The state of Rajasthan is one of India’s most popular tourist destinations for many reasons. It is central, filled with a romantic history, complete with endless forts and palaces and home to a full range of comfortable accommodation to satisfy every visitor’s needs. But what draws me back to Rajasthan, year after year, is its aesthetic; something you probably don’t realize that is in your daily life no matter where you call home.
One striking place to find this aesthetic is on the outside of homes, doorways, gateways, walls and buildings all over Rajasthan. The region of Shekhawati is especially celebrated for the intricate paintings that adorn the exteriors of the old merchant mansions of days gone by.
The above photograph is an example though not in the best condition. If you look closely, you can see detailed painting around the arches. Another feature of old havelis or mansions are the little doors carved into the larger door. The massive doors are heavy and require great strength to open. It’s easier to just step in and out of the little door and keep the large one shut, safer too.
Here, you can see a more elaborate collection of paintings, gracing nearly every inch of wall space. Sadly, it is in a state of serious deterioration with little regard for its intrinsic artistic merit.
The painted homes of Udaipur stand in direct contrast to those of Shekhawati. The designs are simpler and less unified and each one stands out independently, not concerned with creating an overall theme, other than one of welcome or protection. More importantly, however, is that this is a living, continuous tradition. Though the craftsmanship of the painted Shekhawati havelis is exquisite, it is essentially a dead art form. The former merchants have long left the region, the mansions are crumbling and no one is carrying on the traditional painting any longer. In Udaipur, painting is very much alive and thriving, whether it is on the exterior of buildings or in a more refined form of the miniatures that the region is famous for. This is one of the many attractions that Udaipur holds for visitors.
No matter where you are in Rajasthan, you will pass paintings on walls. Eventually they become so common-place that you hardly notice them.
It is utterly delightful to witness paintings of beautiful maidens and brave warriors on mighty elephants adorning the facades of homes all over Rajasthan. In New York City, where I live when I am not traveling the globe, I am not allowed to put even a small decorative sticker on my apt. door. Such is modern life and why I keep returning to India.