Embodied Vision (Interpreting The Architecture of Fatehpur Sikri)

FREE Delivery
Delivery Ships in 1-3 days
Item Code: NAJ990
Author: Jaimini Mehta
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Language: English
Edition: 2014
ISBN: 9789383098484
Pages: 160 (Throughout Color Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 10.5 inch x 9.0 inch
Weight 900 gm
Fully insured
Fully insured
Shipped to 153 countries
Shipped to 153 countries
More than 1M+ customers worldwide
More than 1M+ customers worldwide
100% Made in India
100% Made in India
23 years in business
23 years in business
Book Description

About the Book


Departing from the conventional path of describing and explaining the architecture of Fatehpur Sikri, Embodied Vision delves into a series of representations the Mughal city has been subjected to and concludes that there is an inexorable tension at its core embodied in the constantly shifting axes, complex rhythms, raising or lowering of the ground planes, juxtapositions of mythical symbols and the conflicting pulls of traditions and human will. The space of Fatehpur Sikri is revealed to us more through perception than through geometry.


Professor Mehta's unconventional interpretation of the architecture of Fatehpur Sikri emanates from his exploration of the history of architectural representation and leads him to conclude that the tools of designing, representation and analysis, i.e. various kinds of drawings, which we normally use today, did not exist in sixteenth- century India when Fatehpur Sikri was built. These drawings, which assume our "mind's eye" hovering above the city and taking in the whole of reality at once have failed to represent the existential lived experience of inhabitation of architecture. An interpretation of architecture, based on the embodied vision of the retina, together with all the other perceptual faculties of the entire body of the observer, moving through the space on two feet, opens up qualities inherent to the essence of architecture as a thoughtful system of ordering mass and space through a visual continuum; aided by the temporal, experiential engagement of the owner of that vision the spectator, us, each one of us. This generates a narrative, or, more precisely, a thousand narratives, where each one validates architecture.


About the Author


Jaimini Mehta, is a practising architect and an independent academic based in Baroda, India. He studied architecture at M.S. University of Baroda and at University of Pennsylvania in the Louis Kahn Studio, and went on to work in the offices of Louis Kahn and Mitchell/ Giurgolo Associated in Philadelphia.


At present he is a Hon. Director of the Baroda-based Centre for the Study of Urbanism and Architecture, which he instituted in 2006. He was and Adjunct Professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at Troy, NY and at CEPT University in Ahmedabad, India. He has also worked as Head of the Schools of Architecture at Baroda and Goa.


His previous books are Louis l. Kahn, Architect, co-authored with Romaldo Giurgola and published in 1975, and Rethinking Modernity: Towards post Rational Architecture (Niyogi Books, 2011).




My interest in Fatehpur Sikri goes back to the days in 1965 when I was studying urban design at the University of Pennsylvania under Professor Edmund Bacon. At that time, Professor Bacon was in the middle of writing his seminal book Design of Cities and assigned each of his students the task of studying two historical cities - one that we knew something about and were familiar with and the other we knew nothing about and may approach with a fresh mind. Many of these cities found a place in his book but mine did not. I had chosen to study the Persian city of Isfahan, which I did not know much about but ended up developing a lifelong love affair with; and Fatehpur Sikri, which I thought I knew something about but found myself increasingly puzzled with as I dug deeper. Neither of these two cities confirmed with the then prevalent Eurocentric ideas about city planning and hence could not be analysed, explained or represented with the tools and ideas available in those early days. At that time, "Urban Design" itself was a young discipline, founded mainly on the experiences of European reconstruction after the devastations suffered during the two wars. Ed Bacon's central theme of spatial thrust - "the shaft of space" – as a predominant compositional tool, which he used to analyse most of his European examples, somehow could not be applied to either of my non-Western cities, which seemed to answer to a different sense of order not yet understood. Both my assignments remained inconclusive and even though Professor Bacon awarded fairly high grades to them for the questions they raised, they could not provide any supportive evidence for his rather ambitious thesis. However, this experience did whet my appetite to investigate further. I simply refused to believe that both Isfahan and Fatehpur Sikri suffered from an absence of systematic planning skills.


