It was last week when I heard about the City Palace guided walking tour with museum curators. I mulled over the possibility of joining this walk but, there was one problem. They slated it to take place during the office hours. After much thinking, I decided to skip work for a few hours to join an informative walking tour of Jaipur City Palace.
It was Wednesday morning in March with an overcast sky when I reached City Palace gate 1 & inquired about the walking tour. The palace office possessed no information about the same and directed me to the Gate no. 2 which is the main entrance near Baradari restaurant. On inquiring about the walk at the ticket window they suggested me to buy an entrance ticket and proceed towards the coffee shop near the entrance of Sarvatro Bhadra Chowk.
The curators of the city palace museum, two affable sassy ladies introduced themselves – Aparna and Sania and greeted everyone. They arranged it to celebrate the women’s day week with this event. The walk aimed at highlighting the importance of women in Jaipur court; Select people possessing a keen interest in heritage and art attended it.
Aparna led the walk, and it started with a visit to Sabha Niwas, a hall equivalent of Diwan-e-Aam in Amer where the king would meet officials and public. Diwan-e-Aam is an emulation from Mughal court and shows Mughal influence in Jaipur court.
Sabha Niwas is a spacious hall having the paintings and photographs of the Jaipur rulers on its walls. This is where many prestigious ceremonies and events took place graced by eminent personas of its time. Aparna urged the attendees to undertake a brief tour of the hall and figure out if they could observe women in any picture or paintings. It turned out that one can spot women only in the paintings as a muse.
Aparna suggested an intriguing book in this context which highlighted the life of royal women – Polygamy and Purdah women and society among Rajputs by Varsha Joshi. Also, worth mentioning here is that there were tussles for power among queens. The rules regarding accessions and lineage were ambiguous and led to confusions, schemes, plots, and wars.
After a quick tour of the Sabha Niwas, we moved to the Sarvatro Bhadra.
Sarvatro Bhadra is an equivalent of Diwan-e-Khas in Amer Fort, meant as a meeting place for a chosen few. This place is legendary for the display of two huge silver urns used by Maharajah Sawai Madho Singh II during his tour of England in 1902 on the occasion of Coronation of King Edward VII. He carried the holy water of the river Ganges in these urns to last him for the two-month journey.
The talk continued about the life of women in royal courts. In most Rajput principalities women lived behind Purdah or curtain. They never made public appearances & observed public processions and events on the street behind lattices. They built Hawa Mahal to let royal women witness street & public processions behind the lattices. Purdah system added an element of mysticism and suspense with the royal women.
A remarkable but esoteric fact is that the royal women conducted the affairs of Jaipur for years acting as regent queen (for juvenile king). Historians mark the period before Maharajah Sawai Ram Singh II with conspiracies and plots schemed by the royal ladies. The women lived in a separate enclave inside the City Palace called Zenana Deori. Another intriguing aspect is royal women of Jaipur court was people never addressed them by the first name. Their names always had the reference of the maiden Rajput clan or places to which they belonged. The most well-known case is Sisodia Rani who hailed from Sisodia clan of Mewar and Bhattiyani Ji from Bhati clan.
The Pritam Niwas represent the most iconic section of Jaipur City Palace and the pictures of the four gates are a massive hit on Instagram. It figures in the top places for Instagram worthy photos. These four gates represent four distinct seasons. The peacock gate represents autumn, Lotus gate summer, Green Leheriya gate spring, and the rose gate winter. It doesn’t stop here; the gates also represent gods and goddesses – Lord Vishnu, Shiv-Parvati, Lord Ganesha, and Goddess Devi respectively.
Unlike today, Pritam Chowk was not accessible to everyone in the past. It overlooks the Pritam Mahal which remains a residential area of the royal family till date. As soon as we reached Pritam Chowk it started drizzling.
The discussion here turned towards the life of women in Zenana Deori. Deori remains a world of its own. The queens had their own quarters replete with servants and assistants. Zenana was a big power center; many conspiracies owe its origin to Deori. Males had no access to this area of Jaipur City Palace except the king who could gain it through a maze of tunnels and underground passageways. It was not merely queens who lived in Zenana but other women like concubines too. Two significant processions start and end in Zenana – Teej, and Gangaur. It is a time-honored tradition which still has continued to date. Zenana is off-limits for everyone because of judicial issues pertaining to its ownership.
