I love the majestic Havelis of Rajasthan and Gujrat. These Havelis ooze with so much character and a sense of oneness when inside them. In a quest to explore the Havelis of Jhunjhunu, the gateway to the Shekhawati region in Rajasthan, we took a detour at Surajgarh, on our way back to Delhi. We were on a road trip on a weekend getaway to Alwar
Come with me as I take you on a virtual tour of the colourful Havelis of Jhunjhunu in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. Let us explore the intricate doors, palatial interiors and the aesthetic architecture of these Havelis together.
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Our trip to Kajra in Shekhawati region of Rajasthan
A casual conversation at a heritage property we were staying in, at Surajgarh, led us to a quick morning trip to Kajra in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan.
Passing countless acres of rugged land filled with succulents and shrubs, trudging uphill bumpy roads that levelled at times and wading through narrow lanes, brought us face to face with miles of verdant agricultural land. The fields looked beautiful with fluorescent yellow flowers swaying in the gentle breeze of a winter morning.
Before we embark on this trip to Kajra, let us know a bit about Jhunjhunu.
Jhunjhunu is one of the ancient and prosperous regions of Rajasthan. Although its terrain is semi-desert, it’s been home to wealthy businessmen, brave soldiers, reputed educational institutes as well as copper mines for long.
Legend has that the Pandavas came here on their pilgrimage post the Kurukshetra war, although there is no historical evidence of it left. It might well be true, as this region is just 285km from Delhi, that’s been associated with Mahabharata for long.
The local people believe that the Pandavas had bathed at Surya Kund in Lohargal, that’s around 60km from the district headquarters of Jhunjhunu, to relieve themselves of their sins of vanquishing their own extended family in the war.
Lord Krishna is said to have suggested to the Pandavas, that, only when the weapons and armours used by them in the war dissolve and disappear, will the Pandavas be relieved of the sins committed on the war field at Kurukshetra.
Supposedly, they did disappear, when the Pandavas took a bath and immersed the weapons here at Surya Kund, that has always had the ancient temple of Sun-god in its vicinity. Hence the name Lohagarl for this place, where the SuryaKund is situated because Loha means metal, garl melt or dissolve.
A glimpse of Lohagarl’s history
Lohagarl is also considered a pilgrimage destination for the devotees of Vishnu, the Sun god and Sage Parashuram, who flock the temples situated in the wilderness of the Aravalli mountains here.
Surya Kund is also considered the place where God Vishnu had taken the avatar of the fish to vanquish Shakhasur demon and reclaimed the four Vedas from him.
Some historical records mention that the region was ruled by Sidhraj of the Chauhan dynasty thousand years ago. As with every ancient dynasty that ruled India, the proof and evidence of which has mostly been destroyed or uncared for to be unearthed, even the reign of the Chauhan dynasty over Jhunjhunu is not much known.
However, the subsequent rule of it by the Sultanates is recorded and mentioned on the wiki page.
Where is Kajra in Shekhawati region?
Kajra is situated between Pilani and Surajgarh and is around 45km from Jhunjhunu. It’s just 9km away from Surajgarh.
However, Kajra is not a usual stop-over for tours covering the famous ‘open-art gallery’ region of Shekhawati. Nevertheless, this village has its share of Havelis, and, frescoes often termed the Shekhawati paintings, that pep its mundane existence. Slowly but steadily, the Havelis in Kajra are being restored in parts, hoping to grab the attention of travellers who pass by the district of Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan.
The nondescript village surprisingly serves as a centre for educational pursuits of students from nearby hamlets and towns. With a handful of government schools and private schools alike, the village of Kajra was abuzz with sounds of children from nearby schools, on the day of our visit. Kajra also has the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya.
We had combined our trip to Alwar and Bhangarh with this visit to Kajra.
What are Havelis?
Havelis are palatial mansions with opulent carved doors and windows, a blend of traditional and modern architecture, colourful Shekhawati paintings, lavish courtyards and look lived in as they have been home to traditional joint families of Marwaris for over centuries now. They could be extensively found across Rajasthan and Gujarat.
