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Monday, October 6, 2014

Is Birbal's House really present in Fatehpur Sikri ?

Hi all,

I am opening this post after reading a brief discussion of two blog members.  The discussion was about Birbal who has been recently introduced in Zee TV's show Jodha Akbar. 

That discussion brought something very interesting in my mind. I thought of discussing it with all of you. The topic under consideration is The Palace of Raja Birbal in Fatehpur Sikri.  

The so-called Birbal's Palace. Click on images to see in full size.

Whenever we search Internet or Wikipedia, or any other website on the Internet, about Fatehpur Sikri, the city which was built by Akbar, we come across one normal sentence that -> A palace of Raja Birbal is still present in Fatehpur Sikri..!!

But, during my reading from the Imperial Records and the Archaeological Survey of India's Documents, i came across something TOTALLY DIFFERENT. I have given my views in purple color in between.

 As per the documents in the custody of The Archaeological Survey of India at The Archaeological Library, Delhi; A.N - 9546 / C.N. - 913.05 , Pg-123/124, the following facts appear, about the Palace of Raja Birbal (i am roughly using the same language) -

This house was originally enclosed within the environs of the Imperial Harem. It was also connected with the Palace Complex of Mariam-Uz-Zamani Begum (locally called JodhBai's palace). This is one of the most beautiful among all the adjacent buildings. Next to the Palace of Mariam-Uz-Zamani Begum, the size of this building is the largest.

Abu'l Fazl records that, Akbar ordered a palace to be built for Raja Birbal in Fatehpur Sikri, and it was completed in 1582, and Akbar went in the palace for registering his auspicious presence.

An inscription was discovered by Sir Edmund Smith in this palace, upon the capital of a plaster in the west facade of the building, which states that it was erected in Vikram Samvat 1629 (1572 A.D.), 10 years before this date, and three years after the commencement of the city. {Note that, the year of it's erection is mentioned according to Hindu Calender, NOT the Muslim Hijri Calender.}

Though Birbal was one of Akbar's most trusted friends, it is highly unlikely that his palace would be placed within the enclosure of  Akbar’s own zenana(to be precise, in the JodhBai's palace complex) and connected with it. This palace is so incomparably more magnificent than those he gave to his other two intimate friends, Abul Fazl and Faizi, by the side of the great mosque.

All the probabilities are that this was one of the Imperial palaces occupied by someone among Akbar's wives, which were the first buildings erected at Fatehpur Sikri.

The house is a two-storied building, splendidly ornamented with carving, both inside and out. From the construction, it would appear that Hindus were the architects; but the decoration, from which it is easy to discover the taste of the occupants, is nearly all Arabian or Persian in style, and conveys no suggestion that the palace was built for a Hindu Raja or his daughter. Though on a much smaller scale, it is of the same type as Akbar's splendid palace in the Agra Fort, and was appears to be intended for one of the highest rank in the Imperial Zenana.

The text also notes that > "In early 20th Century, this magnificent palace was used as a travelers' rest-house for high officials and "distinguished" visitors; which is not only very inconvenient for the undistinguished who may wish to see it, but involves alterations which should never be permitted in buildings of such unique artistic and archaeological interest."

A Window

Detailed Description:

1. The New Cambridge History Of India, Volume-I, Part-4, Architecture of Mughal India, 1992, by Catherine Asher, Ass. Prof., Dept. Of Art History, University of Minnesota; notes the following , on Page- 66 >

" The so-called House of Raja Birbal, is inscribed with a date corresponding to 1572. A phrase following this date, "royal mansion of initiation,"** suggests that its purpose was not residential, but ceremonial or even administrative

The carved ornamentation of this palace, like that of most of the others, is deeply rooted in the decor of both Hindu and Muslim Indian architecture. For example, the palace's frequent chandrashala motifs were long used in pre-Islamic Indian architecture, as well as on Sultanate buildings. The ornate brackets, too, while much earlier seen on Hindu buildings, long had been incorporated into the basic vocabulary of Sultanate architecture."