Maharajah Sawai Madho Singh II constructed Mubarak Mahal to receive dignitaries. The inputs of Samuel Swinton Jacob who built the Albert Hall Museum are clear from fusion architectural style of the building. One of the most remarkable features of this building is intricate marble Jali work. While they constructed it to welcome the state guests, today it houses a textile gallery. Its display includes dresses assumed by the kings and queens.
Aparana escorted us to a display comprising an intricate & opulent dress worn by a queen on the occasion of Diwali. Each color had its own significance like green Lehariya signified monsoon. Another unusual thing on display was a special metal ball used by the royal ladies during night polo matches. Why night polo matches? The logic provided was that women were under purdah and played polo only during the night. There is a long history of Chovgan being played in this region. Chovgan is an ancient polo game which owes its origin in Persia. It is likely it gained entry with Mughals. Jaipur has its first Chovgan ground called Chogan Stadium. Many people claim that modern polo first appeared in Jaipur during the late 19th century; we know for sure that Chovgan was one of the favorite sports of Jaipur royalty.
As soon as we stepped out of Mubarak Mahal, Aparna suggested we all should visit arms and armory museum once the walk is over. She mentioned they trained Rajput women in warfare techniques. Even now many Rajput women carry a small dagger, a customary practice, though. She read out a passage from the book to validate this claim. As far as I know, women from the Jaipur court never took part in wars and battles. The solitary instances of battles were for power between Maharajah Sawai Ishwari Singh and his brother Maharajah Sawai Madho Singh I. Marathas fought from the latter side. Technically, all these battles took place in far-off places but never in Jaipur.
The discussion turned to the difference between the Rajput practice of Sati and Jauhar. There is innumerable mention of Jauhar in history books. Sati practice involved a widow throwing herself on to her husband’s funeral pyre and ending her life. Jauhar is an act of self-immolation by women to avoid being captured by the opposing army during a defeat. They did this to avoid enslavement and rape which were too common in those days. The Sati practice continued for years despite being banned in 1846 in Jaipur. It was in the 1980s when Sati incident of Roop Kanwar in Sikar brought it back in limelight. Government and women social activists launched an active campaign to banish it completely. Thankfully, this practice doesn’t exist anymore.
Painting and Photography Museum
From Mubarak Mahal, we walked to the most recent addition of museums in Jaipur City Palace, Painting and Photography Museum. It contains many rare paintings, maps, layouts, books, and pictures. I enthusiastically recommend it for the art lovers.
One of the most unusual items on display in an enlarged map of Surat City dating to 1700 AD. It will be hard to mention all the discussion pertaining to the art on display in those blog post.
Another fascinating gallery in this museum is pictures clicked by Maharajah Sawai Ram Singh II. There are many old portraits of women, royal guests, nobles and Jaipur city. It is worth mentioning his photographic equipment is on display. While today we can click excellent pictures with our smartphones, the equipment used in 1850-60s was bulky and complicated. Developing prints was time-consuming, laborious and expensive; only a wealthy could afford a hobby of photography.
The City Palace walk culminated in a gift shop near the painting and photography museum. Was it worth it? It sparked off many new & fascinating discussions. It provides alternative perspectives and dimensions; it was definitely fruitful for the first-timers. City Palace Museum curator’s walk is not available commercially. However, you can hire a trained guide in Jaipur city palace. Mr. Sunil, a guide at Jaipur City Palace accompanied us to provide more inputs during the walk.
For those intending to visit, here is a quick Jaipur City Palace Guide.
City Palace Timing
9 AM to 5 PM
City Palace Entry Fee
Rs 200 for Indian travelers. Rs 500 for foreign travelers
Jaipur City Palace History
The City Palace in Jaipur was built by Maharajah Sawai Jai Singh II around the same time when Jaipur city was founded. Records suggest City Palace was built between 1727 AD to 1732 AD in many stages. It started with the building of the outer periphery and walls. As with many other royal abodes like Udaipur City Palace, successive generations kept adding buildings when required. The layout of Jaipur followed the ancient science of Shilpshastra and Vaastu Shastra. Jaipur City Palace has been placed in the center of the plan suggesting it a nucleus. Among the rulers who have contributed significantly to the history of City Palace apart from Maharajah Sawai Jai Singh II are Maharajah Sawai Pratap Singh, Maharajah Sawai Ram Singh II, and Maharajah Sawai Madho Singh II. Maharajah Sawai Man Singh II, the last ruler of Jaipur started staying in Ram Bagh Palace instead of Jaipur City Palace.
