Forty-three kilometres from Agra lies Fatehpur Sikri, the once-capital of Emperor Akbar’s Mughal Empire. He moulded the city into his capital and lived there for about thirteen years before being forced to move out due to lack of a sustainable drinking water supply. The impressive, colossal edifice that is called ‘Buland Darwaza’ or ‘Gate of Magnificence’ was the entrance to his capital city. It’s a steep climb up uneven steps, but its worth it for the interesting prize encompassed within its inner courtyard.
Apart from the unimpressive views of a generally uninteresting sprawl of houses, buildings and cars that stretch into the barren dirt, there’s not much to appreciate once you get to the top. Maybe it’s just me, but I found the entrance a little smaller and less impressive than it seemed from the bottom of the staircase. Don’t get me wrong. The gateway is still a muscular hulk of a thing.
However, I was more interested in the tomb of Salim Chisti. Akbar built the glowing white marble mausoleum to house the body of this Sufi saint. The story goes that Akbar approached the saint asking him to bless him and pray that he would have a son. After the birth of three sons, Akbar’s ties to the saint got much closer and he held the saint in so much esteem that after his death, he built this tomb in his honour. It is considered to be one of the best existing examples of sixteenth-century Mughal architecture. When you go up close, you can see why. The intricate curves of the glowing marble are mesmerising and the internal panels of jaliwork run along the edges of the area of the structure, showing haunting patterns of evening light across the marble floors.
Truth is, I hadn’t heard of the myth surrounding Salim Chisti’s tomb until someone mentioned it to me. The story goes that thanks to Akbar’s wish being granted, Chisti’s tomb became a place of pilgrimage by infertile couples. In order to have their wish granted, they’d have to tie a piece of thread around the filigree marble of the tomb. After someone did this once and had a child after, it because an established practice that spread across the country. The myth has evolved into a grant-any-wish situation for anyone who ties a thread around the cutwork marble wall that separates the inner tomb from the person viewing it. The lady I met who told me the story was actually on her way to the tomb to remove three threads that she had tied around the tomb twenty years ago. Although she didn’t tell me what they were, she said all her wishes came true and she was fulfilling a long over-due promise to herself to untie the threads to thank Chisti for granting her favours.
And yes, I made a wish and tied a thread too. Hasn’t come true yet, but maybe…one day.
What was disappointing to see, however, were the filthy grounds and hallways running around the tomb. Besides pigeon shit and feathers everywhere, there were bits of chip packets, juice packs, crumpled bits of paper scattered here and there. Walking around the tomb, there were some lovely details in the walls and hallways worth noting.
I didn’t have time to visit the rest of Akbar’s palace at Fatehpur Sikri. I did come back and do that on another trip. But, that’s for another blog!
#fatehpursikri #agra #salimchisti #mughalarchitecture #mughaltomb #emperorakbar
Visited in 2013