Gaitore Royal Cenotaphs: Stone Monuments in Jaipur

Canopy from courtyard
Chhatris from the last courtyard

Is death bitter? or, is it a way to say goodbye to the mundane world? This is a matter of individual perception. But loss is the essence in both the cases. How different people try to offset the feeling of loss depends on the outllook of those who had once lived and people in their relations. The royal families used to build beautiful and durable crematoriums and memorials. One such memorial is Gaitore, which is preserved at the foothills of Nahargarh in Jaipur.

The word Gaitore is actually a distortion of the phrase “Gaye Ka Thor,” a place for people who have left the world. Set amid rural surroundings, Gaitore Ki Chhatriya is a protected monument and a crematorium of royal family of Jaipur. In 2012, final rites of Brigadier Sawai Bhawani Singh, an erstwhile ruler of Jaipur, were performed here.

A chhatri or chhatra (canopy), a form of architecture developed during the 18th -19th century, is a memorial pavilion of royals or war heroes.

Canopy from courtyard
Chhatris from the last courtyard

During my recent visit I noticed that this beauty in marble provided an ideal backdrop for a young couple who were perfecting their pose for a nice click. An old couple was engrossed in the stories narrated by the guide. I overheard a part of the conversation and got to know that the memorials are not built for infants. There were others who were trying to figure out the stories behind the scenes preserved in the stone relief panels.

Architectural aspects of Gaitore

The Gaitore compound follows the Vedic rules of building a memorial and Indo-Persian structural and arcuate systems of constructing a building. According to Vedic rules, crematoriums should be in north of the village and sloping southwards. A water body, especially a river makes a perfect backdrop for the memorials. Moreover, crematoriums and memorials should be constructed in a hidden location so that they cannot be seen from far away.

The canopies, a symbol of royalty, share some of the architectural elements of a temple. For example, carved pillars have been erected on vedi, a cremation site. A big main dome is surrounded by drum-like vaults, which are shorter than the main dome that is embellished with an inverted lotus flower. Many decorations are based on Puranic themes. In temples, sculptures of musicians and dancers, flower motifs, and scenes from day-to-day life are also used to beautify the memorials.

All three courtyards are separated by high walls.

The Third Courtyard

I took a stroll from the last courtyard, which has six chhatris of deceased kings of Jaipur. These canopies build on high platforms do not have flights of steps connecting the vedi. All canopies feature a number of common decorative themes, including elephants in lotus garden and peacocks on trees.

Canopy Courtyard - Upper Section
Upper section of a canopy in the last courtyard

The Second Courtyard

The courtyard has a number of small chhatris dedicated to other members of the royal family. These canopies are simpler than their counterparts in other courtyards. Decoration is minimal.

Second courtyard
The second courtyard

The terrace affords the best bird’s eye view of the canopies in the first courtyard and the memorials in the last courtyard.

Small memorials of royal family at canopy courtyard
Small memorials dedicated to other members of the royal family

The First Courtyard

Chhatri of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh in the first courtyard
Chhatri of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh in the first courtyard

Highlight of the courtyard is the central chhatri, one of the best canopies built in India. Erected in the 18th century, this exclusive work of Rajasthani architecture has octagonal turrets and elegant porticos. The vedi under this canopy is accessible by four flights of steps unlike other vedis. The steps are decorated with a pair of lion sculptures. The cenotaph is laced with stone railing.

Artwork on Chhatri of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh courtyard
Elaborate artwork on the chhatri of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh

Relief Panel Themes

The subject of the relief panels is a mix of religious and secular themes like hunting scenes, figures of female musicians, singers, and dancers, and elephants in lotus ponds. In the last courtyard, one relief panel shows two horse riders attacking a tiger with a spear and sword from two sides. A foot soldier with a sword is supporting the riders in their daring venture. The tiger carved in the centre has caught the horse hoof. This gory scene is completed with a decorative tree graced by three peacocks. The panel is not just a decoration, but a record of hunting techniques used by the royal families.

Courtyard - Artwork depicting horse riders hunting tiger
Two horse riders hunt a tiger

One panel depicts a king celebrating victory and his cavalry returning from a war. While the king is sitting on the elephant, his subjects, including ladies with ceremonial items, are waiting at the palace to receive him.

Courtyard - Artwork depicting subjects welcoming their King
The subjects welcome the king and his cavalry that has returned from the war

Another panel shows Krishna playing flute for mermaids.Lord Shiva and Parvati with their son Ganesh are depicted in another panel. The panel dedicated to the Ramayana depicts Ravana with five heads and twenty hands. The scene from the war between Rama and Ravana has been sculpted very carefully to show finer details.

Courtyard - Artwork depicting Krishna playing flute for mermaids
Krishna plays flute for mermaids

The gateway to Gaitore Ki Chhatriyan in Brahmpuri is located on the way to famous Ganesh Gadh temple. In the complex made of pink sandstone, original white marble canopies are turning yellow with the age.

Courtyard - Artwork depicting subjects playing music
Music in leisure

Go and explore these memorials, which are neither grimy nor disconnected with the city. If you are looking for an interesting destination for your next itinerary, this place is a good choice.