Shekhawati region – Nawalgarh – Rendezvous with Open air art gallery of India – II

The Shekhawati region named after Rao Shekhaji (1433-1488) is known with many adjectives – ‘Land of Kuber’ (the Hindu Lord of wealth); Land of warriors & Land of artists. If the wealth of a region is measured by the wealth of businessman who originated from that region, then this region is undoubtedly the RICHEST region of India. Leading businessman and media tycoons – Birlas, Modis, Poodars, Singhania, Goenka, Pilania, Piramals, Rungtas, Ruias, L.N Mittal, Khetans, Dalmias – originated from this region. This region has the tradition of sending maximum recruits for the Indian Forces & hence it is rightly & widely known as the land of warriors.

It lies in the easternmost extent of Thar Desert. In this region, small towns cuddle themselves between vast expanse of sand and a few oases.
Thar Desert, around Nawalgarh

This region was initially under the Muslims of Kaimkhani clans. They established two small towns based at Jhunjhunu and Fatehpur. The hold of the Kaimkhani’s on the region was broken in 1730 when Sardul Singh of the Shekhawati clan took over Jhunjhunu.

Shekhawati was on important trade route connecting Delhi and Sindh. From the trade and taxes on traffic the merchant Marwaris and land owning Thakurs became very rich. The merchants were even richer than the kings in whose court they served. As respect they never built their Havelis as grand and as opulent as king’s. They choose to have frescoes painted on the walls of their Havelis. Soon they started covering every facade, interior walls, arches, ceilings and pillars. Later on the Rajputs and Marwaris became rivals.

Poddar Haveli Museum,  Nawalgarh

It led the kings to turn blind eye to and sometimes even sponsor the robberies against Marwaris. In response to state sponsored robberies the Marwari merchants formed an alliance with the British. British were always keen to expand the area of their control. They based a small cavalry force in Jhunjhunu to protect Marwaris.

The alliance with British worked in favor of these merchants. The rise of Bombay and Calcutta and the arrival of railways reduced the trade between Delhi and Sindh. The British friends of these merchants suggested & encouraged them to move to Madras, Calcutta and Bombay. At that time these were the cities where the business was booming.

It was Marwari tradition that male members of the family went out for business while female remains at the ancestral houses. This might be to protect them from the unforeseen events at foreign places. The money earned by the male members was then sent to the hometown. This money was continued being used in Shekhawati to make Grand Elaborated decorated Havelis – either for the comfort of the family, to prove the worth as the prospective bridegroom and sometimes to provide aid work during the times of famine.

A few of these merchants later on associated themselves with India’s freedom struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi. When British left, these businessmen were among the ones who had the money, influence, know-how to manage the business arena of newly freed country.

The businessmen of Shekhawati region are called Marwaris! The people from Marwar region of Rajasthan (Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Nagaur) should be called Marwaris. These businessmen were from Shekhawati region of Rajasthan and should be Shekhawati. In common usage now, any businessman from Rajasthan is a Marwari. In non-Hindi speaking belts of India perhaps any Hindi-speaking businessman is a Marwari.

27th Jan 2007 – 2nd day in Shekhawati region

Sunrise at DS bungalow

First Blush of the day

The early morning view of DS Bungalow from our room

The early morning view from our room

After our breakfast we told “Babli”, the owner of D S Bungalow, that we would like to explore Nawalgarh. He suggested sending a boy with us, but we declined. Nawalgarh was a small village and we could find all interesting Havelis wandering, exploring the town and interacting with the locals.

First place we visited was Podar Haveli Museum.

Havelis in general can be described as big mansions. A few things are common in almost all Havelis. The entrance is through huge arched porches with ornamented wooden or brass door. Inside you come into the forecourt where visitors/guests were received. The rooms around this courtyard were called “Athithi Grih” / “Mehmankhana” or guest rooms. The guest rooms were flanked on its side by large pillared reception area called “Baithaks”. In “Baithaks”, business was conducted. In the galleries surmounting the “Baithaks” the women folk could sit if they wanted to participate in the business conducted below.

The main courtyard lies after the first court separated by beautifully ornate doorway. Main courtyard was the place where normal house hold chorus took place. The life proceeded here shielded from the eyes of the street and business conduct taking place in first courtyard.

The courtyards invariably had rooms for drinking water called “Parenda”, and the other rooms were used as storerooms to keep the clothes, utensils, food grains, firewood etc.

Many Havelis in Shekhawati have around four large courtyards.

There is always one courtyard where the cows and buffaloes were kept called “Nohra”.

Podar Haveli Museum – Situated in big campus this Haveli is well maintained from inside and outside. The 750 frescoes spread across 11200 Sq mts have been restored under the supervision of the experts to their original beauty following the ancient system of using colors made from variety of stones and vegetables.
The museum had following galleries:
Musical instrument gallery– on display was the musical instruments of the Rajasthan like Ektara, Gopichand, Dhapli, Tanpura, Rawnhatha etc.
Rajasthani living style gallery– Guest room of this museum was decorated with Gadda (bed) warpped in Chunri (Rajasthani bed sheet) with the Hukka (smoking pipe) and a hand fan.
Miniature Painting gallery– Paintings of the 24 different Rajasthani schools of paintings like Kishangarh, Jodhpur, Nathdwara, Kota, Bundi were displayed there.
Bridal costumes gallery– Different castes and tribes of Rajasthan adorn themselves with a particular costume during weddings. Bride and Bridegroom costumes of 24 castes of Rajasthan were on display.

