“When you have good luck [pointing towards the elephant in a painting], you find love. When you get love, you feel powerful. When powerful, you are happy. When happy, you are brave. And when brave, you are kind.”
With a broad smile and tiny squirrel hair brush held gently in his fingers he pointed towards one of his favourite works even as, with a mere few strokes, he put together a miniature styled portrait for me, replete with a nose ring and odhni.
Hemant is one of the four award-winning Ramdev brothers patronised by Jaipur’s royal family, their studio perched on the fourth floor of Chandra Mahal which houses the royal residential apartments. His ancestors, Jaipur City Palace’s court painters, had spent their lives decorating the walls and ceilings of this royal abode and crafting flawless miniature landscapes and portraits since the city’s inception in 1727.
If you’ve been to Jaipur, the City Palace would, without a doubt, have been on your to-do, not-to-miss list. Did you notice the cream coloured, 7-storeyed building topped with a one-and-a-quarter flag which seemed to always loom in the background? Not many take the trouble of exploring this edifice. Yet it contains the palace’s most exquisite, most resplendent rooms.
The 7-storeyed Chandra Mahal where the crowds are slim and the pomp and beauty are at its peak.
Welcome to my Rajasthan series, a collection of 24 blog posts from a road trip I undertook from 17 October to 20 November this year. It is day 2 and I am at the City Palace. The gates have just been flung open. There is not a single tourist in the grounds whilst the palace staff scuttle around to get Jaipur’s most visited site ready for the day.
Though Indian royalty were stripped of their official powers in 1949 when their kingdoms were made to join the Union, 1971 dealt a harder blow—the privy purses granted to the royals in exchange for the dissolution of their states was cancelled. With no official titles nor any income anymore, there was a large-scale conversion of palaces and forts into hotels and museums to ensure the edifices still stood, often with private wings to house the now-no-more-royal offspring.
Jaipur’s City Palace’s story was no different. A string of galleries housing the royal collections fill the large audience halls and elegant chambers today. There’s a Painting and Photography Gallery, a Textile Gallery, an Arms and Armour Gallery, and the Sabha Niwas or Hall of Audience. Various courtyards and gardens are rented out to the elite for weddings and parties. The palace’s magnum opus—Chandra Mahal, the private quarters and one of the oldest parts of the palace—has been opened to the public as well [apart from a few floors put aside for personal use], albeit at a substantial fee.
And Chandra Mahal is where I met Hemant Ramdev. It’s also where I was reminded that the City Palace was a home. An enormous elaborately adorned red and pink sandstone home painted with breathtakingly beautiful frescoes. But a home nonetheless.
Self-portrait and coloured glass décor detail in Shobha Niwas, Chandra Mahal.
Each floor in the Chandra Mahal, with a different name and purpose, overlooks a spread of manicured green lawns that lead to the temple of the family deity, Govind Dev ji to ensure each day of the royals starts with His blessings. Each floor is still perfectly preserved and a peek into royal Rajput life.
Shobha Niwas [4th floor] is a glittering medley of red, gold, mica, tiles, and mirrorwork and where the royal family holds its Diwali prayers every year. Chhavi Niwas [5th floor]—sheer poetry in blue and white with swirling clouds and cascading ethereal flowers. Sheesh mahal or Shri Niwas [6th floor]—lined with stucco and both convex and concave mirrors which burst into a million reflections. The ground floor or [1st floor if you are American], is fully functional and filled with priceless miniature paintings, artefacts, crystal chandeliers, and happy family photographs. Right on top, on the 7th floor is Mukut Mandir and the State of Jaipur’s proud fluttering flags and 360-degree views of the city’s neatly laid out grid of streets and squares.
Jaipur’s ruling dynasty. Left: Founder of Jaipur Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II [1699-1743], (portrait painted in 1725), British Museum, London; Right: Current royal family of Jaipur, royaljaipur.in.
