Rajasthan Part 4; Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar and Baoli

We walked in the cool, gentle breeze towards the “Hawa Mahal” – the palace of winds. In my childhood,  I had read about the Hawa Mahal and many other monuments. I used to wonder if I would ever see these places. Now that I was minutes away from Jaipur’s iconic Hawa Mahal, I was greatly excited.  Hawa Mahal stands near the Badi Choupad roundabout, as a reminiscence of the bygone era of Rajput Kings.

Hawa Mahal - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
By Jean-Pierre Dalbéra (Le Hawa Mahal (Jaipur)) [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr


Hawa Mahal was built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh. The chief architect of Hawa Mahal was Ustad Lal Chand. We stood across the road and had a good look at the magnificent Hawa Mahal. Even 200 years after its construction, Hawa Mahal is still vibrant. Maharaja Pratap Singh was the grandson of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, the founder of the Jaipur city. It will not be an exaggeration if I say that Maharaja Pratap Singh has paid tribute to his Grand Father by building a befitting jewel to adorn the Jaipur city.  At the first glance Hawa Mahal looks like an elaborate palace. However, the main part of Hawa Mahal is the 50 feet façade standing against the busy street. There is no magnificent palace behind this façade. The interior of Hawa Mahal is pretty simple and not decorated as the outer part. There are just a few courtyards, ramps and balconies behind this magnificent façade. It reminded me of a film set.  

Hawa Mahal - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
By Manudavb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
One might rightfully doubt why Maharaja Pratap Singh built such an elaborate screen. Is it just for the pleasure of eyes? Or just as a show piece? The answer to this puzzle lies in the hundreds of small window panes all over the Hawa Mahal. These miniature windows are known as “Jarokhas” and it is  said that there are 953  highly ornate Jarokhas all over the Hawa Mahal. Each of these miniature windows is further decorated with complex handcrafted lattices. This lattice is known as "Jali".  Hawa Mahal’s Jarokhas along with the Jalis had acted as a portal for  the royal women to experience the external world.

Hawa Mahal - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
By Maharajsaran (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In the days of strict “Purdah” tradition, a royal woman was banned from showing her face to any man other than her husband. The Jarokhas on the Hawa Mahal is built in such a way that one can view the street in front from inside, without being seen by the people outside. This enabled the womenfolk to spectate the royal processions and daily life on Jaipur’s main boulevard. Women indeed led a restrained life those days, and creations like Hawa Mahal are some of the rare but smart ideas to restore some of the justice that was denied to them.

Small windows - Hawa Mahal - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
By Hans A. Rosbach (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
These Jarokhas and Jalis give a distinctive honey comb look to the Hawa Mahal. Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh was a ardent devotee of Lord Govindh-ji( Shree Krishna).  It is said that he instructed the main architect to build Hawa Mahal in the form of Shree Krishna’s crown. Hawa Mahal looks like a crown which is tall in the center and gradually reducing its height on either side. Somebody who views Hawa Mahal for the first time would certainly experience the urge to have the perspective of the street from inside the Hawa Mahal. We were no different; hence we started walking in search of the entrance of Hawa Mahal.  

 There is no entry gate in the front side of Hawa Mahal. I have heard the stories of some tour guides misinforming the travelers that entry inside the Hawa Mahal is not allowed. It is quite difficult for a traveler to find the gate located at the rear end of Hawa Mahal. We relied on Google map to wade through the chaos of decorated-camels, lazy-horses and  men sleeping on the walkways. I felt the Google maps is a very straight forward guy as he would never show a shortcut, but make us walk the straight way. Anyways after walking for ten minutes and doubting at least five times that if we had lost the way, Google maps took us correctly to the entry gate of Hawa Mahal. 

Entrance - Hawa Mahal - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
Entrance of Hawa Mahal By ArishG (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
With a sigh of relief, we took the tickets and entered Hawa Mahal! Audio guide is also available, but we chose not to take it as we were running on a tight schedule to catch the train in the evening.  Interiors of Hawa Mahal are pretty humble compared to the front façade. Hawa Mahal has five floors. The place we entered first is known as the “Sharad Mandir”. It is a simple courtyard with a fountain in its center. Rajasthan experiences scorching heat during the summers, it might be the reason for most of the Rajasthan architecture to include some kind of water bodies in their design.  This courtyard was the venue of the Holi - an Indian festival of colors - celebrations during the full moon day of the Phalguna Month (Phalguna Purnima). We encountered an ancient well on one side of Sharad Mandir. It is so deep that I felt dizzy looking into it. There was no information about when this well was dug. However, it was clear that this well is older than the Hawa Mahal itself. 

Palace of Wind - Hawa Mahal - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
Five floors of Hawa Mahal - A view from Sharad Mandir

One interesting thing about Hawa Mahal and the palaces of Rajasthan in common, is that there are no stairs leading to the upper stories of the palace. Instead there are ramps. While walking on the ramp towards the first floor of Hawa Mahal, I was wondering what could be the reason. I remembered a trivia shared by our tour guide Anil at the Amber fort. In the days of great prosperity, the royal women folk used to wear heavy ornaments, Ghaghra Cholis and Odhnies which is adorned with precious stones and golden embroidery. (Ghaghra-Choli-Odhni is an outfit consists of a flared skirt, a top and a long scarf). It was a beautiful burden weighing some times over ten kilograms. This restricted the free movement of the royal women and they had to be driven around in a handcart operated by the servants. The ramps might be constructed to facilitate the movement of those handcarts. I suddenly felt grateful for my T-Shirt, Jeans and the freedom to move freely according to my will.

Palace of Wind - Hawa Mahal - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
Hawa Mahal Museum Entrance

The first floor of Hawa Mahal is known as “Ratan Mandir”. It consists of a central courtyard with narrow corridors on the sides. These corridors are adorned with thin, fluted white marble pillars. However, the feature that makes Ratan Mandir distinctive is its colorful stained window panes. When sun kisses these window panes, rainbows bloom inside the Ratan Mandir.  There are also Jarokhas to which opens to the view outside the street.

Colored glass  - Hawa Mahal - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
Image courtesy: paintedstork.com

Colored glass  - Hawa Mahal - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
Jarokhas of Ratan Mandir
The second floor of Hawa Mahal is known as “Vichitra Mandir” .This floor is closely related to the founder of Hawa Mahal, Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh. He was quite different from the aggressive Rajput kings. He was a tender person and a talented poet and aesthete. He used the pen name “Brij Nidhi” to write poems in praise of Govind-Ji (Lord Shree Krishna). He ascended the throne in 1778, at the age of 13. Whenever he could not cope with the tremendous pressure of Kingship, he used to find solace at “Vichitra Mandir” singing and dancing in the praise of Lord Krishna. It is quite intriguing how this floor got the name “Vichitra Mandir”, as it translates to 'weird house'. I wish someone could explain.

Palace of Winds  - Hawa Mahal - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
Second Courtyard of Hawa Mahal
We entered “Prakash Mandir” - the third floor of Hawa Mahal. It is an open area with lots of sunlight, justifying the name Prakash Mandir.

Palace of Winds  - Hawa Mahal - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
Prakash Mandir - View from Top

 We could find a narrow set of steps leading to the top of the Hawa Mahal, which is known as “Hawa Mandir”. The rain was drizzling and cool wind was blowing, reminding us that we are in Hawa Mahal!  Hawa Mandir is a pretty confined space which can accommodate only ten or fifteen people.


Palace of Winds  - Hawa Mahal - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
Hawa Mandir By Hans A. Rosbach (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 That also meant, if it is a crowded day, everyone gets only a few minutes at the top. We admired the splendid view of busy Jaipur streets, the City Palace and Jantar Mantar. Hawa Mandir is canopied with highly ornate dome with golden craft work which is visible from outside the Hawa Mahal.

Palace of Winds  - Hawa Mahal - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
Busy Jaipur Streets - Viewed from Top of Hawa Mahal

View of Jaipur from Hawa Mahal - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
Jantat Mantar - Viewed from Top of Hawa Mahal
It was fast getting crowded in the Hawa Mandir and we squeezed ourselves through the narrow ladder leading down. There was quite confusion and chaos as people were trying to climb up and down at the same time. However, as Indians we have some sixth sense to wade through the chaos, and we climbed down the steps without much damage. We spent some time to admire the craft work on the domes, pillars and doors of Hawa Mahal, which is fusion of the Mughal-Rajput art.

Decorated Dom - A fusion of Mughal-Rajput art.

Our next destination was Jantar Mantar – an ancient astronomical observatory within the premises of the Jaipur city palace. It is an important monument that shouldn’t be missed on a Jaipur trip. I had read about the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, but I did not know that five such Jantar Mantars  exist across the West-Central India – in  New Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi, Madura and Ujjain.  Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II was the founder of all five observatories. Jantar Mantar in Jaipur was between 1727 and 1734 and it is the most elaborate one among the five. Reaching the ticket counter, my heart was jumping with joy as I was about visit another UNESCO world heritage site in India. Considering the fact that Jantar Mantar is an excellent example of masonry of astronomical instruments which also incorporate several architectural and instrumental innovations, UNESCO had listed Jantar Mantar as a world heritage site.

