CulturallyOurs Exploring Painted Havelis Mansions In Shekhawati Rajasthan India

Exploring The Painted Mansions Of Shekhawati In Rajasthan India

CulturallyOurs Exploring Painted Havelis Mansions In Shekhawati Rajasthan India

Forgotten in the barren landscape of Rajasthan’s Thar Desert in India is the Shekhawati region once home to the opulence of India’s rich merchant community. But today, many of the grand Havelis or mansions are crumbling and their fading frescoes is a faint reminder of the region’s glory and grandeur.

With paintings covering nearly every inch of the grand Havelis, the towns and villages of Shekhawati encompass the world’s largest concentration of magnificent frescoes in a single region. Even though the Shekhawati region is located in the very popular tourist triangle of Delhi-Agra-Jaipur, it is often passed up for more popular destinations.

But the grand Havelis of Shekhawati are certainly worth the visit for any history buff, art lover or off-the-beaten path traveler.CulturallyOurs Exploring Painted Havelis Mansions In Shekhawati Rajasthan IndiaThe faded beauty of an abandoned merchant palace in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, its former opulence visible in its current ruined state. The building has beautiful scalloped arches and roof domes, but its walls are dirty, stained and weathered. Some of its faded exterior paintings are still visible.

History of Shekhawati

Shekhawati had a grand and illustrious past once upon a time. It was part of the famous silk route – a major throughfare of trade and commerce from the ports in Arabia in the east to the plains of the Ganga in the west. The town was full of industrious merchants that amassed wealth via trade. While the kings of Rajasthan built forts, these merchants built palatial homes to showcase their pomp, style and money. The region was named Shekhawati which means Shekha’s garden to honor its founder Maha Rao Shekha, a local chieftain in Amber, Rajasthan. Legend has it that Maha Rao refused to pay tribute to the kings of Jaipur. Breaking away from the royal Amber court, he proclaimed sovereignty in 1471 , thus creating the region around Shekhawati.

Maha Rao was a smart businessman and under independent governance, his region prospered until the early 19th century. The region reduced taxes to lure merchants and diverted all caravan trade from the nearby commercial centres of Jaipur and Bikaner. Many merchants belonging to the Marwari and Bania community, a renowned ethnic trading group in India, moved into Shekhawati from the surrounding towns, and amassed great wealth through a  flourishing trade in opium, cotton and spices.

But soon trade and commerce moved away from road and caravan routes. With the advent of the British reign, sea routes and railways started booming and merchants found faster means of transporting their goods and services. The merchants of Shekhawati moved away from this area into the booming tows of Bombay and Calcutta along the coasts but continued to send money back to the region that was used to build big beautiful havalies or palaces as a way to display their wealth and status to the community.CulturallyOurs Exploring Painted Havelis Mansions In Shekhawati Rajasthan India

Havelis of Shekhawati

Most Havelis were built in a similar architectural style. Giant arched doorway opens to courtyards surrounded by rooms and sitting areas. The Havelis are usually two storied buildings with two to four open courtyards often arranged within a rectangular block. Each courtyard and the corresponding rooms were designated for specific purposes. The first courtyard immediately after entering the house was for the merchants and the men for conducting their business dealings. Lattice windows adorn many of the surrounding walls which allowed the women folk to see who has arrived.  The second courtyard was for women and only a select few gained entry into the inner courtyard. The other courtyards were for cooking and animal stables.

The Havelis were covered with fresco paintings, mirrors, floral designs and patterns, ornate carved wooden doors depicting scenes from daily life, scenes from the court and even about Hindu mythology – both inside and outside.

The wealthy merchants often commissioned painters and artists from cities like Jaipur and Ajmer. But as the demand for such kind of intricate hand carvings and paintings increased, the local communities in Shekawati started getting more involved. As a result, the artist community within the district of Shekhawati flourished with work commissioned by the merchants.

Before the mid-19th Century, traditional pigments were made from minerals and vegetables. Majority of the colors used were intense and striking like reds, maroons, indigo, copper, blue and bright yellow. Starting 1860s, synthetic pigments came into use, which were cheaper and offered a wide range of new colours. As the British reign spread over much of India, their influence could also been seen in the frescos of Shekwati havelis. Soon patinints stated depicting European influences. Among the traditional motifs, there are frescoes of Queen Elizabeth, Jesus, cherub angles, steam locomotives and gramophones.CulturallyOurs Exploring Lost Mansions Of Shekhawati In Rajasthan India

Exploring Shekhawati

Shekhawati is a region with many smaller villages like Churu, Ramgarh, Fatehpur, Mahansar, Mandawa, Dunlod and Nawalgarh among others. Some of the Havelis in these towns have been restored and converted into boutique hotels or homestays. Exploring Shekhawati is easy by road and can be done in a few days. But give yourself the gift of time and stay a while to really explore the grandeur of this region. 

