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 west of the building with a central column stands a building that is assumed to have been one of the treasuries of the complex. The fanciful name popularly assigned to the structure, "Ankh Michauli" (blind-man’s-bluff) refers to the game that Akbar supposedly played here with the ladies of the Zenana. Given that the Ankh Michauli is situated outside of the residential area, as well as the lack of any reference to these games in logs of Akbar’s daily activities, it is unlikely to be true. Another theory, based on the building’s plan arrangement and its dimensions, holds that the Ankh Michauli was an administrative building.
Single-storied and symmetrical along its east-west axis, this structure is raised from the courtyard level by a plinth 1.07 meters high. Its plan is composed of three halls of equal size, 7.06 by 5.11 meters. The central hall is laid with its longitudinal axis north-south, and is flanked on the south and north by the two other halls, which are positioned to form a "U" in plan. The halls are organized around a small open court, paved in a circular pattern, from which the building is entered.
On the entry (east) elevation are five identical doorways, three leading into the central hall and two leading to the side halls on the north and south sides of the small courtyard. Each door measures 1.47 meters between the jambs and is flanked by embedded columns; brackets support their lintels. Two openings at the southeast and northeast corners of the courtyard lead to the roof via staircases.
The elevation is divided into two zones by a horizontal band that runs continuously around the building at the same level as the horizontal lintels. Above the lintels of the doorways are deep window openings filled with jaali-work. The chhajja protecting over the openings of the central hall is 1.7 meters deep; its unusual size contributes to the horizontal rhythm of the elevation. This chhajja is supported by brackets and surmounted by a high parapet faced in carved stone. The flat roof of the structure is cement.
The ceilings of the central hall are flat and divided by beams into 15 sections. Each section is supported by a makara-shaped slanting strut; the ceilings of the north and south halls are wagon-vaulted. The structure is composed of red sandstone, with simply carved column capitals and bases.
Each hall has a corridor, nearly 1 meter wide, which encircles the space and links to the others. The exterior walls of the halls are .46 meters thick, with various openings and niches. The roofs are supported by carved struts resting on corbels projecting from the walls; the bottom of each strut is carved into the head of a monster, from whose open jaws a raised serpentine scroll emerges. These beasts are considered to be the traditional guardians of treasure. Within, the upper walls are composed of carefully worked ashlar courses pierced by broad doorways and deep recesses. Secret coffers, originally closed by sliding stone slabs, are contained beneath the latter.
To the west of the central hall was another structure that collapsed in 1892 due to heavy rain. This structure may have been the one designated as the treasury for copper coins. Attached to the northwest corner of the Ankh Michauli are two small rooms, one of which was used as a lavatory. The partition between the two is of rough stone rubble and brick; it has been plastered and lines marked to imitate ashlar courses.
The Ankh Michauli is built at the corner of the complex above a high substructure, which overlooks the road and the countryside below. The substructure is composed of vaults of coarse rubble masonry roofed by massive lintels. A two-story stone gallery along the north and west elevations connects to the road to the village of Sikri via a steep staircase.
Brand, Michael and Glenn D. Lowry, editors. Fatehpur-Sikri: A Sourcebook, 190-191. 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, 81-83. Agra: The Historical Research Documentation Programme, 2000.
Rizvi, Saiyid Athar Abbas. Fathpur-Sikri, 36. Bombay: D. B. Taraporevala Sons, 1975.
Smith, Edmund W. The Moghul Architecture of Fathpur-Sikri, 26-27. Delhi: Caxton, 1985.