Places to see & things to do in Jaipur City Palace
- Sabha Niwas
(already featured in this walk)
- Mubarak Mahal-Textile Museum
(already featured in this walk)
- Sarvatro Bhadra
(already featured in this walk)
- Riddhi Siddhi Pol
Riddhi Siddhi Pol connects Pritam Chowk with Sarvatro Bhadra
- Pritam Chowk and the Four Gates representing the seasons
(already featured in this walk)
- Rajendra Pol
Maharajah Sawai Madho Singh II built Rajendra Pol along with Mubarak Mahal which explains the similarity in architectural styles and theme of both structures. Rajendra Pol connects Mubarak Mahal with Sarvatro Bhadra.
- Arms & Armoury Museum / Sileh Khana
This museum is in the north-west corner of the Mubarak Mahal square. There are many interesting arms and weapons on display in this museum used by erstwhile rulers of Jaipur.
- Private rooms of Pritam Niwas
A special ticket of Rs 2000 will secure access to some iconic rooms and quarters of City Palace. One of the most famous is the blue room, a big hit on Instagram.
- Painting and Photography Museum
(already featured in this walk)
- Souvenir Shop
Souvenir shop of City Palace is near the exit of Painting and photography museum. If you are a shopaholic, there are plenty of things to buy i.e. paintings, garments, and books to name a few.
- Buggi Ride
An old horse carriage called Buggi is available for the travelers to take home the experience of yesteryears. You can hire a ride near Mubarak Mahal.
- Baradari Restaurant
Baradari restaurant is a good choice for those looking to unwind over food and drinks in the old city. Personally, I feel its interiors don’t go well with the traditional Rajput architecture because they pattern it on old European architecture with raw stone walls. Most travelers enjoy a pit stop.
- Nakkarkhana Darwaja
Nakkarkhana Darwaja or gate is one of the first ones to encounter when entering through Sirehdyodi Bazaar near Hawa Mahal. Musicians used this gate to announce the king’s arrival by playing the relevant instruments (as per occasion). These days it is just another gate.
- Jaleb Chowk
Jaleb Chowk is a large public square. In the past, the rooms lining the walls performed the function of a secretariat. Post Indian Independence, the government took over the entire area. They used it for many government departments till they shifted them all in new buildings. These days the entire area is unkempt and fallen into disrepair. It only serves as unregulated parking.
Places to visit near Jaipur City Palace
- Govind Dev Ji Temple
Govind Dev Ji temple is worth visiting to experience the atmosphere. Maharajah Sawai Jai Singh II found this temple at the same time as Jaipur city. The idol of Govind Dev Ji was originally in Govind Dev Ji temple of Vrindavan but shifted to Jaipur in the late 17th century to save it from destruction order by Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb. Read the complete post on Govind Dev Ji Temple Devotees at Govind Dev Ji Temple
- Jantar Mantar
Jantar Mantar is a solar observatory in the City Palace complex and worth visiting. The solar instruments made from metal and masonry structure are as precise as modern instruments and still functional. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Jantar Mantar entrance is near City Palace entry gate no 1.
- Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal needs no introduction. It is as iconic as Eiffel Tower and Taj Mahal. Most travelers only witness the facade on the street but there are lots to discover and experience by taking a tour inside the Hawa Mahal complex. I did and you can read more about it here The architectural marvel called Hawa Mahal
- Issar Laat
Issar Laat is a seven-story victory tower in Tripolia Bazaar. It is worth visiting for the great views of the old Jaipur City.
- Heritage Temples of Jaipur
Jaipur has many heritage temples, Jaipur Court commissioned and built many of these. Although it is difficult to cover them all, some are worth visiting. Check out Ramchandra Temple, Brij Nidhi Temple, Galta Ji Temple, Radha Madhav Temple at Kanak Vrindavan to name a few.
- Heritage Walk in Jaipur City
A walking tour in old Jaipur is worth experiencing to uncover its true essence. Although there are many operators offering such heritage walks in Jaipur, many of them rely on cooked up stories rather than facts and this is true even for some known names. Read more Heritage walk in Jaipur | walking tour in the old walled city
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