Situated in Rajasthan, Ramgarh Shekhawati is more than just a town. It’s a tale of history, a testimony of traditions and an open-air art gallery that leaves travellers spellbound. Recently, it saw various artistes and healers come together to attend the Vedaaranya Heritage and Healing (VHAH) Festival, hosted by the non-profit Shruti Foundation in collaboration with the Department of Tourism, Government of Rajasthan and Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) Shekhawati Chapter. Here, we unwrap this hidden Rajasthani gem and take a look at some interesting sites to explore.
Also known as Ramgarh Sethan, the town was recognised by its ‘Seths’ and emerged as one of the wealthiest towns in 19th-century India. According to Rajasthan Tourism, it was established in 1791, when merchant families such as the Poddars from neighbouring regions like Sikar migrated to the town at the behest of their rulers. Located 50km away from the city of Jhunjhunu, Ramgarh Shekhawati was declared a heritage town by the Rajasthan Government in 2017 for its historic architecture
These tomb-like structures made in the memory of ancestors reflect Vedic art, philosophy, mythology and more. One of the first chhatris in Ramgarh Shekhawati was constructed in the 1830s. Crafted beautifully, the chhatris include frescoes featuring tales of cosmic creation, destruction, love and war. “During that period, natural dyes such as mehendi, gerua, haldi and kajal were used to paint these frescoes and walls. In the later years, indigo (blue colour) from Europe was added to the colour palette. The technique used to paint was known as ‘Aala Gila’ that involves putting a layer of chuna first and then painting the walls while they are still wet. It allows colours to soak in deeply. Due to the technique, the colours remain intact even after centuries,” says Poddar.
The town has beautiful temples that one simply cannot miss. The Shani temple, particularly, has frescoes made of imported Belgium glass from the early 1900s. Built by the Khemka Seths, the frescoes were created using a technique involving four layers. “First a layer of chuna is put, followed by a layer of cloth, then a layer of paper, over which they paste a mirror with the help of a gum,” explains Poddar. The temple also has an akhand jyoti that is said to be lit since its inception.
Another temple in the area is a Vedic temple called Shikhar Bandh. With no deity idols in sight, the temple is dedicated to the Samaveda, the Veda of melodies and chants. “The outside carvings of the temple depict age-old classic musical instruments,” says Poddar. The temple was restored by INTACH along with Shruti Foundation.
The land of Havelis
Ramgarh Shekhawati has around 100 havelis, each presenting unique artwork and style. Located among a cluster of havelis, the Jai Narayan Poddar Haveli belongs to one of the richest families in the region. Its premises consist of frescoes made of wood, gold frames and precious stones.
On the other hand, the exteriors of Deep Chand Kishan Lal Poddar Haveli grab eyeballs with its paintings depicting sensuality. However, inside, the haveli contains images of gods and goddesses. “Outdoor paintings were for men and ensured that women who stayed indoors do not get influenced,” says Shruti Nada Poddar, founder of Shruti Foundation, who has restored Mohar and Vedaaranya Havelis in the area. People can book their stay in these two havelis.
One of the town’s most popular tourist attractions, the Ramgarh Fort has served as the perfect venue for several cultural events. Recently, it was the venue for the VHAH Festival, co-directed by Mira Misra Kaushik, where renowned Indian artistes performed. Among them were Bharatanatyam exponent Padma Shri Geeta Chandran, folk singer Mir Basu Khan, sitar maestro Shubhendra Rao, cellist Saskia Rao-de Haas, artist Satish Gupta and classical dancer Padma Vibhushan Sonal Mansingh. The fort also hosts Ramlila every year during Dussehra.