Have you ever been on a long road trip and out of the blue arrived at a destination which you had no clue about?
My excitement was huge! I had no idea where we were. All I saw was ramshackle buildings with incredible art painted on the walls. Before us was an open air art gallery to explore. Never had I heard about the area or read about the art treasures which became visible as our vehicle trundled through the narrow roads.
We had reached a small village called Fatephur in Shekawati, Rajasthan. Needless to say I jumped from the vehicle, my camera dangling by my neck to enter the first grand Haveli I came across.
As I entered the Haveli and looked back, not only was I moved by the sheer magnificence of the walls but by the honest domestic scene of mother and child sitting in the doorway really made my heart melt.
Many of the Havelies still have people staying in them so it's important to ask permission before entering them. You can imagine my utter delight when I was invited to enter the building and to interact with the resident family. The deep red and blue frescoes on the walls are old yet still in good condition.
Most of the buildings of the Shekhawati region were constructed in between the 18th century and the early 20th century. During the British occupation, traders adapted this style for their buildings. The havelis are noted for their frescos depicting mythological and historical themes. The frescos include images of gods, goddesses, animals, and the life of the lords Rama and Krishna, profusely painted on the havelis in this region.
Merchants from the neighbouring Marwari community set up homes in Shekawati. Not only did the merchants build mansions in the region, but they ordered artists to decorate these grand Havelis. Paintings on the inside and outside walls was a sign of opulence and power. While the frescos were influenced by the geometric design of Mughal art form, the later paintings were inspired by the Courts of the Rajput Royals.
When the Marwari families moved from Shekawati to Calcutta, to create more wealth, more money was put into getting bigger Havelis made and painted. The competition was rife to build the biggest and most opulent Havelis.
As years went by the Havelis were abandoned and locked up. Today most of them are neglected and mostly occupied by a caretaker family.