A morning in Fatehpur Sikri

As we went along the road to Fatehpur Sikri from Agra, our driver, Dev, pointed out the motorbikes passing us on either side. Most had women carrying a large bag on the rear seat. He said that the women were going to their parents’ home for the Bhai Dooj festival. This festival was celebrated in north India following Diwali and it was a festival where a married sister visited her brother on this day and gave him her blessings and gifts. There is an interesting folk story  about the origins of this festival. We asked Dev whether he and his sister were not celebrating the festival. He shrugged and replied, “here, people celebrate. now in modern cities, people don’t care.”

Visiting brothers.JPG

Till we reached Jaipur later that evening, we continued seeing brightly clad women on foot, motorbikes, mini-vans carrying bags and going with either their husband and/or children.

We reached the ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri and our local guide was waiting for us at the entrance. We removed our shoes at the entrance as we were entering the mosque area, open to all public. This public area was teeming with people, both the local residents selling goods in tents set up around the courtyard as well as visiting tourists and pilgrims.

The guide told us that a very famous Sufi saint called Salim Chishti was said to have lived here in the 16th century. Emperor Akbar worried that he had no heir to the throne after several years of marriage, and hearing of the powers of the saint to grant wishes, visited him and sought his blessings. He had vowed that if he were granted his wish for a son, he would build his second capital in the area. His Hindu wife bore him a son, and one of the names he was given was Salim after the saint but was more commonly known by his other name, Jahangir. Akbar kept his promise and built the city of Fatehpur Sikri. He also had the tomb for the saint built in the mosque complex. The royal family lived for a few years in the city but abandoned it soon as water turned out to be a major problem, having to be transported all the way from Agra.

The tomb of Salim Chishti is now a famous pilgrimage point for people, irrespective of their faith. The guide said that Akbar had been personally involved in planning the tomb architecture and layout..

Fatehpur Sikri.jpg

Pilgrims and visitors to the tomb generally place a cloth offering over the cenotaph, sprinkle rose petals and tie threads for three wishes on the lattice windows overlooking the tomb.

Salim Chisti shrine.jpg

We got the cloth and bag of rose petals along with three red and yellow threads each and walked into the inner chamber. After placing our cloth over the cenotaph, the person who was taking care of the tomb said that we could place any donation, we felt like contributing for the mosque, near the cloth and it would be used for the welfare of the children of the area.


We then walked over to the lattice windows and tied our red and yellow threads. Our guide had mentioned earlier that we should not speak about the wishes we made until they were fulfilled. I can’t even remember now what wishes I made to know whether they were fulfilled or not.

Window of wishes.JPG

We walked out of the inner chamber and walked around the outer chamber. The guide pointed us to a half-door on the side of the tomb. He said that in the past, women had not been allowed to enter through the same front door as men as they were considered inferior to men. Women were allowed to visit the tomb of this saint but to differentiate their status, they had to come in through the side door. The purposefully built door ensured that the women had to bend to enter which ensured a humble poise. They were also only allowed to sit in the outer chamber and not allowed to enter the inner chamber during Akbar’s time. For all his secular views and broad mindedness on unity and equality, Akbar did not treat women in an equal and non-discriminatory manner.

Half-door for women.JPG

We walked out into the courtyard and took a short walk around. Adjoining the mosque and the sufi saint’s tomb was the palace complex. Akbar’s palace was interesting. There were three main houses within the palace: one for each of his three main wives – his Hindu wife, Christian wife and Muslim wife. One of Akbar’s policy in unifying India was to marry a princess of different states so that he would have that particular region’s allegiance. His three main recognized wives were privileged enough to have their own quarters as opposed to the mass harem quarters. His Hindu wife, who played an important role in Emperor Akbar’s life and politics, had her living quarters built in traditional Hindu architecture with places for lamps, worship and a traditional vegetarian kitchen etc. The Christian wife’s quarters had a chapel and lots of paintings. Each house though had some mark of all the religions to demonstrate that all religions was accepted, while giving special recognition to each wife’s particular religion.

A huge courtyard adjoining the harem was where the King entertained and was entertained or had important discussions regarding state issues. The legendary musician, Tansen, considered one of the nine jewels of Emperor Akbar’s court performed for the Emperor here, while his wives watched from their specially designed windows in their respective part of the harem. The platform where Tansen performed was surrounded by water, and was said to have been filled with jasmine and surrounded by lighted lamps during his performance.

Tansen's court.JPG

Legend has it that fellow musicians jealous of his skill and favour that he had found in Emperor Akbar’s court tried to oust him by asking the Emperor to make him sing the Deepak Raga, which if properly sung was thought to cause all things to burn, including the singer. Tansen is said to have sung it after asking another singer to sing the raga that evoked rains simultaneously.

Across the musician’s court, the Panch Mahal or the five storey place was built for the Emperor’s pleasure where he could enjoy the moonlight and evening air. The Panchmahal opened onto a huge ludo board carved on the floor.

