The area of Shekhawati covers several villages and
towns in north eastern Rajasthan, which can be approached from Bikaner, Jaipur
and Delhi comprising of the Shikar and Jhunjhunu districts. Small towns dot
these two districts and contain within themselves some of the most elaborate
havelis, step wells, and temples. When traveling around this region, you will
stumble across some truly marvelous treasures.
Even today, the entire region of Shekhawati is known for its exquisite frescoes
popularly called the ‘open art gallery’. No other region, anywhere
in the world, has such a large concentration of frescoes. This is even more
interesting as the landscape here is totally bare, flat and colorless.
Rao Shekha, the founder of Shekhawati, came to power at the young age of 12
and established a reign that lasted 43 years. The Rajput nobles who ruled
over the small thikanas, or fiefdoms, became great patrons of art and financed
the frescoes on their havelis. Up to the early 19th century the themes were
largely religious. Other historic events, personages, battle scenes, and folk
heroes were also painted in great detail. These paintings were a record of
those times. By the end of the 19th century, there was a slight change in
the patronage. Marwaris, the business community, found itself in a position
When the East India Company began to make its presence felt in this part of
Rajasthan, it opened several avenues for the hardworking and enterprising
Marwari. Volume of trade increased and the Marwaris began to spread their
braches across the country. Even after spending several years away from their
homeland, these now successful and wealthy businessmen remained true sons
of the soil. While they lived austerely in their adopted cities, they sent
back huge sums of money to their families. Spending large sums on the welfare
of their community, wells, reservoirs, schools, colleges, dharmashalas and
gaushalas were financed.
Most of them had left their families behind and they returned to build some
huge mansions for them. They were in a position to show off their new status
and there was no better way of doing this than commissioning the most intricate
frescoes on their havelis. Very soon it became customary to have a painted
haveli and the artists were kept busy moving from one village to the next.
The demand for these painters kept growing and very soon unskilled painters
and masons too began to get involved in the paintings, reflecting those times
and very soon the purely mythological themes gave way to western influences.
Cars, trains, airplanes, ships, telephones, foreigners in hats, suits and
gowns began to appear on the walls with scenes from Lord Krishna’s life.
Most of the villages of Shekhawati have kept their rustic charm intact making
a drive around these painted towns a wonderful experience. While the painted
mansions are certainly the focal point here, don’t miss the unique architectural
style of the havelis. They are marvels of good design. Several courtyards
and inner chambers were designed to keep the women folk safe and comfortable
yet segregate them from the outside. The havelis looked like huge blocks but
were so ingeniously planned that they provided adequate protection from the
harsh summers. Other monuments to look out for are the step wells, four-pillared
wells, temples and dharmashalas.
Some of the important towns that should not be missed are Sikar,
where the temples of Gopinath, Raghunath and Madan Mohan are interesting as
are the biyani havelis with their unusual blue and white colors. Two other
important temples in the vicinity are the Harsh
Nath temple and Jeen Mata temple.
The fort of Lachmangarh is one of the most impressive and imposing in Shekhawati.
Try to get a bird’s eye view of the town below , it has been designed
to resemble the planned city of Jaipur. Ramgarh
is famous not only for the havelis of Poddars but also for its rustic wood
furniture. Fatehpur has some beautiful frescoes in Indian as well as western
styles. Particularly noteworthy are the Chamariya and Singhania havelis.
Shyamji is more famous for its temple of Shri Shyamji and
draws devotees throughout the year. People walk several miles to offer homage
at the temple from all over India.
Nawalgarh is home to some of
the leading merchant families of the country. This is also the place to find
some of the finest frescoes in the entire region. Look for Roop Niwas, Poddar
haveli, Saat Haveli, few old temples, forts and heritage hotels. The Goenka
havelis are also famous. The fort of Mandawa dominates the town and it was
one of the earliest heritage hotels in this area. The Chokhani, Ladia and
Saraf havelis should be seen not only their frescoes but also for their design.
A temple dedicated to Shiva is also worth a visit.