IN SEARCH OF THE HAVELIS OF SHEKHAWATI
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.