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The region of Shekhawati

region of Shekhawati

The Shekhawati region is a federation of small principalities once ruled by the Shekhawat lords. In many traditional villages, a marvellous collection of naive and colourful paintings is hidden in the quiet interior of havelis, monuments, wells and forts. The majority of the frescoes were executed between 1830 and 1900 and continued into the 1930s. The earliest ones date from the early 1800s. 

Originally, the Shekhawati region was on an important caravan route linking Delhi and Sindh (now in Pakistan) to the coast of Gujarat. Opium, spices, dried fruits, fabrics and many other commodities passed through here. Thus, to enrich themselves, the lords of Shekhawati endeavoured to make this trade prosper. They were then able to build vast residences decorated with frescoes, the havelis.

However, from 1850 onwards, British colonisation gradually stifled the region's economy. The caravans faced strong competition from maritime and rail transport. Guided by their sense of commerce, the wealthy traders migrated to the large ports of Calcutta and Bombay. However, they continued to build havelis in their home villages, competing with each other in decorations to show their social success to their fellow citizens.

The havelis of Shekhawati

an open-air museum

la région du shekhawati
haveli mandawa
Havelis du Shekhawati
havelis shekhawati

The architecture of Shekhawati havelis is well defined. It is made up of forecourts, courtyards, and galleries of arched roofs. The interior layout is closely related to the lifestyle and family conceptions of the society of the time.

The interior murals were meticulously executed by craftsmen from outside the region. They used a wide range of colours, intense, often enhanced with gold or silver leaf and decorated with mirrors.

At first, religious themes, especially episodes from the life of Krishna, are common and often adorn the lintels above the main doors. The outer walls are usually decorated by the masons themselves, using bolder patterns and green, brown and yellow ochres, sometimes with a flash of blue.

However, after the owners left for the big ports, or even abroad, the traditional decorations gave way to novelties from Europe. Cars, aeroplanes, bathtubs and telephones appeared, to the great astonishment of the villagers. Colonisation, for its part, left its mark. Scenes of British redcoats marching in battle against the Mughals, eccentric Victorian flying machines, steam trains and Edwardian bourgeois women in big hats adorn the walls.

Today, many of these murals are faded, defaced, covered with posters or even just white paint. Nevertheless, there are so many havelis in Shekhawati, spread over such small towns, that you cannot miss seeing one of these works of art. It is impossible to list them all here. However, the most beautiful are in the villages of Nawalgarh, Mandawa, Fatehpur and Ramgarh. The jewel, in our view, is in Mahensar. In his house, an opium-selling jeweller had a sumptuous reception room built between 1846 and 1850.

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