Hawa Mahal… Rajasthan's most picturesque palace
Picturesque palaces are an iconic part of India’s architectural landscape. Standing out among them as one of the nation’s most spectacular and unusual palaces is Hawa Mahal – the jewel of Jaipur’s skyline.
Located in the heart of this Rajasthani city, Hawa Mahal is considered the apotheosis of Rajput architecture. And, like all India's greatest buildings, it has a fascinating history that makes a visit here all the richer. Today, we take a closer look at this beautiful attraction by exploring its architectural quirks and the reasons behind its creation and fantastic design.
Honeycomb windows and pink sandstone
Few buildings in India - and, indeed, the world - possess such an extraordinary combination of delicate beauty, striking originality and distinct unusualness as Hawa Mahal. Also known as the Palace of the Winds, this five-storey building is a picturesque palace of pink sandstone, made all the more distinctive by its hundreds of tiny windows, which give it a honeycomb-like appearance.
Indeed, it is these windows and the unusual visual effect they create that make this building so singularly attractive. Add to this its uncommon thinness and the glow that comes from its warm pink hues, and it's easy to see how this building has become such an icon.
These beautiful honeycomb-like windows were actually designed with a practical purpose in mind, which we will come to in a moment, but it is interesting to note that the design of this building has religious echoes; it is believed to have been crafted to resemble the crown of Lord Krishna.
Despite the palace's opulent exterior, its interior is more basic; however, it still manages to be unusual. The oddity of the interior is characterised by its narrow corridors, and indeed the overall narrowness of the building, which is just one room thick on the uppermost three storeys. And there are no stairs for guests to get between these; instead, the floors are joined by sloped passageways.
The history of Hawa Mahal
The fascinating architecture of the Palace of the Winds becomes even more so once you're aware of its history, which reveals the driving forces and stories behind its incredible design.
Constructed in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, Hawa Mahal is something of a mystery among historians in that the reason for its construction has not been established with absolute certainty. However, most historians agree that the Purdah system is the most likely explanation - and is certainly the reason for the intricate window system.
Followed by the Rajputs, Purdah was a system that stipulated royal women would not appear in public or in front of strangers. Of course, that did not prevent them from being interested in life outside royal walls, and so Hawa Mahal was the extravagant solution - its tiny windows, known as Jharokhas, allowed women to observe daily life unfolding outside without being seen themselves.
Visiting Hawa Mahal
An absolute joy to explore, Hawa Mahal is somewhere you can come face-to-face with some of the most ingenious and beautiful Indian architecture, as well as get a feel for Rajasthan's social history - a truly compelling combination.
Moreover, a trip to the top of the building will give you outstanding views across Jaipur, giving you a glorious view over some of the city's other outstanding attractions - most notably Jantar Mantar and the City Palace. However, you needn't stray too far to find yet more attraction, as Hawa Mahal itself is home to a small museum where you can peruse some fine examples of Indian miniature paintings, as well as a variety of royal relics.
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