By Monidipa Dey,
“Vastu is the art of living in harmony with the land, such that one derives the greatest benefits and prosperity from being in perfect equilibrium with Nature.” ~ P.K. Acharya, 1981, Author of the Manasara series on Vastusashtra and Silpasashtras.
Jaipur is considered among one of the most well planned cities of the 18th century in its layout, considerations on sustainability, and for taking within architectural scope not only the geography of the surroundings but also the social fabric of the city. From the time the Rajputs started ruling Rajasthan and other parts of north India, their primary aim has been at securing their kingdoms from invasions. Being mainly agricultural societies the populace would move inside forts during invasions, which were located on hilltops and had thick, high fort walls for according maximum security during the attacks. While these had served well for many centuries in the past, with changing and ever expanding social and economic scenarios in the 18th century prompted the visionary king of Amber Raja Sawai Jai Singh to shift his capital from the confines of the hilltop fort to a new city in the more open valley area near the then popular trade routes (Delhi, Agra, and Afghanistan routes). Thus, was born the city of Jaipur, as envisioned by Raja Jai Singh and put to plan by his chief architect Vidyadhar Bhattacharya, a man from Naihati in West Bengal, who was also his Chief Auditor and a Vastusashtra specialist.
Raja Sawai Jai Singh was a visionary as a city planner, which is evident from the mark of difference that he managed to bring in the city planning of Jaipur when he established it. He was well versed in mathematics and science, and that combined with the architectural and Vastusashtra knowledge of Vidyadhar Bhattacharya was used to the fullest while designing the layout plan of Jaipur. Previously Raja Sawai Jai Singh had studied in depth the ancient Indian literature on astronomy and town planning, and while his capital was still at Amber fort, he had designed the Jai Niwas Bagh, and developed the area around Talkatora Lake, while constructing several palaces (Baradari SuryaMahal) around it in 1713.
The construction of Jaipur was started in 1727, and it took almost 4 years to complete building the major roads, mahals, and chowrastas (squares). Strong fortification walls were built around the city that had seven large pols or gates viz, Dhruvapol –north gate; Gangapol and Surajpol –east gates; Rampol Gate, Sanganery Gate and Ajmeri Gate- south gates; and Chandpol –west gate. For a long time the architectural layout of Jaipur was considered highly advanced and the best in 18th century Indian subcontinent. When the Prince of Wales visited Jaipur in 1853, the whole city was painted a terracotta colour as a sign of welcoming him, which later became famous as the Jaipur pink, earning it the title of ‘the pink city’. Even today the houses around the main squares remain painted in the terracotta hues (Jaipur pink), keeping alive the distinctive characteristic of this historical city.
Sawai Jai Singh decided to move his capital from Amber primarily for two reasons:
1. To escape the geographical/topographical constraints in expanding Amber, which was a fort-city situated on a hill, and
2. To move away from supporting a primarily agrarian and closed society to accommodating a more open and trade and services friendly one.
Keeping the topographical constraints of the hills in the north and eastern sides in mind, according to Kartik Vadi 4, of V. S. 1794/1737 AD Jaipur records, the city was designed as a rectangle, divided into 9 blocks by streets, symbolizing the 9 treasures of Kubera (Paramasiya Mandala). Since no space was found for the ninth treasure or Nidhi within the square due to the hill, it was placed as a continuation of the blocks in the east, outside the square. The major roads run at right angles to each other, wherein three such roads run in the north-south direction and intersect a long road that runs east to west (Surajpol to Chandpol). Raja Sawai Jai Singh and Vidhyadhar Bhattacharya designed the city in such a manner that it also accommodated the already existing Jai Niwas garden that is axially connected to the old capital fort-city of Amber. Rajmana-Potedar of Jaipur of V. S. 1783/1726 AD Jaipur Records tell us that city was divided into 8 residential chowkris or blocks based on socio-cultural-economic status as Brahmanpuri, Kumaravas, Maheshwarivas, Chinpavas, Telivas, etc, demarcated by main market streets such as Kishanpole Bazaar, Chaura Rasta, Jauhari Bazaar etc. These market streets are connected with interior neighbourhoods through subsidiary roads/lanes known as raastas that were named after prominent names living in the locality, or with associated trades.
Besides the topographical constraints, another major issue faced by the city planners was that of a lack of source of perennial water. This was solved by the able planning of elaborate water harvesting and management systems, which include building dams, step-wells, tanks, and manmade lakes. Step-wells were built in such a manner that these also served as community meet points, such as the Badi Chaupar and Choti Chaupar built at the city square, which act as major traffic junctions now.
The pretty havelis, markets, and streets with their characteristic bangla chalas (Bengal roofs), chajjas (shades), arches, lattice screens, gokhdas (sitting areas), and chattris that stand till today, were constructed in a manner that gave this historical city a uniform façade and a unique identity. It is believed that while Raja Sawai Jai Singh had prepared the original plan of this beautiful, architecturally balanced and ordered city, the credit of its planning and execution however remains reserved for his chief architect, Vidyadhar Bhattacharya.
(The author is a well-known travel, heritage and history writer. All images provided by the author. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)