Shekhawati’s havelis were the result of a unique combination of material availability and the skilled labor needed to execute construction. As the landscape of Shekhawati, with its hills, made transporting materials difficult, material use centered, for the most part, on things locally available. (Cooper 1994, 44) There are a few major materials that play into the construction of the havelis, within the walls, the doors and beams and the architectural elements throughout the havelis.
There are three materials that can be found in the walls, brick prepared from locally sourced red clay, stone-fragments and dhandhala, which was this greyish lump of hardpan. (Cooper 1994,44). The red clay, and the bricks it formed was predominantly used in south and south-east Shekhawati. (Cooper 1994, 44)
(The mortar of the havelis is red as a result of the use of red clay and pieces of the red clay bricks.)
Today this red clay can still be sourced in Shekhawati, and one can find the kilns preparing fresh bricks while traveling through the region.
(The red clay bricks.)
The next material that was used was flat stone fragments, sourced from Jhunjhunu, Khetri, Singhana and Udaipur. (Cooper 1994, 44) And in central and northern Shekhawati, dhandhala was the preferred material. It was sourced from quarries located in Mandawa, Bissau, Fatehpur and Churu, and played a major role as the choice material for the painted havelis. (Cooper 1994, 44) Dhandhala proved to be a versatile material for the masons, as in its unprepared stage, as impure lime, or if it was of excellent quality, be shaped by hand and used as paving. The material proved to be quite versatile, however, since the last havelis were built, so too has dhandhala been fully quarried. Since it was not a source of high quality lime, the lime used in plasters had to be sourced from Kirod and Bhasawa, near Nawalgarh, by quarrying and burning a blue-grey marble. (Cooper 1994, 44)
(The fine plaster work, as seen here, is a series of thin layers applied over the mortar.)
Today, lime that is sourced and used in the repair work no longer comes from local quarries.
The next major aspect of haveli construction was timber, and though there is greenery and trees in Shekhawati, much of the wood is not suited for construction; rather the havelis are the result of a combination of two types of woods. The local Shekhawati wood that was initially used was rohira. Rohira, though dense and proven to be structurally strong resulted in fairly small and vaulted rooms, since the rohira tree only grew to be about 10-12 feet tall. (Patel, Shah and Agarwal 2006, 13)
(The rohira window frame has held the carving well, and are in good shape even after weathering.)
According to local woodworkers, the quality rohira that existed during the period of haveli construction, is not easily available, as the over-harvesting has led to hollow trees that do not grow as high, making it a difficult wood to work with in contemporary times. Once teak wood was brought in from Burma, it became the favored wood for beams, as it ensured that the rooms in the havelis could span greater distances and have high ceilings.
(Seen here is half of the teak wood beam over a doorway, the carving is still clear even with weathering.)
During the heyday of haveli building, from the 1850s to the 1880s, the volume of teak beams that could be sourced came was limited, which is why the architecture of the rooms was standard, one central beam supporting two arched ceilings. Only the very wealthy could afford wooden to have multiple beams in a single room. Both woods are excellent choices, because, post-curing, they are bug-resistant and weather resistant. Many havelis still have their original doors, beams and window frames in place, and the weathering is not as significant. However, the use of wooden beams to span rooms was replaced by the I-beam, once it came to be known for its material properties and teak became more and more expensive.
And finally, the stone carved elements. The locally sourced stone, in Raghunathagarh at the foot of the Aravalli Hills, was used in the standard brackets, pillars and for decorative panels. (Cooper 1994, 44)
(The carved stone pillars were coated with plaster to give them a marble-like appearance.)
Though this stone was available, its quality was not like that of sandstone as seen in the carved havelis of Jaisalmer, thus it could be minimally carved and had to be supplemented through the addition of dry plaster frescoes. (Patel, Shah and Agarwal 2006, 13)
(The stone-brackets, covered with plaster and painted, allowed for the carving to be further refined.)
Through these materials, the base form of the haveli was created. There are a few other minor materials that play into the haveli, such as mirrors, and later glass, imported from Belgium, used in conjunction with the frescoes to decorate the numerous surfaces. Additionally, brass was used to plate the doors in order to give the wooden doors greater strength, and beauty.
(The close-up of a door, shows the iron peeking through as a result of rusting, and the aging of the brass.)
The materials used in Shekhawati’s havelis truly show the ingenuity of man to work with the materials he has access to, and use them to their greatest potential. Truly the masons of the haveli-building boom knew their materials.
Cooper, Ilay. 1994. The Painted Towns of Shekhawati. Ahmedabad, Gujarat: Mapin Publishing Private Limited.
Patel, Kireet, Reena Shah and Reenal Agarwal. 2006. Arayish: Wall Paintings of Shekhawati. Ahmedabad, Gujarat: SID Research Cell, School of Interior Design, CEPT University.