IN SEARCH OF THE HAVELIS OF SHEKHAWATI

Marwar - - Contents - Text & pho­to­graphs Me­lanie P Ku­mar

The havelis of Shekhawati bring alive the grandeur of a by­gone era, es­pe­cially the sense of aes­thet­ics and splen­dour of its own­ers. Sadly, many of them lie aban­doned to­day, or in a state of ut­ter dis­re­pair. MAR­WAR takes a tour to cap­ture their dy­ing grandeur, even as they slowly fade from our mem­ory.

The havelis of Shekhawati bring alive the grandeur of a by­gone era, es­pe­cially the sense of aes­thet­ics and splen­dour of the mer­chants who built them. Sadly many of them lie aban­doned to­day, or in a state of ut­ter dis­re­pair. MAR­WAR takes a tour to cap­ture their dy­ing grandeur, even as they slowly fade from our mem­ory.

I de­cided to make the charm­ing Roop Ni­was Kothi my home away from home in Nawal­garh, as I went ex­plor­ing the famed havelis that the Shekhawati re­gion is renowned for, earn­ing it the so­bri­quet ‘open-air art gallery’. Travers­ing across Dund­lod, Ram­garh, Mend­sar, Man­dawa, Fateh­pur, Mukundgarh and Churu, I vis­ited dozens of havelis, the last des­ti­na­tion be­ing the most in­ter­est­ing—not only be­cause of its num­ber of havelis, but also be­cause of the warmth with which we were re­ceived by their care­tak­ers. They threw open the haveli doors and showed us around, even in­sist­ing that I par­took of re­fresh­ments. This hos­pi­tal­ity was to be seen even at the ho­tel, Malji Ka Kamra, where the man­ager was not just ex­tremely cor­dial, but also treated me to a wel­come cup of tea.

The Shekhawati re­gion was once a part of an an­cient trade route, prompt­ing many mer­chants to make it their home. Even af­ter they moved to other parts of the country and built their for­tunes, they main­tained their ties with Shekhawati, where their fam­i­lies of­ten lived. With time, as their fam­i­lies too joined them in the cities, their ties with Shekhawati weak­ened, leav­ing many of the havelis in a state of dis­re­pair. To­day, some of them have watch­men or care­tak­ers—of­ten self-ap­pointed— whilst oth­ers have been en­croached upon. Only a few like the Mo­rarka and Pod­dar havelis in Nawal­garh have un­der­gone restora­tion work and have man­aged to keep alive the glory of the by­gone era. Other havelis, which have been con­verted to ho­tels, also have man­aged to re­tain their grandeur.

Al­most all the havelis fol­low a stan­dard de­sign, though some are larger and are of­ten called Dou­ble Havelis. At the en­trance, there in­vari­ably is a huge wooden, in­tri­cately carved gate­way, which opens into an outer court­yard. Here, one is re­quired to pass through a metal door to step into an in­ner court­yard, which pro­vides ac­cess to all the rooms on the ground floor, each with in­di­vid­ual doors. There are usu­ally beau­ti­ful pil­lars all around. Be­sides their aes­thetic ap­peal, the arched ones es­pe­cially, they sup­port the enor­mous weight of the havelis. There are no lin­tels to be seen, yet these ed­i­fices have stood firm for decades, nay even cen­turies. Many of the havelis we vis­ited had two storeys and some­times four court­yards. Like in the palaces of Ra­jasthan, many of the win­dows are lat­ticed, pro­vid­ing women in pur­dah, a view of the out­side world.

The most charm­ing as­pect of Shekhawati’s havelis are, of course, the fres­coes, which oc­cupy pride of place al­most ev­ery­where, start­ing from the out­side court­yard walls to the gate­ways, ceil­ings, para­pets and al­coves. Whilst the mid-nine­teenth cen­tury fres­coes de­pict sto­ries from Hindu re­li­gious texts, in the ones built later, the imag­i­na­tions of the own­ers seem to roam free with im­ages of planes, trains, gramo­phones, tele­phones—what­ever caught their fancy. Those con­nected with the free­dom move­ment have pic­tures of their favourite lead­ers, whilst oth­ers have draw­ings of fam­ily mem­bers.

The in­flu­ence of the Re­nais­sance can also be seen in the con­struc­tion and dé­cor of some of the havelis.

Sadly, many of these havelis are crum­bling for want of at­ten­tion. Since they are an im­por­tant part of the cul­tural her­itage of Ra­jasthan, one can only hope that the state and cen­tral gov­ern­ments, with the sup­port of kind­hearted spon­sors, will come to­gether and save these mar­vels from be­com­ing just mem­o­ries of the past.

Above: Malji Ka Kamra, a haveli in Churu that has been turned into a ho­tel Fac­ing page: Pil­lars adorn­ing the outer court­yard of a haveli.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.