** ->   From the Source book of Text-1, Page-258

Inside the Palace

2. Following excerpt has been taken from these texts > 
a. A History of Fine Art in India and Ceylon, by Vincent Smith
b. Ancient Indian Architecture, by Havell
c. Indian and Eastern Architecture, by Fergusson,
d. The Moghul Architecture of Fatehpur Sikri, By Edmund Smith, Book in 4 parts

The building is a double-storeyed structure standing on a large concrete platform carried on pillars and arches of rough masonry built up from the ravine below. On the ground floor are four rooms, each about 16' square, and two entrance porches, and on the upper storey, reached by two staircases in the south- west and north-cast corners, are two square chambers placed corner-wise. Although square in plan, the upper rooms
are covered with domes. The ceilings of the lower rooms are most exquisitely carved, along the walls of both the lower and upper rooms.

On the exterior of the building the Hindu bracket and the Muhummadan arch are combined with pleasing effect. The varietv of designs enriching the walls and pilasters, both inside and outside the house, is marvellous, and shows that the artisans employed were thoroughly conversant with geometry and the principles of arabesque design.

There were long and high purdah walls on the north, south and west, sides of the house, but they have all been pulled down, and no longer exist now.

Inside the Palace


So, after reading this, what you all think.?.

1. The palace of Raja Birbal was completed in 1582 but this palace dates back to 1572..!!!!!
2. This palace was originally connected to the Mariam-Uz-Zamani Palace Complex, and was located in the Imperial Harem complex.
3. According to the inscription on the seal, found by Edmund Smith, this palace was NOT residential but for administrative work..!!!!!.
4. This was amongst the FIRST buildings in Fatehpur Sikri.

Hence, after reading the above post, and these 4 conclusions, what you think the palace could have been used for..??..

Intricate Pillared Carvings

My View: 
It is possible that the palace could have been used by The Emperor for administrative work. But, how can the Emperor perform his administrative work in a palace in the Imperial Harem, as Harem was a secured area and other males were not allowed inside..?..

This points to a fact that it could have been used by The Empress Mariam-Uz-Zamani, for her administrative work. MUZ was involved in various kinds of trades, and handled Haj Pilgrims as well. I am basing my view on the point that, this palace was originally present in the precincts of the Imperial Harem, used for ceremonial/administrative work, and biggest thing being that > It was EVEN connected to the Mariam-Uz-Zamani Palace Complex(locally called Jodh Bai Palace)..!!...

Looking forward to your views.

This post has been posted under the Mughals(Akbar) section of history_geek's BLOG.

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  1. Very interesting post Abhay . I would like your input for two questions . Is there anything know about Birbal's family ? Where was Mahesh Das originally from ?

    1. Charu,

      You are asking for a new post from Abhay. Just keep watching this space. :)

    2. Charu,

      I will post on Birbal soon.In that post, i will give the details. Plz wait. I will give the link of that post here.

  2. Wonderful post - clears a lot of misconceptions about Birbal occupying an impressive palace within the palace complex, close to Akbar's palace, as a symbol of their close ties.

    What you say - that the palace was used by MUZ for her administrative work - is quite possible.

    Do you think the palace could have been used by Akbar's mother, who was also an important member of the imperial family and had great responsibilities?

    Why I have this doubt is that in 1572, the MUZ may not have yet taken on so much work, as to require a palace to carry it out from. So may be initially, it might have been commonly used by the important ladies of the royal family to perform their functions. Later on, it may have been exclusively used by the MUZ, as her work increased.

    Yeah, if the palace was built in 1582, then it is a possibility that it was exclusively built for the MUZ to work from.

    1. Radhika,

      What you say is also possible but this palace was connected to the MUZ Palace stresses the point that it could not have been used by Hamida Begum. Because, why would her palace be connected with MUZ's.?.

      These palace connections are very interesting. Also, in 1572 i do not think , any other Rajput wife would have been given so much importance. It is possible that keeping in mind the future workload, this palace must have been constructed.

