Master Page: Fatehpur Sikri
Palace of Birbol, Futtehpore Sikri, Agra
Rajah Birbal was a Brahman minstrel, who came to Akbar’s court in the beginning of his reign, and by his wit and abilities gained the Emperor’s favour. He was first created Hindu Poet Laureate; from that dignity he was raised to the rank of Rajah, and became one of Akbar’s most intimate friends and advisers. Birbal was one of those who subscribed to Akbar’s new religion, “The Divine Faith.” When he perished in an unfortunate expedition against some unruly Afghan tribes, Akbar’s grief was for a long time inconsolable.
The house which is named after him was originally enclosed within the precincts of the imperial zanana, and a covered way connected it with Jodh Bai’s palace. It is one of the most richly decorated of all the adjacent buildings, and next to Jodh Bai’s palace, the largest of the imperial residences. As in so many other instances, the vague local tradition which assigns this palace to Rajah Birbal seems to be at fault. Abul Fazl, that most careful and precise biographer, records that Akbar ordered a palace to be built for the Rajah, and that when it was finished in the twenty-seventh year of his reign (1582) the Emperor honoured it with his presence. An inscription discovered by Edmund Smith upon the capital of a pilaster in the west façade of the building, states that it was erected in Samvat 1629 (A.D. 1572), ten years before this date, and three years after the commencement of the city.
Though the Rajah was one of Akbar’s most trusted friends, his palace would hardly be placed within the enclosure of the Emperor’s own zanana and connected with it; nor is it likely that Akbar would provide Birbal with a residence 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 Akbar’s wives, which were the first buildings erected at Fatehpur. Fergusson’s assumption that Birbal’s daughter was one of Akbar’s wives would explain everything; but the fact that Abul Fazl makes no mention of such a daughter, is very good evidence that Akbar was not connected with Birbal by marriage.
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 rajah 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 evidently intended for one of the highest rank in the imperial zanana.
A Handbook to Agra and the Taj Sikandra, Fatehpur-Sikri and the Neighbourhood (1904)