Forts, palaces, architectural marvels and tales of valor, all in their own way, bear testimony to the glory that Jaipur is and was just after it was conceived by Sawai Jai Singh in 1727, located 262 kilometers from Delhi, Jaipur was the first planned city in northern India
Jaipur's history dates back to the 12th century when the Kachchwaha clan of Rajputs arrived at the old fort palace of Amber in the Aravalli hills. The Kachchwaha belonged to the Kshatriya, or the warrior caste of Hindus, but they traced their origins back to the sun, via Kusa who was the twin son of the god Rama.
The people the Kachchwahas ousted were the Susawat Minas, who become the hereditary loyal guards of what became one of the largest and most valuable treasuries in India. From this base, the Kachchwaha Rajputs, with their brilliant soldiering, and a knack for lucrative alliances, amassed a fortune. It was the special relationship the Amber rulers developed with the Mughals that brought them real power, influence and wealth.
Arriving from Jaipur through the narrow pass in the hills, you are presented with a view of the honey-colored Amber fort-palace. It rambles over a rugged hill, gem-cutters smoothen and cut stones, the faithful go to mosques and temples, and children run around the royal chhatris and decaying houses. A circle of protective hills surrounds all this and snaking up these hills are crenulated walls punctuated by look-out posts. On the highest ridge and overlooking the valley is Jaigarh Fort, a spectacular display of defense. Inside Amber Fort, the contrast is sharp, the grand painted gateway, the hall of public audience that made even the Mughal emperor jealous, pools and cascades to cool the air in summer heat, and the hall of mirrors inlaid with tiny pieces of glass so that a single flame creates a room of a thousand bejeweled stars.
The power to create such a strong fort enclosing such beauty was built up over several generations. Raja Bihar Mal made the first move. Recognizing Mughal power he paid homage to the emperor Humayun and led a 5,000 soldier's strong army for him. Then he made sure he was the first Rajput presented at Akbar's court. His big chance came when Akbar made his first annual pilgrimage to Ajmer, the burial place of a Muslim Saint, which lay in Kachchwaha territory. On a visit to Akbar's tent, Bihar Mal gave his daughter to be the emperor's wife and his adopted grandson, Man Singh, into royal service. The daughter finally gave Akbar his first son, who became Emperor Jahangir. The next ruler, Bhagwan Das, cemented the alliance and gave a daughter to be Jahangir's wife.
Then came the two rulers who built Amber. Man Singh, a leading general under both Akbar and Jahangir, and Jai Singh - 1, a military and diplomatic genius who brought the house of Amber to its apogee at the Mughal court. On the throne aged 11, Jai Sing - 1 was soon commanding a Mughal force for Jahangir, then fought all over the Mughal empire for Shah Jahan and finally backed the right side in the war for succession and became emperor Aurangzeb's most prized Rajput commander.
All the time, the Kachchwaha coffers were filling with prizes, rewards and booty. Three rulers later, Jai Singh II, another child prodigy, came to the throne. The young lad quckly impress the 71 year old Aurangzeb who awarded him the title 'Sawai' meaning one-and-a-quarter. Even today, the flag flying above the City Palace in Jaipur has an extra, quarter-sized one next to it. Jai Singh II, having proved his soldiering ability, further enriched his coffers and fulfilled his other passion - the arts and sciences. The impressive giant stone instruments which he devised for the open-air observatories at Jaipur, Delhi, Ujjain and Varanasi stand testimony to his scientific prowess. After ascending the throne, he shifted the capital from Amer. He studied the architecture of several European cities and drew up plans for constructing a larger and well-planned city. He consulted his best mathematicians, astronomers and the Silpa Sastra, a traditional Hindu architectural treatise before making the blueprint for the new city.
After building close bonds with the Mughals and sure that there could be no danger to his throne, Sawai Jai Singh, envisioned his dream project, the building of Jaipur. The foundation stone was laid by him in 1727 and an eminent architect, Vidyadhar Bhattacharaya, was asked to design the "Jaipur". It was a two-in-one compliment as 'Jai' means victory and was also the ruler's first name, that it was later chosen as the capital of Rajasthan formed from the amalgamation of various kingdoms, was a tribute to both Jai Singh and Bhattaccharya.
The city was planned in a grid system of seven blocks of buildings with wide straight avenues lined with trees, with the palace set on the north side.
Surrounding it are high walls pieced with ten gates. The site of the shops were chosen after careful planning and they are arranged in nine rectangular city sectors. Jaipur was the first sizable city in north India to be built from scratch, through the famous pink color symbolizing 'welcome', came later when Ram Singh II received the Prince of Wales in 1876. The color was chosen after several experiments to cut down the intense glare from the reflection of the blazing rays of the sun. To this day, the buildings are uniformly rose pink.
After Jai Singh died in 1773, a battle for succession followed and the Marathas and Jats who were making advances in various parts of the country also decided to try their luck and Jaipur lost large chunks of territory with the ruler playing second fiddle to the fast-growing East India Company. In 1818, several maharajas of the north-west princely states and Maharaja Jagat Singh of Jaipur, signed a treaty with the British under which they could continue to have control of their states, but would be collectively supervised by the British under a new name, Rajputana.
After Independence, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner and other Rajput states merged to form the State of Rajasthan with Jaipur as the capital. And ever after 273 years after it was founded, Jaipur has remained its unique flavor and old-world charm. It is a bustling trading center with colorfully set bazzars, people sporting blood-red turbans, puppet sellers and festivals and fairs.