The Life Around & The History Behind The Fading Havelis In Shekhawati

Passerby and Jhunjhunu-walla Haveli, Alsisar,


Photographer David Zurick is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography.  These images are from his project ‘Painted Towns Of Rajasthan.  To see David’s recent work click on any image.


Interior courtyard, Bhanserdar Bhagat Haveli, Nawalgarh


Girl on motorbike, Ramgarh


Mural detail, Churu


My ongoing series of color photographs called “Painted Towns” explores the visual culture of the old trading towns in Shekhawati Province, India. The settlements owe their origins to lucrative routes that once crossed the desert, and today they are filled with hundreds of decaying fresco-covered buildings, called havelis, built by prosperous traders in the 18th and 19th centuries. The merchants had commissioned artists to decorate their houses with colorful murals depicting local society, colonial rule, or religious life, often competing with one another to create the most fantastic designs. For centuries, the havelis served the towns as trade houses, pleasure palaces, temples, caravansaries, and private homes.


Residential district, Fatehpur


Courtyard, Poddar Haveli, Ramgarh


Private residence, Churu


Following independence, most descendants of the original trading families left Shekhawati for India’s burgeoning cities, abandoning their opulent homes.  Some havelis were left in the charge of caretakers; squatters took up residence in many; most simply remain vacant. The buildings slowly deteriorated, ravaged by time, climate, and neglect, and now lie scattered among the desert settlements in an elegiac collection of beautiful ruins – a crumbling open-air gallery set amid the ordinary affairs of small town life in an arid, forgotten corner of India.


Bangle maker, repurposed haveli, Fatehpur


Haveli squatter, Dunlod


In many places in the world, the scale and artisanship of the havelis might be preserved as a national monument and divorced from common life; here they are the backdrop for the comings-and-goings of rural society.  What makes the Shekhawati towns and their havelis so fascinating to me is the incidental blending of world-class public art and everyday life.  It produces a lived-in museum with almost mythological dimensions.  But the painted buildings in Shekhawati are on the verge of disappearance and exhibit an ephemeral quality: murals flake away; foundations collapse; walls give way to rot, tree roots, and drifting sand; new infrastructures eclipse old dwellings; soot, grime, and graffiti cover gorgeous paintings, all happening amid a boisterous diorama of daily life. The photographs portray this ruinous beauty, and, along the way, provide an intimate look inside small town life on the rural fringes of Rajasthan.  This world, too, is fading, and so the series, in the end, is a visual study of both place and society at the edge of time.


Woman with food tray, Poddar Haveli, Nawalgarh


Tea house, Ramgarh


School girls, Mandawa


See also:

Land of Pure Vision – The Sacred Geography of Tibet and the Himalaya

By David Zurick



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