By JYANESWAR LAISHRAM
Republished from UNESCO Power of Creativity Magazine Vol 1 with permission from and the courtesy of UNESCO New Delhi.
Other articles published in this series –
- Darjeeling Himalayan Railway – A Magnificent Living Heritage
- Linking Heritage and Livelihood – Kishkinda Trust in Hampi, Anegundi
- Complete Itinerary For Train Travel To World Heritage Sites In India
Any exploration of India’s greatest tourist attractions is incomplete without a visit to Amber Fort, near Jaipur. The aesthetic lure of Indian architecture is greatest in its ancient monuments, and Amber Fort is no exception. This conglomeration of royal palaces, princely havelis, and other ancient structures promises to entrance visitors even more, thanks to a bold and ambitious renovation programme that is now underway.
Located in a valley of the Aravalli Range, the fort palace of Amber is a fascinating blend of both Hindu and Muslim architecture, reflecting the styles of its various builders. Over centuries, they created the complex whose layers of history are still visible today. Amber Fort’s imposing appearance against the skyline is enhanced by its stone ramparts and its towers of green quartzite, red sandstone, and white marble. Gateways and chhattris are set handsomely into the exterior. From the ramparts there is a panoramic view of Moata Lake, which was used to provide water to Amber, feeding the hamaams and fountains inside the fort palace.
Built over a span of 138 years during the reigns of various kings, the fort as it exists today owes most of its construction to Maharajaha Mansing I (1589-1614). The original fortifications metamorphosed into imperial architecture under Maharaja Jaising (1621-77). Although a magnificent fortress for many decades, Amber’s glory degenerated after the kingdom’s capital shifted to Jaipur during the time of Maharaja Jaising II (1699-1743).
Though much of the fort lies in ruins now, the astute visitor can sense the fascinating times it represents. Ruined havelis remind you of Amber’s heyday during the era of the Rajasthani kings. If you have ever seen maharajas travelling on the backs of huge elephants in movies, then you have an idea of the modern visitor can still experience on the approach to any of Amber Fort’s three main entrances. Inside, the palace offers a sequence of courtyards progressing from the most public to the most private. Most of the courts for royal functions were constructed on the east side with views of Moata Lake, whereas other support activities were housed on the west side.
Every corner of the palace has its own particular function. For example, Jaleb Chowk – the lowest one – was for mass gatherings. The Diwan-i-aam was used for public hearings and the Diwan-i-khaas for the main administrative functions, while Zanana Chowk (also known as Mansingh Mahal) was a residential area. Of all the courts, Diwan-i-khaas – the most important in the political hierarchy – is the most formal, with exuberant architectural decorations.
It is easy to sense the bygone beauty of these courtyards, where baradaris, water bodies, gardens, and gateways articulated the settings. The entire palace is punctuated by vividly decorated chambers. There are frescos painted in vegetable colours, such as on Ganesh pol, the elaborate mirror works of Sheesh Mahal, artefacts in stone and sandalwood, and the dazzling paintings on the walls of the dining room. The gorgeous latticework of jalis adorns most of the facades, modulating the harsh light and creating patterns on the floors and walls of the havelis.
Despite the activity generated by the tourism industry, Amber Fort is more resonant of former glory than of present-day magnificence. A certain melancholy can still be felt in the rather decayed edifices dotting the rugged landscape. Abandoned in 1728, the fort palace remained unused or misused for more than 277 years. But now the present government of Rajasthan has embarked upon an ambitious plan to bring the ancient fort back to life. In 2005, it initiated a conservation report together with a proposed renovation and assessment plan for the entire complex. Many areas were found to be suffering serious decay due to seepage of moisture, roof leakage, and blocked drains. In addition, modern architectural accretions disfigured the historic ambience of the monument.
In order to implement the renovation, Amber Management and Development Authority (ADMA) was established with funds from the government for the renovation project in 2006 and 2007 for which conservation architect Dr. Minakshi Jain was appointed. As of now, the authority has started to restore two of the courtyards, the west façade and the eastern entry areas. In their attempt to restore the spatial ambience of the monument, the authority has removed various modern buildings around the fort. Funds have been allocated to implement tourist attractions such as sound and light shows and elephant alighting platforms. It is estimated that 45 percent of the lost images of Amber palace will be restored by the end of the project. The authority expects that the west areas will be fully revitalised within two years.
The strategic plan for Amber Fort focuses not just on the fort palace but on tourism as a broad conservation and development strategy. This goes beyond physical renovation to cover visitor management, the discreet addition of physical facilities for tourists, and tourism promotion. An estimated Rs 48,33,84,000 has been sanctioned for the overall reconstruction strategic plan.
Great effort is being expended to re-establish the real essence of the fort palace of Amber, and an immense amount of expertise, manpower, and resources is still required. It is estimated that funds for subsequent phases in 2008 and beyond will be raised through partnership and donation drives within and outside India. But there is no doubt that the fort palace of Amber is soon going to sport a new look – one derived from olden days. You will have to be there to experience it!