Jantar Mantar - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
Jantar Mantar - a distant view. In Background Jaipur city palace.
There was a flock of tourist guides near the ticket counter. They charge INR 200 for a full tour of the Jantar Mantar. We got a lively old man as our guide. He asked if we would like to have the description in English or Hindi. As we said English, he seemed to be pleased and started his commentary in impeccable English. As Jantar Mantar houses many instruments for making astronomical measurements, it is not worth visiting the place without the help of a guide. Our guide seemed to be well versed with the science and history related to Jantar Mantar. There are eighteen main instruments including the largest sun dial in India – known as the "Samrat Yantra". We followed our guide towards  “Samrat Yantra” with the enthusiasm of a child viewing the sky, first time through a telescope.

Jantar Mantar - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
The Mighty Samrat Yantra
Samrat Yantra which is 73 feet tall stands as a majestic example of India’s advancements in the field of astronomy. Using the shadow on the measurement scale of the Samrat Yantra, local time of Jaipur can be calculated. We could see an observation deck at the top of the Samrat Yantra and the stairs leading to it. It is said that King Jai Singh II used to sit there and star gaze during the crisp and cloudless summer nights. Climbing up to the observation deck is not allowed now. We could only image what a spending view it would offer! The sky was clearing and our guide offered to perform a demonstration of how the time is calculated using the Samrat Yantra. He lead us to a smaller replica known as the “Laghu Samrat Yantra (Laghu means simple). We were quite fascinated when he calculated the time with the error of only one or two minutes  and encouraged us to try out. For a generation, who is used to check time on the digital display of the mobile phone, such elaborate and rustic way of calculation would be quite intriguing.


Jantar Mantar - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
Laghu Samrat Yantra

The instruments in Jantar Mantar were used by the astronomy students as learning aids. The practical sessions and examinations related to the astronomy classes were conducted in this elaborate facility. It shows the practical orientation of ancient Indian education system. It is sad, how British have ruined such a scientific system into a text-book oriented memorizing scheme to create just office Clarks. We were so overwhelmed with the instruments and kept asking or rather irritating our guide with silly questions. However the old man took no offence, on the other hand he was quite proud to explain to the “younger generation”, the history and glory of our ancestors. 

We next visited the “Jai Prakash Yantra - Mirror of heavenly bodies”. This is one of the most elaborate instruments built by Maharaja Jai Singh II, based on the astronomical concepts dating back to 300 BC. The Babylonian scientist and astronomer Berosos is the first one to build such a hemispherical sun dial. Jai Prakash is an advanced version of its predecessors. Maharaja’s ingenuity is evident in designing the Jai Prakash Yantra as two separate hemispheres and it is highly ergonomic. There are stairs provided for the observer to climb down into the instrument and move around freely to make accurate measurements.

Jantar Mantar - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
"Jai Prakash" - Mirror of heavenly bodies

Our guide shared an interesting trivia about Maharaja Jai Singh’s scientific methods. Every instrument in Jantar Mantar is preceded by an experimental piece. The experimental pieces are usually less complex and sophisticated compared to the actual instruments. Once Jai Singh is satisfied with the accuracy of the trial equipment, he would go ahead and build the more elaborate fair copy. The “Kapali Yantra” below is the predecessor of the “Jai Prakash Yantra”.

Jantar Mantar - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
Kapali Yantra

It is indeed a mystery how Maharaja Jai Singh managed to find time for his astronomical experiments amidst of the highly stressful job of managing a country and keeping the enemies at bay.  I thought, “Passion will find a way”, which is the exact reason why I was standing around 1500 kilometers away from my home admiring the glory of my ancestors. I could easily relate. 

Next we moved to the “Rasivalaya Yantra”. It is a set of twelve large instruments which represent one of the 12 zodiac signs. A particular Rasivalaya instrument becomes operative when the zodiac that it represents approaches the meridian. It is only present in the Jaipur Jantar Mantar.

Jantar Mantar - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
Rasivalaya Yantra
We also visited an instrument called Krantivratta. It  is a small instrument that us used for measuring the celestial latitude and celestial longitude of the objects in the sky. It can also be used to measure the solar sign of the sun during the day time. It consists of a central stone circle which is at a fixed angle parallel to the equator of the earth it is called the Nadivratta. There are two brass circles mounted on top of the Nadivratta which can be rotated to make the measurements.

