I have made a reference to Havelis in Mystique of India – 9, Jaisalmer (City Sunday, 3-9th 2016). Jaisalmer Havelis are no doubt rich in art and architecture, but the havelis of Mandawa stand apart. These havelis are an integral part of Shekhawati region, which occupies a unique place in the geography and history of Rajasthan.
Shekhawati region and its havelis
Shekhawati region comprising Jhunjhunu, Sikar, Churu and Nagaur districts is located in the desert area of Rajasthan. The climatic conditions in the region are extreme and very harsh. The people in the region depend on rain water harvesting during the monsoon season. The inhabitants of Shekhawati are considered to be brave, sacrificing and hard working.
Irrespective of all claims and beliefs, the region finds a prominent place in the tourist map of Rajasthan for its extraordinary and richly painted Havelis. Part of the region’s appeal and mystique is due to these works of art being found in tiny towns, connected to each other by single-track roads that run through desolate, arid countryside. This region has been recognized as the “open art gallery of Rajasthan” having the largest concentration of frescos in the world. The havelis are ornately decorated residences of erstwhile businessmen, which enclose one or more courtyards, highlighted with dazzling, often whimsical, murals.
It is said that what makes the art work on Shekhawati havelis so fascinating is the manner in which the artists combined traditional subjects, such as mythology, religious scenes and images of the family, with contemporary concerns, including brand-new inventions and accounts of that period’s events. The ornate frescos depicting mythological and historical themes, assimilating into their fold images of gods, goddesses, animals and the life of Lord Rama and Krishna with scenes from the two great Indian epics.
Mandawa and its importance
Mandawa is said to be the most happening village of the entire Shekhawati tourism sphere. It was said to be the earliest place which made to the Shekhawati tourism map. Mharoo Shardul Singh of Jhunhunu gave this area to his son Thakur Nawal Singh, who founded Nawalgarh. Thakur Nawal Singh built the fort at Mandawa in 1775 AD. Today Mandawa is carrying a legacy full of heritage Rajput art. Any trip to Shekhawati region minus Mandawa is considered an incomplete one.
Some of the important havelis of Mandawa are: Hanuman Prasad Goenka haveli, Saraf haveli, Murmuria haveli, Ladia haveli, Chokhani haveli, Newatia haveli and Jhunjhunwala haveli. Most of the descendents of the owners of these beautiful havelis have migrated to metropolitan cities and have contributed to the development of industries and commerce of the country.
Mandawa Fort and Raghunath Ji Temple are two other places of tourist attraction in this region. The interior of Mandawa Fort is said to have been influenced by the Seesh Mahal of Amber Fort, in terms of elaborate mirror work on the walls and ceiling. Durbar Hall, in particular, is considered to be a grand portion of the fort.
Of all the havelis in Mandawa, Jhunjhunwala haveli is considered to be the most beautiful one. Built in the year 1859, Jhunjhunwala haveli is said to be the best treasure house of traditional Rajasthani art. The architectural beauty of the structure, the fresco paintings on the walls, pillars and the ceiling left us spellbound. The haveli has latticed windows and beautiful wooden doors which make it stand out among the rest. There was not a single inch of unpainted space anywhere in the building. The creativity of Rajasthani artists can be seen through the decoration on the walls. We were truly wonderstruck to visualise the abundance of the art and architecture of the Rajaputana era.
Havelis in ruins: Need to preserve
Almost all the havelis at Mandawa were in ruins. Owners had shifted long ago to distant places such as Mumbai, Ahmadabad and Kolkata in search of new business pastures. They had no time to return or retain these invaluable inheritances. Many of these havelis are taken care of by paid caretakers and their families. Most of these caretakers charge hefty fee for the entry of visitors. They claim that their owners no more pay them any salaries and therefore, they collect entry fee for their own livelihood!
All these properties being private properties, the state government is unable to interfere in their upkeep. However, since these havelis constitute invaluable heritage of the Shekhawati region, it is time the government of Rajasthan took some steps to preserve them for the posterity.
Hotel Uday Vilas Palace
Having visited the Haveli and the step well, we spent the night at Hotel Uday Vilas Palace. Befitting the name, the hotel has the ambience as well as hospitality almost matching that of a palace. Food served here was very good and reasonably priced. We found the hotel totally occupied by foreign tourists.