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 Jami' Masjid of Fatehpur Sikri is the sacred complex of the fortified imperial city built by Akbar between 1571-85. A congregational mosque organized around a large courtyard, it was the largest mosque in India at the time of its construction. Its completion, according to an inscription, can be dated to 1571. The mosque complex, as well as the palace complex, contains similarities to earlier structures in Gujarat and Jaunpur. This may be attributed to Akbar's conquests in Gujarat and Jaunpur, which were contemporary with his Fatehpur Sikri building projects. The similarities resonate in the organization and ornamentation of the mosque, demonstrating a synthesis of Islamic, Hindu and Jain building traditions.
Both the Fatehpur Sikri mosque and palatial complexes utilize a proportioning system, whereby height to width ratios are based o the square roots of two and three. In addition, the city's plan is based on the gaz, a unit measuring approximately 81.28 cm (32 inches).
The Fatehpur Sikri Jami' Masjid complex includes the enclosure of the mosque itself, containing the prayer hall, the tomb of Salim Chishti, and the tomb of Nawab Islam Khan. It is located on the highest and widest plateau along the ridge, towards the southwest. On the same plateau is the small Nayabad palace, the Stonecutter’s Mosque, and the Rang Mahal.
The main imperial entrance to the mosque complex, called the Badshahi Darwaza ("Emperor’s Gate") is located along its eastern edge, opposite the prayer hall, and was likely used by royal palace residents. Later, a massive and more imposing gateway was added on the southern side of the courtyard, known as the Buland Darwaza ("Lofty Gate"). It may have been created to commemorate Akbar's victory in Gujarat or in the Deccan. A multistoried, semi-octagonal structure, it measures about 40 meters east-west and 20 meters north-south and contains large rooms, passages, and stairways. The exterior (southern) elevation of the Buland Darwaza rises to a height of 40 meters above the level of the mosque’s court. The gate is accessed from the outside via a flight of three-sided cascading steps, rising twelve meters from the level of the road. The southern elevation includes a high central recessed arch set into a rectangular frame and crowned by a parapet with thirteen chattris (domed pavilions). Three larger chattris are found behind the parapet row. The two narrower sides of the gate recede at approx. 135 degrees to meet the enclosure wall. These faces are articulated with recessed balconies on two levels. On its courtyard elevation, the Buland Darwaza is stepped back, with three parapet levels.
Like the rest of the mosque, the gateway contains Hindu architectural elements; however, its simple ogee arch is in the style of early Mughal architecture, reminiscent of Humayun's Tomb in Delhi, which was created either by Akbar or his mother. The Buland Darwaza is clad in red and yellow sandstone, while the rest of the mosque complex is clad predominantly in red sandstone.
To the west of the Buland Darwaza, adjacent to the enclosure wall of the mosque, is a large baoli, or octagonal step well. Each side of the well measures about 10 meters, and the remains of an arcade that must have surrounded the well, including columns, can be seen along the edges. The column capitals display intricate, muqarnas-like patterns.
Within the enclosure wall is a rectangular courtyard, measuring 133 meters east-west and 109 meters north-south. The white marble tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti occupies a prominent position in the court; it is located slightly west of the north-south axis, ten meters to the south of the northern dalan, with an ablution tank to its south. Its entrance porch faces the Buland Darwaza to the south. Approximately ten meters to the east of this tomb is the larger tomb of Nawab Islam Khan.
The tomb of Islam Khan (grandson of Salim Chishti), while larger than that of Salim Chishti, is less dominating due to its red sandstone cladding, which blends with the rest of the complex. It contains several tombs. The tombs of the women of the Sheikh’s family are found behind the mosque.
The northern, southern, and eastern sides of the courtyard are filled with spacious dalans (arcades), 11.66 meters deep. The dalans are organized in two continuous bays. The inner bay is composed of small hujras (cells), likely used as sleeping chambers for pilgrims and practitioners. The outer bay is a continuous arcade with broad, pointed arches supported on square pillars; it forms the courtyard edge. These arches are not true arches, but are composed of two inclined stone slabs. Stone lintels located above the apex of the arches transfer the load to the columns below. A continuous projecting chajja (eave) supported on corbelled brackets runs above the lintels, shading the dalans. Above the chajja is a blank frieze followed by a stone parapet that is topped by square domed chattris. The chattris are vertically aligned with the stone columns. The arcade is interrupted by the eastern and southern entrance gates and by a larger room and the tomb of Nawab Islam Khan along the northern side.
The main prayer hall is located along the western side of the courtyard, and measures about 88 north-south and 20 meters east-west. Its entry (eastern) elevation of the hall is dominated by a central gateway composed of a high recessed ogee arch set within a rectangular frame and surmounted by a row of domed chattris. Rectangular in plan, the gateway is roofed by a semi-dome and contains three arched openings that lead into the prayer hall. The central archway is clad with bands of red and yellow sandstone, while the smaller arched openings have mosaic inlay work in geometrical patterns. On either side, the gateway is flanked by a row of much shorter pointed arches of irregular spans and heights. Three domes crown the entire composition, of which the central dominates in size. Above the row of arches and in front of the domes is a row of chattris.
The interior of the prayer hall is divided into three bays; the central bay is square and measures 12.5 meters per side and is topped by a single dome supported on squinches. The central mihrab, which is 2.9 meters wide and 4.5 meters high, dominates its western wall. The mihrab is ornamented with inlaid stones and glazed tiles and is flanked on either side by smaller mihrab niches.
The two side bays measure approx. 29 meters north-south by 19 meters east-west. Each is composed of a colonnaded hall with a square domed room (8 meters per side), located centrally within this hall along the western (qibla) wall. Within each bay, nine mihrabs are found along the qibla wall, for a total of 21 mihrab niches in the entire prayer hall. The central mihrab niches located within the square domed rooms has been given special attention: set within a larger arch, it is ornamented with inlay stone work, glazed tiles, and carved and painted inscriptions. The mihrabs located in the colonnade on either side of the square domed rooms occur in a double-story pattern. These two side bays of the prayer hall display a combination of arcuate domed construction, present in the 2 smaller square rooms, and a trabeated system of tall Hindu-style pillars supporting a flat ceiling, present in the colonnaded halls. In the square room, corbels start low in the corners to form the transition from rectangular plan to octagonal drum. The drum is finished in plaster and articulated with radiating bands.
With the exception of the marble-clad tomb of Salim Chishti, the complex is rendered in red sandstone, with some yellow sandstone accents. Its style and ornamentation owe much to Gujarati architecture, and it is significant that the Sultanate predecessors to the Mughals gave a certain autonomy to their local craftsmen in the construction and ornamentation of mosques. This set a precedent for the inclusion of Hindu motifs in Islamic religious buildings in India. After Akbar's conquest of Gujarat in 1572-3, many Gujarati craftsmen were brought to work on the Fatehpur Sikri complex, which helps to explain many of the Gujarati elements present in the Fatehpur Sikri complex.
Decorative elements in the Jami' Masjid complex include bold geometric patterns in white marble and black slate inlaid into the red sandstone surfaces. This type of surface embellishment was a precursor to the pietra dura inlay work favored by Shah Jehan. Polychrome glazed tile mosaic was also used, particularly to enhance the borders of some of the secondary mihrab niches. Carvings, mainly featuring Persian and Arabic calligraphy, outline the arches and panels throughout the complex. Geometric and floral carvings are also present. Floral patterns created by thick layers of opaque watercolors were applied directly to the rough stone interior surfaces of the prayer hall.
The organization of this mosque around an open court would prove to be an important precedent for later Mughal congregational mosques.
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