History of Shekhawati, Rajasthan
It is said that in an ancient local dialect baggar meant an enclosure for animals. It also formed the heart of Bagar Pradesh, a region of dense forests that was ruled in the 11th century by Chauhan rulers. In the 15th century it was conquered by the Pathans and Alauddin Khan Nagar, the ruler of the neighbouring region of Narhar, made it his capital.
The region of Shekhavati, where Baggar lies, was originally ruled by Amber, and was carved from it and its neighbouring lands in 1471 by Rao Shekha (1433-1488 A.D.). The Muslim Nagad Pathans, who had moved here in 1456, maintained good relations with the Shekhavats. They remained in Baggar till 1947, when they migrated to Pakistan at the partition of India. The descendants of Rao Shekha, however, maintained their independence from their Kachhawaha cousins at Amber-Jaipur til the reign of Sawai Jai Singh II (1700-1743 A.A.) who, in 1738, was again able to bring Shekhavati under his yoke. But following his reign, turbulence and unrest persisted in Shekhavati till the British signed and re-signed a treaty of subsidiary alliance with Jaipur in 1803 and 1818. Among other things, this also meant that trade was channelised through British island customs officials. What appeared to be an initial hindrance later became the impetus of a great mercantile diaspora to the distant ports of Calcutta and Bombay and gave India its richest merchant community, commonly called Marwari. This literally means ‘a resident of Marwar’ (Jodhpur) but is in fact a misnomer when applied to the Piramals and Rungtas of Baggar or their neighbours the Dalmias of Chirawas and the Birlas of Pilani, who hailed from the erstwhile Jaipur State. It was the physical appearance of the white ‘dhotis’ and coloured turbans of the first migrants from Marwar that was to brand subsequent traders from Shekhavati – all of whom came to be broadly known as Marwaris. The Marwaris, having made their fortunes in trade, returned to their villages to create extraordinary painted havelis, many of them with frescoes of European subjects.
The Piramal Gate in Baggar, Shekhavati, was constructed in 1928 to welcome Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur who rode in on elephant back. It was built by Seth Piramal Chaturbhuj Makharia (1892-1958 A.D.), whose family originated from Makhar village and had migrated to Baggar after amassing a fortune trading in cotton, opium, silver and other commodities, in Bombay. It was Piramal’s great, great grandfather who has migrated to Bombay but the fortune was made 4 generations later.
The erection of a gate on such a scale by a member of the mercantile community to honour the visit of the Rajput ruler to his village, was symbolic of the times. It illustrated how a relationship of give and take functioned between the 2 classes even beyond the first quarter of the 20th century. The Maharaja of Jaipur, in turn, reciprocated by presenting the tazim (a hereditary anklet of honour), to Seth Piramal Chaturbhuj Makharia and this obliged the king to stand up and receive his salute. The Seth’s fame was so widespread that his descendants have adopted his christian name, Piramal, as their surname.
The Shekhavati chiefs, who were the vassals of Jaipur, held various titles like Rao Bahadur, Maharaj, Raja, Thakur, Rawat, Rao Rawal and Rao Raja, and came under a special category labelled Mamla Gujar. All their Jaipur homes (except Khachriyawas) were outside the old, walled city on a north-south axis from Chand Pol along the Sansar Chandra Road because they were never entirely trusted by the Jaipurs. Nor were they allowed to bring in armed escorts. Jadunath Sarkar, the historian, calls them ‘the ever unruly Shekhawats’. This mutual mistrust remained till the minority of Maharaja Man Singh II and Shekhavati was called ilaka gair (foreign territory) by Jaipur.
The Rajput nobles of Shekhavati and its better-known seths attended the Jaipur durbars held on special occasions and a continuous interaction existed among them. This was to manifest itself in a host of ways. The town of Lachhmangarh in the heart of Shekhavati, founded by Rao Devi Singh in the name of his son Rao Raja Lakshman Singh of Sikar in 1806, is modelled after the geometrical grid-plan of Jaipur where the crossroads are marked with 3 square chaupads, usually housing a temple or a market. The small neighbouring town of Mukundgarh, founded by Thakur Madan Singh of Nawalgarh followed a similar example.
While the warrior class of Rajputs traditionally provided security, the wealthy trading community adopted matters of community and social welfare. Having built a haveli for themselves and possibly a garden, which was indeed a luxury in the desert, the Marwaris built 5 more things before considering their life’s work complete. The seths would build the following for their village : a well or water reservoir called a baori; a gaushala or a home for cows; a temple for a diety of their choice; a school or pathshala for children and a dharamshala, a caravan serai for travelers. In later times hospitals also came to be included among their welfare projects.
Baggar is the region of the painted havelis (mansions), where the Marwaris, India’s wealthiest community, once lived. They were the trading community of Rajasthan and traded treasures with caravans which passed this way on the Southern Silk Route, bartering silk with opium, porcelain with spices. From 1820 onwards they migrated to the ports of Calcutta and Bombay, to become intermediaries in the vast trade the British marine conducted at the height of their Pax Britannica. They amassed huge fortunes, and even today control virtually every sector of the modern Indian economy.
The Piramal family's Haveli in Baggar is a Rajasthani-Italianate villa in the desert and is Shekhavati’s closest hotel to Delhi. It was built in 1928 with a large open garden and two pillared courtyards painted with colourful kitsch frescoes of flying angels, airplanes, and gods in motor cars. These add a special charm to this mansion reflecting the British presence in Jaipur since 1803. The gate of the village, which is a part of the haveli, was built by Seth Piramal to welcome the Maharaja of Jaipur on elephant back.
Serving the famed local vegetarian cuisine, the legendary Marwari thalis get seasoned gourmets guessing about the mysterious savours and spices which are in those little bowls!
This was the home of Seth Piramal Chaturbhuj Makharia (1892-1958) whose fortune was made in Bombay, trading in cotton, opium, silver and other commodities.
Walk out to Shekhavati’s painted streets – an open-air gallery of frescoes. Discover the lost villages – a fascinating adventure in itself, using Baggar as the base. As pillared corridors lead you into the past, the floors will tell their own chequered history.
Relish fine thali eating with desert-spiced delicacies. Have tea with the peacocks who are literally the house sparrows of The Piramal Haveli!
Discover sudden colour among the monotony of the desert.
Now that you have grasped the Piramal Haveli History, come stay at this beautiful ancient mansion to join Neemrana Shekhavati’s fight to retain its magnificent heritage structures by making restoration a viable, self-sustainable tourism activity.