Heritage harmony or horror?


Rajasthan wants its heritage intact. The state government is trying in its own way to restore and conserve its historical and heritage landmarks. But what is really the ground situation, finds out Rajasthan Post.

Rajasthan wants harmony in its heritage. Councils, committees, orders to protect heritage surface from time to time. But the  state’s famed Open Art gallery comprising age-old hand-painted magnificent havelis  in Shekhawati region, the story is something else.

The havelis are being sold and in their place are rising gargantuan malls and shopping complexes, an eyesore for the hundreds of tourists who seek out these picture perfect towns.

     

Recently the state government is also talking about forming a development council called the Shekhawati Heritage Development Council to preserve and restore the ancient havelis in the famed Shekhawati region.

Chokhani Haveli being demolished
Chokhani Haveli being demolished

The council will work for conservation, regulation and maintenance of heritage structure and private havelis in this region.

Shekhawati, situated in Delhi-Bikaner-Jaipur triangle is a semi-desert area, and famous for its amazing, richly hand-painted havelis built in the 18th Century between 1790 to 1930. It is also known as the Open Art Gallery of the desert state.

Marwari merchants, who travelled to East (Kolkata), west (Mumbai, Surat) in search of greener pastures built these havelis back in their hometowns.  They constructed opulent havelis, which served as a yardstick of their prosperity and success in business. The grander the haveli, the more prosperous the merchant was believed to be.

But after reports of demolition and illegal sale of two grand havelis in Shekhawati region, (about 160 km from state capital Jaipur)  surfaced, the state government issued strict orders to stop the sale, repair or construction in about 2,000 heritage havelis in two districts of Jhunjhunu and Sikar in Shekhawati region.

But anybody interested to buy their dream haveli in Rajasthan, especially if they prefer hand-painted frescoed havelis of Shekhawati, they should rather not, at least for the time being.

The order prohibiting the sale, renovation of these properties, officials say, is the first such directive for the region in many years.

With passage of time, the grand havelis have been losing their sheen. The owners have been neglecting them and the government has mostly looked the other way, not even considering the worth of these valuable heritage, being lost in time.

Kamal Morarka Haveli Museum
Kamal Morarka Haveli Museum

Neglected by owners, the havelis have witnessed growth of vegetation, micro-organism deposition, discolouration and fading away of a bygone era, Dr Hot Chand, a conservationist and restorer of Morarka Haveli in the area, said.

The maintenance of these palatial havelis incur huge amounts. And since ownership of these havelis is often disputed, their multiple owners do not want to spend anything extra on them. Hence many prefer to sell them off.

But these colourful, painted towns of Nawalgarh, Dundlod, Mandawa are full of rich legacy in form of these palatial havelis and are a tourist’s delight.

Jhunjhunuwala Haveli
Jhunjhunuwala Haveli
Jhunjhunuwala Haveli
Jhunjhunuwala Haveli

The state administration having woken up to the realisation of  the increased tourist potential and revenues and the need to preserve these heritage structures, are now taking corrective steps.

“Except for Pompeii in Naples, Italy, nowhere in the world does such hand-painted havelis exist,” said Randhir Singh Mandawa, owner of Mandawa Castle, a heritage hotel and general secretary of Indian Heritage Hotel Association.

According to additional district magistrate oofice of Jhunjhunu, following the reports of sale of Goenka Haveli in Dundlod town and another haveli in Nawalgarh, the district collector, Jhunjhunu had issued orders under Section 144 CrPC banning construction, repair or any change in the original look of the havelis and also sale of these heritage structures.

ADM Surendra Maheshwari said: “These heritage structures also include baoris, chhatris. The order also states any alteration in these structures would need permission from competent authority.  The rights of these ancestral properties could only pass onto their family.”    

The Divisional Commissioner of Jaipur had directed the district collectors to ensure that no such activity takes place any further.

But the locals and heritage conservationists  say dismantling of these havelis has been going on for years now and the administration have always turned a blind eye towards them.

Vijaydeep Singh Shekhawat, conservation expert and heading the heritage conservation section in Morarka Foundation, said : “Baitiyon Ki Haveli was demolished three years back. And in its place stands a shopping complex.  Even though the local administration is aware of these activities, they do not interfere. When Jhunjhunwalon ki Haveli in Nawalgarh town was about to be dismantled, some people complained to the district magistrate and then the government became alert.”

Shekhawat said more than 50 such havelis in the Shekhawati area, have either been demolished for building a complex or modified for hotel purpose. Not that these are havelis are in dilapidated condition.

But he admitted maintaining such havelis is cumbersome. These havelis with striking architecture, massive parapets, graceful interiors, exquisite murals and delicately latticed and carved windows present an awe-inspiring sight. They also house painted murals, carvings, mirror work,  frescoes on walls and ceilings depicting mythological themes, images of huge animals and even arrival of British, steam locomotives and trains. Almost every haveli is festooned with gold or silver leaf.

Maintaining these art-pieces and antiques is costly.  Shekhawat said : “There are two ways of maintaining them. One is renovation where one can alter the architecture and repaint the wall paintings which costs around Rs 6 to 9 lakhs for an average haveli.”

“The other way is conservation where the broken sections are repaired by following the old techniques i.e cleaning them with chemicals and preserving them. It costs around Rs 9 to 15 lakhs for an average haveli. But a periodic treatment is needed from time to time.”

Some owners are interested to maintain the havelis because of their heritage value. Like

Kamal Morarka, owner of the Morarka haveli has turned his haveli into a museum.

Hot Chand, its conservationist, said : “The entry ticket is only Rs 50 and revenue from it is around Rs 1.20 lakh per year whereas its maintenance requires Rs 20 lakh every year. But Morarka is interested in conserving it for future generation. How many would be like him? ”

Another worth visiting haveli is the Poddar Haveli maintained by Kanti Kumar R Poddar, which also runs a school there.

Randhir Singh said : “Mostly the caretakers live in these havelis, who do not understand the value of their unique heritage. They sell antique furniture, latticed windows, carved columns, which fetch a hefty amount.”

Conservationists say the best way to maintain these unique havelis is to give them on lease, turn them into centres of learning, museums, schools or heritage hotels.

Randhir Singh said : “The government step is welcome. At least the skyline of these colourful towns would be maintained. I presume the order to ban sale is to stop new owners from demolishing the structures and building something for commercial purpose instead, which is changing the face of these picture-perfect towns.” 

But the builders, real estate agents are slowly encroaching these picturesque and unique towns and leaving their modern stamps of glitzy, swanky structures behind.

Conservationists fear that amidst the lure of huge amount floating money in the building business, how far or strictly can the government impose and implement the rules?  Whether these matchless painted towns of Shekhawati turn into concrete ghettos, only time can tell.

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