Some time later, while working as an architect in Philadelphia, I came across and befriended Kenneth Warrior - a keen mind who shared my views on Fatehpur Sikri and often joined me in exploring alternative ways to look at ancient cities. This collaboration continued when we both taught at the Rensselaer Institute's School of Architecture at Troy, NY. Ken was an associate professor there and had invited me as a visiting faculty to spend two days every week from New York, where I was working. Ken was getting increasingly interested in the question of representation and we realised that the tools of representation may be the key to interpreting and understanding Fatehpur Sikri. Over the years these interactions continued in a more sporadic manner than a systematic project. In the meanwhile, I had moved back to India to pursue my practice as an architect and to teach. In 1992, Ken arrived in India with a group of students from Rensselaer and we visited Fatehpur Sikri to test out a number of approaches I had developed in the intervening years. Ken too had just published an excellent paper on interpretation' and had argued that the dominant feature of Western metaphysics, "A universal- unified ideal, a single essential core of truth, for some centuries has been taken as a signal for the superiority of Western culture and the marginality of the other:' He had held that the non-Western societies have developed different ways of seeing and making the environment, which are equally valid and offer the critical foil to unravel the taken-for-granted assumptions of the dominant Western view of the world. He too was keen on testing his ideas. Much of what is contained in this book was crystallised during the hours we spent within the city. Soon enough we both were pulled away in different directions by other responsibilities and further attention to Fatehpur Sikri had to wait. I did refer to Fatehpur Sikri in my last book, Rethinking Modernity, as an illustration of the alternative conception of space in the Indian subcontinent, which I was exploring then. But it was evident that a much larger and focussed work is needed on the city. Ken's sudden passing away last year brought a sense of urgency into the matter.


Thus, this book has three strands interwoven and interdependent. There are a number of popular myths attached to the history of this city. Contrary to popular belief the city was not built in one single act but in several phases and that too involved changes in the uses of buildings built during the earlier phases.' There had been a settlement at Sikri dating back to the early fifteenth century, though its association with the Moguls seems to have begun with Babur, the founder of the dynasty. Similarly, it was not abandoned abruptly only a few years later but continued as a trading town much after Akbar left it in 1585. His grandson, Emperor Shah Jahan, is reported to have visited the city and also to have built a palace near the lake sometime around 1650.


The presence of Saint Salim Chisti in the hills and the birth of Akbar's first son in 1568-69 after the saint prophesied it may have something to do with the choice of the location. However, the reason for shifting the capital here, only 35 kilometres away from Agra, in the first place and then leaving after inhabiting it for only thirty years needs to be understood. My guess is that Fatehpur Sikri was not conceived of as a capital of the Mogul Empire, as it was eventually consolidated, but in the sense of "capital- is- where- the- ruler-is". Akbar had not yet consolidated his rule and built the large empire when he shifted his base here in 1570 to embark on decisive campaigns for Rajasthan, Gujarat and further south. He was still a ruler and not the emperor. Thus Sikri was a base camp from where military campaigns could be launched in various directions. The location had a military logic and the presence of the saint, whose blessings were important for every action, may have added to this. Still, it seems less plausible to explain the plan of the new city in terms of the three-layered encampment, as Attilio Petruccioli suqqests.' Such camps were temporary tent settlements, erected wherever the king decided to camp. However, the presence of institutions such as the Ibadatkhana, a place for religious discourse, the Caravanserai, the Ekastambha (wrongly named as Diwan-i-Khas) and the Anuptalao pool suggest that far from a temporary camp or a political capital projecting the might of the ruler, this was a peaceful retreat during the time of consolidation. It ceased to serve this purpose once the emperor's attention shifted to other battles in Punjab and Kashmir, for which Lahore was chosen as the more appropriate campi capital until he finally returned to the permanent capital at Agra. Besides, the death of Saint Salim Chisti may have removed the last attraction for this location. The description of the city in the first part of the book and the subsequent analysis should be seen in this context. A quiet, relaxed and contemplative retreat explains Fatehpur Sikri's spatial and formal qualities.


At the same time, it must be noted that until Fatehpur Sikri, the Moguls had not built any large-scale urban complexes. Until then, Babur, Humayun, as well as Akbar had spent most of their lives in the battlefield, building and consolidating the empire.


The ancestors of the Moguls, the Timurids, were nomadic people and carried their settlements with them. Layouts of camps and tents must have constituted powerful collective memory and architectural and urban imagery. This is borne out by the fact that names of the various buildings at Fatehpur Sikri - such as the Khwabgah, the Shabistan-i-Iqbal and the Diwan-i-Aam - resemble those assigned to tents used for similar functions at the camps. And while, as Professor Nadeem Rezavi has shown, the overall plan of the city indicates that considerable attention has been paid to functional zoning and road layouts', the spatial quality and urban design of the citadel itself need more careful investigation. The major difference between the nomadic or battle encampment and the citadel at Sikri is the relationship of architecture with

the ground plane. On one hand, the encampments were almost always on flat, level fields and conceived of in abstract terms of organisation such as centralised, axial, hierarchical, etc. The citadel at Fatehpur Sikri, on the other hand, creates the ground plane with its many subtle and not-so-subtle variations in Levels - a significant element in its architectural experience as we shall see Later in this book. Fatehpur Sikri was not only the first such endeavour undertaken by Akbar but was also his Laboratory wherein he realised many of his radical visions. The architectonic details, dimensional and proportional consistency and sophistication came from the culturally-rooted continuity of such practices, internalised by the Indian architects and craftsmen of the time.


