Shekhawati District Rajasthan India
The Shewhawati region comprises of Jhunjhunun, Sikar and Churu districts of Rajasthan. This unique semi-arid region is also known as the ‘open-air art gallery’, as no-where else one may come across such a profusion of exquisite wall paintings. The entire region teems with magnificent havelis, temples, cenotaphs, wells and forts adorned with fine frescoes. Until 1820’s, most of the frescoes were financed by the Rajput chieftains, which depicted themes from religion, folk heroes, historical events etc. By late 19th century the Marwari business community, which had acquired lots of fame and wealth became the chief patrons of this art.
Shekhawati Tourism Information
Shekhawati, known as the open-air art gallery of Rajasthan, lies in the roughly triangular area between Delhi, Jaipur, and Bikaner, and encompasses the districts of Jhunjhunu, Sikar, and Churu. Its largely semi-desert, wide-open (uninhabited) spaces offer a peaceful respite from the cities. But the primary drawing card is its remarkable art collection—unusual for the unique painting styles and for the fact that the exhibition space consists of the exterior and interior walls of literally hundreds of havelis, temples, cenotaphs, wells, and forts in the region. The trend for decorating walls in this way was imported from the courts of Amber and Jaipur, where the Rajput princes in turn were inspired by the Mughal emperors’ patronage of the miniature-mural artform. The Shekhawati’s patronage was funded by duties imposed on merchandise carried across that section of the Spice Route that traversed their region (cleverly, the local barons here ensured that their duties were lower than those of the house of Jaipur, thereby diverting trade), or by raids across the borders, but patronage truly flourished during the British Raj, a period when the Shekhawati merchants, renowned for their business acumen, moved to the ports of Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay to capitalize on the growing trade in these new centers. There they made small fortunes and celebrated their wealth by adorning their mansions—an age-old urge, but the result here is a great deal more interesting than anything Martha Stewart might have suggested. The demand was such that skilled artists could not paint fast enough. Even local masons tried their hand, injecting a wonderful naiveté into many of the paintings. Subject matters vary tremendously, from mythological stories and epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata to local legends of battles and hunts; but perhaps the most amusing are copies of British photographs featuring hot-air balloons, trains, and cars—objects most of the painters had never set their eyes on but faithfully rendered according to the descriptions and prints supplied by their employers. Today there are some 30 “painted towns” in the region, but the most essential to include in a first-time itinerary are Ramgarh (the town with the most painted buildings), Nawalgarh (second in number, but with a superior selection, some better preserved than Ramgarh’s, particularly the restored Anandi Lal Poddar Haveli), Fatehpur (together with Jhunjhunu, this is Shekhawati’s oldest town, featuring murals that predate any others in the region as well as the Haveli Française; see box below), and Mandawa (a quaint town with a number of beautiful painted buildings, and centrally located with the best accommodations in the area). Armed with a good map (see “Visitor Information,” below) and a car, it is relatively easy to explore the surrounds on your own—not least because of the usual army of small kids eager to accompany you and point out the relevant sights. But to know more about the history of the buildings, the artisans, and the area, you may wish to hire the services of a guide through the hotels listed below. Most of the buildings are still inhabited and are accessible for a small fee (Rs 10–Rs 20/25¢–45 ¢ per haveli to the caretaker or watchman); negotiating payment (and whether you should offer to pay at all) is where a guide comes in handy. (Remember that, as is the case in all temples, you may need to remove your shoes to enter the inhabited havelis; ask before you enter.) Although the region evokes real passion in some and has resulted in a number of excellent books, it must be said that many of the murals are mere shadows of their former selves, either defaced by human indifference—posters and graffiti mar many of the walls—or faded by the increased water supply to the region, the rise in the water table creating damper conditions. Including this area in your itinerary can be tricky as well, unless you are intent on traveling the long haul through Bikaner to Jaisalmer, or journeying directly from Delhi and then moving on to Jaipur or vice versa, both of which mean many hours spent on the road.
Again, you will need a car and driver to go from town to town with ease. Once there, it is relatively easy to explore each area on foot with a guide or by following Ilay Cooper’s maps in The Painted Towns of Shekhawati. A suggested driving tour: Travel from Jaipur (or Samode Palace) to Sikar, stopping to look at the havelis (historic homes or mansions of wealthy merchants) in Nawalgarh. Have lunch at Roop Niwas, then set off for Mandawa and overnight there. The following day, visit Fatehpur (see “Haveli Française,” below) and Lachhmangarh before heading south to Sikar and back down to Jaipur or onward to Delhi.
It was once the largest thikana (feudatory state) under the Jaipur State. The town surrounded by a wall is studded with palatial mansions and magnificent temples noted for their beautiful wall paintings. The temples of Gopinath, Raghunath, and Madan Mohan and the unique Biyani Haveli are of special interest.
This home of country’s leading business tycoons has havelis adorned with some of the finest frescoes of Shekhawati. There are also two forts and a palace hotel. The beautiful temples with fine wall paintings are also worth visiting.
It was founded in 15th century by Fateh Khan and has some of the finest havelis of the region. The best known are, the Goenka, Singhania, Devra, Jalan and Bharatiya.
Famous for its fort, palace and the Goenka havelis.
It was founded in early 19th century by Raja Lachhman Singh of Sikar. One of the best forts of the region and th Ganeriwala or Char Chowk Haveli cab be seen here.
This 18th century town predominated by a medieval fort and rugged hills. The important havelis are, the Chokhani, Ladia and Saraf.
It was the capital of Shekhawati and is now the largest town of theregion. The town has a number of artistically painted havelis.
Other towns worth visiting for their frescoes are Ramgarh, Pilani, Khetri, Bissau, Churu and Mahansar etc.