The gorgeous mansions of Jaisalmer's wealthy merchants are known as 'havelis'. Their elaborate homes are etched out in sandstone with infinite details and pains, carved and pieced together in different patterns. There is a perfect harmony that characterizes them and they are a treat for the eyes of the beholder.
Two architect brothers built it in the 19th century. Interestingly, while one concentrated on the right, the other concentrated on the left and the result is a symphony epitomising the side by side symmetry during construction. Paintings in miniature style monopolise the walls in the interior. Mighty tuskers carved out of yellow sandstone stand guard to the haveli.
Its like straight out of an Arabian Nights fable. The name Jaisalmer induces a dramatic picture of utter magic and brilliance of the desert. The hostile terrain not with standing the warmth and colour of people is simply over whelming. One of the main draws is the daunting 12th century Jaisalmer Fort. The beautiful havelis which were built by wealthy merchants of Jaisalmer are yet another interesting aspect of the desert city.
And you can let your eyes caress the sloppy sand dunes while you ramble your way in a camel safari. The desert citadel is truly a golden fantasy in Thar Desert. Bhatti Rajput ruler Rawal Jaisal, after whom the city finds its name, founded Jaisalmer in 1156. On advice of a local hermit Eesaal he chose the Tricut Hills as his new abode abandoning his vulnerable old fort at Luderwa just 16 kilometres northwest.
In Medieval times, its prosperity was due to its location on the main trade route linking India to Egypt, Arabia, Persia, Africa and the West. The Bhatti Rajput rulers lined their coffer with gains from traditional taxes on passing by caravans and sometimes through illicit gains by rustling cattle.
Over the years the remote location of Jaisalmer kept it almost untouched by outside influences. In the 13th century Ala-ud-din Khilji Emperor of Delhi besieged the fort for nine years in an effort to take back the treasure taken by the Bhatti Rajput from his imperial caravan train.
When the fall of the fort was imminent the women of the fort committed Jauhar, an act of mass self-immolation, while men donned saffron robes and rode to their certain death. Duda son of Jaitasimha, a Bhatti hero also perished in the battle. Dudas descendants continued to rule Jaisalmer.
In 1541 they even fought Mughal Emperor Himayun. Though their relations with Mugshal was not always hostile. Sabala Simha won the patronage of Mughal Emperor Shaha Jahan for battle distinctions in Peshawar and the right to rule Jaisalmer. In the days of Raj, Jaisalmer was the last to sign the Instrument of Agreement with the British.
A haveli or havayli is a residential building meant for a wealthy family and their household in northwestern India or Pakistan, similar to a mansion in the English language. They were normally built by rich merchants, noblemen, or influential politicians from the 15th to 19th centuries. Normally royals and emperors did not live in a house like this, but in a much larger palace inside the city fort. During the flourishing period of the havelis, the mentioned region was a part of the Muslim Moghul empire, so many havelis were built in the ornate Moghul architectural style. The house was centred around a courtyard and its walls were decorated with beautiful stone carvings. Even now houses are still sometimes constructed in this style. Good examples can be seen all over South Asia, even in Delhi. However, the best preserved and most beautiful havelis can be found in the Pakistani town of Lahore and the towns of Bikaner and Jaisalmer and the Shekawati region in Rajasthan.
In Jaisalmer the most beautiful havelis are the Patwon-ki-Haveli to the north of the fort and the Salim Singh-ki-Haveli near the fort entrance. Salim Singh Mehta was a prime minister of the Princely State of Jaisalmer, a semi-independent territory under British rule in the early 19th century. He built this house on the remains of a 17th-century haveli. The Mehta family was one of the wealthiest and the most influential of the region. They imposed a stringent tax system on the people of Jaisalmer and even the royal family was in their debt. Due to the large tax imposement and the increase in ship transport favouring port towns like Bombay, many rich merchants moved to other places, leaving Jaisalmer in decline, only to recover in recent years due to military spendings and tourism.
Salim Singh Mehta's haveli incorporates many Moghul-style features, like exquisite floral carvings, separate rooms for men and women, and secret storage rooms to deceive potential thieves. However, other elements were added, like carved birds and two large sandstone elephants near the haveli entrance, not common in Moghul buildings as it is usually forbidden for Muslims to depict animals or persons. One room is completely decorated with mirrors. This is where the household enjoyed a dancing or musical event, so the entertainers would reflect 1,000 times. Another room is now used as a small shop to buy tourist copies of the household equipment. It is said that previously the building used to be higher than the fort, but the maharaja disapproved and had the top floors torn down. Later, a beautiful two-story building was added to the roof, making the complete building slightly smaller than the fort. From this building you have a magnificent view on the fort.
Patwon ki haveli
This is one of the largest and most elaborate Haveli in Jaisalmer and stands in a narrow lane. It is five storeys high and is extensively carved. It is divided into six apartments, two owned by archaeological Survey of India, two by families who operate craft-shops and two private homes. There are remnants of paintings on some of the inside walls as well as some mirror work.
The most elaborate and magnificient of all the Jaisalmer havelis. It has exquisitely carved pillars and exquisitely carved pillars and extensive corridors and chambers. One of the apartments of this five story high haveli is painted with beautiful murals.
Patwon-Ki-Haveli is the largest and most elaborate haveli in Jaisalmer. This five-storeyed building extensively carved and is notable for its jharokhas (balconies).
In the early 19th century, the family of Ghuman Chand Patwa, an extremely rich patwa (trader of brocades and expensive embroidery) began construction of this mansion, an effort that took half a century.