The Pink Veil: Hawa Mahal in Jaipur

In April, earlier this year, Wes Anderson’s movie Isle of Dogs was released. I read an article in The Guardian that discussed Anderson’s aesthetics and how it was a look that was easy to copy poorly and without body. Embedded within the writing was a link to a website ‘Accidently WesAnderson’ where Instagram followers uploaded and shared, cropped squares of buildings around the world that could be attributed to  Andersonism. A number of these images included images from Jaipur, which in of itself is hardly surprising. The beautiful Mahals or palaces, symmetrical, rendered in pastel marble and sandstone with contrasting saturated coloured inlays of a variety of geometric and floral patterns, a beautiful composite of Rajput and Islamic architecture make quite the perfect set piece.

One square image after another, each cropped with precision, each saturated just the right amount, one comes upon the Hawa Mahal. This particular image was photographed and cropped by Victor Cheng, displaying the soft pastel pink sandstone extension to the city palace built in 1799. It perfect aesthetic seems to suit the webpage or does it – the image is rather flat very much like the Indian food that one finds in London or even in the new Indian look populating the country.

In reality the Hawa Mahal is vivid, intense and never quite the same. The intense sun of the Rajasthani desert plays magnificently off the sandstone highlighting the projecting balconies where sporadic coloured glass twinkles and blinds,  shadowing to an even greater extent the deep recesses.

Calling the Mahal, a building may be far-fetched, at least towards the upper two floors where it recedes into a mere façade. It is five storeys high and thirteen unequal bays long in the lower four storeys. The last storey is reduced to accommodate only 9 bays and is profiled to crown the building in an arch. Each bay is centred with a jharoka, a Rajput building projection which typically is a balcony but in the particular case of the Hawa Mahal is a projected window. There are three modules of jharokhas across the entire elevation and each of the five storeys is graded by porosity. At the base, the jharokas are more opaque with tiny deeply recessed openings, not unlike the ones that one would find in Ronchamp, placed high above the ground. They permit light inside the space. On the upper floors each jharokha is fitted with a green shuttered opening, richly inlayed, that is punctured at a height that one would find suitable to look out of if one was sitting beside it in a reclined manner preferably on a palanquin. The rest of the jharokha is filled in with a latticed screen called a jali. The jali get denser as one rises – the lower jalis have larger perforations while the upper jalis become almost fabricesque revealing silhouettes as they slide across the upper floors like a shadow theatre that leaves a lot to the imagination. This is the space for the royal women.

The ladies of the royal house were carried on Palanquins along narrow ramps and laid in front of the shutter so that they could passively observe the street life and the processions along the building while themselves never being seen in public. The building is essentially a transliteration of a veil, an apparatus of viewing – jharokha itself means a glimpse and the name Hawa Mahal could imply the constant breeze that permeates through the facade, but it could equally discuss the lightness of the structure with 953 punctures or even the ghostly apparition of the women sealed behind the pink veil.

The featured image for this post was sent to me by Chris Thurlbourne on his visit to Jaipur after he heard this short rendition for an event on Windows of the World organised at the Aarhus School of Architecture in Denmark.




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