The painted towns of Shekhawati-2: Dundlod

Ilay Cooper’s book on Shekhawati set me off on an extraordinary trip to an extraordinary place, and I had to wait for nearly six months before I felt ready to write about it — so overwhelming were my thoughts and emotions. This post on Dundlod is the third of eight posts in the series on “The Painted Towns of Shekhawati”. If you haven’t read this introduction to Shekhawati’s history (and the series), I recommend that you do so now, before proceeding further.


The gates to the Dundlod Fort are locked when I arrive at 2.30 in the afternoon from Nawalgarh.

“How can a Fort be locked at this time of the day?” I grumble, looking around for some information on the Fort timings. I don’t find any and instead start looking around for someone who can help me, but there is no one around and all the shops are shut — Dundlod appears to be practically deserted.

Dundlod, Painted Towns of Shekhawati, Fresco, Art Gallery, Painting, Heritage, Travel, Rajasthan, Goenka

I see a tea stall that is open and walk towards it. The tea stall owner guesses what I’m going to ask him and says: “The Fort is shut. They have gone horse riding.”

“Who are ‘they’?” I ask.

“The owners of the Fort and their foreign guests. You come after some time,” is the reply.

I decide to explore the town instead and as I’m wondering which direction to head towards, the tea stall owner points me towards a haveli (mansion) and says that the caretaker-cum-watchman will open it for me to see.

That’s how I end up at the Shubhnarayan Anandram Goenka Haveli.

Dundlod, Painted Towns of Shekhawati, Fresco, Art Gallery, Painting, Heritage, Travel, Rajasthan, Goenka
The forecourt at the Shubhnarayan Anandram Goenka Haveli

The Goenkas were among the first of the merchant families to settle in Dundlod. They were a branch of the Goenkas from Nawalgarh and had moved to Dundlod after a tiff with one of the rulers there. The Dundlod Goenkas made their fortune in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and built quite a few havelis in Dundlod.

The Shubhnarayan Anandram Goenka Haveli was the first to be constructed in 1870 by Arjun Dassji Goenka. This haveli is similar to the basic structure of the havelis elsewhere in Shekhawati — a public area, a courtyard, a family area, bedrooms on the upper level and a separate area for the cattle and the servants. The Goenka Haveli had an additional feature, which I did not see in any other haveli in Shekhawati — a forecourt.

Dundlod, Painted Towns of Shekhawati, Fresco, Art Gallery, Painting, Heritage, Travel, Rajasthan, GoenkaThe Goenka Haveli is showcased like a museum. In addition to some fine frescoes, there are traditional vessels and implements on display. The rooms are furnished the way it would have been a few decades ago complete with creepy, life-sized figures of ‘people’ at work — grinding flour or churning butter or doing accounts — scattered about the haveli.

As I am leaving the haveli, the caretaker asks me if I am interested in seeing another Goenka property — the chhatri or cenotaph of Ram Dutt Goenka — which is a 10-minute walk from the haveli. Of course, I say and off we go.

We also visit another haveli built by the Goenkas on the way — the Bhagirathlal Goenka Haveli. Since it is inhabited, we only see the frescoes in the courtyard. Apart from frescoes on religious themes on its walls, this haveli has portraits painted under the eaves. Bearded men, women in veils, profiles, European men and women — they’re all there. We don’t stay long there and leave for the chhatri.

As we are walking towards the chhatri, caretaker tells me that it was built in 1888 and the inside of its dome was repainted in 2003 or thereabouts as the details had almost vanished. The chhatri is now secured by a walled and gated enclosure to protect the paintings from any further damage or vandalism.

“You have problems of vandalism here?” I ask astonished. Almost on cue and as we pass a large, derelict and empty haveli, a group of 6-8 young men suddenly appear on its roof and start hooting and whistling at us.

“See what I meant? says the caretaker. “Just ignore these troublemakers.” I do or at least try to for the men are really loud.

The chhatri’s painted dome is mind-blowing in detail and the stories they depict. The Ramayana,  Mahabharata, Bhagawat Purana, Dashavatar… are all depicted in the dome. It is only the dome of the chhatri that has been repainted; everything else has been left as it is. The base of the chhatri still has remnants of original frescoes, but barely.

