In this hundred and thirty-fifth archive story by Kristian Bertel, we learn about the havelis, which are tradional recidences in India.
Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
The havelis in India are an art-form unto themselves, magnificently carved with fine lattice work and made out of golden sandstone. Once upon a time, these havelis were owned by rich merchants with vast monopolies on trade over the Silk Route, some of whose descendants still occupy these once-grand residences today.
The havelis in India are an art-form unto themselves, magnificently carved with fine lattice work and made out of golden sandstone. Once upon a time, these havelis were owned by rich merchants with vast monopolies on trade over the Silk Route, some of whose descendants still occupy these once-grand residences today.

Havelis in India

A haveli is a traditional townhouse, mansion, manor house, in the Indian subcontinent, usually one with historical and architectural significance and located in a town or city. The word 'Haveli' is derived from Arabic 'Hawali', meaning 'Partition' or 'Private space', popularised under the Mughal Empire and was devoid of any architectural affiliations. Later, the word haveli came to be used as a generic term for various styles of regional mansions, manor houses, townhouse found in the Indian subcontinent.

How were the havelis identified?

During the medieval period, the term 'Haveli' was also appliedby some Vaishnava sects to refer to their temples in Gujarat under the Mughal Empire and Rajputana kingdoms. The generic term 'Haveli' eventually came to be identified with townhouses and mansions of the merchant class.

Construction and functions of the havelis
The chowk or courtyard served as the centre for various ceremonies and rituals. The sacred tulsi plant was placed here and worshipped daily to bring prosperity to the house. The chowk, at times, separated areas for men and women, and provided them with privacy. Using open space in the building design to respond to the local climate, air movement caused by temperature differences assists in the natural ventilation of the building. In the daytime, the court was used mostly by women to carry out their work and interact with other women in a private open space. Mansions of the merchant class often had more than one courtyard. In Mor chowk, part of the City Palace complex in Udaipur, there is the concept of the courtyard as a dancing hall. Similarly, in havelis, a courtyard has several functions, commonly used for weddings and festive occasions. Materials are bricks, sandstone, marble, wood, plaster and granite are commonly used materials. Decorative aspects are influenced by various local cultures and traditions Kristian Bertel | Photography learned.

All these elements join to form an enclosure and give the chowk a composed, secured feel. The architectural form of havelis has evolved in response to the climate, lifestyle, and availability of material. In hot climates where cooling is a necessity, buildings with internal courtyards for airflow and cooling were considered the most appropriate; in rainy places the houses were built to be kept dry from humid air. It provided shade while also allowing light inside. The arcade along the court or the high wall around it, kept the interiors cool.

Influenced by Rajasthani architecture
Many of the havelis of India and Pakistan were influenced by Rajasthani architecture. They usually contain a courtyard, often with a fountain in the center. The old cities of Agra, Lucknow, Jaisalmer and Delhi in India and Lahore, Multan, Peshawar, Hyderabad in Pakistan have many fine examples of Rajasthani-style havelis. Havelis in Nepal were built in the 'Newari' architectural style such as houses in old markets and bazaars in Kathmandu, Kritipur, Bhakthapur and Patan are built in this style. In the northern part of India, havelis for Lord Krishna with huge mansion-like constructions are prevalent. These havelis are noted for their frescoes depicting images of gods, goddesses, animals, scenes from the British colonization and the life stories of Lords Rama and Krishna. The music here was known as 'Haveli sangeet'.

Later on, these temple architectures and frescoes were imitated while building huge individual mansions and now the word is popularly associated with the mansions themselves. Between 1830 and 1930, Marwaris erected buildings in their homeland Shekhawati and Marwar. These buildings were called havelis. The Marwaris commissioned artists to paint those buildings, which were heavily influenced by the Mughal architecture. Nangal Sirohi in Mahendragarh district, 130 kilometres from Delhi, is popular for its havelis and architecture within this area. The havelis served as status symbols for the Marwaris as well as homes for their extended families, providing security and comfort in seclusion from the outside world. The havelis were designed to be closed from all sides with one large main gate.

"The typical havelis in Shekhawati incorporated two courtyards — an outer one for the men which served as an extended threshold, and the inner one, the domain of the women. The largest havelis could have up to three or four courtyards and were two to three stories high. Most of the havelis are empty nowadays or are maintained by a watchman, while others have been converted into hotels and tourist attractions"

Popular tourist attractions
The towns and villages of Shekhawati are famous for the embellished frescoes on the walls of their grandiose havelis, to the point of becoming popular tourist attractions. The havelis in and around Jaisalmer Fort also known as the Golden Fort, situated in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, of which the three most impressive are Patwon Ki Haveli, Salim Singh Ki Haveli, and Nathmal-Ki Haveli, deserve special mention. These were the elaborate homes of Jaisalmer's rich merchants. The ostentatious carvings, etched in sandstone with great detail and then painstakingly pieced together in lavish patterns, were commissioned to put on show the owner's status and wealth. Around Jaisalmer, they are typically carved from yellow sandstone. They are often characterized by wall paintings, frescoes, 'Jharokhas', which are balconies and archways.

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More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of a haveli in Jaisalmer. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.