A doorway in the northwest corner of the Diwan-i-Am leads to the centre of the mardana (men’s quarters), a large, irregularly shaped enclosure dotted with a strikingly eclectic range of buildings. At the far (northern) end of the enclosure stands the tall Diwan-i-Khas (“Hall of Private Audience”), topped with four chhatris and embellished with the heavily carved Hindu-style brackets, large overhanging eaves and corbelled arches which are typical of the architecture of Fatehpur Sikri.

The interior of the building consists of a single high hall (despite the impression, from the outside that this is a two-storey building) centred on an elaborately corbelled column known as the Throne Pillar, supporting a large circular platform from which four balustraded bridges radiate outwards. Seated upon this throne, the emperor held discussions with representatives of diverse religions, aiming to synthesize India’s religions into one. The pillar symbolizes this project by incorporating motifs drawn from Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity.

Next to the Diwan-i-Khas lies the three-roomed Treasury, its brackets embellished by mythical sea creatures, guardians of the treasures of the deep; it’s also known as Ankh Michauli, meaning hide and seek, which it’s said was played here. In fact, both names are probably just fanciful inventions, and the building most likely served as a multipurpose pavilion which could be used for a variety of functions, as could most buildings in Mughal palaces. Attached to it is the so-called Astrologer’s Seat, a small pavilion embellished with elaborate Jain carvings.

In the middle of the courtyard, separating the Diwan-i-Khas from the buildings on the opposite (south) side of the complex is the Pachisi Court, a giant board used to play pachisi (similar to ludo). Akbar is said to have been a fanatical player, using slave girls dressed in colourful costumes as live pieces. Abu’l Fazl, the court chronicler, related that at “times more than two hundred persons participated, and no one was allowed to go home until he had played sixteen rounds. This could take up to three months. If one of the players lost his patience and became restless, he was made to drink a cupful of wine. Seen superficially, this appears to be just a game. But His Majesty pursues higher objectives. He weighs up the talents of his people and teaches them to be affable.”

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