The walls have years

The walls have years

Walled city

The walls have years

City lights: Johri Bazaar, Jaipur. Photo by author‘Beauty is worse than wine; it intoxicates both the holder and the beholder.’ Aldous Huxley’s quote could so aptly describe the charm Jaipur holds for its residents as well as visitors. Founded in 1727, known as the Pink City all over the world, it is a city that lives and loves its traditions and its every nook and corner has an interesting story to tell. A heritage walk in the lanes and bylanes of Jaipur is like unfolding a mesmerising epic without ever meeting a blind alley!

That’s the beauty of Jaipur, the first planned city in India, founded by Sawai Jai Singh II, who was a great lover of astronomy, mathematics and astrophysics, along with his chief architect and town planner, Pundit Vidyadhar Bhattacharya. Also known as Chhoti Kashi by the virtue of the large number of temples, only second to Varanasi, Jaipur’s old world charm is simply enchanting. While the city has expanded beyond imagination in all directions, and shining malls and branded outlets are giving it a metro look, the heart of Jaipur still lies within the walled city.

Within the four walls of the Pink City, the “homogeneous culture” of Jaipur still lives on, feels noted historian Ratan Lal Mishra. “The old city still retains its strong traditions; outsiders have not yet been able to overpower the indigenous Jaipurite in the walled city,” he feels.  The new localities lack the “homogeneous spirit” which reverberates inside the walled city. “It is due to the deep-rooted cultural ties that people could overcome the trauma of serial bomb blasts in Jaipur in 2008,” he feels. ?

Veteran lawyer VK Sharma ‘Bhaiyaji’ feels the city has lost its “local character” outside the walled city, and the new colonies have no semblance to the city’s architecture or town planning. Recalling the foresightedness of Sawai Jai Singh, he says, “Jaipur had 111ft. wide roads when it was founded 282 years ago. Jaipur was a city of  saptdwar (seven gates) and 64 burj (watch posts). The gates used to be closed at nine in the night as a security measure and pedestrians could enter the city through a window that remained open till 11 pm.” Each gate has a symbolic significance like the Dhruv Pole faces the North star, the Ganesh Pole faces the famous Ganesh temple, Suraj Pole is east facing while Chand Pole faces west.

The rich legacy of Sawai Jai Singh was carried forward by Sawai Ram Singh who was also a great visionary, and in whose regime came the Ram Niwas Bagh and Ram Bagh palace, which is now one of the most beautiful heritage hotels of the city. There are legendary anecdotes of Sawai Ram Singh of how he posed as a rich trader to entice the priest at the Govind Devji temple with a pouch full of coins to let him have darshan after the scheduled hours. The priest would have been fired but for his wit, people say. “I could never be dishonest but goddess Laxmi (pointing at the pouch) herself gave the order, so how could I disobey that?” he reportedly told the Maharaja in a witty vein and was let him off after a warning.

Jaipur owes a lot to the erstwhile rulers for their foresightedness and efforts in making it a culturally vibrant city and a seat of learning. They brought pundits, Sanskrit scholars, administrators, artistans and musicians from other states — all great masters in their respective fields — to build a city rich in all aspects. It is said for almost 11 years before the foundation of Jaipur was actually laid, prayers and yagnas, including Ashwamedha yagna were performed to seek divine blessings.
Jaipurites believe it is the power of those prayers that fortunately no natural calamity has ever struck the walled city so far.

Even in 1981, when torrential rains caused havoc in the city, sweeping away the Officers Training School (OTS) at the JLN Marg, the walled city remained absolutely safe. That also speaks volumes of the excellent drainage system the walled city has.

“The city is expanding and modernisation is slowly creeping in, yet Jaipur has managed to keep its roots intact,” feels eminent cardiac thoracic surgeon Dr Gautam Sen. Triloki Das Khandelwal, founder of Social Security Foundation, goes down memory lane recollecting  grand jyonars (feasts) where hundreds of people sat in rows together to enjoy delicious food served in pattal donas (leaf plates). “Those were the times when even the elite took pride in serving the thirsty at water huts (pyao). Ek tehzib thi, nazakat aur sharafat ka daur tha wo (that was an era of sophistication and decency),” recalls the octogenarian. He has endless memories of the scented gulal gotas the Maharaja would throw to signal the festivities of Holi, the wrestling competitions and the royal processions.

Jaipur has nurtured classical music and takes special pride in the glorious traditions of Jaipur gharana of Kathak. Famous Dhrupad exponent Laxman Bhatt Tailang likes to describe Jaipur as vidya ki khan a rich treasure trove of talents and gives great credit to the erstwhile rulers for due protection to the arts and music.

The traffic congestion and pollution in old Jaipur has led many residents to move to new colonies. Dhruv Kumar — who grew up listening to nostalgic memoirs of his father of how they used to study under the footpath lights in Johri Bazar, and often heard the roars of tigers in the jungles of Amer — feels the intrinsic spirit of Jaipur is the bond of love and traditions.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox