Mandawa : this town, in the heart of Rajasthan's , is famous for its painted havelis (mansions) and exquisite frescoes.
The Shekhavati area used to be the home of the Mar-waris, the merchant community which prospered on the trade routes between Central Asia and China : the roads in this region were once caravan routes where the productions of India, Kashmir, and China, were interchanged for those of Europe, Africa and Persia.
The merchants built for their families large mansions : the Havelis. This word is of Persian origin and means "enclosed place". The havelis are guarded at the entrance by large wooden doors reminiscent of medieval forts. Today, the outer courtyard serves as an extended threshold, since the main gate is seldom shut.
It normally accommodated several families who lived together as an economic, civic and social unit, sharing many common amenities. The density of occupation was balanced by the open court that would usually accommodate a common well for drinking water, space for washing and drying clothes, and a play
area for children. Just as the joint family system was the smallest economic unit in the social structure of medieval India, a haveli was the smallest survival unit in the urban civic structures.
Quite impressive in size, these havelis became, over time, painted with frescos depicting gods and kings, flowers and arabesques and scenes from everyday life. Depictions of colonial life and inventions added a touch of humor.
But then, the leading families moved away from Shekhawati, to settle in the new trading centers of modern India : Calcutta, Bombay, etc. It is only since two decades that these frescoes are "rediscovered".