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The Vanishing Havelis Of Jaipur

Jaipur, a city popular among the travelers’ world over as the Pink City.  Acclaimed for its forts, palaces, culture, traditions, and handmade art in the form of fabric, paper, blue pottery to name a few. Among many things, its architectural legacy is well known and appreciated. It has continued to wow visitors and travelers to the city ever since it was founded with its grandeur. Jaipur was founded by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in 1727 AD as a planned trading city. Havelis in Jaipur are one of the most dominant aspects of its heritage. These are also known as traditional courtyard mansions used as residential units. Many of these mansions have historic significance like this one here on Chhoti Chaupar. Most old Havelis can be found in the walled city area although a few are located outside. these buildings are a reflection of the yesteryear grandeur and provide a great medium to study the evolution of society and its practices.

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A visual of Nataniyon Ki Haveli in Jaipur
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From the walled city of Jaipur

Despite living in Jaipur for many years, I have never lived in the walled city area of Jaipur. I found the walled city area unkempt and shabby. This was because of the open drainage system which had issues related to cleanliness and traffic.

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A scene from the bylane of Johari Bazaar

Little did I realize at that time the walled city was designed for the 18th century. It was much before consumerism took birth which generates tons of waste. The issues have only aggravated over the last few decades. I started appreciating the local and unique architecture of Jaipur having stayed in other cities for a long duration and extensive travels. This write-up is an extension to my previous post Why Our Attitude Towards Heritage Needs A Big Change?

The Havelis of Jaipur

The bylanes of bazaars have many beautiful mansions built-in local vernacular architectural style. Some call it Rajput architecture, it is essentially a Dhundhadi architecture; Jaipur is part of a region called Dhundhad. These Havelis have many interesting features like lattices, Jharokas, Chowk, Tibara, to name a few.

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A typical facade of Jaipur mansion

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Here is a picture of beautiful Haveli in Johari Bazaar, Jaipur

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As per the planned layout, the city was divided into various zones. People were allocated land-based on professions or occupations. Those were times when certain skills were carried out by specific communities. So these are two sides of the same coin. Important people like ministers and the rich businessmen were allocated bigger land in strategic locations. The social standing of a person was judged by the number of courtyards in his mansion. Some of the Havelis had up to seven courtyards, an indicator of the social standing and influence of the owner. Here is one such mansion belonging to an influential person in Jaipur court.

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This is one of the better restored Havelis in Jaipur and has been turned into a museum called Museum of Legacies.

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Yet another in the historic town of Amer (now part of Jaipur) is now a textile museum – Anokhi Museum

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What is the meaning of Haveli?

Haveli is a traditional residential mansion found in this part of the world. Some experts think the word Haveli has an Arabic origin. It is difficult to arrive at a firm conclusion. The courtyard or Chowk represents an essential feature in all such structures. Here are pictures showing the entrance of Haveli opening into a courtyard.

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The activities of the residential unit revolve around this space. The courtyard is enclosed space from all four sides but is open to sky allowing sunlight, air, and water. Many historians assume this kind of residential units developed during Mughal rule.

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However, this idea is open to debate. Havelis can be found across North India. The traditional Chettinad mansions in South India also have open to sky courtyards, but there are many other differences. The local architectural styles are substantially influenced by climate, social structures, customs, and traditions. It is prudent to say that Haveli architecture derives its design elements on this basis.

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The courtyard
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The entrance and courtyard

Rajasthani Haveli Architecture

Another fascinating thing to note is Rajasthani Haveli architecture varied depending on caste and social structure along with the location. The Havelis of nobles, Thikanedaar, and aristocrats varied drastically from the ones belonging to merchants/Banias, Brahmins/Rajpurohits, and commoners. There are differences in the style and facade of buildings based on the economic and social status of the person. The Havelis in Jaisalmer varied drastically from the one in Jaipur, Bikaner or Udaipur. These buildings were built depending on social customs and practices, availability of building materials, and local climatic conditions. Usually, the Havelis were built on a raised plinth level.

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A beautifully restored mansion in Jaipur
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A commoner’s home built in traditional Dhundhadi Style of Rajasthani architecture.

