A sheer magic cast into stone
“If dreams are cast in stones or if stones can sing they would be like the exteriors and interiors of Bikaner havelies”
Bikaner is situated in the northwest of Rajasthan and it can legitimately boast of some unique architectural marvels of India. It has an ancient fort unparallel in its splendor. It can boast of many attractions for anyone interested in culture or art or architecture. Apart from Junagarh fort, Jain temples like Bhandasar temple, Neminath temple, Adeshwar temple are simply adorable. Lallgarh Palace is built in Victorian style but its stone and wood carvings are typical combinations of Mughal and Rajput art developing a typical Bikaner I flavor of architecture. Carvings find the best expression in Bikaneri havelies. Havelies are marvels in home architecture. Such havelies or residential houses do not exist anywhere in the world. They are the pride of Bikaner, says great author and philosopher, Aldous Huxley. They are situated in narrow lanes in the old city. Splendid abodes can be seen in the midst of streets that look serpent-like and peaceful. They are marvelous mansions made of red stone and stand magnificently.
They stand spreading magic around. Their jharokhas (casements), entrances, latticed windows, divankhanas, Gumaharias or basements, are exotic. The -red stone gives a look that is like a red carpet forcing one to look and admire. The havelies were the residence of wealthy merchants who had a fancy for beauty and art. Nine months in a year they lived in far off lands to earn money and then came to this city to rest and enjoy and build havelies and live in them, show their wealth and status, their love, fascination for architecture and colors. The oldest haveli is perhaps four hundred years old but most of them are hundred years in age or around it. That is why they indicate a pattern of their own. They charm each and everyone who happens to see them. Their exterior is dominated by the jharokhas at once charming and capable of keeping spellbound. The jharokhas are exquisite carvings made alive by artistic creators. They marvel at the beauty that lies in them and not merely in beholder’s eyes. They are generally six feet long and three feet wide proving that small is beautiful.
Smaller they are, the more beautiful they are likely to look. They form the most picturesque part of the haveli face. They also indicate the love for nature these creators of havelies had. leaves and flowers decorate every jharokha giving it an astonishing and pleasant natural effect. Jali or stone with small holes create unbounded beauty.
The most famous cluster of havelies is the Rampuria Group of Havelies. Built by Balujee Chalva under instructions from Rampuria family its carvings show surprising skill. Rampuria havelis are many in number and are big in size and being located at nearly adjacent positions make great impression almost like the great havelies of Jaisalmer, the Patwa havelies. Theirs appears an undeniable similarity between the two havelies perhaps because both of them were mainly conceived and built by Vishwakarma clan. The interior scheme of decoration of the two havelies is very different. The Patwa havelies were built earlier and emphasized on exterior decoration and minute carvings on Jaisalmer stone while the Rampuria havelies were built of dulmera stone. The jaisalmeri stone is yellow in colour. The dulmera stone is red.
Both are soft red stones. Exquisite and minute carvings come naturally to both the stones. The patwa havelies have more carvings in the interior also. The Rampuria havelies are decorated with golden work of the highest quality. They have dankhanas (Drawing Room) which take us to the mughal and rajput period of amalgamation and synthesis. They have Victorian influence in abundance. The wood carvings in Rampuria Havelies are more exquisite and are far more beautiful. Another distinguishing feature is that Rampuria havelies have diverse exterior and each haveli has a pattern of its own. The Patwa havelies have more intricate carvings but the Rampuria havelies show a more varied face.
The most beautiful carvings on the face side are those of Rikhji Bagri ki Haveli situated near mohta chowk. Bikaner. It is very little known and is small in size. It is a poetry written on stone. Such artistic exterior is unparallel and perhaps does not exist anywhere on earth. The other and much better-known havelies including the great patwa havelies fade when the carving of this haveli show off the minutest details in a most delicate manner. Be it a peacock, an elephant, a flower or a pot, everything is natural. living and just enchanting. The more you look at them the more joy you get out of the view. It is a beauty forever, eternal and irreplaceable. If dreams are cast in stones or if stones can sing they would be like the exterior of Rikhji bagri ki haveli. Arched entrances and captivating jharokhas look more beautiful because of the flowers embossed on them which are more beautiful than the real flowers.
Another cluster of havelies which attracts the onlooker is the cluster of Daga chowk havelies. There are a number of havelies in daga chowk. A salient feature of these havelies is the fact that they are scattered like the scattered clouds. They are adorned with carvings of flowers. The rose is there with its freshness. The lotus flowers are there with their charm, Other flowers are there with their leaves. The walls are all flowery and take the viewer in a world of nature and its infinite splendours. The carvings on jharokhas are simply artistic to say the least. They are exquisite. They look like projected pieces of priceless jewelery. They take the viewer to a cocktail of architectural excellence. Daga family had a fascination for deevankhanas. The deewankhanas or drawing rooms gave prestige to the family. They were decorated with taste and were their show cases. They were a treasury of art and a matter of their pride. They preserved valuable murals also. They exhibited old and contemporary faces of Indian painting. They also demonstrate the increasing English influence.
