India’s First Planned City—Jaipur

Most of India’s ancient cities have just grown without any plans, however there is one city that was planned to the very last stone. Built over 250 years ago, Jaipur was a city far ahead of its time — a planned city designed and built in a grid pattern. Jaipur with its wide streets stretching straight across from one end of the city to the other has no comparison in India, but finds an echo in the recently built Manhattan Island, U.S.

Maharaja Sawai Jaisingh in the relative stability of the latter part of the Mughal rule, decided to come down from Amber — the fortified city of his ancestors — to build himself a modem city in the plains. A visionary of no mean merit, Jaisingh’s city was to have streets and palaces built in an orderly manner, with a pre-planned location for each sphere of activity. The plain on which he chose to build his city of ‘Jaynagar’, was situated II kms away from Amber, and surrounded by hills. By building formidable forts on the top of each of these, Jaisingh ensured that his city would be well protected from all sides.

The designing and planning, was entrusted to a Brahmin Vidyadhar Bhattacharya, his chief architect, later proclaimed the Dewan of Jaipur. Vidyadhar is said to have been inspired by the ancient Shilpa Shastras (texts that gave instructions on planning of cities and villages, designing of buildings, and information on the arts and the crafts involved).

The final pattern that emerged for the new city, envisaged an enclosed area of three and half square miles, with a masonry wall twenty feet in height, and seven gateways. Within this area, nine main sectors were created by constructing broad avenues, crisscrossed by streets at right angles. The city walls were fortified with bastions and towers for cannons, and the enormous gates had formidably heavy spiked doors, to effectively keep out intruders. Heavily guarded wicket gates at each entry point, were used by city dwellers to come and go.

The central axis of Jaipur is the main road that runs East to West, for over two miles. At each end are the Suraj Pol (the Sun Gate) facing the east, and the Chand Pol (the Moon Gate) facing the west. Three hundred feet wide roads cross the central avenue at right angles — each a mile and a half in length. In the centre is the regal City Palace, where the royal family still resides. Beside the palace is the Jantar Mantar, built around 1730 and said to be the largest stone observatory in the world.

The main roads that run north to south have gateways at the southern ends. The original names of these are hardly used now, instead the gates are known by the destinations to which the roads lead. Hence the gateway on the road leading to Ajmer is known as the Ajmeri Gate, instead of by its original name, ‘Kishan Pol’. Similarly, ‘Shiv Pol’ is known as the Sanganeri Gate, and ‘Ram Pol’ as Ghat Gate. On the northern side there is only one gate, the ‘Dhruv Pol’, commonly known as the Zorawar Singh Gate, and on the north-eastern side the ‘Ganga Pol’. The grid pattern of the city with its resemblence to the ancient Rajasthani game of ‘Chaupar’, has led to the squares between the roads, being named after the game. The larger and smaller squares being known as ‘Badi Chaupar’ and ‘Choti Chaupar’ respectively.

Bazaars were planned along the main streets with a specific number of shops on each side. A covered porch ran along the front of these shops, to protect shoppers from the scorching sun in summer and the chill of winter. The shops were originally planned as single chambers, but in recent years owners have added porches, making their shops twice as large. Needless to say, this has resulted in the streets becoming crowded, with each succeeding year. However, Jaipur’s bazaars have an exotic charm that is due in no small measure, for drawing tourists to the walled city.

Vidyadhar’s planning of the residential buildings in the city, took into consideration Jaisingh’s royal style of organising state processions, during important festivals. He thus ensured that residential houses were built behind the shops, and that the roofs of the shops formed open terraces with low railings running along the edges. In earlier, times people would sit on these terraces and cheer their royal monarchs as they passed by in grand processions.

The buildings of the city are characterised by balconies, tiny windows, courtyards, cupolas and arched entrances. Areas were allocated according to professions, and this type of zoning is still apparent. Generations of jewellers, dyers, stone carvers, miniature painters, and hand block printers among others, have inhabited the same localities for over 250 years.

The entire city was given a pink wash in honour of Prince Albert’s visit in 1876, leading to Jaipur being referred to thereafter as ‘The Pink City’. The city is periodically repainted now in the same colours — owners  within the walled city being encouraged to maintain the uniformity of colour.

The Gods were also not forgotten by Maharaja Jaisingh, and his architect. Temples were located at strategic locations all over the city — the Tarakeshwar temple for instance, lies close to the city palace, and was regularly visited by the royal family. The religious fervour that prevailed overflowed into Jaipur, attracting Vaishnavs, Jains and Hindus, who built innumerable places of worship.

Traders unsettled and under pressure in other northern regions fled to the city. Finding a refuge at Jaipur, jewellers, bankers and people involved in other trades made the city into a hub of commercial activity. The city which was traditionally a centre for precious stone cutting, is now the largest emerald-cutting centre in the world. A major trade centre for precious stones, it is particularly renowned for its enamel and stone-set jewellery. Crafts of all types have flourished for hundreds of years, and there is a brisk trade in block-printed and dyed fabrics, the famous Jaipur ‘Blue’pottery, miniatures, and other tourist oriented folk items from neighbouring areas.

Jaipur has been widely acknowledged as one of lndia’s fastest growing cities, having spread far beyond Jaisingh’s city walls. Growth, evolution and change are sustained by tradition. Magnificent forts, palaces and havelis built by Jaisingh’s courtiers and nobles within the city, have been thrown open to visitors — many converted into hotels, offer rare glimpses of erstwhile splendour.

Part of the city palace is a museum, with a fine collection of miniature paintings, weapons, and royal costumes — a veritable treasure house, since many of the items date as far back as early 16th century. Inside the city palace is the famous Peacock courtyard, above which rises the Chandra Mahal where the ex-maharaja and family reside. Here one can see all that made the Royal House of Jaipur famous. Particularly interesting are the two enormous silver urns, in which Maharaja Madho Singh carried ‘Ganga Jal’ (holy water from the River Ganga) to England, when he went to witness the coronation of King Edward VII. Over the years many have and will continue to add to Maharaja Jaisingh’s ‘Jayanagar’, changing many of the plans that he had set out so many years ago. But since tradition is so much a part of Rajasthan’s psyche, perhaps the change will come slowly and gracefully, and history continue to remember Jaisingh as the visionary, who created India’s first planned city.  

Columnist: 
Shona Adhikari