Jaipur, in northwest India, is known today as the “Pink City.” Ironically, its most famous pink structure was designed in service of modesty.
Jaipur was a planned city, constructed between 1727 and 1733 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who became ruler of India’s Amber Kingdom at age 11. Unlike earlier Indian cities, Jaipur’s streets were laid out on a grid. The city, which became the capital of Jai Singh’s kingdom, was originally surrounded by a wall entered through one of seven gates.
In the eighteenth century, Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, the grandson of Jai Singh, faced a dilemma. The ladies of his large harem were prohibited from being seen in public, at least without their faces covered. But they begged to be allowed to observe the festivities on the colorful street near the palace. In 1799, Pratap Singh found a solution. He erected a 50-foot-high screen of red and pink sandstone adjacent the palace. The baroque façade of the screen, containing 953 windows, supposedly suggests the peacock feathers of the crown of Krishna, a popular Hindu deity. A honeycomb of rooms behind the small windows allows members of the harem to sit or stand unseen while gazing toward the street below. The upper three stories are just one room deep, while the two lower stories open onto courtyards. Ramps connect the five levels. The design and placement of the protruding windows facilitate the flow of cooling air throughout the structure, giving it the name “Hawa Mahal,” the “Palace of the Winds.”
Jaipur has been known as the Pink City since 1876, when English Prince Edward (later King Edward VII) made an official visit. In advance of his arrival, city officials emulated the famous Palace of the Winds by painting many of the city’s stucco buildings pink.