# Ramgarh and Ramgarh Fresco Haveli

The Ramgarh Fresco, a 150 year old haveli turned boutique hotel is one of the highlights of Ramgarh. The haveli is covered with frescoes and opulent paintings in every room. It has many beautifully foliated arches that are adorned with florals. The outside is also adorened with tyrpical Rajasthani frescos. Ramgarh also has workshops that refurbish old doors from neighboring dilapidated havelis for sale.

# Fatehpur and Nadine Le Prince Haveli

Fatehpur is probably the first village of Shekhawati you will reach if you are coming by road from Jaipur. There are many distinct havelis in Fatehpur. Perhaps one of the more famous ones in Fatehpur is  the Nadine Le Prince Haveli. Originally built in 19th century, by the Nand Lal Devra family, this majestic Haveli was abandoned in 1950’s, left to the mercy of a caretaker. In 1998, a french painter by the name of Nadine Le Prince visited Shekhawati and fell in love with the architecture of this Haveli. She bought it from the Devra family and spent many years restoring the Haveli to bring back its lost grandeur.

Today the Le Prince is a boutique homestay with many uniquely decorated rooms. The courtyard has antique furniture and lamps.

# Mahansar and Sone Chandi Ki Dukaan

Mahansar in the Shekhawati region is a small Indian rural village. Any tourist that ventures here is likely to be on the look out for the famed Sone Chandi Ki Dukaan (Gold And Silver Shop Haveli). So obscure is this place, that until a few years ago the owner of a grocery shop had the keys and he would hand it out to visitors. As soon as you enter the Haveli, you cannot help but notice a room full of elaborate paintings depicting scenes from Indian mythology. Interspersed in these painting are small gold leaves.

# Mandawa and Viviana Culture Haveli

Perhaps one of the most popular stops on the abandoned Haveli’s of Rajastan tour is the village of Mandawa. Home to many beautiful Havelis like the Golden Haveli, the Jhunjhunwala haveli, the Saraf Haveli and the Lakshmi Narayan Ladia haveli, this village is definitely worth the visit. These Havelis have stunning murals and doors with intricate design and laden with mirror. Elephants, ladies and Indian sepoys were a common feature on the walls.One of the more popular boutique hotels in Mandawa is the Viviana Culture hotel – a 150 year old Haveli with a perfectly preserved treasure of untouched frescoes. Both the exterior and interior boast of superb and rare artifacts and frescos. Vivaana derives its name from the Hindu God Krishna and means the first rays of the sun.CulturallyOurs Exploring Painted Havelis Mansions In Shekhawati Rajasthan India

Traveling to Shekhawati

The region around Shekhawati  is scattered with a few villages. The best way to explore all these villages is to hire a private car from the closest city, Jaipur. From Jaipur, Fatehpur is about 166 km, Churu is 203 Km , Mandawa is 170 km. Give yourself a couple of days to explore these areas and wander around the havelis. You can stay overnight at Mandawa which has the most options for hotels and homestay.CulturallyOurs Exploring Painted Havelis Mansions In Shekhawati Rajasthan IndiaFor every Haveli that has been lovingly restored, there are many more that lie in ruin as if patiently awaiting their long lost owners. While some of the havelis may crumble and fall apart, their glory lives on in others. They hold countless stories, family history and Rajasthani pride in the labyrinth of their frescos and paintings – as if waiting for the day when they too will get a chance to share their story.

Definitely worth a visit in our opinion, don’t you think?

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Leave your comments below

  1. Brianna says:

    I had never heard of Shekhawati before but it looks like such a beautiful region to explore. What an interesting history for the area! The Havelis that are restored look so beautiful with all the paintings. The abandoned merchant homes look interesting to explore as well. Is this well off the beaten path for tourists in India?

  2. Megan says:

    Gorgeous photos, what a treat! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Aditi Sharma says:

    You have captured the magnificence and architecture of these painted Havelis so beautifully through the amazing photographs and the detailed information. So interesting to read about the history of the region and how the high demand for the hand carvings and painting helped the artisans of Shekhawati flourish in turn too. I’m a history buff and I know I can spend an entire day admiring these Havelis – will definitely have to add Shekhawati region to our list of places to visit next time we plan a trip to India.

  4. Aubrie Bell says:

    Wow it looks absolutely incredible! Thank you for this informative post. I am dreaming of going there!

  5. Kanupriyaa says:

    I am from Rajasthan and I am so proud of the incredible paintings and architecture skills the people have. These pictures are gorgeous!

  6. David zurick says:

    You’ve captured this region very nicely. I spent several years intermittently photographing in the Shekhawati towns. My book “A Fantastic State of Ruin” May be of interest.
    Thanks very much for this piece.
    David Zurick