Jaisalmer Havelis are a symbol of prosperity and astounding arts of Rajasthan. The Havelis tell the interesting stories of Jains merchants of Rajasthan and their fascinating lives. Jaisalmer Havelis looks like delicate jewelry carved out of gold.
For centuries, the silk route passed through the region around Jaisalmer. The Jains traders of the region acquired extreme wealth with their business acumen. They traded gold, silver, opium, jewels, jewelry etc.
Jaisalmer’s story reminds me of Venice (from our visit earlier this year) – both Jaisalmer and Venice were built on the wealth of savvy traders enriched on the silk route. Both cities were built in impossible places – Venice in treacherous unnavigable waters and Jaisalmer in the drought prone deep desert with virtually no water. Both cities were protected by the harsh conditions that only the natives had overcome. Despite nature’s challenges, merchants of Venice and Jaisalmer built monumental places of worship and demonstrated incredible feats of engineering as they built their cities.
The Jains of Jaisalmer financed over 50 kingdoms and had over 400 stores all over Asia – Iran, Afghanistan, China, Indian, present day Pakistan and others.
When Pakistan was formed, the borders closed and trade came to standstill. So, the Jains deserted Jaisalmer. Of the thousands of Jain families, only a handful remain but their legacy is still intact everywhere in Jaisalmer and surrounding towns and cities.
In addition to the magical temples, they left behind, their magnificent Havelis. While most are still in use by the family or lie in ruins, a couple of them are opened as museums, and a must see to get a glimpse of life back then.
The Patwa Havelis
The most popular Haveli are those of the Patwa family. What looks like one long Haveli are five connected Haveli for the five sons of Ghuman Chand Bafna. The first one was sold to the local Kothari family who converted it to a private museum. The Patwa descendants still live in the next two Haveli that seemingly lie in disarray. One of them opened to visitors this season and is planned to be renovated for the 2018 season. The last two are owned and managed by the Archeological Society of India, but not really managed.
Kothari-Patwa, the famous Jaisalmer Haveli
The Kothari-Patwa Haveli is said to have been bought by Mr Kothari of Jaisalmer for a mere Rs 60K. Some say the Patwas sold it and others say that the Patwas left it to caretakers who then sold it to the Kotharis.
The outfits for wealthy merchants were very elaborate and exquisite.
There were probably no car back in the 1800s, so the wealthy travelled on palkis. It would certainly keep the delicate and elaborate dresses looking sharp.
Water was always in short supply. It rained about four times a year so preservation and conservation was paramount.
If they were anything like my grandmothers, they had cooks to prepare all the meals. Similarly, they may have had large families and many different and fussy palettes to please.
The men and women had separate dining rooms. The men’s dining area was large, ornate and open.
The Haveli has multiple rooms for entertaining guests and family.
The rooftop of this haveli is in the more classic Rajasthani style, a flat roof with the open center looking into the house. It has full view of the fort and the entire city. Rooftops are also used as bedrooms under the stars in hot summer months, with cool desert nights.
A Jaisalmer Haveli picture prop
The next portion of the Haveli is used by photo vendors to rent traditional Rajasthani outfits for tourist pictures.
The Haveli #2 and #3 are home to descendants of the Patwas tycoons that built the business empire. Haveli #2 was home to the eldest brother and hence the most important. Today, these Havelis are in mostly the same state with little maintenance or upgrade. The ground floor is rented to souvenir shops for about Rs 100,000 a month, while the neighbor brings in millions of Rs from ticket sales. After all these decades, someone had the bright idea to start showing haveli #2. So, they opened the doors for the 2017 season, with some basic cleanup. Hopefully the ticket sales will generate sufficient revenue to restore and make the Haveli more presentable. As is, it is more authentic and true to its original style.
One of the natives was saying that the Kothari-Patwa Haveli is made much grander than the original home, mostly to wow the tourists. In reality the Jains are more simplistic. As a Jain myself, I know many powerful Jains follow aparigreh principle and live a very simple private life, so there is likely some truth to it. But, many live in extravagant homes too.
Either way, I’m curious to know what the Patwas do in terms of the restoration and what story they choose to tell of their ancestors.
The Patwa family temple was probably the most important room for the whole family. It is no less decorative than gorgeous Jain temples of Jaisalmer.
The eldest brother’s Haveli rooftop is impressive and different from others. It is also the highest of all the five Havelis and likely all of Jaisalmer. While Rajasthani home rooftops are commonly used for sleeping in summer, this one has the most ornate sitting, storage or serving areas. My guess is that it was used for family gatherings and parties.
Nathmalji’s haveli is being used by the family as their residence. The first floor is converted to shops.
As our hotel staff said, the most important souvenirs to take from Jaisalmer are stories and pictures. Some stories are historic facts and others just fascinating stories.
As a Rajasthani Oswal Jain, this was an insightful trip for me at a personal level as it relates so closely to the lifestyle of my grandparents and great grandparents. I hope to return to explore the broader region, the history and the stories.
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