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The painted havelis of Shekhawati, Rajasthan


          The painted havelis of Shekhawati

The Region
The northeast part of Rajasthan in India, consisting of the districts of Sikar and Jhunjhunu is often called  the Shekhawati region. A certain Rajput ruler called Shekha ji once ruled this land and Shekhawati means the Garden of Shekha. The descendants of Shekha ji are now called Shekhawats and most of them still bear this surname indicating their Rajput clan and the origins from the Shekhawati region.

Shekhawati region is renowned for providing the highest number of persons to the Indian armed forces, the large number of successful businessmen who originate from this region (mainly the Birlas, Poddars, Ruias and the Jhunjhunwalas), and for its frescoed havelis.

The Havelis
A haveli is essentially a large rectangular houses bound with high walls, normally two storied, with two courtyards and many rooms. You would normally enter a haveli from a large wooden door, decorated with ornate brass artifacts and land a courtyard. This is the public courtyard used by the men of the house to entertain their visitors. Through a lobby or ante-room you can access the inner courtyard, which is a more private space used by the women of the house for their chores. Normally, this inner courtyard is square in shape, and is lined with many rooms, open living spaces, room for earthen pots for storing water, and a kitchen. Since the purpose and the visitors of the two courtyards differ, so do the themes depicted in the frescos painted in the walls.

Since most of the rich trading families which once owned these palatial havelis have now moved to the bigger cities of Kolkata, Mumbai, etc. many of the havelis are in a state of deterioration. Many of the havelis have been handed over to locals who are allowed to stay in the haveli and, in return, are expected to look after its security and maintenance.

A slide show of some Shekhawati haveli photos:

Havelis of Shekhawati region, Rajasthan

The Art
Shekhawati is rightly termed as an "open-air art gallery" owing to the large number of palatial havelis with beautiful multicolored frescos and the bawris (wells in which water can be reached by descending a set of steps).

Practically every wall of an haveli is covered with thematic frescos. To an untrained eye, the frescos on the havelis' walls may all look similar, but you would do well to notice the details. Though most of the havelis and their frescos are a century old, the freshness of the colors and the details covered can still be seen on most havelis.

Attempts have been done to restore some of the havelis to their past glory and the haveli of the French artist Nadine le Price in Fatehpur Shekhawati is a fine example. The French artist Nadine le Prince got so enamored with the haveli that she bought it in 1999 from the Deoras and have since restored the haveli to its palatial glory - having restored all its frescos, windows and doors to their original glory. You can pay a small fee and visit the haveli and the various art galleries inside, and have a chat with Nadine le Prince. She also runs an artists-in-residence program and you may get an opportunity to chat up with one of the resident artists.

A slideshow of some photos of the Nadine le Prince haveli and cultural centre in Fatehpur Shekhawati:

Nadine le Prince haveli cultural centre in Fatehpur Shekhawati

Another haveli where restoration and conservation work is done is the Morarka haveli in Nawalgarh.

Shekhawati Festival
The name of Morarka and Nawalgarh, incidentally, reminds me of the famed Shekhawati Festival. This annual event, sponsored by Morarka Foundation, was held in Nawalgarh this year (February 2011).
Details of this event can be had from the event website: http://shekhawatifestival.com/

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