Ramgarh Shekhawati, an enchanting heritage town of wall frescoes, often known as the Open Art Gallery of Rajasthan, has gifted the world with a Heritage that is the epitome of the Creative Indian Spirit, set amidst a culturally and historically inviting landscape.
Fascinating that it is believed that Ramgarh Shekhawati in 1900 had the richest per capita income in the world!
A town with eight centres of Sanskrit learning, patronage of the arts, architecture, building technologies, Vastu and Ayurveda, and great Vedic knowledge. It was also known as the ‘Doosra Kashi’! Kashi is another name for Varanasi, implying that this was one of the greatest learning centres of the world.
In fact, Ramgarh Shekhawati has the only temple of the Veda in India! Built by Seth Jainarayan Poddar, a temple with no deities, dedicated only to the wisdom of this great land of India! The Shani Mandir has stunning mirror work and frescoes. Its unique Poddar chhatries boast of the greatest infusions of fresco painting. Its people were renowned for their Ayurvedic knowledge and creative skills, and it was a manufacturing hub of historically inspired Shekhawati furniture.
All its historical wonders largely remained hidden for a century.
The wealthy merchant families, who created Ramgarh – the Poddars, along with the Khemkas, Ganeriwals, Khaitans, Goenkas and then the Ruias, have never returned for almost a century now, to inhabit their home town, Ramgarh!
“Ramgarh Sethan” it was then called.
“Sethan” because it was ruled by the Seths, not by the king! A town which would singly provide huge funding to the kings. And unlimited loans to the East India company as well?
How did this happen? All the other regions, towns in cities in India and perhaps in the world were ruled by kings or tribes at that time in the 1700s and 1800s.
So how did this little town, it the middle of this great Rajputana which is now called Rajasthan, become a such a rich and prosperous town, ruled by the Seths and NOT by the king?
There’s a story behind it!
In the late 1700s, the Poddars were the richest Seths of Rajasthan living in Churu, and they were very angry with the Churu king for levying hefty taxes on the Seths.
Meanwhile, its neighbouring Sikar kingdom was poor.
The Queen of Sikar once went across to Churu, with her brother and sister-in-law, the King and Queen of Churu for a holiday. During a conversation, the Churu Queen scoffed at her sister in-law, saying that her Sikar kingdom was nothing in comparison to the Churu Kingdom. The Sikar Queen, hurt and insulted, returned to her kingdom and retreated into isolation without food or water. When her anxious husband, the Sikar King, asked her what was the matter, she replied to this effect; “I will not touch even a drop of water, until you pledge to me, that you will create the most beautiful and the richest city in the world!
The poor Sikar king in this desperate situation strategized – he made his soldiers ride across to Churu in the dead of the night, and steal the Seths’ “Bahi Khatas” (their large accounting manuscripts) and got them in his possession.
The next morning, the distraught Seths hurried to Sikar to enquire the reason for this abduction of their key documents. The king explained to the Poddar Seths, that only they could help them resolve his situation with his Queen, if they, along with seven families migrated across to Sikar kingdom and created the most prosperous and beautiful town ever witnessed by anyone. The Seths saw this as a great opportunity and expressed their approval, subject to the following conditions:
First condition! We will choose the land we want – Nasa ki Dhani (an Opium Growing land) for maximum cash earnings.
Second condition: we will pay zero tax!
Third Condition: we will rule the town! Our law and order, our administration, our Police!
Fourth condition: since we will rule this town, we or our wives will never sit below you, the King and Queen, we will sit equal to you!
If you agree to all our conditions, only then shall we move across to Sikar kingdom, and build the most prosperous and beautiful city of havelis, temples, chhatries and Johads.
The King agreed to all conditions to save his wife’s condition!!
And so it is said that the Poddars, along with 7 families, migrated to the kingdom of Sikar, and created … the Unforgettable Land!!
The Seths of Shekhawati migrated between 1900 and the 1950s to seek their fortune in the Indian port towns and other British business cities, and the rest is history, unearthed through the remaining papers, objects and artefacts, and recorded on the picturesque walls of Ramgarh Shekhawati, a history of wealth, trade, education, spirituality, vibrant cultural talent and a lively and highly artistic lifestyle and architecture, of its Intensely Painted Havelies with Courtyards, its Fort, its Water
Johads, a forest with the second largest population of Chinkara deer in the country and today a permanent and migratory home of two hundred and forty-six species of birds in this region!
Today, if we travel along and inside these Havelies we witness a fusion of world influences, Indian, British, Portuguese and Chinese – in building design, in paintings and their depictions, in costumes, hairstyles, objects, furniture, textiles and eclectic expressions of historical people, deities, trains and carriage scenes, lifestyles, folklore, religious narratives, showcased on the doors, walls, ceilings, pillars and domes with stunning wall Frescoes, Araish lime plaster artwork and intricate mirror work, of the walls of Ramgarh Shekhawati’s heritage buildings.
