The Fascinating “Sawai” Flag of Jaipur!

Flags, banners, and insignia are the symbols that hold a place of pride amongst the royals and reverence among the common masses. This is equally true for the city of Jaipur or the erstwhile Jaipur State ruled by Kachwaha Rajputs. The manner in which the royal flag is presently displayed by the royal family of Jaipur, the Kachwahas, first began during Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. However this wasn’t the only change that took place with respect to the banner of Kachwaha dynasty in its illustrious history.

The Kachnar Dhvaj of Kachwahas

The original flag of the family was called the ‘Kachnar Dhvaj’ or the ‘Jhaad Shahi’. This former banner donned the figure of a Kachnar tree (Bauhinia Variegata) in full bloom on a white background. This flag was actually the pennant or ensign of Lord Ram as described by Pandit Bhavabhuti, the 8th century Sanskrit playwright, in his famed tome “Uttararamacharita”. It is noteworthy that Kachwahas claim descent from Kusha, the son of Lord Ram.

In 1585-88 Maharaja Man Singh of Amber (Jaipur won’t be established until 1727) campaigned alongside Mughal forces in north west India and Afghanistan where he subdued five ferocious warrior tribes. It is after these victories that Man Singh changed the flag of Amber and incorporated the 5 colours of these tribes – red, yellow, white, green, and blue. As a result, ‘Pachranga’, the banner with 5 colours became the dynasty’s new insignia.

The "Pachranga" flag of Jaipur

However, at present if one visits the Amber Fort or the City Palace in Jaipur, one ‘Panchranga’ is not the only flag that can be seen fluttering atop. Instead, one would witness this large banner accompanied by a small banner, quarter the size of the former one. To understand this peculiar setting, it is necessary to know about Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II.

The "Pacharanga" accompanied by a "Sawai" flag atop the City Palace in Jaipur

Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who was a prolific scholar and patron of architecture, astronomy, and mathematics, founded the city of Jainagar, now called Jaipur, in 1727. The city replaced Amber as the new capital of Kachwahas in 1733. He commissioned five astronomical observatories called Jantar Mantar in Delhi, Mathura, Benares, Ujjain, and Jaipur. These observatories housed gigantic and novel instruments like Vrihat Samrat Yantra, the largest stone sundial in the world. He also had Euclid's “Elements of Geometry” translated into Sanskrit alongside works of Napier work on the logarithms.

Apart from his patronage to scientific research, Jai Singh II was also the most formidable ruler in Northern India due to his superior military strength and early wisdom to incorporate fire-power munitions like matchlocks and artillery like the Jaivana, the largest wheeled cannon in the world. Please note that all of this was years before Mahdaji Sindhia or Tipu Sultan realised the significance of these modern weapons.

Being a devout Hindu, he became the first Hindu ruler in centuries to perform Vedic ceremonies like the Ashwamedh and Vajapeya Yagya. Alongside promoting the learning of Sanskrit language, he also initiated reforms like abolition of Sati. It was on his insistence that the Jaziya tax on Hindu pilgrims imposed by Mughals was abolished by Muhammad Shah in 1720.

The "Pacharanga" accompanied by a "Sawai" flag atop the Amber Fort in Jaipur

The ruler of a stature that he was, Maharaja Jai Singh II earned the honorific of “Sawai” meaning ‘one and a quarter’. Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb bestowed the title considering him one and a quarter times superior to his contemporaries.

It is to represent this “Sawai”, a title adopted by the later Maharajas also, that a small quarter flag was added by Maharaja Jai Singh II to accompany the ‘Pancharanga’ atop the Kachwaha dynasty’s official residences, forts, and palaces.

But that is not all. The hoisting of both the flags is also a sign of the presence of the king in the building or the city. In his absence, the quarter or the “Sawai” flag is not hoisted. This further goes on to indicate that the large banner symbolises the Maharani or the Queen and the smaller quarter flag stands for the King or the Maharaja. Therefore, the coming up and fluttering of the “Sawai” sends the message that the Maharaja has arrived.

And that, folks, is one more fascinating tale pertaining to the intrigues of the royal families of Rajasthan!