One of India’s first planned cities and now a UNESCO World Heritage City, Jaipur was founded on 18 November, 1727, by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, the 29th Kachhwaha Rajput dynasty ruler. The reason? Shortage of water in the earlier capital, Amer, due to a burgeoning population. Jai Singh II was just 11 years old when he came to power. He was also an incredibly smart and strategic ruler, forming an alliance with the Mughals to secure his throne. The City Palace, a magnificent Rajput-Mughal architectural masterpiece was the home he built for himself and his descendants in his new capital.
There is an interesting tale behind the title ‘Sawai’ and the one-and-a-quarter flag atop the Chandra Mahal where the quarter flag signifies whether His Highness [presently Sawai Padmanabh Singh] is at home or not.
The year was 1703. Jai Singh II a 15-year-old. He had broken an agreement with the Mughals and waged war against the Marathas in the Deccan. A furious Aurangzeb, the then Mughal emperor, summoned him to court and clasped the young king’s hand, demanding an explanation. Jai Singh II, unfazed, replied that since the emperor had extended his hand, it signalled the latter would protect him and his kingdom. Mighty impressed by his confidence and wit, Aurangzeb gave him the title ‘Sawai’ meaning one-and-a-quarter above the rest. The title and flag [in celebration of the title] have since stayed. Even if only in appearances post India’s independence.
City Palace, along with Chandra Mahal, may be a ‘museum’ now. But for 300 years this was the home of one of Rajasthan’s most powerful royal families and the canvas for countless court artists to pour their creative passion onto. Let me show you around through my blog post. 🙂
PS. The ticket for Chandra Mahal and Courts is called ‘Royal Splendour.’ The 2nd floor [Sukh Niwas] and 3rd floor [Rang Mandir] of Chandra Mahal were, when I went, being used by the royal family and, hence, closed to the public.
The private rooms of Jaipur’s royal family in City Palace’s Chandra Mahal or Palace of the Moon: Shobha Niwas on the 4th floor.
Chhavi Niwas on the 5th floor with its graceful blue and white floral swirls is easily one of the most photographed rooms in Chandra Mahal.
Sheesh Mahal aka Shri Niwas on the 6th floor in Chandra Mahal. Close all the doors, light a candle and see it reflected into a million flames in the darkness.
View of the royal gardens from the 6th floor of Chandra Mahal. The paved fountains lead to Govind Dev ji’s temple, the royal family’s personal deity.
Strokes of creativity by Hemant Ramdev, a descendant of the court painters who have decorated the palace for the past 300 years. He and his brothers are now based inside Chandra Mahal.
City Palace’s most popular attraction no. 1: Sarvato Bhadra or Diwan-e-Khas or Private Audience Hall. It contains Jaipur’s trademark pink and white painted motifs and the world’s largest silver objects, two urns to contain water from the Ganges River for a Jaipur royal’s [Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II] trip to London in 1902.
Marble elephants and masked humans guard Rajendra Pol. The sun emblem on the elephant indicates the Jaipur rulers are Suryavanshi Rajputs—they claim direct descent from the Sun god, Surya.
City Palace’s most popular attraction no. 2: Pritam Chowk with its four stunning doorways representing the four seasons through design, colour, and gods. Look carefully and you will notice stories from Krishna’s life, dancing peacocks, and coy ladies.
Tempted to explore further? Here are a few tips to help you plan your trip better. ❤
- The City Palace Museum is run by the MSMS [Maharaja Sawai Man Singh] II Trust.
- Timings: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm.
- Royal Splendour Ticket [for Chandra Mahal and Courts]: Rs. 2,000 for Indians; Rs. 2,500 for foreigners. The ticket includes the services of a MSMS II Trust guide. Photography is allowed, except on the ground floor of Chandra Mahal. The guided walk lasts around an hour.
- Museum Ticket [for the Galleries and Courts]: Rs. 200 for Indians; Rs. 700 for foreigners. Photography is not allowed inside the galleries.
- For more info, please click here.
[Note: This blog post is part of a series from my 35-day solo and independent road trip through Rajasthan from 17 October to 20 November, 2021. To read more posts in my Rajasthan series, click here.]