The drive of 40 kilometers from Jhunjhunu to Nawalgarh on RJSH 37 and RJSH 08, through colourful landscapes in semi-arid topography, was smooth and pleasant. There was also a toll plaza near Kuwa stand at Jhunjhunu-Loharu road (30 INR). It was a beautiful countryside with vast stretches of land with sandy soil dominated by the presence of shrubs of various types and by a unique tree, called “Khejri” tree. Its fruit is called “Sangri”, which is eaten as local vegetable delicacy. Sometimes, I also felt that the trees were holding the land and binding the soil together failing which the entire area would submerge with the Thar Desert. At one point, the serenity of the countryside became so remarkable that we stopped there for a while under a tree in the wilderness and enjoyed the sublime experience of slightly warm and fresh air brushing against our faces.
In the meantime, Shri Dinesh Sharma, our local contact-cum-guide was waiting at Nawalgarh. This was arranged for us by the staff of Tourism Reception Centre, Jhunjhunu, when they came to know of my deep-rooted curiosity about Shekhawati, its marvelous havelis and its exceptional cultural heritage. After reaching Nawalgarh, we met him at the market. He was a man of slim frame and had a humble demeanor. During our introduction, he informed that he was one of the guides for the team of experts that had carried out extensive research on Shekhawati in the past. I was also interested to identify the anatomy of the Havelis. So, we walked towards Naya Bazar area, where the Haveli of Morarka family was situated. The gentle walk upto the Morarka Haveli was through clean streets, falling perpendicular to each other. There were many beautifully-painted havelis on either side of the streets. No wonder that Shekhawati is called the “Open Air Art Gallery”.
“Why is the main entrance of the haveli so big and what is its local name?” I asked.
“Its local name is “तोरण द्वार”.
Its height enabled the bridegroom of the house to enter the haveli even if he came riding on an elephant. Moreover, it also enabled the rich business clients and visitors to enter the havelis. 150-200 years ago, elephants were the means of royal transport. They also indicated the economic status of the family. So, the high main entrance was built to accommodate the passage of elephant and royal procession too.” replied Dinesh.
I remembered the importance of the Hindi Proverb that was often asked during school examinations “दरवाजे पर हाथी बंधना”.
“What is the utility of the arched space with pillars built at either side of the main entrance?” was my next question.
“Ohh! That is called “गोखा”.
In local tradition, before a bridegroom enters the haveli, he is welcomed at the door-step. Since, he would be riding on an elephant, standing on those spaces enabled the members to reach him for giving traditional welcome. At other times, those spaces could also be used by sentries.” he informed.
Some of the uninhabited havelis have been converted into private museums. In others, generally the caretakers oblige the visitors to enter on nominal payment basis. The main entrance leads to the outer courtyard which was flanked by covered verandah-cum-chambers on either side. From the very appearance, they seem to have been used by menfolk only.
I asked Dinesh, “What is the utility of having two chambers-cum-verandah made around this courtyard?”
Dinesh answered, “This section of the haveli is called “बाहरी चौक”.
One of the Verandah-cum-chambers was utilized as a reception. It is called “बैठक” where the merchants and visitors would be received and taken care of once they had reached the haveli after a treacherous and long journey. The other verandah-cum-chamber was used as the actual business place where the business negotiations and deals were made between the visitors/clients and the business family residing at the haveli.”
By that time, we had entered into one of the chambers. A cotton mattress with pillows covered with white cotton sheet had been laid there. There were small rooms around this chamber for keeping the business records. Above those small rooms, there was also an upper floor for sitting. It was informed that sometimes women folk of the family also participated in the business. During those times, they used to sit and interact from at the upper floor. There was also a cotton-made ceiling fan which is operated with the help of string.
Curious me, I asked him again, “How the secrecy was maintained through the business deals if everything was out in the open?”
He smiled to me and replied, “Only deaf and dumb persons were employed for pulling the string of the ceiling fan. The rest of the persons were either family members or clients. Only chosen set of employees were allowed to be there.”
The outer courtyard was linked to inner courtyard through another entrance gate. It was smaller in size. The carving on the wood, however, was exquisite. After observing the thick, artistically carved door-frames in Shekhawati, I really wondered whether such door-frames could be afforded now. The importance given to these door-frames forced me to remember all the Hindi proverbs related to “चौखट”.
“Why is this door smaller?”, I asked him.
“The main entrance was bigger as it indicated the prosperity of the house-owner as well. But, the smaller inner gate serves three purposes. One, it forces the person to bow down while entering, which is a sign of respect. Two, a smaller and sturdy door was hard to break with normal tools. Third, do you see the hard and sharp pointed brass knobs fixed on the door? They could damage the skull of the elephant, if such an animal was used to break open the inner door for malefic purposes.”, prompt came the reply.
The inner door does not directly lead into the inner-courtyard. First, it leads to a small gulley used as a transitional space mainly providing for temporary interaction with an outsider, who should be entering all the way to the inner courtyard. This small working area is called “पोली”. After crossing that space, one finds oneself at the inner courtyard. It is called “भीतरी चौक”. The entire joint family with their women folk and children resided in this part. So, it had all the necessary ingredients of the residential accommodation, e.g., Kitchen, Rooms, water storage, room/space for family deity etc. The centre of the courtyard was often not plastered as the soil has the capacity for water absorption. We started with the water-storage facility in the haveli.
