Skip to main content

Featured Post

Book Review: On Philosophising, Philosophers, Philosophy and New Vistas in Applied Philosophy, by Dr. Sharmila Jayant Virkar

A little bit of context before you begin reading this book review. I have recently enrolled for an MA in Philosophy at the University of Mumbai. Philosophy is something I have been getting interested in, over the past few years, as those of you who have been reading my blogs and Instagram posts would know. During the pandemic, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do next, and this is what I eventually came up with. It has been a challenge, getting back into academics as a student at this age, especially in a subject I have no academic background in. However, it has also been very exciting, especially thanks to my wonderful classmates (who, surprisingly, are of all age-groups, including some quite near my own) and my teachers, who have been very supportive and understanding. How well I will do is something that remains to be seen, but so far, I am enjoying this new journey and look forward to where it leads. Now that you know the background , you probably get an idea of how

The Havelis of Bikaner - A Photo Post

The lanes are narrow, twisting and turning amidst buildings old and new. Crumbling old structures with intricate workmanship stand side by side with art deco buildings, and more modern constructions, which follow no particular style. Autos, bicycles, motorcycles and vans rush past, blowing their horns as loudly as possible, while cows saunter past peacefully, completely unaffected by the noise. In the midst of all this chaos, children play by the side, and women go about their chores, as we explore these by-lanes of Bikaner, and its beautiful Havelis.

Facade of one of the Rampuria Havelis

The Havelis are homes of the rich merchants of Bikaner. Most of them are from the early days of the 20th century, when Maharaj Ganga Singh, the then ruler of Bikaner, invited merchants from far and wide to come and settle here, giving them a variety of incentives to ply their trade. The biggest incentives were the Havelis themselves, and it is said, that each Haveli was handed over to the merchants, at the nominal rate of one Anna, and one coconut!

Narrow lanes with Havelis on both sides

The most popular among all the Havelis are the ones belonging to the Rampuria families. The Rampuria Havelis are grand structures, their fa├žades exquisitely ornate. They stand all around one chowk or junction, and each Haveli belongs to one branch of what must be quite a big family. The first Haveli we spot is a unique one, with stone faces of British Monarchs glaring down their noses at us.

King George and Queen Mary?

The couple, in all probability, are King George V and Queen Mary, and they present quite an incongruous sight in this small town. By their side is another queen, who appears to be an Indian, from the nose ring she wears, along with the other ornaments.

An unknown queen

She could probably be the then Queen of Bikaner, which gives rise to the question – Why isn’t the king of Bikaner represented here, along with all these others?

The other Havelis here are bigger, and grander, and tower over us. However, it is a surprise to see how narrow most of them are, and they seem to fit into the available space like a piece in a puzzle, and I wonder how they were first built. Were they intended this way, leaving little space for the narrow lanes, or did they perhaps replace existing structures, or built wherever there was space?

One of the most beautiful havelis

But it is infinitely more interesting to see the details, than ruminate over how they were built. Atop one of the biggest Havelis here are these painted medallions…

Painted Medallions

The central one depicts Krishna with Radha, and on the side are landscapes, which seem to resemble scenes from Europe. All of them seem to have been copied from prints, which would have been in vogue in the early days of the 20th century.

Radha and Krishna


Once, medallions like these would have lined up the entire row on the second floor of this building. Sadly, only these three remain today!

If the medallions are an indication of western influence, the doors and the arches are, in sharp contrast, very traditional. They are covered with ornamentation, and, over the entrances, we can see Ganesha or Gaja Lakshmi. You can even see the name of the owners on some of them. 

One of the entrances, with the name atop the door

Notice the intricate work on the door arch, both in wood and in stone

Ganesha with two attendants atop one of the doors

Gajalakshmi over one of the doorways

Another intricately carved doorway with a beautiful grill

All these Havelis have a row of doors at the floor level, with separate entrances for the male and female members of the family. The other doors lead into small rooms, where the merchants would have sat to transact their business. The entry to the Haveli itself is at a higher level, and we have to climb a steep set of stairs to reach the main door.

Entry into the Haveli

These might be the grandest Havelis here, but along these lanes are so many more, all belonging to rich merchants. A little further away is another chowk, this one surrounded by the Havelis of the Daddas, another business family closely aligned to the royal family. They are said to have helped the king in so many of his ventures, that they were given special privileges usually reserved for royalty!

One of the Dadda Havelis

Riding in a horse cart or Tonga, arranged for us by the folks at Narendra Bhawan, I feel rather regal as we weave our way in and out of the narrow lanes. Children shout as we pass by, asking for a ride. Their huge smiles, when we oblige, brighten our day further. But these are mere distractions, for I have eyes for nothing but the curious hodge-podge of art which surrounds me.

Art deco buildings stand amidst profusely carved Havelis; there are structures built over others, extended to accommodate growing families perhaps. 

Concrete, stone and plaster.. together

One of the Art Deco structures, atop a traditional haveli, with a traditional one on the left and a new one on the right
Another Art Deco structure

But in the midst of it all are gems – like these intricately patterned parapet walls…

Krishna and the gopis

Krishna playing the flute

Lion faces

This gold and silver paper covered shrine, to some form of Shiva….

A shrine, decorated with paper...

A beautiful doorway to a Jain temple…

Entrance of a Jain temple

And this big wooden platform, seen at regular intervals. This is where the men gather every evening, to talk, to discuss…

One of the wooden platforms

Decorative tiles seem to have been popular with the owners. The most common pattern seen is that of a rose…. But there are more interesting ones too, such as these…

A tile covered wall of a haveli 

Covering the outer wall of one of the more derelict Havelis, these tiles are patterned with the figures of Lakshmi, Saraswati and Krishna, based on the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma. Here again is the influence of the new medium of print!

A closer look at the tiles. Notice the variety of roses, and Saraswati at the centre

The same influence is seen inside the Havelis too. The one we enter has these paintings on the walls of one of the rooms.

Paintings inside a Haveli.. from left: Krishna defeating Kaliya, Krishna at Nathdwara, Saraswati and Lakshmi

The rooms of the Haveli are small and intimate, perfect for a small family. This sounds surprising, till we think of the number of Havelis belonging to the same family here. These might have been the earliest set-ups for nuclear families.

View inside the Haveli

Settling down for a traditional Jain meal, a thali, it takes us a while to realise that there is no fan, no air conditioning, and we don’t need it! The small room is naturally cool, with cross ventilation and its placement taking care of the air flow.

The arrangement for lunch

Completely at ease, after a wonderful meal, I stretch out on the cushions, look up at the beautiful wooden ceiling….

The sun, on the wooden ceiling

…and I can just close my eyes and imagine myself here, with a book in my hand, a pot of tea by my side. It is a tempting image, one that makes me want to stay here forever. It is so easy, up here, away from the clamour of the streets below, to forget the outside world, for a while at least.

As we finally rouse ourselves, and step back down into the street, the chaos hits us again, and once more, as we make our way towards our car, my eyes are drawn upwards – to the brilliant art that surrounds us. Siddharth points out something I have missed – a painting of a train….

The train

The train is painted on the outer wall of one of the smaller Havelis. It is shown passing on a bridge over a river or canal, between two stations. The painting indirectly highlights two of the greatest achievements of Maharaj Ganga Singh – the railways, and the Gang Canal!

Full view of the train

It strikes me, as I click the photograph, that the Haveli this is painted on, itself is an achievement of the king, who managed to bring in traders and businessmen to Bikaner. As for the Havelis, they themselves are symbols of the changing times, of new techniques coming in, of the influence of art from far and wide, of new forms of architecture, yet retaining many aspects of tradition. Which is what makes them unique!

Disclaimer: I visited the Havelis of Bikaner with Narendra Bhawan. The ride on a horse cart or Tonga, followed by the traditional Jain thali in one of the Havelis is part of their ‘Merchant Trail’ experience. The experience is heightened by the conversations during the ride, the many stories, and the food of course. It is the perfect way to see these Havelis and experience a different side of Bikaner. While the experience was courtesy Narendra Bhawan, the words, needless to say, are my own. 

Related Posts:


  1. Fascinating! The carving and tile work are quite something - there were some talented craftspeople who put a lot of effort into their work.

    I might get run over if I visited since I would probably be standing in the middle of the road for way too long, staring upwards at all the details to be seen! :)

    1. It is fascinating, Natalie. And there is so much more to see! This is just from the outside. So you can imagine how the interiors must be!
      As for being run over, there are higher chances of you going deaf thanks to the incessant honking that will ensue if you stand in the middle of the road!

  2. Compelling designs and carvings,what kind of patience people had then,love that dining room ,makes me think even today if we could keep our interiors cool without the use of AC

    1. Absolutely, Ani. Their attention to detail is commendable, both when it comes to artistry, as well as practicality.

  3. Great art and piece of history.!


Post a Comment

Thanks so much for stopping by. Please leave a comment for me so that I will know you have been here....

Popular posts from this blog

The Elephanta Caves

The Elephanta Caves , located on Elephanta Island, or Gharapuri, about 11 Km off the coast of the Gateway of India, Mumbai, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit to these caves, excavated probably in the 6 th century CE, is awe-inspiring, and also thought-provoking. Over the years, I have visited the caves a number of times, and also attended a number of talks by experts in the fields of art, history and archaeology on the caves. Together, they help me understand these caves, their art, and the people they were created for, just a little bit better. Every new visit, every new talk, every new article I read about the caves, fleshes out the image of what the island and the caves would have been like, at their peak. I last wrote about the caves on this blog, in 2011, almost exactly 11 years ago. Since then, my understanding of the caves has, I would like to think, marginally improved. Hence this attempt to write a new and updated post, trying to bring to life, the caves of Elephan

Ladakh - Planning The Trip

Over 2000 Km by road, in around 10 days. Stunning landscapes, wonderful people. That sums up our Ladakh trip. But how did it actually work? How did we make it happen? Read on to find out!  Leh, the capital of Ladakh , is accessible by air and road. Flying into Leh is the easiest, and time-saving option, while the road is the time consuming one, but with the added advantage of driving past some of the most beautiful landscapes in our country. Each option has much to recommend it, and we chose the road for just one reason – altitude sickness. Altitude sickness was one of my biggest concerns, since I suffer from motion-sickness. Yes, I do travel a lot, but that is despite my condition, and, over the years, have learnt how to handle it. I struggled with it when we visited Nathu-La in Sikkim, and wondered if I would be able to manage a week at the even higher altitudes that we would encounter in Ladakh. This was the reason we stuck to a basic plan, of only 9 days in Ladakh, though we