Panchmahal_Fatehpur Sikri.JPG

Across this game board square was located the secret chamber. The chamber, where Akbar gathered his top ministers for secret, urgent consultations on state emergencies. He would sit in the middle and his ministers in each of the corners built around the center like a wheel. I can’t imagine how the consultation could have been secretive, if they had to shout out to each other across the respective corners they sat in.

Chamber for secret.JPG

There was also a hall for private audience known as the Diwan-i-Khas, especially where representatives of different religious faiths met with the Emperor to discuss their concerns.

Fatehpur Sikri 2.jpg

This section led into the more public area, the hall of public audience and the courtyard where the public waited to meet the Emperor and state their grievances and where public hearings were held. The guide mentioned that an elephant was usually kept waiting at these hearings as the worst offenders were sentenced to trampling by an elephant.

Fatehpur Sikri Public hearing.JPG

As we walked out of the public hearing area and towards our car, children selling knick knacks surrounded us. I always feel sad when I come across kids selling stuff at tourist sites. While I did not want to encourage child labour, we were unable to resist the plea of the kids so ended up buying a few things, hoping that the money would go towards their food.

What is the most interesting local festival that you have come across in your travels? How do you react when coming across child vendors at tourist sites?

[I am linking this post to Faraway Files #6 and Weekend Travel Inspiration]

Oregon Girl Around the World

34 thoughts on “A morning in Fatehpur Sikri

  1. Ahila, this post is beautiful and so thoughtful. I love the stories you tell and the insight into India’s fascinating culture. As I have two brothers I like the idea of the Bhai Dooj festival. Often there is bickering among siblings but it is nice to acknowledge the important part they play in our lives. I hope there is a festival where the brothers do nice things for the sisters too!

    Child labour is a tragedy but you are right it is difficult to resist their smiling faces. I think the best way we can help them is to do something small to help the children we encounter on our travels but really use our voices and voting power to promote change at a macro level. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful post on #FarawayFiles

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your beautiful comment, Katy. I learnt of the Bhai Dooj festival for the first time during this trip. However, there is another sibling festival that is more widely celebrated across India – the Raksha Bandhan festival, where a sister ties a ‘rakhi’ (special thread) on her brother’s (actual or anyone she considers like a brother) wrist and the brother vows to protect her always and gives her gifts.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Like Katy, I really enjoyed reading about this festival and loved seeing around Fatehpur Sikri with you as I went there on my honeymoon 20 years ago and I’m always happy to be reminded of that special time. Child labour is a terrible problem around the world and I’m always torn between not encouraging and trying to help. I was pleased to see on my recent trip to Vietnam that there seemed to be far less street children than when I lived there 20 years ago. #farawayfiles

    Liked by 1 person

    • How lovely that Fatehpur Sikri has some beautiful memories for you! And yes, I also agree that addressing and eliminating child labour around the world is one of the global priorities.


  3. When we were were on Roatan in Honduras children walked the beach selling bracelets and shells and other souvenirs, we were always friendly, but did not buy from them. I love your perspectives Ahila and these places are so beautiful. Thank you for sharing for #FarawayFiles – cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Erin. It is tough to see children selling souvenirs at tourist sites and sometimes, it is tougher to refuse them when you see they are very much in need of basic essentials like food and clothing.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I really enjoy reading all the stories you find about the beautiful places you visit, Ahila. I like the idea of a festival celebrating our siblings. It’s hard to make time for family in our busy lives so anything that celebrates this has to be a good thing. Thanks so much for linking up with #FarawayFiles

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Clare. I also liked the concept of celebrating siblings and India has two such festivals, Bhai Dooj and Raksha Bandhan. I am more familiar with the second one as it is widely celebrated across India while Bhai Dooj festival seems to be concentrated within parts of north India.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent detailed explanation of the history of this place and the festival. It’s quite amazing learning about this; it’s been some years since I was in India but I loved learning about the culture. Now that I am in Fiji, there’s a strong Indian presence here too and so have been learning more about the culture again. We just celebrated Diwali so that was my first time being in a country where it was so widely acknowledged & celebrated.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. So many wonderful stories here and I clicked on the Bhai Dooj link to read the tale of the brother and sister too. Thank you for sharing these – so enjoyable to read.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I visited Fatehpur Sikri 20+ years ago so it’s lovely to look at your photos and reminisce. Even more interesting to read about the festival, something which I would not have been aware of. Embarrassingly the strongest memory I have of my visit was of a huge bee’s nest! #Farawayfiles

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is a beautiful place! I have read about (and can see in your photos) its intricate and unique details. In some way, it is kind of sad that certain traditions are not celebrated anymore in the cities. You have to exit the big metropolis to find a different way of life. #wkendtravelinspiration

    Liked by 1 person

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