Sonahra Makan
Fatehpur Sikri, India
The plateau running along the west side of the Anup Talao and the Pachisi Court was the area dedicated to the imperial harem (zenana). It was originally fully enclosed by a stone wall.

West of the Anup Talao court and placed in the center of its own courtyard is a red sandstone building known as the Sonahra Makan (Golden House), on account of its rich interior murals. It is also popularly named "Miriam's Kothi" (residence), after the legend that it housed one of Akbar's wives, a Portuguese Christian named Miriam. However, Akbar's chroniclers make no reference to Bibi Miriam, and it is more likely that this name is linked to Maryam uz-Zamani (d. 1623), the daughter of Rajah Bihari Mall and mother of Prince Salim, Akbar's first-born son. In terms of function, this structure, with its open and formal character, profuse ornamentation, and lack of bathroom facilities, was likely not used as a residence but rather as a drawing room (baithak) where Akbar would receive his court artists.

The Sonahra Makan stands on a platform (two treads up from the ground paving) and an additional plinth (another three treads up from the platform). The plinth and platform are decorated with a cornice carved in an inverted leaf pattern. Steps access the platform from the center of each side. On the north, east, and west, additional steps up the plinth lead into the portico and then into doorways entering into the central hall. The steps on the south side of the plinth lead directly into the central room/bay of the southern elevation.

Measuring 18.24 by 14.75 meters on the exterior, it is bilaterally symmetrical along its long (north-south) axis. Divided into 5 bays along the north-south axis, the building has two main parts. The southern elevation houses two stories, each with three small rooms, 2.90 meters in height. These rooms are divided on the southern elevation into five exterior bays by pilasters. On the ground floor, lintel-topped doorways open into the outer two southern and into the central bay. The two blind bays each feature a small niche set into their centers.

The interior partitioning walls are approximately 1.2 meters thick. The remaining 9 bays contain a central oblong hall with a niche at its northern end. The hall is 5.18 meters in height and surrounded on its east, north, and west by a high colonnaded portico that fills the outer 7 bays. From the outside, the entire building appears to be single-storied; however, while the central hall and porticos are single-height, the southern rooms occupy two stories.

A continuous stone chhajja (restored ca. 1952) runs along each elevation, supported on carved brackets. The carvings depict Hindu deities, symbols, and motifs such as rows of elephants, swans, and kirttimukhas (monsters, lit., "faces of glory"). Above the chhajja is a parapet divided by a horizontal stone detail, a continuous line. The zone below the line is plain, with only two small openings for rainwater discharge on each side; the upper zone is carved into a continuous pattern of outlines of pointed arches.

The building has a flat roof, with a rectangular chhatri over its northern section. This chhattri is composed of eight columns with bracket capitals, carrying lintels that support a projecting horizontal eave. A projecting stone "seat" runs along the lower part of the chhatri's exterior elevations, excepting its entrance. The chhatri has a modified hip roof supported on a tall rectangular base. Along this base is a carved frieze; the ridge is also carved in a leaf pattern and decorated with two molded finials.

Both the interior and exterior walls of the building were entirely painted, mostly in a figurative style, directly on the surface of the stone. These paintings resembled Akbarian miniatures, and depicted elephant fights, hunts, battle scenes, tournaments, and architectural subjects. Within the color scheme, deep blue, red, and gold predominated. Indian flora and fauna, as well as typical clothing, was worked into the design.

Sources:

Brand, Michael and Glenn D. Lowry, editors. Fatehpur-Sikri: A Sourcebook, 185-186. Cambridge, MA: Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1985.

Kulbhushan, Jain. Fatehpur Sikri: Where Spaces Touch Perfection, 60-62. Weimar: VDG, 2003.

Nath, R. Fatehpur Sikri and its Monuments, 60-61. Agra: The Historical Research Documentation Programme, 2000.

Rizvi, Saiyid Athar Abbas. Fathpur-Sikri, 53-56. Bombay: D. B. Taraporevala Sons, 1975.

Smith, Edmund W. The Moghul Architecture of Fathpur-Sikri, 31-38. Delhi: Caxton, 1985.
Location
Fatehpur Sikri, Fatehpur Sikri, India
Images & Videos
Documents
Associated Names
Part of Site
Events
1572-1575/980-983 AH
Style Periods
1526-1858
Variant Names
Sonahra Makan
Sunahra Makan
Variant
Maryam House
Variant
Gilded House
Variant
Miriam's House
Variant
Building Usages
palace
palatial
private residence
residential