Jahaz Mahal: The ship palace anchored in the waters of Mandu

The Jahaz Mahal in Mandu, Madhya Pradesh, was built in the 15th century to provide a luxurious and autonomous life to the royal women. Constructed between two lakes, it looks like a ship in the water and once had pools and water slides for its inhabitants

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Jahaz Mahal: The ship palace anchored in the waters of Mandu. Pic: MP Tourism

Jahaz Mahal: The ship palace anchored in the waters of Mandu. Pic: MP Tourism

On a narrow strip of land between two lakes, Jahaz Mahal in the Mandu Fort complex in Madhya Pradesh is an architectural marvel that appears like a ship floating in water. The palace between Munj Talao and Kapur Talao is 110 meters in length and 15 meters in width. Sultan Ghiyasuddin Khilji constructed the Jahaz Mahal in the 15th century to house thousands of royal women.

A hallmark of luxury and opulence in the bygone centuries, Jahaz Mahal showcases a blend of Afghan, Mughal and Hindu architectural styles. 

Surrounded by water, the palace that was once a harem looks like it is floating, hence its name. 

It is one of the buildings that make up the Mandu royal palace complex, which also includes the Hindola Mahal, the Taveli Mahal, and the Nahar Jharokha. The history of Jahaz Mahal is intertwined with the history of Mandu. It provided a luxurious and autonomous life for the women, shielding them from the public eye. 

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Pools, slides and water management 

At the same time, Jahaz Mahal’s design allowed the women to enjoy comforts like steam baths and slides that went down to Kapur Talao from the roof of Jahaz Mahal!

The pool on the ground floor of Jahaz Mahal. Pic: Varun Shiv Kapur/Flickr

The Ship Palace also had an advanced water harvesting and management system that used spiral ridges to supply water to the pools and reservoirs below. Jahaz Mahal has tanks and several wells within its structure. 

One notable well is the Andheri Baori (dark well) used to cool the building. Today, this baori provides water to the residents of Mandu.

Between Munja Talao and Kapur Talao, an underground waterway interconnects the two. Munja Talao, the larger of the two, is open to natural drainage, while Kapur Talao has embankments. Between them, a water tank, with intricate staircases, provided for the water needs of guests staying at Jahaz Mahal.

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The monument consists of two storeys. Both floors have lotus-shaped pools, each capable of holding 30,000 litres of water filled using Rehat (wheel) technology. The pool on the first floor is fed by curvaceous, artistically designed water channels. These spaces also offer ample seating space and are filled with rainwater even today.

Unique architecture

Unique to Mandu, the walls of Jahaz Mahal are plastered. Other buildings of that time were constructed with lime, mortar, and stone powder unlike this structure crafted by clamping iron and stone. 

Jahaz Mahal has a unique architectural design. Pic: Flickr

The balconies are designed to amplify sound, allowing voices to resonate throughout the entire Jahaz Mahal. The intricate carvings on the walls are a visual delight, showcasing exquisite craftsmanship.

On the ground floor, three large halls are separated by corridors. A staircase, inspired by a ship, takes one to the first floor which offers beautiful views apart from the pool. A flight of steps leads down to the ground floor in the northern annexure. On the eastern side, an exotic pavilion extends into the waters of Kapur Talao.

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The main entrance to Jahaz Mahal on the eastern side features six arched openings on either side, supported by stone brackets. Inside, three large halls are connected by corridors and have narrow rooms at each end. A water channel in the southern room is believed to have supplied water to a beautifully designed cistern near the northern room. 

Each hall opens into pavilions overlooking Munj Talao, where women could enjoy the view while remaining hidden from the public by curtains hanging from the arches.

Jahaz Mahal is not just a marvel of architecture but also a vibrant cultural hub. It plays a key role in the Mandu festival, celebrated every winter with adventure activities, music shows, lights, and balloon festivals. The sound and light show at Jahaz Mahal is a highlight, offering an immersive experience that brings the history of Mandu to life.

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