Temples, Deities and Similar Representative Art and Sculptures at Fathpur Sikri of Akbar

The walls of palaces at Fathpur Sikri are replete with surface decorations, both in the form of wall paintings and sculptural art. Court scenes, floral designs, geometrical patterns and even fauna and human form abound. However, there are certain representations which are less reported and generally remain unobserved and neglected. Here we would list some of them:


(a) Khwābgāh Temple

At least in two palace structures, viz., the Khwābgāh chamber in the daulatkhāna-i Anūptalao area, and the so-called Sunehra Makān or Mariyam’s House, have wall paintings illustrating temples.

The first is a panel on north-eastern tāq on the northern wall of the Khwābgāh chamber. It depicts a peculiar temple scene: a crowned deity sits on a pedastal beneath an arched chamber of the garbha griha. Beyond the deity in a second chamber are two naked torsos . The scene is watched by a noble figure with a golden halo around his head. In the panel below, outside the temple are scattered dead bodies, severed limbs and torsos: a scene of a great massacre! A man in a Mughal jāma and patka watches in horror!

Why was such a violent scene depicted in the bed chamber of the emperor?

This wall painting was first observed by EW Smith in 1895. In his four volumed work on Fathpur Sikri, he gives a line drawing of the whole panel. I photographed the panel (see upper portion of the panel in the photo above) it exactly a hundred years later in 1995. The golden halo around the head of the man observing the deity is very clear, though somehow missed by Smith.

In a panel fronting this horrific scene on the same tāq are traces of a man riding an exotic animal: almost a black bull, it has the small head of some other animal joined to the neck. Was the rider supposed to be a Yamarāj?

(b) Mariyam’s House Temple

A very prominent Nāgara style shikhara temple is painted on one of the pillars of the eastern verandah of the Sunehra Makān, also popularly known as Mariyam’s House.

Like the first temple scene, this one too was first catalogued by EW Smith in 1895 and the subsequently photographed by me a century later in 1995.

This panel depicts a temple complex with at least two pyramidal and a domed shikharas. What was the exact scene or it’s specific theme, it is not clear. But what is clear is that a temple was being drawn on the walls of a building which was under the direct use of Akbar!

Deities & gods

Apart from these two temple scenes, and the deity mentioned above, there are other representations of deities as well.

In the Mariyam’s House itself representations of deities abound. For example a niche (tāq) in the verandah contains traces of a pot bellied deity. Is it Lord Ganeśa? A person better equipped in the knowledge of Hindu iconography can actually identify this god or goddess!

Apart from these we have at least two sculptures of gods and goddesses adorning this structure, the Mariyam’s House.

The two outer pillars of the Northern verandas have their brackets adorned with sculptures of two deities. The bracket of the eastern pillar has a god/goddess figure carved on it.

He/She stands stands on a disc shaped pedastal.

The second sculpture is of a god holding a bow in his hands and a small monkey kneeling before him.

A prominent tail in an upright position is easily seen behind him. Is he the monkey god, Lord Hanuman? Or is he Rām, before whom Hanuman is kneeling?

One thing however is clear: Hindu gods and deities found easy place on the walls of structures in direct use of Emperor Akbar. Does all this reflect his policy of Sulh-i Kul?

Drawing of human figures and living being is discouraged by Islam, what to talk about drawing gods and goddesses. But here is Akbar who buildings contain not only animal figures (e.g., lions in hujra i Anūptalao), but also the figures discussed above.

It was only Akbar who could have allowed, or even asked for the drawing of scenes with Temples and deities in the palaces of his Imperial city!

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi