The Merchants of Rajasthan built sumptuously decorated mansions as residences known as havelis. The merchants had commissioned artisans to ensure that they construct and decorate the havelies in a manner that befits the prosperity of the owner. Havelies are common everywhere in Rajasthan but havelies at Shekhawati and Jaisalmer are worth visiting.
Shekhawati as a region is known for its beautifully painted Havelies, that spreads over Jhunjhunu, Sikar and Churu districts in north-western Rajasthan. Built by rich Marwari merchants of the region, Shekhawati's magnificent mansions display a unique architectural style that evolved around the courtyards to ensure safety and privacy of the womenfolk and protection from the heat of the long and harsh summers.
Painted predominantly in blue, maroon, yellow, green and indigo, the Havelis of Shekhawati have beautiful frescoes that adorn their walls. Earlier wall paintings were largely based on the mythological themes, depicting gods, heroes, epics and local legends; animals, portraits of hunting and wrestling scenes and glimpses of everyday life.
The turn of the 19th century saw the appearance of new motifs, an outcome of the British Raj's influence upon the Indian Culture. The paintings continued with the mythological themes, but the new entries included European oleographs, lithographs and photographs. Trains, cars, balloons, telephones, gramophones, English men in hunting attires and portraits of Haveli owners primly dressed were painted profusely.
Patwon ki Haveli is the most elaborate and magnificent of all the Jaisalmer havelies. Salim Singh ki Haveli was built about 300 years ago and is still partially lived in.
Salim Singh was the prime minister of the princely state and his mansion has a beautifully arched roof with superb carved brackets in the form of peacocks. The mansion is just below the hill and, it is said that it once had two additional wooden storeys, in an attempt to make it as high as the Maharaja's Palace. The Maharaja of Jaisalmer had the upper storey torn down.
The late 19th century Nathamal ji ki Haveli was also a prime minister's house. The left and right wings of the building were carved by brothers and are very similar but not identical. Yellow sandstone elephants guard the building and the front door alone is a work of art.