at the height of the first floor above ground level. Along this floor, three exterior openings on each side are protected from above by a peripheral broad projecting eave (chhajja). Over the chhajja runs a frieze carved with geometrical patterns. The roof is crowned at each of its four corners with a chhatri, a columned pavilion with cupola roofs crowned by a sheath of lotus petals (mahapadma) supporting a characteristic kalash finial. Each chhatri is 1/3 of the total building height. The roof and the peripheral balcony are accessed by two staircases built into the building walls at the northwest and southeast corners.
Within, the building contains a single-story square hall measuring 8.74 meters/side. The predominant element of its interior is a massive ornamental column, square at its base and octagonal at the shaft, located in the center of the space. The column is surmounted by a circular capital composed of three-tiered richly carved radiating brackets, each one of which is composed of five separate pieces of stone. The top of the capital forms a circular platform from which bridges run diagonally to the corners of the room, joining a gallery, 0.75 meters wide, which runs along the interior walls at approximately first floor above ground level. At the four corners of the room, the gallery forms quadrangular spaces, supported by corbelling in the same manner as the central column. The circular platform, the bridges, and the interior peripheral gallery all have jaali-filled balustrades. In the northwest and southeast corners of the hall above the gallery are storage niches formerly closed by stone doors fastened by padlocks; their socket holes are still visible.
The hall has a curved roof divided into panels by flat projecting ribs. A stone pendant hangs in the middle of the central panel. One theory holds that Akbar’s throne was situated on the circular platform and the corners of the room at the gallery level were assigned to four of his ministers. The dimensions of the inner gallery, as well as those of the center and corner seats, tend to rule out the possibility that the building was used by the Emperor and his ministers for affairs of state or religion. However, a manuscript of Akbar’s memoirs, dated to 1604, depicts the Diwan-i Khass as a central domed pavilion with chhatris at each corner. The interpretation that the Emperor sat on the central platform as he inspected precious jewels is supported by the building’s location near the Ankh Michauli (Treasury), and the fact that three distinct treasuries (for copper, gold & silver, and gems & jewels) were located in the palace complex. Sources:
Brand, Michael and Glenn D. Lowry, editors. Fatehpur-Sikri: selected papers from the International Symposium on Fatehpur-Sikri held on October 17-19, 1985, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Bombay: Marg Publications, 1987.
Brand, Michael and Glenn D. Lowry, editors. Fatehpur-Sikri: A Sourcebook, 191-193. Cambridge, MA: Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1985.
Brentjes, Burchard. "City, House and Grave: Symbolism in Central and South Asian Architecture." Environmental Design: Journal of the Islamic Environmental Design Research Centre, no. 2 (1984): 6.