Representation is the key to understanding Fatehpur Sikri. This constitutes the second strand the book explores. For the purpose of this book I have considered representation, interpretation and reference as meaning the same and essentially interchangeable. As a work of architecture, besides being an inhabited space, Fatehpur Sikri is a cultural construct and represents the intellectual and material culture of the time, and also its values. At the same time, over the years it itself has been interpreted (represented), both textually and graphically, by various people and this constitutes the received wisdom, the knowledge base we have about the city. When more questions stem from what has been written about it or the way it is depicted in drawings and photographs, one realises that the objectivity of the interpreters may not be taken as granted as that too involves critical choice-making. As Gaston Bachelard has so eloquently noted, "We have only to speak of an object to think that we are being objective. But, because we chose it in the first place, the object reveals more about us than we do about it."


Thus, it becomes necessary to arrive at some clarity on the very act of representation. In chapter four, "From Sensible to Intelligible", I have attempted to do the same. In a way, this book extends a Line of argument I had briefly touched upon in my Last publication', which implied that architecture deals with two kinds of visual faculties: one, the embodied vision through the retinal organ of the eye integral to our face and two, the cerebral vision, popularly referred to as the "mind's eye". One gives us perception while the other endows us with imagination. All great architecture of the past is a result of successful resolution of this dichotomy. However, in this book I have argued that since the sixteenth century, cerebral vision has acquired such a position of primacy as to determine the way we represent and interpret architecture, at the cost of its experiential and perceptual qualities. Once we come to terms with the fact that representation/ interpretation itself is contextual and may not be taken at face value, and that one must search for the structure of interest beneath the ideas, one looks not at the content of the interpretations but their functions. Fatehpur Sikri was conceived and built before this ascendancy of the cerebral vision but has been represented and interpreted through tools and ideas developed during the last 200 years. In chapter five I have surveyed a number of past attempts to interpret Fatehpur Sikri from such a perspective.


All the buildings in Fatehpur Sikri fall under one of two categories: those whose built form and spatial arrangements match their stated purpose and are relatively easy to understand, and those whose architecture or location defy purposive logic. This is so because over the years many structures within the citadel have been subjected to uninformed misrepresentation at the hands of ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) bureaucracy or the tourism industry. These need to be cleared and I shall rely on the excellent research and thorough reading of historical records by Professor Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi in this regard. Khwabgah (the place of dreams) as the royal residence of the emperor, the queens' palace and the Haramsara (the so called Jodha Bai's palace) are clear enough. So is the Diwan-i-Aam (the audience hall); their architecture more or less suggests their intended use. Problematic are the so-called Raja Birbal's palace, the Turkish Sultana's palace, Miriam's house and the girls' school. Birbal was a close minister and an advisor to Akbar. Yet, irrespective of how close one may be to the ruler, placing a male bachelor in the middle of the zenana, with hundreds of ladies, defies moral logic and norms of the time.








The City of Victory



Feet on the Ground and Eyes on the Face



Flesh and The City



From Sensible to Intelligible



Four Representations of Fatehpur Sikri



The Embodied Vision



Time and Space of Fatehpur Sikri









Extended Bibliography



Illustration Credits






Sample Pages

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Q. What locations do you deliver to ?
    A. Exotic India delivers orders to all countries having diplomatic relations with India.
  • Q. Do you offer free shipping ?
    A. Exotic India offers free shipping on all orders of value of $30 USD or more.
  • Q. Can I return the book?
    A. All returns must be postmarked within seven (7) days of the delivery date. All returned items must be in new and unused condition, with all original tags and labels attached. To know more please view our return policy
  • Q. Do you offer express shipping ?
    A. Yes, we do have a chargeable express shipping facility available. You can select express shipping while checking out on the website.
  • Q. I accidentally entered wrong delivery address, can I change the address ?
    A. Delivery addresses can only be changed only incase the order has not been shipped yet. Incase of an address change, you can reach us at help@exoticindia.com
  • Q. How do I track my order ?
    A. You can track your orders simply entering your order number through here or through your past orders if you are signed in on the website.
  • Q. How can I cancel an order ?
    A. An order can only be cancelled if it has not been shipped. To cancel an order, kindly reach out to us through help@exoticindia.com.
Add a review
Have A Question

For privacy concerns, please view our Privacy Policy

Book Categories