This large chunk of northeastern Rajasthan is renowned for its painted havelis and old forts. The name Shekhavati literally means “Garden of Slickha”: Rao Shekhaji, born 1433, was a Rajput king of this region. He was so named by his father because his parents were only able to bear a son after being granted a boon from a fakir (Muslim holy man) named Sheikh Burhan. In another unwitting contribution to history, the sheikh had come to India with the Mongol invader Tamer-lane in 1398 dressed in a blue robe—hence the color of Shekhavati’s flag. The region has had a colorful history ever since, experiencing the rise and fall of many a Rajput prince, alliances with the Moguls after Akbar, and finally suzerainty under the British Raj. The region is made up of smaller principalities, including Sikar, Lachhmangarh, Churi Ajitgarh, Mukundgarh, Jhunjhunu, Mandawa, Fatehpur, and Churu.
A regional center of trade between the 18th and 20th centuries, Shekhavati is now known as Rajasthan’s open-air art gallery, as its ornate havelis bear fantastically realistic frescoes. Influenced by the Persian, Jaipur, and Mogul schools of painting, Shekhavati’s frescoes illustrate a variety of subjects—from mythological stories and local legends, to hunting safaris and scenes of everyday life, to experiences with the British and the impact of technology (cars, planes, telephones, and more). The introduction of photography in 1840 gave Shekhavati’s painters yet more to work with. The painters themselves were called chiteras and belonged to the caste of kumhars (potters). Initially, they colored their masterpieces with vegetable pigments, such as indigo, lime, saffron, and yellow clay; after mixing these with lime water and treating the wall with three layers of very fine clay, the chiteras painstakingly drew their designs on a last layer of filtered lime dust. Time was short, as the design had to be completed before the plaster dried, but the highly refined technique assured that the images would not fade as long as the building was standing.
The haveli homes of these masterpieces are equally spectacular. With indoor and outdoor courtyards, exquisitely latticed windows, intricate mirror work, vaulted ceilings, immense balconies, and ornate gateways and facades, they’re the perfect settings for Shekhavati’s frescoes. The havelis of Shekhavati date from the British Raj, during which traditional overland trading routes to Central Asia, Europe, and China were slowly superseded by rail and sea routes. In the 19th century, Marwari traders (Hindus from the vaisha, or trading, caste) who had profited from the overland trading system migrated to Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras to seek new fortunes. These came to be some of India’s wealthiest families; but even in their distant prosperity, the Marwaris maintained connections with their ancestral homes, sending remittance from their new enterprises. Often this money was used to build havelis, adorned with elaborate frescoes depicting family life and wealth. Many of the havelis, as well as some old Rajput forts, are now open to the public, and some have been converted to Heritage Hotels. Stay in one if you can, and take a day or two to explore the dusty towns around them.
Unfortunately, the golden age of fresco painting came to an end in the 1930s with the mass exodus of the Marwaris. Since then, many of these beautiful mansions and their paintings have fallen into disrepair, succumbed to water damage, been whitewashed, or been obscured by new construction. A few, however, have been restored by their owners. In Sikar, formerly the wealthiest trading center, look for the Biyani, Murarka, and Somani havelis. Lachhmangarh features the grand Char Chowk Haveli, particularly evocative of the prosperous Marwari lifestyle. A planned city like Jaipur, Lachhmangarh is also home to a popular ayurvedic center, SPG Kaya Kalp and Research Center which teaches yoga, meditation, and various therapies. In the village of Churi Ajitgarh, unusually erotic frescoes are painted behind doors and on bedroom ceilings in the Shiv Narain Nemani, Kothi Shiv Datt, and Rai Jagan Lal Tibrewal havelis. The frescoed temples of Jhunjhunu make for interesting comparisons: Visit Laxmi Nath, Mertani Baori, Ajeet Sagar, and Qamrudin Shah Ki Dargah Fatehpur. Mukandgarh has an excellent craft market, known especially for textiles, brass ware, and iron scissors, in addition to the Kanoria, Ganeriwala, and Bheekraj Nangalia havelis. Warrior-states-man Thakur Nawal Singh founded Nawalgarh in I 737, and the town boasts some of the best frescoes in Shekhavati in its Aath, Anandilal Poddar, Jodhraj Patodia, and Chokhani havelis, as well as in Roop Niwas Palace.
For more information on Shekhavati and other regions in Rajasthan , Contact Swan Tours , One of the leading Travel Agents in India promoting Tourism since 1995.