I asked Dinesh, “How was the water provided for in the haveli?”
He pointed to the room and said, “This room is called “परिंदा”.
Families with rich economic status might have employed people to bring water from the well or bawri every day”. We saw that the room had slabs and shelfs where the earthen pots had been put. These pots were empty and dry. But, it was not difficult to imagine the period, when a group of women would be bringing such pots on their heads every day to sustain the household. Such imagination makes one nostalgic. Sudden realization comes that the country has changed a lot in the last 200 years.
The kitchen was situated near the water-room. The mere appearance indicated that wooden logs were used as a cooking-fuel in those kitchens. I do not know whether coal was known to those people or not. I also do not know how many of my friends have tasted food prepared in such kitchen. But, surely, I consider myself fortunate to have eaten many delicacies prepared on such stove during my early childhood. Anyway, wood-based kitchen are difficult to handle and they also create pollution.
My fresh question was, “Where did they keep the storage for kitchen?”
Dinesh pointed out towards the upper shelfs of the kitchen. He also picked up a container made of some paper-macie type material and said, “People of Nawalgarh kept the storage in the kitchen (रसोई or रसोदो) itself. But they used the containers made of very light materials. So, it became easy for them to unload the stored item from above”.
Till then, we had seen the water-room, courtyard and kitchen. But, I was curious to know about the recreational facility for the women in the haveli. So, I asked Dinesh, “How the women entertained themselves, when there was no television and other facilities?” He took me to the staircase and we climbed up. The staircase leads to upper floor of the haveli that had more number of rooms. They were used by all the other branches of the joint family. The prevalence of joint family was in itself an entertainer. There would always be something or the other to occupy the mind.
Guessing my thoughts, Dinesh replied, “The stairs was called “निशेरनी”. It was an integral part of the household. It could be used for reaching any of the eleven residential rooms in the upper floor, where the family members lived in joint family. It not only linked the families together, but it was also used by the womenfolk to come up on the roof-terrace of the haveli to have fresh air and to see what was going on in the streets down below. The women of two adjoining havelis could also talk to each other from the comforts of their own respective roof-terrace.”
I was, however, not satisfied. I asked him, “what about when it is raining? when it is too cold or too hot?” He took me back to the ground floor and pointed towards a semi-covered open space. “This is called “तिबारा”. This was used by the residents of the house to sit and to interact among themselves or with some outsiders when they could visit the inner courtyard.”
The master bedroom had basic amenities consisting of wooden king size bed, wooden almirah. It was actually a complete set with the master bed-room as well as smaller rooms for keeping the valuables and other items of homely needs. But, the interesting part was the upper floor inside the master bed-room. “What are they? Why were they constructed?, I asked. “They are called “दुछत्ती”. They could be used either for storage or as space for children.”, came the reply.
I had just seen how the master of the haveli used to live. But, I had another question, “Do you think that the headman of the haveli only used the inner courtyard for residential purposes? Was there any place where he could have sat for completing his business jobs?”
Dinesh understood my question and took me to the upper floor of the haveli. There was a room overlooking the main entrance. This room had the facility for string-operated ceiling fan too. He said, “This was the room in the inner courtyard where the headman used to sit. The faithful munim (accountant) was allowed to enter into this room. There they used to tally their accounts. This room also provided the window to see who and who were coming at the main entrance. ”
It was gradually becoming more interesting. Though the guide could address many of my curiosity, I was still left with one more. I knew that 150-200 years ago, the motorized transportation had not begun with full swing. People used to travel on foot, on dolis, on animals etc. So, I wanted to know about their provisioning in the havelis.
“Where did they keep their horses, carts and elephants? And what were the facilities for their maintenance?” I asked. My guide took me to an open space, adjacent to the main mansion. It was the place for facilities like keeping domestic animals. There were also the rooms for servants or animal-keepers. This area was also equally decorated with frescoes. There he said, “This is called “नोहरा”. It was here they kept their cattle and other domestic animals. The means of transport like horse-carts or camel-carts were also kept here only.”
After observing almost all the constituents of the Shekhawati haveli, a very nostalgic feeling overwhelmed me. The most unnerving thought was, however, to imagine the last of the family members, who had come out of that haveli. How did they feel at the time of leaving the very place which they called “home” for 100 years and counting?
Anyway, having understood the constituents of the Shekhawati Haveli and their respective functionalities, I concentrated upon the “Frescos”, the next best thing to do in Nawalgarh.
Post Script: The Morarka Haveli, built in 1900, has been converted into a museum and has an entry fee of 50 INR per person. It also runs a Heritage Conservation Institute. They have helped in publications of many books on their heritage and coffee-table books on the frescos etc. Recently, the proper toilet facility, in the Nohra, has been provided for tourists. They are also trying to provide knowledge of conservation techniques to preserve the frescos. They have their own website : www.morarkahavelimuseum.com.