Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Painted Havelis of Shekhawati

Painted haveli in Nawalgahr, Shekhawati.

Shekhawati is a very unique Indian region situated in Northern Rajasthan. The once very wealthy area is known for its many town and villages filled with beautiful painted house, called havelis. In the picture above is an example of a nicely restored haveli seen from one of it's innter courtyards. The whole ares is basically like one big open-air museum.

I went to Shekhawati because I had been hired as a local guide for a group of Danish business managers, which came to India in November. I went twice - first to do research for the trip and later with the group. I will show pictures from both trips together to keep things together thematically. Most of my time was spend in the lovely town of Nawalgahr, from where most of the pictures in this post come.

A big painted haveli seen from the outside. If you think it looks a bit introverted you are right. The havelis of Rajasthan have always been very closed towards the outside with big open courtyards inside. The women of a family were not supposed to be in contact with any males from outside the family, so they were kept in their own courtyard inside away from the gaze of strangers.

Normally havelis are very richly decorated inside, but much less so on the outside. But at least the havelis of Shekhawati are often painted both inside and outside.

Inside another courtyard. The courtyards are very airy, which helps keep the whole building cool in the sweltering summer. In fact "Haveli" probably comes from the Hindi word "Hava" meaning "air".

Most of the motives in Shekhawati are religious such as this one showing Krishna giving a massage to one of his wives or lady friends.

But there are also pictures showing more earthly scenes. Here a number of noblemen are playing a game which looks very much like the game Ludo, which I played as a child. According to a local guide, these men played for big amounts of money and in extreme cases they loose their havelis or wives in such games.

Shekhawati was a rich trading region which lay on the routes carrying garments from Afghanistan to Gujarat in southwestern India and spices back the other way. As the British arrived in India the businessmen of Shekhawati welcomed the law and order brought about by the new rulers. And their contact with the British is reflected in many of the youngest paintings from the 19th and early 20th centuries. A frequent fascination is the technology brought by the Europeans. Here is shown a train as the artist must have imagined it to look like: As small houses on wheels.

Also an automobile is shown... well as an air balloon with a curious design: The man to the right keeps the balloon suspended in air by blowing into it.

Even the favourite prophet of the arrived Europeans is shown in a few paintings.

Inside the Podor Haveli in Nawalgahr, which is now a museum. This is the restored meeting room of the haveli where men would host their business meetings while the women observed from the balconies. The grey cloth in the middle is a fan, which was hand operated by servants.

Courtyard in the same haveli.

Wooden carvings from a door.

Nawalgahr haveli by night. I spent a long time walking around in night looking for good motifs for night photos. But it was surprisingly hard since there are very few street lights. Shekhawati is still an under discovered place even though more and more tourists go there. But it still has a very rural feel. This is the only picture I was able to take, and only because of a store light on the opposite side of the street.

A big haveli in the smaller nearby town of Dundlod where I stayed with my Danish group.

Nearby door to a very small local haveli.


eilon said...

New Delhi amazing city i very like the pic , keep it !

traveller one said...

HI Esben, These are beautiful photos!

For the Purple Lion you can give it to anyone who writes powerful blogs- the language doesn't matter!

pumpkinhead1969 said...

Hi Esben,
Shekhawati looks beautiful. I was fortunate enough to visit New Delhi last September and loved it. Although it was beautiful I was told that much of the paintings and gems on the temples/palaces was taken by invading countries. If I'm ever able to go back I'll be sure to visit Shekhawati.

Esben said...

Hi pumpkinhead,

Yes, Shekhawati is quite a nice place - not very crowded and a good taste of quiet Indian smalltown life combined with nice attractions. An enjoyable place to stay 3-4 days - it shouldn't be rushed.