The Dr. Ramnath A. Podar Haveli Museum at Nawalgarh in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan was built in 1902. Originally a residence and known as Podar Haveli, it was converted into a museum after major renovation and restoration works were undertaken of the frescoes and murals that cover every inch of its exterior and interior walls.
The Haveli Museum, which is over 100 feet long, is supposed to have 750 frescoes on its outer walls, passages, two courtyards and all the rooms in the lower level. Every fresco/mural is detailed and covers themes from mythology to local folk tales to whimsical depictions of everyday life.
Though there were many stunning works of art at the Haveli Museum, there was one that caught my eye — more for the unusual subject than for the quality of art. It was like an Ardhanareeshwara, but instead of the composite image of Shiva and Parvati, it was one of Vishnu and Lakshmi.
When I arrived in Nawalgarh, the first work of ‘art’ I noticed was not its famed frescoes or even its grand havelis — it was a piece of graffiti.
I was looking out of the window of the car I was travelling in, hoping to catch a glimpse of a fresco, when the car suddenly braked to let a cow pass. That’s when I saw the graffiti — a yellow rectangular patch with blue lettering on a cracked and patched surface. It was the contrast of the freshness of the graffiti against a dull and old surface that attracted me and I took a picture of it for that reason. The words (for those who can’t read the Devanagari script or understand Hindi) can be roughly translated to:
Even if it means losing your life, don’t give in to anything improper or immoral.
As the car moved ahead, I dismissed the graffiti as a one-off and resumed my search for the frescoes. Little did I know at that time that along with the frescoes and the havelis, I would be seeing other graffiti all over Nawalgarh.
Ilay Cooper’s book on Shekhawatiset 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 Nawalgarh is the second 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.
Nawalgarh was my base for exploring the Shekhawati region and also the first of the towns I visited. Named after Nawal Singh, its founder, Nawalgarh was built in 1737 on the site of an earlier settlement.
Nawal Singh followed an active policy of encouraging traders and merchants from Jaipur to settle down in Nawalgarh. The Patodia and Murarka families were the first to arrive on his invitation and seeing them grow and prosper, other merchants soon followed. By the mid-1800s, Nawalgarh had become a large and prosperous town with three forts, city walls, bastions and four gates to protect it.
I arrived in Nawalgarh on a cold and rainy winter’s day in January, in time for a late lunch at my hotel before heading off to explore the town. It was a leisurely stroll through the town’s markets, lanes and bylanes with the purpose to get a feel of what had brought me to Nawalgarh (and for that matter the Shekhawati region) in the first place — the painted havelis or mansions.