Just a short distance from Mathura lies Deeg, known for its number of forts, palaces, gardens and fountains. It was treated as a summer resort of the Jat Maharajas of Bharatpur. The Jats of Bharatpur are said to have risen to power during the period of Mughal decline, after the death of Aurangzeb in 1797 AD. It was during this time that they consolidated their stronghold in the area between Agra and Delhi. Before the 18th century, Deeg was one of the numerous tiny and unknown villages of eastern Rajasthan, forming a part of the Agra province of the Mughal Empire. Being within the area known as Braj- Bhoomi, local belief suggest that the Jats of this region are descendants of Sri Krishna and his clansmen, the Yadavas.
Deeg offers visitors much to see - beautiful palaces, lakes, reservoirs and gardens cooled by 3,000 fountains. These fountains have been created to spout coloured water of different hues for different areas. The amazing part is that the system still continues to work in perfect order. Small cloth pouches full of organic colours are inserted into the holes of the reservoir walls and as water passes through an intricate network of pipes, there is the magical effect of fountains showering coloured water.
Jat ruler Badan Singh who ascended the throne in 1721, is considered the first true leader of the Jats of Bharatpur. He chose to make Deeg his pleasure retreat and built the Purana Mahal - a rather dilapidated old palace now - raising gigantic mud fortifications around it. Due to its strategic location and proximity to Agra, Deeg had to face repeated attacks by invaders and a much stronger citadel with towering walls, bastions and a deep moat were added in 1730 by Badan Singh's son Suraj Mal. These were followed by the creation of two massive reservoirs, the Roop Sagar in the east and Gopal Sagar on the west.
Suraj Mal (1736-1763), is considered the greatest of the Jat monarchs and responsible for creating this splendid garden retreat at Deeg. With Mughal influence at its peak during his reign, his plans for palaces followed the symmetry and formality of Mughal architecture, while the gardens were patterned in the Mughal Charbagh style. Suraj Mal was an able general and even managed to capture Delhi, plundering the Red Fort and carrying away masses of treasure. Among these was an entire marble structure, which was dismantled, each piece was then numbered and reconstructed at Deeg. A beautiful marble swing, rumoured to have belonged to Nur Jahan was also brought to Deeg and remains as a war trophy from the Mughal court.
The grandest of the palaces is the Gopal Bhawan by the lake. Adding to the charm of the palace are Sawan and Bhadon, two pavilions on either side named after the monsoon months in the Indian calendar. Decorated with elaborate filigreed gates, stone slabs, ornate beams, and marble jaalis plundered from the Mughal constructions, the Gopal Bhawan is resplendent with its garden and walkways, decorative flower beds, shrubs, trees and fountains.
One might say that the rulers of Bharatpur, were particularly clever in their efforts to ensure that Deeg remained cool, no matter how hot the weather might be. The Bharatpur region is considered among the hottest areas in summer and the two huge water tanks, Gopal Sagar and Roop Sagar, on either side of the Gopal Bhawan help in bringing down the temperature during the hottest months. The palace is two-storied on the side facing the garden and rises to 4 levels on the side of the lake.
Facing the waterbody, on the third level of the palace is the Jal Bhawan - a remarkably cool chamber, where through an engineering feat the sound of thunder is recreated and pipes with small holes, through which a steady spray of water creates simulated rain.
To see how meticulously designed the engineering of all these water bodies were, one must go to another of the palaces at Deeg. Keshav Bhawan, known as the monsoon pavilion is a single-storey Baradari placed on an octagonal base. Standing next to the Roop Sagar tank, it has five arches on each side, while an arcade runs around the interior of the pavilion over a canal with hundreds of fountains. The walls of the canal are pierced with hundreds of minute water jets. In earlier times, bullocks are known to have been used to bring water to the tank, in large leather buckets through a complex pulley system.
Kishan Bhawan (earlier the Diwan-i-Khas) has a massive reservoir built next to it on the level of its roof, from where the water rushes down to the 3,000 fountains, chutes and cascades at Deeg. The fountain sprays and the jets create a monsoon-like ambience that is enhanced by a unique technique that produces thunder-like sound all around the pavilion. Hundreds of metal balls placed strategically on the channel surrounding the roof are set rolling with the water pressure which results in a thunderous effect.
Deeg was the first capital of Bharatpur when Badan Singh was proclaimed leader in 1722. In 1730, Maharaja Suraj Mal moved the capital to Bharatpur, making Deeg second capital and their summer resort. In 1804, the Bharatpur rulers came into conflict with the British East India Company and their Maratha allies and lost control over the entire area.