Presenting a set of 32 photographs from the painted havelis and a chhatri of Dundlod. They cover religious themes, portraits, and daily life. Clicking on any of the captioned photographs will start a slide show. Though you can start from any photograph, I recommend that you start with the first, and once you have finished seeing the photos, don’t forget to come back to read the rest of the post.

As we leave the chhatri, the men on the roof top resume their shouting and hooting, this time accompanied by lewd gestures. As we walk past them, I can hear the “Come to me, baby” and “Kiss me, baby” calls.

The caretaker suddenly stops and shouts at the men, “Oye chup karo. Yeh koi firangi nahi hai, hamari hai.” [Literal Translation: Keep quiet. She is not a foreigner, she’s ours (or she’s an Indian)].

The men groan in protest and I even hear an “Oh shit”, but they become quiet and move away.

“These men ! They are from the another caste/community and they are all like this and you can’t expect anything better from them. They have nothing better to do than tease the few tourists who come here. Don’t worry, they won’t bother you now. You are after all Indian,” says the caretaker.

I feel sick. I don’t know what is worse — that it is okay to tease foreign tourists, or the fact that just because you belong to another caste/community, you are labelled as a troublemaker. I don’t stay to see if the Fort is open and leave Dundlod after paying the caretaker.

Even after so many months and as I write this post, I feel sick thinking about the incident.


Notes:

  1. Dundlod is just 10 km from Nawalgarh, my base in Shekhawati, and a short drive away.
  2. Most of the havelis are locked up and empty. Some have just been abandoned, while some have caretakers who will allow you to see them for a small fee. For your own safety, I would advise extreme caution in deciding to enter such havelis.
  3. While most caretakers/watchmen of the havelis will ask for a token amount upfront before you see the haveli, some may not. In such cases, I would suggest that you pay them something when you leave.

Join me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as I explore Shekhawati and other places.

The Painted Towns of Shekhawati Series: Introduction | Nawalgarh | Dundlod | Mandawa | Laxmangarh | Fatehpur | Bissau | Mahensar

Other Shekhawati-related posts: The Shekhawati trip planner | The painter of murals | Messages on the wall: The graffiti of Nawalgarh | The stepwell at Lohargal | The garbage well |


38 thoughts on “The painted towns of Shekhawati-2: Dundlod

  1. I was going to ‘whistle whistle’ after going through the slide show three times ( amazing simple amazing captures) but after having read the remaining portion of the post ( yes, I did go back and read through till the end), all I’m going to say with jaw dropping wide open ( not at you, but at the paintings and the details) is WOW. Cannot wait to get there. Thank you Sudha for this series. Please compile the same in a book on Shekawati once you’re done writing your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Blush, Blush Thanks a lot, Jayanti. After Nawalgarh, Dundlod was so different and as I found through my travels in Shekhawati each town was so different from the others. The painting styles, the colours, the varieties… everything. Two down, five more to go. The next one will be up later this week. 🙂

      And a book on Shekhawati? Naah. I don’t think so. I’m too lazy (and scared) to write a book. 😛

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  2. But did you get to see the fort eventually? did the owner and his guests come back?

    the paintings are just too beautiful, and i cant even decide which is my favourite. and the catcalls must have been not just irritating but also scary….
    but that photo with all the utensils made me think of another aspect… what would it have been like for those people who lived here, inside these painted walls? how did they maintain them? was someone forever calling out ‘dont lean against the wall! the paintings will get spoilt!!” ??? cleaning would have been a major chore, no?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I mention in the end that I did not stay back to see the Fort, which incidentally is also part hotel.

      I was irritated with the men initially, but when the comments began I did begin to feel a little scared. I don’t think the boys would have done anything beyond the comments, but still.

      All the murals outside the kitchens in the havelis are blackened from the smoke from wood fire. I will be sharing such pictures in one of my forthcoming posts. In some havelis, such murals have been cleaned up (Morarka Haveli), repainted over (Podar Haveli) and left as it is.

      Once dried and properly cured the frescoes become part of the plaster. So unless one wilfully chips away the plaster, they cannot be removed. Cleaning involved some soap and water if at all and if a portion got really dirty it was painted over. Ilay Cooper’s book gives instances of haveli walls being repainted due to a marriage in the family or just like that.

      I also think attitudes towards the paintings would have been quite different. What we see as a cultural and national heritage, would have been commonplace and something that could be replaced or repainted. Now that is a reality check for sure !