Rajasthani Havelis are famous the world over. The Havelis of the Shekhawati region are well-known for beautiful frescoes adorning its walls. Many such buildings have now been converted into hotels granting it a renewed lease of life. For the uninitiated, the owners of these Havelis migrated to cities like Kolkatta and Mumbai many decades ago for lusher pastures. All such mansions are dying due to neglect with owners deciding not to return. Here is a picture of a magnificent Haveli near Shekhawati in Rajasthan.

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Here is another picture showing a beautiful wall fresco in Haveli in Jaipur supposedly 200 hundred years old.

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On The Deathbed?

The Havelis of Jaipur do not suffer from the problem experienced by the ones in the Shekhawati region. Only a handful of such buildings have been renovated. Listed here are a few of the reasons for the loss of Havelis in Jaipur, an integral element of Jaipur’s heritage.

  • Losing the facade

It is unfortunate that the facade of the Havelis in Jaipur is being tempered with. This is happening at an extremely rapid pace. One of the first such buildings is the LMB hotel in Johari Bazaar. LMB Sweets best known for its Ghevar was the first building in Johari Bazaar to receive a modern look in the 1960s. The building featured in below two pictures replaced an old structure.

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LMB in its previous Avtaar

LMB hotel underwent a restoration last year but it is still not in line with local architecture style. The pink color is distinctly different from the terracotta pink used in the walled city area.

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In recent times, the owners have redone the facade to align it with local architecture; it is ironic that influential people manage permission from the authorities to manipulate rules & regulations. If one was to walk past Johari Bazaar and notice the facade, it is easy to spot the changes. The old facade has given way to modern-looking buildings. It is not challenging to comprehend the reasons; money is a strong motivation! Can you spot the “black sheep” in the below picture?

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  • Razing the Havelis

It is frequent to find the old Havelis being razed down to be replaced by a modern building. Despite stringent laws that do not permit the destruction of historic architecture, people discover new ways.

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An old Haveli was razed down at this site to build a new structure

The insiders suggest loopholes in the law to accomplish the desired output. Many times, the facade is left untouched while the entire structure behind it is pulled down and replaced by new construction. Here is a set of three pictures depicting how a charming Haveli was pulled down to build a building for offices.

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  • The commercial Activity galore

The residential mansions are being replaced with a commercial complex which only compounds the problem that the walled city is facing, increased commercial activity and traffic congestion. Each additional commercial complex puts a burden on existing infrastructure. Unfortunately, none of the governments – past or present have put into thought and worked on a plan to mitigate the problem. The picture below is an eye-opener as to how the walled city area in Jaipur is witnessing a big rush towards commercial spaces.

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  • The Color Chemistry

The government rule mandates a uniform color code to be used on all building facades on the main road. This is the approved pink color to be painted on all buildings – Terracotta pink!

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This also means the paintwork is carried out by the local authorities to ensure uniformity. Unfortunately, some people find ways to circumvent this rule. The result is an eyesore like this.

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picture of johari bazaar jaipur

  • Lack of Government support

Unlike many countries in Europe where the authorities mandate rules pertaining to renovation and then enforces it by providing assistance, we possess no such structure. Repairing and renovating old architecture remains an expensive affair and it does require financial and technical assistance because many building owners cannot afford the same. The facade of the main Bazaars receives support from the local body for repair, maintenance, and paint. Below are the pictures of the repair and restoration of the facade in the walled city area undertaken by the local authorities.

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Repair and restoration of the facade of the traditional Bazaar in Jaipur
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Restoration work at Sanganeri Gate, Johari Bazar, Jaipur

Unfortunately, the ones in the bylane are left on their own. Most old buildings were constructed using ancient techniques – lime plaster and local stones. These days it is hard to find skilled people proficient in this technique. Thanks to globalization brick, cement, and RCC structures are ubiquitous. Using these materials in heritage buildings is often ineffective. Sadly, no one is thinking on these lines.

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It is unfortunate that the built heritage of Jaipur is being destroyed by its citizens. This loss is irreplaceable. It is this priceless architectural legacy that influences thousands of travelers to the pink city. I’m apprehensive there will be very few Havelis a few years down the line for travelers to witness and experience.

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Why Jaipur Havelis Offers An Outstanding Experience For Travellers?