The Shekhawati region is said to have over 2000 Havelis of varied sizes. While many of them have been abandoned and are in a dilapidated state, some of them have been restored and others have been converted into heritage hotels.
You may want to read about Rajasthani architecture in my post on Moosi Maharani Ki Chhatri
History of the Havelis at Kajra
Kajra is well known for the Kajaria Havelis belonging to scions of globally reputed Kajaria Ceramics. There exist four Havelis in a particular lane belonging to this family.
These Havelis were built by the talented Chejaraas (masons) and Chiteyraas (painters) of this region, on being commissioned by the affluent Kajarias. They have a mix of medieval and contemporary architecture. Marwaris (are) merchants and traders by profession who travelled a lot for business purposes. So, it should not come as a surprise if one finds imported Burma teak, Italian marbles and figurines, as well as stained glass paintings adorning their palatial homes.
The Rajasthani Haveli architecture of Kajra
These 19th-century majestic edifices loomed over us from either side as we alighted from our parked car, upon reaching Kajra. The sheer magnificence and architecture of the Havelis instantly took me back to my childhood days spent in the by-lanes of Karaikudi in TamilNadu, famous for the palatial homes of Chettiars. Yes, the same Chettiars who are now the patrons of the 1600-year-old Ganesh temple in Pillayarpatti village of Chettinad.
One of the four Havelis has been renovated, given a fresh coat of paint and is open to guests of Surajgarh fort. The village of Kajra isn’t home to 18th-century Havelis like other towns of Shekhawati region. Rather, both Surajgarh and Kajra have modern yet old-styled Havelis belonging to the 19th century with imported marble floors, opulent corridors with European arches, frescoes depicting modern inventions, western lifestyle and motifs.
The Havelis of Kajra, stand still as if cocooned in a time capsule, ready to transport and reveal the hidden secrets of a bygone era to its inquisitive visitors. Old-world charm and inquisitiveness entice the visitors and throws them into a trance upon entering these mansions.
I feel that an unfettered USP of such Havelis is the mammoth living space and vibrant frescoes apart from ornate doors and colourful windows. They definitely add character to the architecture.
The difference in old Haveli design of Surajgarh and new Haveli Kajra
I observed that the 19th-century Havelis differ from their old counterparts in having elements like rounded arches at many places that replace the traditional cusped form; extensive use of wrought iron, cast-iron railings and round pillars in beautifying the interiors and in elaborate verandas that are added in front of Havelis in place of the traditional toran dwar(door). These verandas have a small fountain adding a western touch to the Havelis in Kajra.
Unlike the Havelis in Surajgarh, the Kajra mansions have a hint of privacy with the addition of a boundary wall. The architecture of such structures is definitely a reflection of the times we live in. From living and sharing as a society, we have evolved into isolated beings surrounded by people separated by walls!
The main entrance or toran dwar of these Havelis has been pushed inside due to the construction of a wall. Unlike, the 18th-century Havelis which had the main entrance on a raised plinth defined by a huge gateway with two gokhas (arched space with pillars), these 19th-century Havelis have an elaborate open-space serving as a verandah with the must-have fountain in centre.
Haveli architecture design
The outer poli (transitional space) that led to an outer chowk having a baithak on either side in old Havelis has been modified in the Havelis of Kajra. The baithaks are missing! The main door leads to the inner chowk having several sets of rooms known as sal. The haveli also encloses two more chowks inside and our walk through them seemed never-ending!
Rasoi or kitchen is built around the last chowk, literally at the back of this haveli. The washrooms were also on the side of this section. Tulasi Chaura(sacred basil) adorns the center of this chowk. Surprisingly, the kitchen is not very huge but is well-ventilated and the women of the house must have definitely enjoyed the art of cooking in this corner surrounded by huge open spaces.
