The city of Jaipur reflects a clever amalgamation of the Rajput and Mughal styles, which has given this city a unique character. Being close to Delhi and Agra, and the fact that its rulers were powerful members of the Mughal durbar (court), ensured that its rulers kept the special Mughal touches of filigreeing marble and sandstone alive. Fresco painting and inlaid mirror work has also been used extensively to create a fantasy world of color and richness in the midst of bleak surroundings. This love for decoration was not confined to the royal houses but filtered down to the common man as well. This is apparent when one takes a walk down the broad streets of this delightful city.
Most places of interest are located mainly in the walled city. The City Palace complex is the most important landmark of Jaipur and has a number of interesting buildings within its precincts. If one were to select the most outstanding of all buildings in the walled city, or the most unusual, then the Hawa Mahal would easily stand out. Built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, this remarkable structure adjoins the outside of the City Palace wall. Sawai Pratap Singh was a great devotee of Lord Krishna and he dedicated this mahal to the Lord, its intricate exterior wall looks like a mukut (crown), which adorns Lord Krishna's head. It overlooks one of the main street and lies sandwiched between more prosaic buildings.
This five-story, pyramid-shaped structure is made up of small casements, each with tiny windows and arched roofs with hanging cornices, exquisitely modeled and carved. Its façade makes Hawa Mahal look more like a screen than a palace. Its top three stories are just a single room thick but at the base are two courtyards. It is a fifty-foot high thin shield, less than a foot in thickness, but has over 900 niches and a mass of semi-octagonal bays, carved sandstone grills, finials and domes, which give this palace its unique façade.
There is no definite record as to why Hawa Mahal was built, only conjecture. It certainly was not meant for residential purposes. That becomes clear if one were to view this unusual structure from the rear side. There is a total lack of ornamentation on the inner face of the building. The chambers are plain and more mass of pillars and passages leading to the top story. It does not seem to be part of the same building.
Built at a time when royal ladies observed very strict purdah (covering the faces), it is widely believed that this interesting palace, with its screened balconies, provided the ladies of the zenana (royal household) an opportunity to watch processions and other activities on the streets below without being observed themselves. The openings here are almost like peepholes, partially block by fine latticework in lime plaster, and some with plain wooden windows. The Hawa Mahal lives up to its name as one climbs up to the balconies and is almost swept away by the cool breeze. The royal ladies not only enjoyed the view but also did so in great comfort and style. Today, Hawa Mahal provides the visitor with some excellent views of the city and a bird's eye view of the Jantar Mantar (a medieval observatory and an important tourist place in Jaipur). The best time to view Hawa Mahal is sunrise when it catches the early morning sun and is bathed in its golden light making it glow like a gem. The entrance to this strange building is on the rear side.