By Shoma Abhyankar
Jaipur, the city better known as “Pink City” for the reddish sandstone used for its massive structures has finally made it to the coveted UNESCO Heritage list. With some of its architecture like Amer Fort and the world’s largest stone sundial at Jantar Mantar already included as UNESCO Heritage sites and Hawa Mahal, a stupendous palace of 953 jharokha or windows, the recognition is a tad bit late. But better late than never.
The large ramparts of Amer Fort Palace with its cobbled pathways are spread on one of the hills of Aravalli range of mountains, oldest fold mountains and a protected area. A royal house known for its artistic pavilions, majestic halls, Sheesh Mahal or mirror palace is connected to Jaigarh Fort with a lofty subterranean passage that could accommodate horse riders and a small unit of the army to facilitate the escape of Royal family in the unfortunate circumstances of a siege.
The palace fort extended and ruled over by Rajput kings though a strong bastion was too obvious a choice for enemies seeking to take the royal family hostage and hence arose the need for a decoy fort and enhanced security measures. Jaigarh Fort that sits on the higher point of the hill ‘Cheel ka Tila’ or eagle’s hill overlooking the Amer Fort was constructed by Rajput king Jai Singh to protect Amer fort and family.
It is this Jaigarh fort that houses a heavy largest canon of its time called ‘Jaivana’, the canon, sound of which heralds victory literally. The neighbouring hills with abundant iron ore gave birth to world’s most efficient canon foundries at Jaigarh fort. A massive wind tunnel sucked air from mountains into the furnace to create temperatures as high as 2400 Fahrenheit to melt the metal.
The molten metal would be directed through the reservoir chamber into canon moulds. Most canons fabricated at Jaigarh were large in size almost 16 feet long and were made within a day.
Cast in 1720 by Sawai Raja Jai Singh II, the scientifically inclined Rajput warrior also credited for Jantar Mantar, Jaivana, the large canon has many myths and folklore associated with it. Primarily built to showcase the formidable military strength and to protect Amer fort with a single devastating blow, the canon has a barrel of 20.2 feet and weighs 50 tonnes. The canon rests on the carriage with two massive wheels of almost five feet in diameter. With the circumference of 7.2 feet at the tip of the barrel, the canon could be fed on 100 kilograms of gunpowder to fire a shot ball of 50 kg.
Myths and legends
The Rajput kings were allies of the Mughal Empire with their daughters married to successive rulers. With not many challengers of the Mughals and Jaipur rulers, it is said that the canon was test-fired only once and the circumstances to utilize its might never really occurred.
If folklores were to be believed, the shot ball used during test firing of canon fell in Chaksu village and the impact created a depression that eventually became a pond which is still in use by the villagers. While the range of the cannon ball cannot be accurately determined now but the magnificent canon with a barrel decorated with peacock and elephant motifs is indeed a gigantic one which could be swivelled with the force of four elephants. The noise of its boom, as the myth goes, caused a few women to have a miscarriage. It is said that the heat generated during the test firing was of such intensity that the soldiers handing the gunpowder had to take shelter in water tanks kept close to the canon to prevent skin burn.
The canon was never fired after the test-firing ever again. It sits under a canopy at the Jaigarh ramparts for tourists to marvel at. Its presence is the proof of metallurgical and scientific knowledge that existed in the country in 18th century. And that is a reason enough to feel proud about. While myths and legends are not always true but when it comes to the Jaivan canon... there is no smoke without fire.
(The author is a well-known travel writer. All images provided by the author. Views expressed are personal.)