The havelis of Shekhawati are a prime attraction of the region. The region which was once on a caravan route lured many affluent merchants to inhabit it. With the dwindling of the Opium trade in this area, the merchants (Goenkas, Poddars, Singhania, Ruias and Birlas) moved to the other prosperous part of the country, yet their hearts remained in this region. Hence, they constructed their havelis in the various small towns of this region. The havelis of Shekhawati are not just huge, rather they are a beauty to adore. The havelis, popularly had a carved wooden gateway as the main entrance that opened into a courtyard. This courtyard again lead to another courtyard. Larger havelis are double storeyed and have upto four courtyards. The windows of these havelis are richly carved and glow with exquisite mirror work. These latticed windows were the means by which the Rajasthani women viewed the happenings of the outer world. The highlight of the havelis are the frescoes that are seen almost everywhere – on the facades, gateways, courtyard walls, parapets and ceilings. The frescoes have varying themes that reflect the changing taste and lifestyle of the people from 1750 (earlier fresco paintings) and 1930 (later fresco paintings). Earlier themes like mythological, local legends, hunting scenes gradually gave way to more modern themes like motor cars, aeroplanes, ships, telephones, gramophones, trains and balloons.
The frescoes seem to narrate an interesting tale in a colourful manner. The entire Shekhawati region radiates with such frescoes and it is precisely this reason that it has been bestowed with the sobriquet of an open air art gallery.
Due to migration of family members, magnificent Havelis are now crumbling due to lack of upkeep. Most owners have sold these havelis to antique dealers ( i saw the materials of a Shekahvati haveli in Jewish Bazar in Kochi recently!)…some are vandalised, some destroyed by elements of nature/ poor drainage system of the town…and mostly due to neglect. If you are interested buy one such haveli, the price ranges from 1 to 5 crore!
A ray of hope from a French Artist!
A beautiful haveli purchased by French artist Nadine Le Prince. It was built in 1802 by a rich family of traders, the Deora, who were also officers at the court of the local Maharaja. Since 1999, Nadine Le Prince has entirely restored the palace and all the frescoes. She is also doing much to preserve and restore the heritage of havelis throughout Shekhawati, working with other associations to give the havelis a second life.
She has opened a cultural center, which she created in order to exhibit French and Indian modern artists, and to confront old and contemporary art. The Kala Dirga Gallery of Contemporary Art features pieces made by artists about India; the Saraswati Gallery covers traditional themes of Rajasthan, through different kinds of painting. There are also two little Tribal Art Galleries exhibiting the artistic work of tribes, as Patachitras and Madhubani. The aim of the project is to offer the visitor a large panorama of works and visions of India; so the exhibited artists have very different origins: From France, from Jaipur Fine Art School and local Shekhawati painters.
Le Prince has also established a program of artists in residence and plans to organize other cultural events, such as dance and music shows, to make this enchanting palace become a lively place for art in all forms.