Havelis In Shekhawati – A Large Open Art Gallery!
Mostly built by Marwari community of Rajasthan, havelis are large mansions adorned with intricate frescos. While havelis are a window into the artistic and cultural heritage of Rajasthan, the havelis in Shekhawati had gone beyond the tradition and cultural heritage. They represent the vivid imagination of wealthy merchants who flaunted their wealth and lifestyle through ornate decorations on the walls their homes. The early frescos reveal influences from the Mughal art form with the use of filigree and geometric designs; the expressions went overboard later with artists deriving inspiration from royal courts, Victorian lifestyle and art deco influences.
Havelis in Shekhawati
Havelis were designed using the principles of natural ventilation. The open air courtyards and multiple large and small windows ensured lighting as well as cooling with air circulation caused by temperature differences.
Each haveli contained anywhere from 20 to 200 rooms. While the outer courtyard was primarily used for merchant’s business gatherings, inner courtyards were used for household chores. Depending on the period during which they were built, most of the haveli facades are an amalgamation of multiple windows, jharokhas, arches overlooking the main streets or bustling bazaars of the town.
The exquisitely carved main entrance door was crafted to welcome guests in the outer courtyard. The walls of the outer courtyard were decorated with Belgian mirrors in such a way that it would brighten up the indoors. The main door was large enough to allow camels inside the outer courtyard to offload the cargo, which would be later auctioned in adjacent rooms. The business dealings were conducted in a large sitting area known as baithak in the outer courtyard. Overhanging large manually operated fan ensured air cooling for the guests. During festival times the outer courtyard would be used for hosting ceremonies such as Janmashtami, Ram Navami, for holi celebrations or for weddings and engagements of family members. The structural layouts are the same for all the Havelis in Shekhawati.
An ornate large door in the open air outer courtyard led to the inner courtyard, the main residential complex of the haveli. A carving of Ganesha and his wife Siddhi along with other protective deities adorned the entrance door to the inner complex.
The inner courtyard is where women folk of the house could roam around freely. The open air courtyard is flanked by a tulsi plant in the center. The inner courtyard is flanked by rooms of various sizes which accommodated a master bedroom, a kitchen, rooms for music classes and other activities. The intricately carved wooden doors adorned with silver or gold metal platings are hallmark of havelis in Shekhawati.
Frescos on havelis in Shekhawati
The richly ornate havelis of Shekhawati were painted from wall to wall with exquisite frescos leaving not an inch empty. The vivid frescos were painted using vegetable dyes from local materials of Vermillion, Indigo, Kohl and lime. The sea shell powder was used to give shine to wall plasters and murals.
While most of the frescoes on Havelis in Shekhawati depicted myriads of themes from gods, goddesses, Krishna leela, festivals, local customs and ceremonies; some were highly imaginative work of art illustrating the fancy of what merchants may have seen or experienced during their travels abroad.
It is fascinating to find trains and victorian chariots next to paintings of gods and goddesses. One can find juxtaposition of strange objects such as victorian vases, gramophones, Japanese dolls, sailing cargo, camels and Rolls Royce cars next to mythology-themed murals containing Ram, Sita, Krishna and Radha.
The Jesus and Anarkali can be seen isolated amongst English memsahibs dressed in Victorian costumes. A horse carriage carrying the elte finds a place next to a young English boy on a bicycle. One can see erstwhile rulers and merchants family members in stylized vintage cars next to a portrait of Queen Victoria.
Bollywood super stars of yesteryears adorn the walls and ceilings of a haveli next to murals of floral vases and elephants. The most bizarre of all is a fresco of Krishna and Radha romancing sitting on a chair! The frescos on Havelis in Shekhawati seemed to transcend all the boundaries of centuries of timelines.
All the havelis in Shekhawati are abandoned by the owners, barring Podal Haveli and Morarka Haveli in Nawalgarh, which have been restored and converted into museums. The properties have been caught up in a maze of legal battles of multiple ownerships, resulting in no attention from any family member. Though all the havelis in Shekhawati haven fallen into ruins and decays, visiting Shekhawati is like a treasure hunt exploring the lost opulence of Marwari merchants!
Photolog: Road Tripping in Rajasthan