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  3. Lovely post and thanks for the reality check at the end. To the firangis (foreigners) who read this post, my apologies as an Indian. To fellow Indians,whatever happened to ‘Athithi Devo Bhava’ – our duty to treat our guests as Gods?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The frescoes are incredibly beautiful. Imagine them being painted painstakingly, or the owners deciding on which image should go where. But, the neglect of the havelis is alarming. Where is India Heritage team? Or do they exist?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The frescoes are indeed very beautiful. But you know what I find most incredible about the whole thing? The fact that the frescoes in every haveli in every town are so different from one another. Though the themes are similar the painters have taken care to see that the styles are not.

      Unless the local people valur their heritage, no amount of interventions from outside will help.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Mukta. Written about 2 towns with 5 more to go. In addition there are lots more stuff to share here. I don’t think I have been so excited writing about a trip as I have been with Shekhawati.

      It’s time for me to go again too – but this time to see places I couldn’t visit like Churu, Jhunjhunu, Ramgarh, Mukundgarh, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I haven’t been to many towns. A friend’s family belongs to Mandhawa (half the fort is theirs, the non-hotel portion), his family took us around. We did Nawalgarh, Mandhawa and Mahansar- forts and havelis. But this was before my blogging/writing days and your post has made me ask them to take me again. Perhaps during Gangaur.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome to “My Favourite Things” Thank you for stopping by and commenting, BarelyHereNorThere. So happy that you lied the post and have put it in your bucket list. Just don’t keep it there for too long as the havelis and their frescoes are vanishing at an alarming pace.

      Do keep a lookout for the res of the painted towns in this series. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The frescoes are magnificent! So many stories in them. I am sure the artists when they painted it had many stories of their own. And such detail. I wonder if those artists were paid well. And if there is a traditional community of artists who do these paintings. Do they still exist?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. After seeing the Akshardham Temple in Delhi .. I’m sure the artists still exist ..
      The more pertinent question is perhaps .. in what State they exist ? and what is their current Status in our Society !?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think artists, particularly the traditional one, have that great a status as it is linked to caste and community. Sure, they are sometimes feted by the government and recognised by art lovers, but it does not always translate into economic security. Unfortunately.

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    2. The stories are everywhere, Bhavana, and such a wide variety of them too. No two havelis are alike and no two towns too. The design and execution of the frescoes are different leading me to believe that there were a large number of artists and their apprentices involved. The period of mid to late 19th century till Independence would have been a golden period for the construction business in Shekhawati and these artists as well.

      I can’t say with certainty if the artists were paid well, but I’d like to think that they were for the industry did sustain for more than 50 years. Most of the artists were local; some came from Jaipur and Bikaner states.

      I met only one artist (who I will be writing about in a separate blog post) and he said that he had sufficient work in restoration work. Unfortunately, didn’t meet anyone else.

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  6. Just trying to soak it up .. most who have visited or even not visited Rajasthan know of the Terrific Forts and palaces of Rajasthan .. but this is a totally new Dimension ! and of a more recent past. And the Opulence and Decadence .. so fast ! .. Thanks for a brilliant series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A very warm welcome here, Sagikp. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I have visited Bikaner and Udaipur, both of which have frescoes and murals. But the scale, spread and quality of the Shekhawati havelis is very different making it a unique heritage. And to think it is barely 100-150 years old!

      Where thee is opulence, decadence follows after a time and that is what has happened to Shekhawati.

      So glad that you liked this post. The series is far from over; do come back to read the rest of the series. 🙂

      Like

  7. The Dundlod Fort would have been interesting to see. My favourite is no doubt the battles scenes with the bears…they are so cute. The artist must have had a great time painting them.
    I wish I could get in touch with my classmate in Calcutta who was from the Goenka family and the Goenka group of industries- did any of these havelis belong to her ancestors/family?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The buildings inside Dundlod Fort is supposed to have some fantastic frescoes and murals, I still wish that the owners had picked another time to take their guests out for horse riding.

      I loved the bears too. I wonder how the original must have looked considering that these are the repainted version of 2003 !

      Ooh ! So you know the Goenkas, eh? 😉

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  8. Wonderful photographs and the narration is crisp, great work Sudhajee. I tried something new and made a post of monochrome images of the Havelis.

    Hope you will like checking it. Thanks and cheers, Shubham.

    Like

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