Sunday, January 19, 2014

Open art gallery of Shekhawati explores mythical to modern themes


During all annual visits to my Rajasthan – a haveli in Fatehpur Shekhawati is the most noticeable one. I have always made sure to visit various other havelis with some interesting frescos and carvings, but Fatehpur lures my heart more than any other fort. Almost all the havelis in the areas are famous for the beautifully designed, carved, and painted interiors. Fatehpur in fact is an important constituent of the Shekhawati region in Rajasthan often called ‘The Open Air Art Gallery’.

Shekhawati is an interesting area of towns almost in the middle of the triangle formed by Jaipur, Delhi and Bikaner. This semi-desert region is a colorful fantasy having a unique fascination of its own. Here streets are lined with havelis painted in the nature of a vast open air art gallery, all commendable pieces in the rich artistic tradition of this region.

shekhwati mandwa haveli

Shekhawati meaning ‘the land of Shekha’s clan’ derived its name for RaoShekha (1433 AD – 1488 AD) a scion of the Kachhwaha family of Jaipur. Another explanation – by Hakim Yusuf Jhunjhunuvi – for the name comes from the Persian word sheikh, which means ‘sand deposited on the coastal area of sea’. This implies that this area was inundated with seawater long back and converted to sand dunes over a period of thousands of years. The presence of shells and conches found in the stone forms in the desert is clear evidence that this was a sea earlier.

Other main towns in this area are Jhunjhunu, Ramgarh, Nawalgarh, and Mandawa. You can just wander through these towns and admire the innate beauty of the havelis. These places are not yet so popular with tourists because most of these havelis are private and normally open to locals only. Even my entry into many a haveli was questioned many a time – and I had to call in my friends (who lived in the town for) for help.

Read More to know about Rajasthan Paintings

Frescos of Shekhawati

The development of frescos in Shekhawati region is linked with the history of the Marwaris, the influential business community from Shekhawati region. The term Marwari literally refers to someone who hails from or is an inhabitant of Marwar – the erstwhile Jodhpur state. Outside of Rajasthan, Marwari is used to refer to emigrant businessmen from the vicinity of Rajasthan. Shekhawati was once on a caravan route, which lured many of these affluent merchants to the region. However, with the advent of the British in India the business in the area started dwindling and these merchants moved into the other prosperous parts of the country.


The highlights of the havelis are the frescos that are seen almost everywhere – on the facades, gateways, courtyard walls, parapets and ceilings. The word fresco literally means ‘fresh’ in Italian and indicates the fresh plaster (wet surface) used in the paintings. It is also known as wet-wall paintings, Arayash, Alagila etc. the frescos in Shekhawati have varying themes that reflect the changing taste and lifestyle of the people from 1750 till 1930. Earlier themes – mythological, local legends, hunting scenes – gradually gave away to more modern themes arrival of the British in India, motor cars, aeroplanes, ships, telephones, gramophones, steam locomotives and trains and balloons.

Fresco making is an ancient art of Shekhawati that dates back to several countries. The artists used their experience to invent new methods of making frescos from locally available material. Nowhere else in the world is there such a profusion of wall paintings, so intricate and finely executed, in hundreds of havelis, temples, cenotaphs, walls and forts as in this region.

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