Fading splendour of the `open art gallery` of Rajasthan

New Delhi: The vibrant painted havelis, or the palatial homes, of the Shekhawati region, often called the "open art gallery of Rajasthan" and that has given India some of its biggest business families like the Birlas, the Mittals and the Goenkas, are fading with time due to sheer neglect.

Preservation requires a change in outlook, especially among the young, and voluntary participation by people, says an official of the Indian National Trust for Art and Culture Heritage (INTACH) that is attempting to "bring about the change".

"This place is a treasure trove of heritage. But the tragedy today is that most of the havelis stand neglected," Thakur Ranvir Singh, INTACH`s Rajasthan state co-convenor said.

"It is not just forts and palaces. There are havelis after havelis created in the last 250 years by the ancestors of some of our best known entrepreneurs like Mittals, Birlas and Goenkas in this region," he said, adding the frescoes they contained had created a vibrant atmosphere in the otherwise arid land.

"These havelis belong to families who have permanently moved to bigger cities for better opportunities. Unfortunately, the fourth generation has no emotional ties with their roots, and they are not showing interest in preserving it," he added.

But this indifferent attitude can be set right by injecting the right cultural dose amongst today`s generation about their heritage, said Ranvir Singh, whose association with INTACH dates back over three decades.

These days, preserving the hand-painted havelis of Shekhawati, also known as "open art gallery of Rajasthan", tops Ranvir`s Singh`s preservation list, and he is employing all possible means to get the mission going - from holding awareness workshops, meeting elders to forming youth clubs.

He said it is imperative to preserve these hand-painted frescoes - influenced by Rajput and Mughal paintings - as they depict historical events, personages, folk-heroes, prominent war scenes and religious themes in myriad hues and designs.

According to Ranvir Singh, there are 2,000 listed sites in the Shekhawati region alone that are dying of neglect. He said it is sad to see that in some places, the dilapidated havelis have been demolished for modern shopping complexes and other structures.

Ranvir Singh agreed it was a tough task to convince the people to not to sell their lands or havelis. But he is hopeful.

"The change will come by creating awareness, making people part of heritage and history - these are twins we can`t escape when we discuss terms like preservation and restoration," he said.

"This should begin very early. We, at INTACH, have started youth clubs where youngsters are introduced to our rich cultural heritage. There should be a vision and keenness to preserve our heritage," he added.

Ranvir Singh said most of the havelis and mansions are being looked after by caretakers who are not interested in maintaining their art work.

"We meet people, hold seminars, interact with elders of the town and act as a catalyst to educate people about the importance and sentimental value these structures have in our history and their life. We tell them not to sell their property," he said.

Another initiative is arranging meets between house owners and tour operators so that tourists wanting to soak in history could visit these havelis.

He is also trying to coax the owners to turn the havelis into heritage hotels.

"We are also trying to connect to the owners with the tour operators so that they just don`t sell the land and instead give it to those who will take care of it," he added, saying converting them into heritage hotels is one of the best options.