The European influence is more evident in the haveli of Bhairondan Kothari. Its exterior is not so attractive or artistic but once you enter. it you are just enamored with its charm, it excels in marble work. It imparts fascinating beauty to its floors. Marble tiles are studded in the floors of the haveli. Marble magic is evident in every corner. It is the beautiful poem of Kamayani written by soft marble stone. Its marble work is unmatched and can match marble work any where in any part of world. It is this consideration which has forced some to include this haveli as one of the most beautiful houses of India, one of the fifty most beautiful.
Another remarkable haveli near this haveli is the haveli of Poonam Chand Kothari. Its exterior carvings are as beautiful as those of Daga havelies. Its wood work is better. Havelies of near by dhadhon ka chowck are also beautiful. Chandmal dhadha haveli is very beautiful in the eyes of some critics. Mohta havelies in Banthia chowk are all important. Havelies in mava patti and kothari Mohalla and those in dammani chowk deserve special mention.
In every haveli the dankhana is the most adored room and most prestigious too. The guests are received here. It is significant to mention that every haveli has two dankhanas. One for men and another for women and these are situated at the main entrance of the haveli. There may a few havelies who are not big enough to accommodate two dankhanas. seperate space is kept in the same dankhana for ladies and gents.
A dankhana generally has six pillars. Every pillar has a glass mirror with gold frame. This frame is engrossed with flowers mostly roses. The flowers of various colours illuminate the diwankhana and add to its beauty. The flowers and the leaves adore all walls of the diwankhnna. They may be curved on stone or may be painted, they give illusion of nature and natural beauty. Then every diwankhana has paintings of gods and goddesses. Lord Ganesh and Laxmi and Parwati are the most prevalent among them. Lord Shiv and Bhagwan Ram and Lord Krishana are the other Godswho generally decorate this room. Taken as a whole, the havelis contain a number of paintings of Radha Krishan and Ram Sita also. Apart from religious deities and flowers, the leaves fruits like apples, grapes, oranges and bananas also find place in most havelies in Bikaner. They had great fascination for peacocks and parrots and these are shown hovering over the fruits. The ceiling of a diwankhana was always beautiful and artistic. It was a wooden ceiling generally and was embossed with flowers with six or eight leaves. Some of the havelies have golden work on the ceiling and some like the Bhairnodan kothari haveli and Rampuria havelis excel in this type of work. The owners of the havelies were mostly religious people and every haveli has a temple.
Every haveli has at least a second story. A mol or mahal is the most beautiful and artistic portion of this part and is normally adorned with golden work of carving . Mahal is the symbol of status. lt is rich in carvings. Golden carvings are the ardour of the mahal because it is here that dancing girls used to give performances in mahfils (parties). The richer the mahfil.the richer is the owner in the eyes of the society. The paintings of Indra ,the king of heaven sitting on his throne or his elephant with beautiful fairies dancing .enhances the beauty of the mol linking it with Hindu fables and stories and myths. Some mols contain valuable master pieces of art. Most of the rooms in Sampatlal Agarwal haveli are adorned with large priceless paintings of Raja Ravi Verma. They are as old as eighteen hundred ninety four. Large courtyards, sals, and oras turn these ancient houses into depositors of history, art and architecture in their own small way. Their another feature is the impressive beautifully painted ceilings. Some havelis have ceilings which instantly attract the viewer, earn his appreciation, amaze him, delight him. Every haveli consists of a number of rooms, big and small, made for special purposes and suitable for those purposes. A sal is a rather half open multi purpose room for internal use of the family. An ora is a small bed room again for the members of the family. It is also a box room. Barsali is the passage from enterce to the interior portion of the haveli. It is follwed by Angan or chowk. Angan is surrounded by kitchen, Pujaghar, and water store or parindha. Almost every haveli has more than one stories. Sometimes five to six but normally three.
An interesting feature of havelies is that there are no urinals in them. This was because water was a scarce commodity and it was to he utilized with utmost care andnot a drop of it was to be wasted. There were no flush latrines. Purity was another consideration. The pujaghar or temple was to be as away from the urinal place as possible. The toilets were situated in near by kotries or large open spaces with only toilet buildings. The courtyards or boundaries were always there to surround a kotri. Most of the havelies are situated in narrow streets in the old city or the walled city.
These havelies are priceless treasures of heritage.