Hawa Mahal [“Palace of the Breezes”] (Jaipur)
- Preeti Chopra
Palace based on the designs of the architect Lal Chand Ustad and built in 1799. Located at the southeastern corner of the high boundary wall, the sarahad, of Jaipur’s City Palace, Hawa Mahal is the city’s most iconic building. Its celebrated massive, highly articulated, eastern facade is not simply a two-dimensional viewing platform to which numerous small enclosed overhanging balconies (jharokhas) with ornamented lattice screens (jalis) are affixed. It is also a substantial edifice constructed around two courtyards containing residential quarters with narrow corridors for women of the court (zenana). The east facade, a permeable veiling screen overlooking the prominent street of Sireh Deori Bazaar, allowed court women a vantage point for witnessing processions and everyday street activities while protecting them from the gaze of bystanders. From another direction, the facade provided magnificent views of other parts of the City Palace complex, including the Jantar Mantar. The Hawa Mahal, translated as “Palace of the Breezes,” was also a place for court women to enjoy the breeze as the honeycombed eastern facade filtered light and funneled cool air. It was constructed under the patronage of Sawai Pratap Singh (reg 1778–1803), the grandson of Sawai Jai Singh II (reg 1700–1743), who founded the Kachhwaha capital of Jaipur in 1727. The Hawa Mahal drew on the well-established architectural repertoire of its era, yet it transformed those conventions through the compression of bays and the multiplication of features to produce a structure that was unique in its time and remains matchless to this day.
The walled city of Jaipur was an unusual instance of a planned city in India. It was based on a grid-plan with wide streets and prominent crossroads (chaupar) that divided the city into wards (chowkri), with shop facades that lined the main bazaars. The walled compound of the palace was at the city’s center. Jaipur’s rapid assembly was made possible through the use of rubble, rather than dressed stone and render. This was painted over in a shade of pink to give the city a unified appearance, and gestured to the red sandstone of Mughal architecture. There is some uncertainty about whether the city and the Hawa Mahal were once painted cream or white. However, it is likely that the pink coloration on the city walls and main bazaars was part of the foundational unifying vision for the city.
The City Palace was a complex that housed administrative, religious, and residential functions and consisted of many distinct and notable structures in addition to the Hawa Mahal. The principal nucleus of the palace, consisting of buildings and courtyards, was built between the late 1720s and early 1730s by Sawai Jai Singh II. These structures included the seven-storied cream-colored Chandra Mahal (c. 1727–1734). From this building, Jai Singh would have been able to see the Govinda Deva temple, located in the Jai Niwas Garden. Jai Singh was the first Kachhwaha ruler to claim that the deity housed in this temple was the real ruler of the state, and he was merely the god’s minister. This made the Govinda Deva temple the most important in the city. A flat-roofed, rectangular, single-storied structure, this temple is reminiscent of a Mughal audience hall, rather than a Hindu temple, with its prominent shikhara or towering superstructure. Following this, most Hindu temples in Jaipur were similarly flat roofed and thus outwardly inconspicuous, similar to other buildings in their vicinity.
Jai Singh was also a distinguished astronomer and built astronomical observatories, known as Jantar Mantar. The most prominent of these is in the Jaipur palace, adjacent to Hawa Mahal, and was likely constructed between 1718 and 1734. Significant additions to the City Palace by his successors in the late 18th century include the tower called Isar Lat by Ishvari Singh (reg 1743–1750), commemorating his triumph in gaining the throne; as well as Hawa Mahal, Badal Mahal, and the Shiva temple, built by Pratap Singh. Sawai Madho Singh II (reg 1880–1922), a later successor, made many alterations and additions to the City Palace, the most notable of which was Mubarak Mahal from c. 1899 to 1900: this is the only City Palace building in the Indo-Saracenic style, designed by Chiman Lal’s office.
Tablets affixed to the five-story Hawa Mahal indicate that the building’s stories had their own names, such as “Vichitra” (strange) and “Prakash Mandir” (Light Temple/Sanctuary). Unlike Chandra Mahal, Hawa Mahal “was a visible presence of the maharaja’s residence on a public street” and “served as a constant reminder to his citizens of the maharaja’s splendour and luxury” (Sachdev and Tillotson 2008, 46). Hawa Mahal was deliberately kept lower than the Chandra Mahal and the odd number of stories was intentional.
The wide central vertical bay of the facade comprises a triple window at each level. This was a modification of a standard pavilion type that capped buildings, such as the Mukut Mahal at the summit of the Chandra Mahal. This consisted of “two square, domed chattris (small pavilions) flanking a rectangular chattri with a curved bangaladar roof” (Sachdev and Tillotson 2002, 71). The latter echoed the curved roof of the thatched hut in rural Bengal. These elements were condensed and merged in the Hawa Mahal to form the triple window. It was flanked on either side by a narrower threefold opening, articulated as three sides of an octagonal turret, that was topped with a round dome and had a dome above and behind it. Rather than a bracket, each protruding element was buoyed on a molded base.
Following Vibhuti Sachdev and Giles Tillotson, who labeled the wider bay as “A” and the narrower bay as “b,” the central section appears as “bAb.” For the first three almost matching stories of the building, “the rhythm of the motifs repetition across the entire facade can be expressed as the sequence: ‘bAbbAbAbAbbAb’” (Sachdev and Tillotson 2002, 71, 73). The final two stories formed the building’s crest. The fourth story repeated this rhythm but played with the height of elements. This set up the base for the arched outline of the fifth, which echoed the curve of the bangaladar roof, itself a central component of the bay A. The complex, repetitive, controled facade of Hawa Mahal was the public face of the City Palace, which masked and cooled the women of the zenana as they surveyed the city’s ceremonial and everyday life.
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