Among the many buildings to be found in Jaipur’s sprawling City Palace complex, one of the most distinctive is perhaps the Hawa Mahal or Palace of Winds, which is perhaps one of the best embodiments of the words “an architectural confection”. This stunning piece of construction boasts a façade that has been described by turns as a jewellery box, a honeycomb, and a tiered cake. Whichever of these is used, you at least already have a sense of what to expect with this particular sight in the city: a fantastic structure adorned with one of the most striking faces in the history of Indian architecture.
The Hawa Mahal was built in the last year of the 1970’s by the Maharajah Sawai Pratap Singh in the second year of his rule. The original intention, apparently, was to erect a building that would serve as the quarters of the official harem, although it later became used by more than the royal wives and concubines, due to a particular feature that shall be discussed later. The architectural genius of none other than Lal Chand Ustad was tapped for the project, which already indicates the brilliance of the finished product: Lal Chand Ustad, after all, was the same man responsible for planning the city of Jaipur itself.
What resulted from the maharajah’s commission and Lal Chand Ustad’s skills was a building of five floors yet no stairs, a building that blended the stylish floral motifs and domes of the Rajputs with the archways and stonework of the Mughals, a building that was a mere 47 windows shy of reaching a thousand. The windows themselves are perhaps what most people remember best about the palace after seeing it. The façade of the Hawa Mahal, after all, is a five-storey, pink-sandstone frontage with exquisitely latticed windows lined up on each floor. The effect is uncanny, as each window section actually lines up perfectly with those above or below it, so you not only get rows upon rows of windows—or jharokas, as they call them—but also column upon column of them.
The purpose for the jharokas was twofold. First, they afforded those living in the palace to look out onto the street (the building is pretty close to the centre of the city’s commercial districts, and is now found on the Badi Chaupad intersection) without being perceived by those they were observing. Second, they were also designed in conjunction with one of the most astounding circulation systems ever made without the help of contemporary technology. The jharokas and certain cooling chambers throughout the structure are actually placed strategically in order to facilitate a constant draft that passes through the edifice, ensuring that even the summer heat would not dry out the place. As expected, this led to the palace being occupied by the royal family on more than one occasion, especially during the hot months of the year.
Nowadays, the Hawa Mahal is still very much in its full glory—or as close to it as possible, especially considering the recent renovation work done on the structure. If you are worrying about the lack of stairs, do not: even this was provided for by the architect, who created gently sloping passageways permitting traffic from one floor to another. This is truly one of those buildings you have to see for yourself to get a full sense of their value, so do not hesitate to plan a trip to walk to and into it.