Sometimes words are not enough to describe experiences; seeing Jaisalmer’s famous havelis (mansions) was one such experience. It was one of those moments when time just seemed to freeze, and only the mesmerising sight before you is in focus. Imagination takes over in an instant and one just gets transported to times gone by.
Of a time when artists and their art was nurtured and treasured and patronised.
Of a time when artists went unknown and the owners became famous through the very art of building such structures.
And of more recent times when modern tourists must have seen these havelis and gasped with delight at the work. Just as I did and just as I know others will when they see the havelis for the first time.
While I saw most of the havelis from the outside in passing, I did spend some time at the Patwon ki Haveli and the Nathmal Diwan Haveli in Jaisalmer. Both these havelis were so grand that at my first sight of them, I think just forgot to breathe.
Patwon ki Haveli is actually a complex of 5 havelis built next to each other by the 5 sons of Guman Chand, a trader in textiles and precious metals. These multi-storeyed buildings were constructed at the beginning of the 18th century from the golden-yellow Jaisalmeri stone and have mud floors and wooden ceilings ensuring perfect temperature inside, regardless of the weather outside. The exterior stonework is so unimaginably magnificent, that I am going to show you what I saw rather than attempt a write-up which will not even capture its essence.
Diwan Nathmal ki Haveli was built in 1885. Gifted to the Diwan by Maharawal Bairisal., this ornamental two-storied haveli was built by two brothers — Hathi and Lalu — who reportedly fought during its construction leading to one half of the haveli being built by one brother and the other half by another. At first glance, both sides of the haveli look the same, but a closer inspection reveals differences in the carving and symmetry as well.
Diwan Nathmal ki Haveli, which is partly inhabited today, has a special feature — its roof has been cast by binding stone pieces without using beams and brackets. This haveli, too, has a beautiful façade with stone elephants on both side of the platform of the haveli, ornamental latticed balconies, partly bloomed lotus flowers, floral patterns on intricate lattices and minute birds and animals.
All these havelis were built by merchants and are perhaps the finest example of construction without any European influence. The intricacy in jaalis, jharokhas, balconies and building facades has to be seen to be believed.
Imagine staying in one of the havelis.
Imagine watching the world go by from one of its many windows or balconies or jharokhas.
Of full moon nights, rosy sunrises, and golden sunsets.
Of street life, festival celebrations and processions.
Of soldiers marching past, and wandering minstrels and musicians going by.
But most of all I tried to imagine what would it feel like to be serenaded from a jharokha or a balcony. Sigh ! 😉