When I came here, on an intuition, a decade ago in 2013, I was absolutely stunned by the beauty of this place!
I was also heartbroken at the destruction and the decay I witnesses in this great land of heritage.
The tangible and intangible heritage and creative genius of the almost extinct artist and artisans was yearning for Resurgence, calling out to us to help them thrive and flower once again – to shine and contribute to the economic and cultural prosperity of India from their deep and rich cultural roots.
So, I took upon myself to revive, and make the world aware, once again of this wonderland of heritage now called Ramgarh Shekhawati! To make it lead with its brilliance and be a Light and Creative heritage destination for the World!
To revive in women and children with its knowledge systems, arts and craft sciences along with modern technologies along with Indigenous Knowledge Systems, forgotten healing sciences and more, propelled by innovative healing systems, Heritage hospitality and multi-faceted tourism.
The following steps were undertaken in the immediate time from then on.
- Introducing the Potential – A Nine-Day exhibition “Ramgarh Shekhawati–Past Present and Future” at Jaipur to bring Ramgarh Shekahawti’s Tourism potential into sharp focus.
- Creating a Heritage walk – by the Shruti Foundation and Govt. Of Rajasthan Collaboration (2015-16). I personally guided and supervised development of new roads, signage, heritage lights, fences, benches, Johad restoration.
- Restoration of Ramgarh Fort by our Foundation with lime technology (2014-15) – made it usable for festivals and events, particularly Shruti Foundation’s Vedaaranya Heritage and Healing Festival (VHAH FEST) annually since December 2016.
- Creation of Vedaaranya Haveli in 2016 – a small uniquely frescoed heritage hotel with 10 rooms and fabulous heritage cuisine.
- Launch of our annual Vedaaranya Heritage and Healing Festival (VHAH FEST) which has been drawing the world to Ramgarh Shekhawati for the last 8 years since 2016 with world renowned artists, institutions, scholars, thought leaders and heritage enthusiasts in collaboration with Rajasthan Government.
- MOHAR (Museum of Heritage and Art at Ramgarh) – Since 2021, Shruti Foundation has developed a Haveli Museum, on Shekhawati Seths and their Heritage, Treasures, Glory and great Social Ethos. It is also now a Cultural and Healing Residency which hosts people, events and festivals and has 8 beautiful heritage rooms for hospitality and retreats.
- Restoration of the Veda Temple, also called Shikhar Bandh is the highest point of Ramgarh Shekhawati. Built by Seth Jainarayan Poddar in the 1800s where there are no deities…only knowledge, the knowledge of the Vedas. This one and a half century old temple was long forgotten and was left to the elements to decay and go into oblivion. Very few people even knew about this even people living in the town. Finally, after one and a half centuries, we facilitated the restoration of the Vedic temple; with restoration by INTACH supported by Shruti Foundation.
- Declaration of Ramgarh Shekhawati as Heritage Town: In 2017, on my intervention, Ramgarh Shekhawati was declared by the Rajasthan Government
- Launch of Heritage India Cyclothon: Shruti Foundation launched this Sporting event in collaboration in March 2019 to encourage awareness among the greater community of the heritage of the Shekhawati region and increase sports tourism.
- Vedaaranya Craft Centre – Shruti Foundation created a Skilling, Textiles and Home Décor from recycled material and Organic Food Processing Centre by Local women at Ramgarh Shekhawati since April 2019. This has empowered more than 500 poor women and girls and their families since 2019.
- Student and Educational Tourism since 2014 in Dance, Heritage Awareness, Theatre, Textiles, Kalaripayat Martial Arts, etc.
- Tree-planting drives to help the Ecology and attract-eco tourism.
We have been able to move our own institutions, the Government and other individuals and organisations to evolve Ramgarh Shekhawati, created as the most beautiful town of Rajasthan in the 18th and 19th centuries, to become a resurgent local economy, and a cultural, experimental, celebratory and holiday “Heritage Habitat” for a resurgent India, for an enriched world!
The ever-growing Vedaaranya Habitat, with its hotels and residences, its learning events and festivals at its Heritage Havelis, the Fort, and the Chhatries and Johads and painted building facades through enchanting lanes of Ramgarh Shekhawati beckon you to unforgettable and soul fulfilling experiences. Of personal care and deep healing, and as the most coveted Heritage tourism destination for the World!
To a place of History that feels like Home from a forgotten era.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Shruti Nada Poddar is Founder, Nada Vibronics – The Vibrational Healing Ecosystem; Founder & Managing Trustee, Shruti Foundation and Founder, Vedaaranya Healing. She is the Convener of INTACH Shekhawati Chapter; Member, INTACH Advisory Board for Intangible Heritage and President, National Culture and Heritage Council of Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.