There are two ways to experience Havelis in Jaipur – a stay and a walking tour. A stay in Jaipur Havelis represents a remarkable cultural experience allowing travelers an immersive encounter. Unfortunately, there are very few authentic Havelis to stay in Jaipur that have been turned into a hotel and are open for travelers like Samode Haveli. Many modern hotels replicate traditional Heritage Haveli in Jaipur and fool travelers. You can find these outside the walled city area, especially in Bani Park. As for a walking tour read on.

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A heritage Haveli for a stay in Jaipur

How to witness and explore the traditional Havelis in Jaipur?

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The best way to do would be through a heritage walk in Jaipur. I have written one such experience in this write-up Heritage Walking Tour In Jaipur. You can also undertake a walking tour on your own Self-Guided Walking Tour In Jaipur.

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Have you ever stayed in a traditional Haveli in Jaipur or elsewhere in Rajasthan? Do you think these Havelis in Rajasthan are an important part of our built and cultural heritage? I would love to hear about your thoughts on the same.

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67 thoughts on “The Vanishing Havelis Of Jaipur

    1. Radhika, there are two sides of a coin. I do feel that heritage should not be destroyed. There are better ways to accomodate the need for commercial spaces. Isn’t it so?

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    1. Thanks, Lisa. While we may find these building beautiful, the owners consider them out of sync with the current times. Let’s be honest, money is too tempting! I’m sure you will love staying in one of these mansions converted hotel.

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  1. Great post Arv. We love the old Havellis in Rajasthan. We stayed in 3 although the one in Jaipur looked more like a traditional mansion than an ornate havelli, it was a beautiful building with elegant details in the ceiling, mouldings, floors etc. Our favourite havelli/hotel was in Udaipur.

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    1. The Havelis in Jaipur are less ornate than the ones in say Shekhawati or Jaisalmer region but they have their own charm. Happy to know you have stayed in Havles during your trip to Rajasthan.

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  2. My hope is that with a renewed interest in the havelis as a cultural heritage many of these magnificent buildings will be spared from destruction. Thank you, Arv!, for another outstanding and interesting article on Jaipur!

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  3. That’s quite a collection out there. And very elaborately detailed too. In my mind, I have always associated Havelis with some kind of an enigma. A certain amount of mysteriousness seems to be always associated with them. But sad to know that so many of them are not cared for, some completely changed, some even razed mercilessly. I do hope the ones that are taken care of do stand the test of time and havelis don’t just become a word in text books.

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    1. Neel I’m curious as to why you find Havelis mysterious? I suppose you must have seen a few in Gujarat too. I guess heritage in our country is never a priority. Have you ever stayed in any Haveli? Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Neelanjana.

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      1. The mysterious part might be associated with folklores and also thanks to movies and yesteryear TV serials. Yes, I have seen a couple in Gujarat and they were lovely. In fact we had literally gone chasing a few havelis. I have never stayed in one, but it’s in my wishlist for sure 🙂

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      2. I guess one of the most prominent thriller movies from Bollywood featuring a Haveli from Rajasthan was Bhulbhulaiya. I’m yet to see a Haveli in Gujrat but I suppose it will be similar to the one in Rajasthan because both states share many similarities in climate and culture. I hope you get to stay in Haveli someday. Thanks for sharing, Neelanjana.

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    1. Thanks Mel for offering your viewpoint on this issue. My only fear is that it might be too late by then. It is sad that people in this country feel anything old is all about past and need to be done away with. Probably, a lot needs to change when it comes to the mindset.

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  4. Arv, thank you for your length post about Havelis in Jaipur, it indeed breaks my heart that the restoration work is not going the right direction and I wonder why locals are not so much into preserving those old buildings, they present the history and culture of a certain area, when architecture was most beautiful and artistic. Well I see it comes down that money rules, yet Harvelis are part of the charm of Jaipur as of the entire Rajasthan and the investment of restoring them to keep their historic look would be profiting for tourisms. I have stayed in one Haveli in Rajasthan, but would have to look my travel journal what place that was, the other one I had stayed was in Ahemadabad, I know it’s Rajasthan. Thank you again for your share.

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    1. Thanks Cornelia for sharing your thoughts. Money is certainly one big factor for razing down Havelis. A lot has to do with mindset as well. The sensitivity towards our heritage is missing. People are not aware that preserving our heritage can lead to revenues through tourism. Unfortunately, the efforts from the government are missing. Without support and guidelines from authorities, it is an uphill task. We need to learn from other countries as to how heritage buildings can be preserved and utilize them for promotion of tourism. I would love to hear more about your stay in Haveli in Rajasthan, Cornelia.