The main attraction of Podar Haveli were the frescoes & murals adoring each and every nook and corner of the Haveli. The themes of the frescoes were generally religious.

Krishna with Gopi, Poddar haveli, Nawalgarh

Krishna with Gopis

There were Paintings depicting secular themes like Rajasthani folklores of Dhola-Maru and men-women in colorful Rajasthani dresses.

Love story of Dhola-Maru in Poddar haveli, Nawalgarh


Shekhawati murals are different from virtually any where else in India in its naive depiction of machines, events and contemporary fashions of the British Raj. The merchants wanted to show and may be also to impress the people of their village of various developments of which they were eyewitness – like introduction of railways.

Railway in pix in Poddar haveli, Nawalgarh

The railways

Sometimes the artists drew these frescoes after witnessing them and sometimes through narration only.

Beautiful Jharokha in Poddar Haveli, Navalgarh

Beautiful Jharokha

The rooms meant for females were very airy and had proper lights, coming from these small windows known as “Jharokhas“. The area around these “Jharokhas” was also tastefully decorated.

Stairs with ropes in Nawalgarh Poddar haveli

Stairs with ropes

In the Haveli there were many such narrow staircases. There was this chain so that the elders coming down at dawn can come down even in the dark.

From here we moved to our next destination the Morarka Haveli.

Morarka Haveli: Let us tour this Haveli through the pictures.

Morarka Haveli, Nawalgarh

An embellished Jharokha of Morarka Haveli

A small ornamented beautiful wooden window.

Views from the terrace of Morarka Haveli

From the terrace of Morarka Haveli

Wood work on Chaukhat

wood-work on the frame of the door

Main courtyard in Morarka Haveli, Nawalgarh

Main courtyard in Morarka Haveli

The Nohra in Morarka Haveli, Nawalgarh

Nohra in Morarka Haveli

Nohra – where the cows and buffaloes were kept. Even this part of the Haveli was beautifully painted.

After seeing that we saw Aath Haveli and Goenka Haveli and moved towards “Surajmal Chhavchharia Haveli”. Finding Chhavchharia Haveli by asking people and wandering on street did not turn out to be that easy. Most of the locals were unaware of it. I felt that many of them don’t even understand the value of these Havelis. After some time we met a guide who knew about this Haveli. He commented, “So you are looking for the famous picture of Europeans floating past in a hot air-balloon, blowing into the balloon to power their journey”. Yes indeed, it seemed that our search was over. He told the way and warned us not to leave the road and not to go in the side lane. We started moving and reached a place where the road was bifurcated. Which one was the main road according to the guide? We were lost again. It happened with us several times. Every time we asked the way and we were told, “Go straight and don’t leave the main road.” After walking a little, we always found that the road was bifurcated. Even now my five-year-old kid Rachit remembers Nawalgarh as a place where “हर थोड़ी दूर पर दो रास्ते आ जाते हैं :)” (the road was bifurcated after walking a little).

We met only one or two people who were aware of “Chhavchharia Haveli”. When we might be very close to it, we could not find anyone who could help us to locate it. No complains as walking in Nawalgarh was an altogether different experience. We were walking on narrow lanes with the grand Havelis on both the sides, giving way to the donkey carts.

In our search for Chaavchharia Haveli we reached “Parasrampuria Haveli”. We could see it only from outside and it looked different and well kept too. There were portraits of freedom fighters. We tried our level best to get an opportunity to have a look from inside. We were not able to convince the caretaker and hence we had to be satisfied with the glimpses of it only.

Parasrampuri Haveli, Nawalgarh

Parasrampuri Haveli

There were many beautifully decorated Havelis and we felt that the open art gallery is the perfect word to describe the enormous art treasure lying there and it was a real treat for the art connoisseurs.

It was lunchtime, so after roaming a little we went to Natraj Hotel and had lunch. We had enough of murals and frescoes and we were not interested in any more Haveli/fresco hunting in Nawalgarh. We decided that after taking a small nap we would take a camel-cart ride. Let us take the camel cart together in the next post …


  • nandanjha says:

    I missed Navalgarh and when you commented on my shekhawati post that I missed Navalgarh, I didn’t realize then. But its good in a way that for next visit to Shekhawati, we have a destination in mind.

    Camel cart, sounds interesting. never been to one, hope that the front wheel dont go up in the air every time the camel takes it normal gait :)

  • Manish khamesra says:

    I visited only two towns in Shekhawati: Nawalgarh and Mandawa. I liked Nawlgarh more than Mandawa. May be also because in Mandawa I had very less time.

    I heard from a Dutch guy in DS Bungalow and also saw Smitas comment in your post that Fatehpur is also very beautiful.

  • nandanjha says:

    Interestingly on our first visit (me, Smita and another old friend Rabbie), after looking around in Mandawa, we sort of packed our bags and left Mandawa, the idea was to have lunch somewhere and stay the night in some other shekhawati town. We kept driving with stopovers at dundlord (I think we tried eating at the dundlod palace but the cook was more interested in having a good siesta), someplace, more small places, Seekar and landed in Jaipur :)

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