This Day in History (18-Nov-1727) – Maharaja Jai Singh-II of Amber laid the stone of pink city of Jaipur

Jai Singh II, a child prodigy, came to the Rajput throne in 1699. The young lad quickly impressed the 71-year-old Aurangzeb who awarded him the title ‘Sawai’, meaning one-and-a-quarter. Jai Singh II, having proved his soldiering ability further enriched his coffers and fulfilled his other passions – 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.

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 from Bengal, Vidyadhar Bhattacharaya, was asked to design the city. Vidhyadhar Bhattacharya, following the principles of Shilpa Shastra, and referencing the ancient Indian knowledge on astronomy, further developed and discussed the plan with Jai Singh. It is said that the foundation of the city was laid down on 18th November 1727 by Jai Singh himself. It took minutely planned strategies and 4 years for the city to come to form. The city was named Jaipur 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 Bhattacharya.

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 (chokris). Jaipur was the first sizable city in north India to be built from scratch, though the famous pink colour symbolizing welcome, came later when Ram Singh II received the Prince of Wales in 1876. The colour 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.


This Day in History (21-Jun-1576) – Mughal army defeated Rana Pratapsingh in the battle of Haldighat

Maharana Pratap was crowned as ruler of Mewar in 1572. Though majority of Rajputs had accepted Delhi’s leadership, Pratap refused to surrender to Akbar and continued to fight against Mughals. On June 21, 1576, the two armies met at Haldighati. Pratap led 20,000 Rajputs against a Mughal army of 80,000 men commanded by Raja Man Singh. The battle of Haldighati, lasted only four hours. In this short period, Pratap’s men essayed many brave exploits on the field. Pratap personally attacked Man Singh: his horse Chetak placed its front feet on the trunk of Man Singh’s elephant and Pratap threw his lance; Man Singh ducked, and the mahout was killed.

However, the numerical superiority of the Mughal army and their artillery finally began to tell. Seeing that the battle was lost, Pratap’s generals prevailed upon him to flee the field so as to be able to fight another day. To facilitate Pratap’s escape, one of his lieutenants, a member of the Jhala clan, donned Pratap’s distinctive garments and took his place in the battlefield. He was soon killed. Meanwhile, riding his trusty steed Chetak, Pratap made good his escape. But Chetak was critically wounded on his left thigh by a Mardana (Elephant Trunk Sword) while Pratap had attempted to nail down Man Singh. Chetak was bleeding heavily and he collapsed after jumping over a small brook few kilometres away from the battle field.

Two turk knights followed Pratap. The moment they started chasing him, Pratap’s younger brother Shaktisingh who was fighting from the Mughal side (he had some disputes with Pratap at the time of Pratap’s coronation; hence he had defected and gone over to Akbar’s court) realized that his own brother was under threat. He could not help but react against a threat to his own brother. He followed the Turks, engaged them in single combat and killed them. Saddned by the loss of his beloved general and horse, Pratap embraced his brother. Shaktisingh asked for his brother’s pardon, for having fought as his enemy. Pratap pardoned him. Maharana Pratap continued to fight against Mughals until his death in 1597.


This Day in History (27-Mar-1668) – English king Charles II gives Bombay to East India Company for just 10 pounds of gold a year

Mumbai was just seven islands Colaba, Mazagaon, Mahim, Parel, Bombay Island, Worli and Old Woman’s Island. They were separated by swamps: the land was dangerous and unhealthy.In 1534, the Portuguese captured the seven islands from Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat and established a trading centre there. The Portuguese called the place Bom Bahia, meaning ‘the good bay’, which the English pronounced Bombay. This trading place slowly grew, with local people trading products such as silk, muslin, chintz, onyx, rice, cotton and tobacco. By 1626, there was a great warehouse, a friary, a fort and a ship building yard. There were also new houses for the general population, and mansions for the wealthy.

In October 1626, whilst at war with Portugal, English sailors heard that the Portuguese had “got into a hole called Bombay” to repair their ships. They attacked Bombay, but the ships had already left. The English burned down buildings, and destroyed two new Portuguese ships not yet from the stocks. In May 1662, King Charles II of England married Catherine of Braganza, whose family offered a large dowry. Part of this gift was the Portuguese territory of Bombay. However, Charles II did not want the trouble of ruling these islands and in 1668 persuaded the East India Company to rent them for just 10 pounds of gold a year.

Within a few years the Company had transformed Bombay. Governor Gerald Aungier set about building up the port, with a new quay, warehouses and a customs house. The Company supported him and encouraged him to build a new city – they even sent him the plan of London as it was to be rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666. Aungier started a complex building programme: causeways to link the islands; forts and a castle to protect people; a church, a hospital, and a mint where coins were made. He made the city more populous by attracting Gujarati traders, Parsi ship-builders, and Muslim and Hindu manufacturers from the mainland.  In 1687, the Company made Bombay their Indian headquarters. The headquarters stayed there until 1708. During Mughal attacks in 1689, city lost its major manpower but bounced back by 1700 to become ‘gateway of India’.