Why Jaipur’s King Painted His City Pink to Impress the Prince of Wales
By Emily Petsko
If a member of the royal family were coming to your home, you’d probably spruce it up a bit—maybe rearrange the furniture and plop some peonies into a vase. The king of Jaipur, however, went above and beyond what's expected of a host.
In an effort to impress the Prince of Wales ahead of his state visit in 1876, it is widely believed that the king had the entire city painted pink.
Nestled in the state of Rajasthan in northern India, Jaipur is about a one-hour flight from New Delhi. Today, this popular tourist site is affectionately known as the “Pink City,” but its streets weren’t always so rosy. Prior to a state visit from Prince Albert Edward—the eldest son of Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert—Jaipur’s buildings were either white or a “sallow yellow,” according to The Rough Guide to India.
In hopes of dazzling his royal counterpart, the reigning maharaja (“great king”) of Jaipur, Sawai Ram Singh II, decided to undertake something of a remodeling project. He ordered all buildings in the city to be painted the same shade of pink—a color that symbolizes hospitality. At the urging of his favorite wife, the maharaja took it one step further and passed a law in 1877 making it illegal for buildings in the old city to be painted any color other than "Jaipur pink." This law still remains in effect today.
According to one account, the first person to call Jaipur the “Pink City” was writer Stanley Reed, a correspondent for The Times of India who wrote about the Prince of Wales’s royal visit.
The color more closely resembled a light maroon, but no one seemed to object to the city's new moniker. The pigment was brought in from Kanota, located about 10 miles away, and mines were also dug closer to Jaipur to extract the stone needed to make more pink paint.
As for the king's grand plan to impress his guests, it seems to have worked. Sir William Howard Russell, a reporter who accompanied the prince and chronicled the trip, remarked, “We passed through a gateway, and Jaipur lay before us, a surprise and wonder forever.”
A bit of flattery didn’t hurt, either. Sawai Ram Singh II, who understood the political advantage of getting in the prince’s good graces, erected the grand Albert Hall Museum in his name. The prince laid the first foundation stone during his visit.
While the Prince Albert Edward story is the most widely told tale of how Jaipur got its rosy complexion, there are other notable theories. Author and historian Giles Tillotson posits that Jaipur was painted pink prior to the 19th century in an attempt to emulate the buildings of Delhi and Agra, many of which were constructed from pinkish sandstone. However, he says that Jaipur’s paint was touched up for the prince’s visit—hence the confusion.
In his 2006 book Jaipur Nama: Tales from the Pink City, Tillotson also noted a time in the late 19th century when Jaipur almost abandoned the whole pink project entirely:
“On one occasion, in 1868, the then Maharaja, Ram Singh II, recklessly suggested that the wash might be varied a bit, with different quarters of the city being painted in different colors; but by 1870 this experiment was recognized as a hideous mistake and the pink was restored ... But underneath the range of acrylic powder pinks there are traces of the geru, or terracotta pink, which was indeed original.”
Jaipur received another “facelift” in 2000 ahead of then-president Bill Clinton’s visit. In addition to requiring stores to post their signs in black Hindi lettering on white backgrounds, the city restricted some roads to traffic—which at the time was “unheard of in India,” according to The Rough Guide to India.
While Jaipur is India’s only “Pink City,” it’s not the only monochromatic metropolis in the country. In Rajasthan, there’s the “Blue City” of Jodhpur, the “White City” of Udaipur, and the “Yellow City” of Jaisalmer. Further north, the “Green City” of Chandigarh, so called for its abundant vegetation, made a list of “52 places to go in 2018” curated by The New York Times.