Liberal use of tiles on the walls
A sneak peek of the Haveli interiors
I wanted to have a look at the terrace. So, we took the Nisherni or stairs that provide access to the upper floors. These were decorated with colourful stained glass paintings for windows.
The upper storey consists of bigger rooms with frescoes that depict floral patterns and western figurines. Storage spaces called Duchhati has been provided in these rooms. We hardly required artificial lights and fans for our tour inside the haveli. The construction is such that there is a constant flow of natural air and light even inside the rooms.
The outer add-ons of the Havelis
A separate nohra or space for facilities like keeping domestic animals and rooms for servants or guests is a part of this haveli. There is space at the back and rooms are on either side of the steps leading to the verandah. These lack the opulence of the rooms above.
The Chhat or terrace was massive and gave a wonderful view of Kajra village and surrounding Havelis. However, the pigeon droppings have created havoc around and constant maintenance is required for hygienic surroundings.
The Haveli doors of Kajra
I have a penchant for doors and these Havelis of Kajra did not let me down. The main door and frames are elaborate and intricately carved, while the other doors have a modern yet vibrant look.
The carvings on the main door include geometrical and floral patterns. These carved doors are further plated with brass. And a constant in all the doors in this region is a figurine of Lord Ganesha, flanked by wither elephants or apsaras fanning him.
The usage of timber and teak is limited to nil and the wood that makes the doors and windows are locally sourced. Some of the doors were very similar to the ones at Alwar.
A not so opulent Haveli door in an alley
Shekhawati paintings: Frescoes and sculptures adorn these Havelis
The Shekhawati region is widely nicknamed ‘Open Art Gallery’ for its generous display of frescoes, murals and vibrancy, collectively termed Shekhawati paintings.
Unlike the 18th-century Havelis of Shekhawati, the frescoes of Kajra are not very elaborate and extensive.
I was much impressed with the frescoes of the Havelis in Surajgarh than in Kajra. The frescoes here are not very appealing in their strokes and seem to have been etched ( given a face-lift) using artificial colours. Also, they lack the charm of their 18th-century counterparts.
Apart from frescoes that had Lord Krishna paintings as a constant, these Havelis also include sculptures as decor. Stucco as a new form of ornamentation has been used widely across the facade thus adding wonderful carvings on the walls.
The technique behind Shekhawati paintings
Shekhawati paintings have their own unique technique of making, which has been quite difficult to master.
The 18th-century artists had etched frescoes using natural vegetable and plant dyes mixed with lime water. The organic colours are supposed to set naturally along with wet plaster protecting the fresco from harsh weather conditions.
However, over the years most of the frescoes at Kajra Havelis have peeled off and looked pale due to exposure to weather conditions and utter neglect sans care. In my honest opinion, many of the paintings have been ruined under the garb of renovation by the usage of artificial colours.
While I was there, renovation work was still going on and sadly the drab whitewash was not serving any purpose for restoring the lost glory of a bygone era!
The beautifully tiled welcome courtyard with a fountain
Practical information on visiting the Havelis of Kajra
Do visit and seep in the old world charm of Havelis in Kajra before they meet an unfortunate fate in the unaesthetic hands of modern workers.
How to reach Kajra in the Shekhawati region
- Kajra is around 8-10kms from Surajgarh town. I would not recommend an isolated visit to this village. Instead, a visit to Kajra could be clubbed with a day tour to Shekhawati region from Surajgarh fort or vice-versa.
- Surajgarh is around 168km from Delhi, 135km from Alwar and around 40km from Jhunjhunu.
- If you are planning a visit from Delhi or Jaipur, I recommend you to stay at the Surajgarh fort for a night and then proceed to enjoy the Havelis of Kajra at around 8 AM and then continue with a haveli tour of Mandawa, Nawalgarh and other places in the Shekhawati region.
Where to stay
There are no viable stay options in Kajra. The best place of stay would be Surajgarh fort, that has now been turned into a heritage resort.
Hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of the Havelis at Kajra. Do leave your valuable feedback, comment or queries on this write-up!
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