Indian rulers were known for their opulent taste in architecture aesthetics and innumerable marvels can be witnessed in the Palaces and Havelis built over the generations that till date behold and amaze us.
One such distinctive architectural feature is that of Jharokha. Similar to French oriel windows they protrude from the outer walls supported by pillars and balustrade. They also had corbelled platforms that acted as a seating arrangement by the window and a canopy or a pyramidal dome atop it completed its look.
These ornamental windows were made on the upper floors of the building and decorated with stone-carved pillars and architrave. The artisans also used minakari, stone carving, woodwork, glazed tiles, wall paintings, mirrors, etc. to enhance its beauty.
Apart from the aesthetic appeal, it added to the palaces, they were used for specific purposes too. It is spellbinding to infer the finesse, people of those times held, to solve their issues of heat, light, and decor. These windows were either partially or completely covered with jalidar stonework to let in the cool breeze and these were used in abundance where the climate was hot and arid. An array of Jharokha, given its structural shape, provided shade to the lower floors, thus preventing direct sunlight and heat from entering indoors. These fenestrations allowed light to enter the living spaces but prevented direct sunlight from entering the alley. It maintained privacy for the women and also opened up the opportunity to enjoy possessions, festivals, occasions, and daily routines as these architectural frames opened to overlook the assembly, courtyard, marketplace, and open space.
Inspired by this Palatial architecture Mughals too incorporated this feature along with the Mughal architecture in their palaces. This was also the best way for the king to address his audience which was already prevalent in the Indian rulers. This act also coined the term “Jharokha Darshan”, a routine that was supposedly followed by the ruler irrespective of his health stature till his death.
Later the Mughals too were influenced to use this tradition of routinely appearing before their subjects. It was adopted by Humayun and continued by his successors Akbar, Jehangir, and Shah Jahan until stopped by Aurangzeb citing it being against Islam. The prominence of this act was such that after the death of Humayun, a representative of Humayun used to appear on the Jharokha in Delhi Citadel till Akbar was crowned. Akbar continued the legacy and so did his son Jehangir who interestingly also had his wife accompany the session. Jehangir’s son Shah Jahan never missed a day in 30 years to appear before the public.
It was only by 1657-58 when he was captivated by his son Aurangazeb that he failed to keep up with the tradition. Aurangazeb abolished this act, citing it to be irreligious.
Many religious structures of the Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs had the use of Jharokha in their structures. It is imperative to mention that the concept of Jharokha was in use in Muslim architecture too in places like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan by the name Roshan. Privacy, an important aspect in Islam, was facilitated to the Royal Muslim women behind these cool sit-outs concealed by latticework. As the trade route was open between India and the Middle East, it can be assumed that artisans from both sides could share their artistry and this must have influenced the style quotient of these marvellous windows. As creativity knows no bounds, traditional Jharokha were customized to suit the needs and were beautified accordingly. India since the medieval ages was subjected to external influences, in the form of trade routes, Mughals rein, etc. which coalesced with regional architecture to give birth to a balanced version of Indo-Islamic architecture. The enigma was such that Mughals and Hindu rulers used this amalgamation in their palaces and Havelis. The palaces of Jaisalmer are one such example where one can witness the distinctiveness of the Indo-Islamic architecture in full glory. This influence came into being after the Bhattis of Jaisalmer and Mughal ruler Humayun maintained a cordial relationship. Inter-religious marriages occurred amongst both the communities and this may have given birth to cross-cultural influences in art and architecture among Mughals and Rajputs.
Jharoka has evolved and articulated with the regime, era, aesthetic taste, local techniques, artisans, and raw material. Its origin though couldn't be ascertained but is believed to date back to the Mauryan Empire in 3 BC as inferred from the excavated archaeological terracotta tablets.
With time, this once royal feature found its use in the homes of commoners too due to its useful aspects. An example could be the wooden intricately carved room divider which took the concept of a Jharokha inside a room. A wall within a room may have hindered lighting and air apart from decreasing the size of a room. However, a room divider served the purpose without taking away any of those elements and additionally also let the option be open for the person in case he wished to remove the partition within the room without an iota of physical and monetary trouble.
Below are a few examples of Jharokha themes used in our daily lives.
1. Today though their elaborateness may have ceased till date, many use the same concept within their homes to revamp the decor to a royal traditional theme. Wall art in the form of intricately made wooden Jharokha wall hangings.
2. Rajasthani paintings on a Jharokha frame are available as wall hangings in an array of sizes.
3. Photo frames, wall-mounted key holders.
4. An array of small Jharoka fitted as a wallcovering to enhance wall decoration.
5. Wall-mounted Jharokha mirrors are another option to add virtual space to a room.
6. A few opt to place their deity in a Jharokha-themed temple.
7. Jharokha Printed bedsheets are a beautiful bedding option.
8. At times Rajasthani restaurants customize their menu card as a Jharokha.
9. Jharokha jewelry like necklace pendants and earrings are also prominent nowadays.
10. During weddings, few opt for heavily embroidered Jharokha on their lehengas.
11. Many Kurtis also have Jharokhas prints or weaves to give it a beautiful look.