Jali (or Jaali) describes a perforated, lattice-style screen, which is commonly seen on balconies, shutter or bay windows and building exteriors. This type of traditional architecture is a popular form of “latticework” and typically found in humid parts of the world.

Window at Alai Darwaza, Qutb complex


A jali, is an open frame structure creating criss-cross patterns created by generations of skilled workers, with materials like stone, wood and metal strips or any other building material. Back then, lattices or Jalis were used as an exterior feature for architectural and ornamental purposes but later they beautifully evolved into an interior decor element.


Latticework creates a design by crossing the strips to form a grid or weave like pattern. They fulfill different purposes like, for example, allow airflow to or through an area like thee Jharokhas , as a truss in a lattice girder, a trellis to support and display climbing plants, used to add privacy, as through a lattice screen like in Mashrabiya, as a decor element, and much more.


The Urdu word “Jaali comes from “Jaal“, which means “Net“. Thus, a jali is a lattice screen or a perforated surface (stone, wood, cement, metal) constructed while creating geometric, calligraphy of natural patterns. Some historians suggest that the jali was an import of the eponymous Empire (1526-1761). This form of architectural decoration is common in Indo-Islamic architecture and more generally in Islamic architecture.


In India, the baramdah or verandah of the house, leading to the living area is often seen covered with “jali” both for ornamentation and safety purposes. Sometimes the bay windows and upper floors balconies overlooking the street are also adorned by lattice screens which keep the area cool and serves privacy.

However, the widespread use of glass later in 19th century, lowers the popularity of jali work to certain extent. The newly constructed compact houses and dense residential buildings, runs out of space leading to further decline in the use of jalis work and accommodated sleek glass in their homes.


Jali was also an interesting way in which Muslim artists and artisans could offer ornamentation in architecture and design, without hurting the religious beliefs of Quran (avoid using human figures or bodies). Instead, Jali used geometric motifs, with symmetrical shapes and lines, floral designs with plant-based swirls of leaf shapes, vines and flower heads.

The original purpose was to allow the highborn royal ladies to view the world outside of their home from balconies, windows and stairs. They could remain secluded and protected from outsiders eyes, whilst having a clear outlook of the street. The structure serves the concept of purdaah and privacy and that’s why such structures were common in Rajput (Jharokha) and Islamic architecture (Mashrabiya) in Middle Ages, the era of defence.

JALI- Fort museum in Rajasthan.


The latticework has always been a part of ancient history. In classical period latticework is known as Roman lattice or transenna. In early Christian times, the word transenna was used to describe an openwork screen enclosing a shrine in a church. Jalis had been an important element in Arabic, Mughal and Rajputi architecture.


  • Early example of jali work with multiple geometric shapes carved into stone, can be seen in the Alai Darwaza,  southern gateway of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, built in 1311 at Delhi.
  • Another masterpiece, the Taj Mahal, exhibits jali at its finest where it is often added with pietra dura (parchin-kari) inlay to its surrounds, using marble and semi-precious stones.
  • During the reign of Akbar, the jali was usually of a simpler hexagonal and octagonal pattern. Meanwhile, under the reign of his grandson Shah Jahan, more plant and floral motifs were used. 
  • The Mughal period tomb of Muhammad Ghaus built in 1565 AD at Gwalior is remarkable for its stone jalis.
Intricate Jali Work at the Tomb of Muhammad Ghaus, Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, India


  • The Architectural Digest report claims that carved apertures have existed in India, in rudimentary forms, since the 8th century. These ancient marvels were found in the Pattadakal temple complex in Karnataka and the Kailasa temple in Ellora, Maharashtra.
Jali Work: Nachna Parvati-Temple Jali, Gupta period


  • In the Gwalior fort, near the Urwahi gate, there is a 17 line inscription dated Samvat 1553, mentioning Khedu, an expert craftsmen in making “Gwaliyai jhilmili” i.e. jali screen crafted in the Gwalior style.
  • Many of the Gwalior’s 19th century houses used stone jalis. Jalis are used extensively in Gwalior’s Usha Kiran Palace Hotel, formerly Scindia’s guest house.


  • The British-born, Gandhian architect Laurie Baker worked with brick jaalis as a fundamental interpretation of the vernacular vocabulary.


The Mughals and Rajputs favoured Jali carvings in red sandstone. Other types of stones like marble were quite popular to carve these screens. With time the materials changed into wood, clay and mud, brick even metals, making it more compatible for artisans to work with locally available of materials.



The overall concept of Jali is based on a functional and climate-friendly design approach. These small perforations in a wall has been proven as an effective architectural element in hot, dry as well as humid climate zones. 

  • Jali cuts the direct flow of sunlight inside a building. It thereby reduce the heat inside. It also allows free movement of air for cross breeze and ventilation.
  • It serves the purpose of privacy. From within, everything outside is visible through Jaali holes but from the outside, nothing gets visible inside due to light difference.
  • It works scientifically for wind because both Bernoulli as well as Venturi laws apply effectively through the Jali. It improves efficacy of wind and provides a deeper penetration. Jaali, helps cool the air by passing the same through small holes.
  • The environmentally conscious design of jali, letting in breeze and filtered sunlight without the direct heat and glare, is especially a boon in hot tropical climates. This traditionally architectural element is artistic, fosters environmental sustainability and keep costs low.
  • The size of the Jali varies too, with larger ‘holes’ used in more humid climates, and smaller holes in hot but less humid climate.
  • Jali beautifies the plain wall, as when the light fell through the screen, it cast delicate shadows that looks stunning.


In modern India, typical Jali is less frequently seen now, because residential areas are more compact and prefers glass or shutters over the traditional jali designs. However, contemporary designers and architects have come up with an idea of old jali with a modern twist. They are incorporating modern forms of jali in both interiors and exteriors.

Jali work is even an inspiration for creating stunning visuals in the form of furniture and artwork pieces, offering a knack of history to contemporary design. From wall panels, to mirrors, to cabinets, room partitions, Jali seems to be a creative option to introduce a dynamic elegance to any room. Thus, glamour of glass for uninterrupted view is not a new phenomenon now. Modern Jalis have achieved a better aesthetic grace than simple glass along with a sense of historical heritage.


Some call it poetry in stone, and, for some it invoke a sense of wonder. Jalis are awesome with a beautiful interplay of light and shadow, a perfect balance of the cool and humid, fine line between the public and private.

How elegantly the two opposites emotions are perfectly imbibed in this ancient architectural heritage of ours- The “Jali”.

Related: Mashrabiyas- An Arab Heritage , Jharokha- A Traditional Bay Window

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons Images

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