Fatepur Sikri, built by the Emperor Akbar, was the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1571 to 1585.
I’ve probably been to Fatepur Sikri (about 35km from the Taj Mahal) more times than my relatives in India combined. Each time I notice something different. When I was a little girl, I noticed my mom and aunts preferred talking to running. As an adult, I realized I took my frequent visits for granted. As an architect with my architect husband, I paid attention to the layout and function. As a mother, I wondered what my children were seeing and I saw the beauty for the first time.
The complex of red sandstone buildings was for civic use with public spaces and private audience halls. Akbar invited leaders of different religions to discuss how people could live together in peace.
Akbar holds a religious assembly of different faiths in the Ibadat Khana in Fatehpur Sikri/Public Domain
The ideal of religious harmony is incorporated throughout the architecture. Visual patterns symbolic of Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism were carved into stone.
These patterns permanently hold the ideal more easily than people do. I hear news of Hindu nationalism on the rise in India. I watched footage of a Christian prayer by insurgents on the Senate floor (which no one talks about). But here, religions are beautifully, peacefully intertwined beckoning us to do the same.
My mother is Jain, my father is Hindu, my husband is Christian. The inspiration for the Fatehpur design started with religious harmony. As I worked through the drawings, I loved how the floral and geometric patterns moved and grew into one another.
I particularly enjoy hearing what different people see in this design.
When I wear them, I think of sea skates and fish skeletons. Some people are reminded of birds in flight. Others, a Calder mobile. A tree. A woman dancing.
What do you see?