Jantar Mantar - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
Krantivratta

 I found it difficult to quickly grasp the science behind the instruments. I was a lousy geography student! There are also other instruments in the Jantar Mantar like the Laghu-samrat Yantra, Unnathamsa Yantra, Digamsa Yantra which are used for making various astronomical observations. It would take hours to thoroughly understand the working of these instruments.

It was almost time for us to leave; we thanked our guide and walked around Jantar Mantar for some more time. While we were walking, we noticed a small temple within the Jantar Mantar. It was serene and elegant. In India, religion and science was in a graceful co-existence since the ancient times. We do puja before launching rockets!

Jantar Mantar - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
The shrine inside the Jantar Mantar
Jantar Mantar is not only a great example of the scientific advancements but also the manifestation of the ancient India’s tradition of bringing beauty into everything they do. The Jantar Mantar is beautifully landscaped with a garden and red sand stoned paved walkways.

Jantar Mantar - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
Beautiful view of pigeons perching on the Samrat Yantra


 We left Jantar Mantar and resumed our journey to visit a particular monument which was quite different from the forts and palaces that we have visited. It is an ancient step well called the Pan-Mina-Ki Baoli. Baoli means step well.  Our driver did not know that such a thing exist, so we had to rely on the Google Map again. Pan-Mina-Ki Baoli is located near the fort in the ancient city of Amber. 


Step Well  - Jaipur Pink City - Rajasthan
Pan-Mina-Ki Baoli - Amber, Jaipur
 We travelled through the narrow gullies of Amber. Step wells are not so famous in every part of India. They can be particularly found in the Northern Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan they are known as Baoli or Baodi, in Northern Karnataka it is called Pushkarani and in Gujarat it is called Vaav. Most of the existing step wells in these places are quite ancient – built between 11th and 16th century. These wells were promoted by the Hindu-Mughal emperors. When the British came to rule, they abandoned these wells as they felt step wells fell short of hygiene standards.

 Regions where there is water scarcity, step wells were built making very deep trenches which becomes narrow as going down. The stairs were built in a symmetrical fashion on all sides of the well so as to prevent the land slide and make it easy for fetching water.


Pan Mina Ki Kunt - Step Well - Jaipur, Rajasthan
The symmetry of the stairs
 We lost our way many times in the complex lattice of side roads, but finally reached the Pan-Mina-Ki Baoli. It was built in the 16th century.  Due to the lack of maintenance, the water the Baoli looked dirty.  It seems nobody uses these step wells nowadays. However, in the olden days these wells were quit lively as it was not only a source of water, but used as a place for social gatherings. The convenient steps on the sides of the Baoli and the wind cooled by the water at the bottom of the Baoli made it a favorite place for the villagers to meet and talk. I was just visualizing it. The elderly men wearing colorful turban and relishing Hookah, the timid ladies- wearing clanking silver bangles and delicate Odhnies - carrying water pots, country kids running around with great enthusiasm – What a joyful environment it would have been! 

Pan Mina Ki Kunt - Step Well - Jaipur, Rajasthan
A balcony in the Baoli
We walked around for some time and clicked some nice photos. The symmetry of the stairs makes Baolis picturesque. Our driver also had come along with us to see what is great about the Baoli in his own hometown, which he has not seen yet.  He did not find anything interesting and went back to the car. It is always a norm that one would be least enchanted by the monuments in the hometown! I remembered the Edkkal Caves – which had been inhabited by pre-historic human and carries high archeological value. It is at a stone’s throw away from my home in Wayanad, however I have never tried to understand its history. 

Our original plan was to visit the Chand Baoli in Abhineri village, which is 90 kilometers away from Jaipur city. It is considered as the largest Baoli in India. Due to time constraints we had to skip the plan. To compensate and to get a feel of how the Baolis look, we had chosen Pan-Mina-Ki Baoli.

Chand Baoli - intricately carved step well Rajasthan India
Chand Baoli in Abhineri, By Chetan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Near the Pan-Mina-Ki Baoli, there is a museum of Rajasthan block printing known as the "Anokhi museum" . The museum was closed as it is Republic day. We bid good bye to old Amber city and headed back to Jaipur city. We had a long train journey in front of us. We were going to Jaisalmer in the Delhi-Jaisalmer express. The past two days were quite exhaustive yet fulfilling. Looking forward to more adventures in the deserts of Jaisalmer, we continued our journey.

This is a travelogue series, previous parts are here:
Part 1: Amber Fort
Part 2: Jal Mahal and Jaigarh Fort
Part 3:  Jaipur City Palace

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