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 public functional zone of the Fatehpur Sikri complex comprises the transition from the Agra Gate to the Public Audience Hall, and includes the Chahar Suq, the Mint ad the Treasury.
Visitors approaching the palace complex from the east, following the way that connects Sikri to the town of Agra, first traverse the Agra Gate. The eastern approach to the complex through the Agra Gate ran along a linear bazaar, approximately 970 meters long, with workshops lining the road on both sides. This bazaar terminated in an arrival court located northeast of the Diwan-i 'Am. The angle formed by the junction of the road and the Diwan-i 'Am, which is aligned exactly north-south, is about 35 degrees east of north.
Along the former bazaar road is a structure called the Chahar Suq, (lit."market place"), found approximately 680 meters from the Agra Gate and 290 meters from the Diwan-i 'Am. The Chahar Suq served as the focal place of the bazaar and provided a monumental entrance to the palatial complex. On festive occasions, the entire bazaar area would be decorated to honor important guests. The Chahar Suq is also referred to as the "Naqqar Khana," (drum house), a structure used by the imperial band at certain times of day. Music from the naqqar khana heralded the Emperor’s appearances, among other occasions.
The square Chahar Suq structure covered an area of 35 square meters and had a gateway placed at the centre of each of its four sides. Only parts of its exterior wall, as well as traces of partitions in its interior, are still extant today. Its still-extant east and west openings are centered on the axis of the pathway that lead to the palace complex. These entrances formed part of the pathway along the grand bazaar; however, the function of the north and south entrances into the Chahar Suq is more difficult to ascertain. Unless there were paths to and from the north and south in Akbar’s time (perhaps leading to residential quarters for the nobles of the court), it is likely that these entrances were created in the interest of bilateral architectural symmetry.
The east gateway is a double-story, tri-arched structure constructed of red and buff sandstone, measuring in plan 17.30 by 6.10 meters. It is symmetrical along its vertical axis, and the soffits of the arches are ribbed. Its central arch, through which the bazaar pathway passed, is larger than the outer two arches. The entire gateway is covered by a flat roof supported on a row of stone piers and crowned by two chhatris centered above the narrower archways. Its upper floor is a large gallery, open towards the interior of the enclosure but closed off by a wall to the east; this wall is pierced by trabeated openings above each of the three arches. Below these openings, a balcony supported on brackets runs along the entire elevation. The upper level is accessed by a staircase on the east side. Within the upper-floor gallery, a stone seat runs along one wall.
The western gateway is smaller than its eastern counterpart, composed of a single story with one central arch. Its north and south elevations are pierced by two identical smaller gateways of trabeated construction, each measuring 7.5 by 8 meters. Centered within the elevation, these entrances employ stone slabs to create a corbelled arch, whereby brackets support spanning lintels. The gateway roof is flat and accessed by side staircases. The gate was closed by massive doors that swung in (still-extant) stone eyes-and-sockets.
Continuing west, the bazaar pathway passes two independent structures bordering the Diwan-i 'Am. These are called the Mint (Taksal) and the Treasury, and their walls intersect to form an angular transitional space before entering a flat-roofed gateway on the east side of the Diwan-i 'Am.