THE capital of the State, before the foundation of Jaypur, was Amber. It is about five miles to the northeast of the present capital and quite shut in by surrounding hills, but is almost entirely deserted now, and numerous trees grow in its unfrequented streets and ruined courts. “La ville d’Amber,” as Jacquemont remarks is “tombe en runie; on dirait une cité marquée par une providence funeste, visitée par une fléau destructeur. Pas un habitant, pas une voix, que le murmure monotone de la prière d’un Brahmane resté fidèle à quelqu’un des vieux temples.” At the south end of the town is a small lake or tank, and on its margin are the royal baths. A steep ascent leads from these up to the castle or palace which contains numerous courts and suites of apartments, some of them small and reached through intricate passages, others extremely beautiful, “and enjoying from their windows, balconies, and terraces one of the most striking prospects which can be conceived.” One of the most highly ornamented of the buildings here is the Kanch Mehal, or Glass Palace—so called, because much of its interior is decorated with looking-glass inserted in the wainscoting of the walls. The windows of it are of perforated marble work--without much variety in the patterns, perhaps, but beautifully carved, and which has a peculiarly pleasing effect inside. On the left of the view is seen a corner of a noble open hall of audience. The floors and all the pillars, except those on the three outer sides, are of white or yellowish white marble; the outer line, however, are of red sandstone, and of quite a different pattern: they are double-columns, and at the corners quadruple, connected, and of the purely Musalman pattern, resembling a slender baluster. This had, doubtless, been tried for effect, but the contrast both in colour and form being unpleasant, these outer pillars have been plastered over with marble chunam, in such a way as to bring them nearly into perfect accordance in form and colour with the marble columns inside. This reason, however, has been lost sight of, and an impossible legend invented to account for the disguised form of the sandstone pillars. The Padshah of Dehli, they say, hearing of the beauty of these shafts in the audience hall of Jaysingh, sent masons and others to Amber to secure copies of them for a new palace for the Mughul, and the Mahârâja, unwilling to allow their being copied, had them at once covered over with plaster in the way they now are.
“For myself,” says Heber, “I have seen many royal palaces containing larger and more stately rooms,— many, the architecture of which was in purer taste, and some which have covered a greater extent of ground (though in this, if the fortress on the hill be included, Amber will rank, I think, above Windsor),—but for varied and picturesque effect, for richness of carving, for wild beauty of situation, for the number and romantic singularity of the apartments, and the strangeness of finding such a building in such a place and country, I am able to compare nothing with Amber; and this, too, was the work of Jaysingh! .1 The ornaments are in the same style, though in a better taste, than those of his palace at Jaypur, and the size and number of the apartments are also similar. A greater use has been made of stained glass here, or else from the inaccessible height of the window the glass has remained in better preservation. The building is in good repair, but has a solitary and deserted aspect; and as our guide, with his bunch of keys, unlocked one iron-clenched door after another, and led us over terraces and up towers, down steep, dark, sloping passages, and through a long succession of silent courts and dim vaulted chambers, seen only through coloured glass, and made more gorgeously gloomy by their carving, gilding, and mirrors, the idea of an enchanted castle occurred, I believe, to us all.”
Nor is it much changed at the present day. Jacquemont says of it: “Je n’ai rien vu de si pittoresque en Europe, parmi ce que le moyen âge nous a laissé de mines. Amber d’ailleurs, qui a tout le charme triste d’une ruine, n’en est pas une. Il n’y a qu’un siècle qu’il a cessé d’être la résidence du Radjah de JeÏpour, et depuis la fondation de la ville nouvelle, il est constamment entretenu, et par Intervalles habité par les descendants de JeÏ-Sing, qui sont justement fiers de ce magniiique monument de I’ancienne splendeur de leur maison. Ce n’est pas un palais; c’est une ville de palais unis les uns aux autres pour former un systeme de défense commune. Au gré des accidents du sol, ses murailles s’élèvent ou s’abaissent, se couronnent de créneaux élégants ou se percent seulement des rares meurtrières, enfin se dressent comme les escarpements des rochers, là où rinaccessibilité de leur base leur sert suffisamment de défense.”
Within this palace is a shrine of Kâli—the goddess of destruction—where a kid is sacrificed daily. Tradition reports that, in olden time, human victims were offered here, but the custom had become obsolete until Jaysingh was frightened by a dream in which Kâli appeared to him demanding why her image was left unsatisfied with blood to quench her thirst. The Maharaja by advice “substituted a goat for the human victim, with which the
‘Dark goddess of the azure flood,
Whose robes are wet with infant tears,
Skull-chaplet wearer, whom the blood
Of man delights three thousand years,’
was graciously pleased to be contented.”2
- 1. This is perhaps in part a mistake, or the work of Jaysingh I., a.d. 1625 has been attributed to his more illustrious successor Jaysingh II., A.D. 1698 1743.
- 2. See Heber's Journal, vol. ii. pp. 39, 40; Tod's Rajasthan, vol. ii. pp. 345 seqq. and 438 (Mad. ed. pp. 318 seqq.. and 404) Jacquemont, Voyage dans l’Inde, tome iii. pp. 375—377.