Many mysteries continue to surround the pleasure palace of Jal Mahal. It is known to be about 300 years old, but its precise date of construction remains undiscovered. Eminent historians Vibhuti Sachdev and Giles Tillotson write in Building Jaipur: The making of an Indian City, ‘Though sometimes dated as late as 1775, it is likely that this was constructed by Sawai Jai Singh II, around 1734.’ . But little else is known about this palace with no chambers ─ just a pavilion with a terrace garden, built in the Rajasthani tradition of ‘island resorts’ or ‘water palaces’ where royal families would seek their ‘pleasure’.
Was this where the queen regent and her entourage lingered on lavish royal picnics? Or where generations of princes hosted duck-hunting parties? Did its corridors echo with music and dance, and the sky light up with elaborate fireworks? What other pleasures partaken at Jal Mahal have escaped recording by chroniclers of the times? Today, as Jal Mahal rediscovers its magic, it transforms into a pavilion of pleasure once again.
As you gaze from the elegant white marble garden terrace across the clear blue waters of the lake to the rolling Aravalli Hills, dotted with temples and ancient forts redolent of Jaipur’s romantic past, it’s hard to imagine that just a few years ago the lake was an environmental disaster and Jal Mahal a derelict ruin.
The restoration of Jal Mahal, started by the Jal Mahal Resorts Pvt. Ltd.in 2005, has been a phenomenal effort involving the skills of international experts, traditional master craftsmen, architects, historians and authorities on art, culture and design. When work began, little historical evidence existed as even century old photographs showed the monument in ruins. But painstaking research and study of structural elements, forms, details and ornamentation allowed the monument to reveal itself to the restoration team, which then began to rebuild its jetties and stairways, arches, corridors and alcoves with traditional knowledge, materials, techniques and artistry. Chameli Bagh, the lush garden on the terrace has been traced from surviving elements of the original patterns and recreated in the best of Rajput and Mughal traditions. Together they make Jal Mahal the new destination of pleasure of Jaipur by day, and an iconic image of its beauty by night.
The crowning glory of Jal Mahal is the lush terrace garden of Chameli Bagh with its astounding views of the entire valley. An oasis of tranquillity that invites visitors to feast their eyes on the beauty of the white marble walkways and carved platform, to sit in the shade of tibaris gilded with exquisite paintings or to be refreshed with a stroll through the fragrant garden. Reminiscent of the best Rajput and Mughal gardens over the ages, Chameli Bagh has been designed by the internationally renowned heritage garden expert and anthropologist, Mitchell Crites. Built in the traditional charbagh style, each of its four quadrants flaunts a beautiful raised marble flower bed shaped like a scrolling floral arabesque, and is planted with fragrant flowering shrubs. Water, the other hallmark of such gardens, cascades down thinly over the traditional chinikhana walls of the platform and flows through lotus lights and fountainheads to create a constant changing play of light and glitter. The central feature of Chameli Bagh is a raised octagonal platform with elaborate marble work that lights up to create a dramatic stage for dance and music performances. Under the open sky, the beautifully restored tibaris and even the chhattris that stand sentinel over the Jal Mahal, is space to seat an audience of up to 225 guests. Spectators to the display of art and beauty by men, women and nature.
The Anand Mahal Tibari, the most opulent tibari at Jal Mahal is resplendent with graceful floral motifs in red, blue and gold.
The Raas Niwas Tibari reveals magical frescoes depicting Lord Krishna and his consorts romancing in a wooded grove abundant with fruit trees, and framed by Jaipur’s most celebrated landmarks.
The Gulabi Tibari will feature festive pink and white decorative stucco.
The Badal Mahal, with its dark clouds swirling across the ceiling, raindrops patterning the walls and lily pools blossoming in the panels, will bring all the colours of the Monsoon to life.
The interiors of each Chhatri (burj), located on the four corners of Chameli Bagh, is designed to be unique. Chini Burj, with the rare distinctive Jaipur technique of blue glazed finish pottery. Pitli Burj, created with complex Jaipuri brasswork that involves embossing, cutting, enamelling, and filigree work, and dedicated to the Hindu sun god, Surya. Aina Burj that will reflect the glittering mirrorwork traditions of the region. And Shobha Burj which will be an elaborate piece of jewellery set against in the sky.
Concept and design: Heritage garden expert and anthropologist, Mitchell A R Crites
Creation of Chameli Bagh: Expert marble carver, Kalu Ram Saini
Tibari and Chhatri Artwork Curation: Dr. Vibhuti Sachdev
Artists, Artisans & Designers
Rajeev Akar, Babu Lal, Bahadur, Shammi Sharma Bannu, Rajendra Bansal, Chirangi Lal Beniwal, Bhanwarji, P.M. Allah Bukhsh & Sons, Ratan Chowdhary, Laily DenialManiram Dhogra, Banwari Jangid, Jitendra, Muhammad Iqbal, Muhammad Sidique,Khemchandji, Pramod Kumar, Bajrang Lal Kumawat, Bhanwar Lal Kumawat, Chitter Kumawat, Nawratan Kumawat, Om Prakash Kumawat, Mahesh, Lalit, Shafeeq Mohammed,Satya Narayan Natha, Ashok Panchaal, Dinesh Panchaal, Kalu Ramji Panchal, Puran, Pratap, Kanha Ram, Manna Ram, Seventi Roy, Qaymum, Kalu Ram Saini, Ram Sarup, Jatin Sharma, Shiv Shankar Sharma, Subash Sharma, Deependra Shekhawat, Gagan Sharma, Brigitte Singh, Kirti Singh, Pancham Singh Uttam Singh, Manoj Soni, Mohan Lal Soni, Pramod Soni, Vikas Soni, Vinod Soni, Subhash, Naresh Tinker, Mahendra Thathera, Om Prakash Tinker, Sheikh Usman Tirandaz, Vijay Verma.
Today, a dazzling exhibition is bringing alive the corridors of Jal Mahal. A colourful, multimedia experience that commemorates the re-opening of Jal Mahal and celebrates Jaipur’s artistic heritage, Painted Pleasures: Water, Gardens & Festivals in Courtly Rajasthan, brings together the vision and works of Jaipur’s leading artists and craftspersons to take visitors on an incredible journey of the senses as they have never been on before.
The exhibition is revealed in a sequence of five themed galleries:
Monsoon Unfolding is features a specially commissioned 34-foot long painted mural of the Jal Mahal and its surrounding landscape, at the onset of the Monsoon.
The Scented Chamber is an exquisitely decorated room where visitors can sample the traditional perfumes of courtly Rajasthan.
The Joys of Jal Mahal reflects on the theme of water as a recurring motif in Rajasthan’s pleasure pavilions, as seen through large scale reproductions of classical miniature painting.
The Mela Mahal illustrates the seasonal festivals of Rajasthan through the Baramasa painting and brings the exquisite ornamentation of royal Jaipur residences and jewellery into the architecture of the monument.
Gardens of Pleasure surrounds visitors with images of lush tropical foliage and flowers, traditional paintings that express the beauty of Rajasthan’s royal gardens and mirrored ceilings that reflect the shimmering waters of the lake. A visual oasis, this is the gallery that prepares you to enter the rooftop terrace garden of Chameli Bagh.
Concept: Dr.Vibhuti Sachdev and Mitchell A. K. Crites
Design: Siddhartha Das Studio
Text: Hallie Campbell and Ashok Gupta