      What say.?.You have interesting points. :)

    2. What you are saying is perfectly valid. I was just wondering if the connection to the MUZ's palace was built later after MUZ started using the palace exclusively?

      Btw, Abhay. One thing about FS is that the MUZ's palace seems to be connected to this so-called Birbal's house as well as Akbar's palace. So she did not need to step into the open to go to either work or to visit her husband. Quite an interesting point. Wonder if this was done under specific orders of Akbar? :)

  3. The point is if this is not Birbal's house, where did he stay in FS? : ) Any info on this?

    1. Radhika,

      Many buildings in FS are no more recognizable. Hence, we do not know details of many of them. As and when, the new research happens, we get to know more details. Initially this palace was thought to be a residence of some important queen. But this palace was not for residential but for ceremonial/administrative work.

  4. Is there any possibility that the MUZ palace complex was built on / around a pre-existing site because we often hear of Mughal buildings being built upon / razing existing structures? : )

    1. Radhika,

      MUZ palace is amongst the oldest buildings in FS. I will tell you in case there is any possibility of it being built on a pre-existing/demolished site. Though, at present, i do not have any such info. :)

  5. Great historical post. Your conclusions are very interesting. It is indeed possible that Marium uz Zamani needed a special enclosure for conducting business. This was not a small operation, she was among the richest women of her times. In Dirk Collier's book it is written, that Akbar often had long discussions with her on her trading activities.

    1. Thanks for the details Donjas. This palace's mystery is quite interesting.

  6. Thanks for the info abhay... i had a doubt from the beginning how cud birbal's building so close to MUZ palace.. yeah this palace cud be used by MUZ for administrative work.this shows how madly akbar was in love with her...just hope we had a time main to pakka indono ki lovestory dekne chali jati...

    1. Welcome Gem. I agree, only if we had a time machine. The connection of this palace with MUZ's palace complex is something which evoked my curosity.

  7. The post is very well-timed, history-geek.The presence of such a magnificient bldg near Harem clearly implies that this was used by Begum/ begums.This may be fr some ladies functions.What makes the experts feel that this was not a residential bldg? can u piease clearify? Is it possible that Marium Makani cud be staying there?
    This post throws out many qustns
    1.If this is not Birbal's mansion ,then where is Birbal's mansion?
    2.are there any remains of blds belonging to other ministers also?
    3 .the combination of Hindu -Muslim art points out to the fact that it cud be fr MUZ n also may be by her instruction.
    4.History-geek, what was the position of Muz in 1572? Was she handling shipping dept by then?
    5. it is also possible that she was assisting Akbar in his day to day affairs, involving Hindus.
    6. It is also possible that the mansion might hv been used by all Begums who used to help Akbar in his political affairs.
    This only goes to prove what an influential queen MUZ was! :-h

    1. Geeta,

      I mentioned in my post that , according to > The New Cambridge History Of India, Volume-I, Part-4, Architecture of Mughal India, 1992, by Catherine Asher, Ass. Prof., Dept. Of Art History, University of Minnesota, on Page- 66 , says that >

      " The so-called House of Raja Birbal, is inscribed with a date corresponding to 1572. A phrase following this date, "royal mansion of initiation". This suggests that its purpose was not residential, but ceremonial or even administrative.

      ^^^ The inscription on the seal makes it clear that the palace was NOT for residential purpose..

      1. Many buildings are not recognizable in FS. Hence we do not know the details, and with time as more latest research and archaeological evidences are found, the history of FS becomes more clear.

      2. The house of Abu'l Fazl and his brother Faizi are present near the Grand Mosque in Sikri complex.

      3. Quite possible.

      4. The answer is not known yet, but by 1572 she was already having the position of giving the Imperial Farmans being the mother of heir, and hence she was holding an important position. This speaks a lot about her position.

      5. No, i don't think so. I have not got any recorded evidence of the same till now. Akbar was self-sufficient in handling normal matters. :)

      6. It is possible, but the thing is , by 1572 , no other Begum could have been so influential, because most of his Rajput wives were recently wedded to him by then, and most important thing being, this palace is connected to MUZ palace complex.

    2. Thank u Abhay, fr that detailed answer.:) It will be equally interesting to search why it came to be known as Birbal's house.:D May be some folklore/tale might hv sneaked thru. After all panchsow saal puraani baat hai :)

  8. Abhay I always thought why would Akbar make a palace for Birbal in the middle of the Harem complex... It is so not possible.

    Maybe you are right It could have been used by the Empress herself for administrative purpose... Waise another palace for MUZ by Akbar and that also for administrative purpose... Sounds so good...!!!

    By the way the whole Fathepur Sikri Complex is so beautiful.... I can't remember much about my trip as I was really young but the pictures which I have are really breathtaking....!!!! I wish I could visit that place again!! '

    1. Surochita,

      Quite possible, that the palace was for MUZ. We all are deliberating on the evidences, but surely this does not seems to belong to Birbal, as this is located right in the Harem.

      FS is really beautiful, i have seen it in pictures till now.

  9. Is this the turkish sultana palace we are talking about?? or is that a different palace??

    1. This is a different palace.

      The so-called Turkish Sultana Palace is another mis-conception. That is attributed to Ruqayya Begum, but that palace is located in Mardana Section(Men's Quarters), and that is also NOT for residential purpose.

  10. Hey Abhay
    Beautiful pics and an interesting topic of how Akbar trusted Birbal and a special place not only in his heart but also in his palace that too in the harem complex.

    My question is: Eventhough Akbar built FS in all earnestness, he, his family and courtiers did not occupy it for long. If they had, how long did they occupy that fort. I thot, because of a severe drought that arose, he did not rule from there and moved to Lahore instead.

    I remember reading that Salim spent most of his childhood years in Lahore isnt it ?

    1. Hi Viji,

      The post is to clear the misconception that this palace does not belong to Birbal, and based on same evidences i have given some conclusions. :)

      It is said that - Akbar left the place due to drought, but the more severe reason was NOT the drought, but the disturbance of Uzbeks on North-West Frontier, and he remained there till 1598 till the death of Abdullah Uzbek.

      By the way, most of Salim's childhood was not spent in Lahore. :)

  11. Hmmm ok, so how many years did Akbar serve from FS ? Did Salim spend so much time in FS ? Am aware Akbar stayed for quiet some years in Lahore to quell rebels from NW frontiers. Salim's fav palace was Lahore ; has romanced many women there ���� hehe

    1. Akbar stayed in Fatehpur Sikri till about 1585.

  12. Quite an interesting post Abhay :)....Even I was wondering why Birbal's house is located at one side, near MUZ palace where no other houses are erected (I mean in the zanana area).....The connection from MUZ palace to Birbal house further makes me think that it is in actuality not Birbal's house (why would Akbar order for a creation of a house for Birbal beside his favourite wife -- irrespective of how much ever close he is to Birbal)....

    As you said, maybe it was used for administrative purpose for MUZ or maybe Akbar himself :-?

    1. Thanks Pallavi...The very questions also haunt me.. :)
      Why would Akbar get Birbal's Palace connected with MUZ's..

  13. Hi Abhay,

    Can you please post why the Turkish sultana's house was not occupied by a Begum? What was it used for? I heard somewhere that there are frescoes of hindu gods inside that building...

    P.S. Have you been to the F.S., is is a beautiful as in the pictures?


  14. Sure I will post on it. I have taken a note of this post. As per accounts, that place was used for a religious conference in 1575.

    Right now, i am preparing some other posts, as soon as they are done i will post on this topic too. :)

    No, i have not been to FS, but it is a very beautiful place. From the pictures and readings, i can understand it from my readings.

  15. Thanks Abhay, I'm waiting eagerly for the post and why there may have been hindu frescoes (someone in IF had posted this)... I look forward to your other posts as well! Going to FS is definitely on my bucket list! :)