As you wake up in the morning and crack open your bedroom window to get a whiff of the fresh morning air, does your mind ever stop and linger on the actual window, its shape, structure, or history? Windows can merely be seen as means to connect the inside with the outside, however when examined closely have the ability of becoming a vessel into the past. This article explores some examples of Indian architecture where windows have taken the role of more than just a glass installation. 

Windows have been utilised for a considerable number of motives. Such as experimenting with the shape, material or location to bring out the full potential of these architectural assets and manoeuvre them to either solve complications or solely to enhance the aesthetic of the structure. Apart from this, the standard requirements and the established designs of windows keep evolving as time goes by, inevitably making old window structures and their former aesthetics a peeping hole into the past. Almost detaching itself from the identity of just a window and becoming a symbol of art. India, being a country packed with diverse cultures and traditions, its architecture can be seen as a prime example of the blend of various traditions from all across the country. Along with that, since Indian architecture goes as back as 2600 BC, the history of the country has also been portrayed by the ancient architecture.

Hawa Mahal – The Palace with over 900 windows

One such example is the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur, India, also known as the Jaipur City Palace. It is most known for its astonishing number of windows, 953 to be precise. One would wonder that such a large number of windows are implemented to add to the beauty of the palace, but their purpose goes beyond that.

Medieval India followed a social practice where it was mandatory for the upper-class women to be concealed from the view of the public, known as the Purdah (curtain) system. On that account, over 900 windows were built into the palace as a way for them to glance and enjoy the everyday hustle-bustle of the streets below, without being seen. Even though this was the main motive for the construction of these windows, in today’s time they are recognised for how well they reflect the influence the extreme weather conditions had on historical Indian architecture. Also, shedding light on the advanced fluid dynamics knowledge possessed at the time.


Some of the glass stained and lattice design windows of the Jaipur City Palace/ Hawa Mahal

A few of the glass stained and lattice design windows of the Jaipur City Palace/ Hawa Mahal © Pixabay

Jaipur, being the desert capital of Rajasthan, is extremely hot for most of the year. In accordance with that the palace is built aligned with the direction of the wind flow with a water body placed in the courtyard. Due to this construction the wind flows into the palace from the west and on its way picks up the moisture from the water body. This moisture filled air goes through the 953 windows and activates the Venturi effect. This is when wind flows through a constricted passage, or in this case multiple constricted passages, the velocity of the wind increases while decreasing its pressure, as a result making the air cooler.

Furthermore, the intricate lattice design on the windows help distribute this cool air evenly ensuring that no hot areas are left inside the palace. Also, the material used for the lattice design is lime, which is popularly known to control temperature. However, not only the material and design, but also the number of windows, their opening sizes and the amount of open space left vary on each floor of the palace depending on its season of use. Overall making it a very “climate responsive” building and owing up to its name Hawa Mahal, literally translating to ‘Wind Palace’.

Hence, whilst providing the newer generation an insight into the old customs and traditions of the city, it also serves as a prime example of how a simple component such as windows can be implemented to combat serious climate problems. Additionally, with India’s increasing population in such torrid weather conditions, the need for facilities such as air conditioning is more than ever. However, in order to avoid the subsequent carbon emissions, the current generation is turning towards and learning from older architecture, such as the Hawa Mahal in hopes for a more sustainable and green future.

The moneylending street of Belagavi

Hawa Mahal is not the sole example where windows have served as a little vessel to peek into the past. The windows in Belagavi, Karnataka, also disclose the long-lost traditions of the Saraf street. Historic houses can be seen all along this street with, noticeable, evenly spaced windows. These windows were constructed for the convenience of the former inhabitants of this street, who were moneylenders. In the 19th century, the Saraf street was prominently known for its moneylending business and ensured that the houses and specifically the windows were designed to perfectly fit the requirements for this occupation.

Every window on the Saraf street is divided into 3 sections, with a mattress placed right behind the bottom section of the window, serving as a place for the moneylender to sit. Due to the fact that the money is primarily kept beside the moneylender on the mattress, the bottom most section of the window is entirely paneled with a wooden railing. This is done so that the money seekers would be unable to extend their arm and simply steal the money placed on the mattress. The section right above it has grills built throughout, yet with enough spacing in between for the moneylender to exchange the money and goods with the buyer. The topmost portion of the window can be fully opened for comfortable conversation between the two. However when closed, has small shutters built into it so that the moneylenders can look out to see the state of the streets while they are off work.

Even though the moneylending business is long gone from the Saraf street, the construction and design of these windows give the visitors a glimpse into the past and highlight the former identity of the street. To the extent of displaying the fine details of their transactions.

Such Indian Architecture reflects the unique and intriguing usage of windows in order to fit the lifestyle and customs of the past, and at the same time provides us an insight into that time period. Hence, windows tend to seem just as ordinary glass attachments to catch a glimpse of the outside, and generally no additional thought is given them. However, while seeming so mundane, they can possess a magnitude of characteristics as well as fulfil various purposes when examined closely.


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