Shekhawati and its invaluable heritage

During the trade boom in the 19th century, many traders made fortunes by collaborating with the East India Company or by starting their own businesses in the port towns of Mumbai and Kolkata. These Marwari merchants mostly hailed from a region in north eastern Rajasthan, called Shekhawati. Many favourable events in the past had helped develop Shekhawati into a trader’s hub; but after the introduction of water trade routes, the region died down. The merchants then migrated to the cities to establish their businesses. These traders, in a bid to exhibit their newly acquired riches and to help the villagers who were suffering from drought, sent money home and commissioned the construction of the grand and exquisitely decorated Havelis of Shekhawati. They left no expense in the grandeur of these buildings, importing artists from Jaipur, dyes and pigments from Germany, mirrors from Belgium, carpets from Iran, and so on.

The artists from Jaipur, who were highly in demand during the 19th and 20th century, trained the local masons and potters in making Arayish and fresco painting, teaching them the methods and techniques required to execute the crafts. The technique of making Araish was imported from Italy, where the famous paintings of Pompeii employed similar fresco techniques using wet bases made of lime and sea shell dust. The Mughal court spread this base technique throughout India, from where it reached the court of Jaipur and subsequently, Shekhawati. Araish techniques vary from place to place, depending upon the budget of the owner and the materials available in the region. The frescoes were painted on a freshly prepared, wet Arayish base which allowed the dye to grip the base firmly, causing the paintings to last for a long time. The colours primarily used in these paintings were Ochre Red and Ultramarine Blue, because they were the brightest colors and took the longest to fade.

Fatehpur is one of the biggest and oldest towns in Shekhawati, rich in history and heritage alike. Many of the rich traders emerged from here, though the current condition of the town states otherwise. It was established as a town in the 17th century, and passed through many rulers over time. It was a large town during the haveli construction period, and was central to many smaller villages in its vicinity. Today however, the havelis lie in a dilapidated condition, greatly reduced in amount than what they were formerly. And still, insensitive destruction of these structures continues to take place.

The fresco paintings and the havelis are a unique feature of Shekhawati’s heritage, and are in great need of conservation, lest they become extinct. Protective measures should be employed to preserve these structures and the paintings inside them from deteriorating further. The art should be commercialized and revived to prevent it from disappearing altogether, and the remaining artists should be engaged in passing on their valuable knowledge to those who are willing to learn.

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