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  5. Great coverage of the havelis and the sorry plight of many of them. It’s sad to see them neglected and worse demolished. But i guess maintaining them would be quite tough physically and financially.

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    1. It is. That is a reason why I mentioned that involvement of state is important. But wouldn’t it be sad to see them vanish?
      I’m sure you must have seen many of these during your stay in Jodhpur.

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      1. Yes, I have. And I truly believe they should be protected and maintained. Architecture is a mirror of past civilizations, their culture and traditions.

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  6. Arv, this is such a sad plight of this once so beautiful old city rich and renowned for its Havelis and heritage buildings. For commoners like us, it is just like helplessly watching this mad rush for consumerism leaving behind the ancient culture and heritage, it is like leaving behind money but not the riches of the heritage for the future generation.

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    1. Sarmistha, you are right. It reminds me of a saying I heard during my growing up years of a man sitting on a coal mine not realizing the presence of diamonds. He would curse over his poverty. This is a similar situation. If these Havelis are restored and converted into hotels or museums, they can create a very good revenue stream. This is an unfortunate scenario. I guess you must have seen a couple of Havelis in Rajasthan or elsewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I understand and admire your concern about heritage arv but who cares about it these days! Most of the people who are in charge ( the authorities and the officials) don’t understand the glory or seem to be insensitive to old structures, some of which are dilapidated. Probably their restoration would require more effort than reconstruction and make the land more useful. I have seen many abandoned and locked havelis in Shekawat area, crying for help. Slowly they would meet their end and the land would be acquired by the authorities.

    In Jaisalmer, I have seen havelis, which are spooky, dark and dirty from inside yet open to tourists! What is the use of such places?

    Having said that, I admire the efforts of private hotel industry, which has taken up old Neemrana forts and many such places that could be maintained through tourism. Heritage would never die in their hands. Even the ruins are majestic!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I agree no one cares for these old structures. And that’s exactly my point. Many European countries have been very successful in converting these old structures in to museums and inns. Just look at small towns like Bruges and Vernazza. These are so many such towns. While I agree that an enormous amount is required but then the authorities do get whooping amounts as a grant from either center or institution like ADB. The govt machinery wastes this money on insignificant things and it’s siphoned off. There is lack of understanding and direction. While funds is a limitation but not in entirety when it comes to government.
      I too have seen some of the Havelis in Jaisalmer. On the positive side at least we have such structures to see. If all the Havelis of Shekhawati were to vanish in entirety how would we know about their existence? There are many Havelis which have been converted into a museum or hotels. While Indians may not be gungho about it, it does excite travellers from other parts of the world. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this issue. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Tina, I hope you get to travel and visit Jaipur someday. I’m sure this will be a great subject for an ace photographer like you. I’m happy you liked this post.

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  8. Arv, I guess money is the biggest challenge to keep havelis in their original form for a few owners. I believe if government could help in restoration,then it would be an encouraging effort for all owners.Though selling the place and constructing a new commercial building gets a lot of money.

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      1. Not in Jaipur but in Chomu while teaching in Pareek College. It was a kind of something between haveli and mansion. Divided between 7 siblings and only one family was staying there. So to avoid daily hectic transportation I was staying there in a room which was not a room but a huge hall. One neighbouring family was very nice, so managed three years there!!!

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    1. Thanks for sharing experience from your part of the world. Have many old buildings in London been razed?
      Ads? I guess that’s the perks of using WP. I have’t installed any at my end.

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  9. This is a fabulous read Arvind. Truly gives us an overview of not just havelis but the root of the problem. Commercialisation and urbanisation are making the most impact and we can still preserve as much as we can, by converting them into hotels for better upkeep.
    Didnt know about the Dhundhadi architecture! Thanks for sharing 🙂

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    1. I’m glad you found this useful, Divsi. The pressures of commercialisation are quite strong and this is creating an adverse situation for the built-heritage. There many Havelis elsewhere in Rajasthan which have been converted into hotels and are generating a good revenue stream. Not many people have heard this term and it is not used much which explains why you have’t heard about it. 🙂
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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