Within the Region in India known as Rajasthan lies Shekhavati, and in Shekhavati lie the empty forts/havellies of the Rajputs – the once powerful warrior caste – and the huge, painted mansions of merchant families who have long since departed to the cities, leaving their beautiful Fresco Wall Paintings to the ravages of time.
The frescoes from that region, is a testimony to Shekhavati, to the past prosperity of a society which once proudly displayed its vitality by elaborately decorating courtyards, walls and ceilings with a pictorial record of its customs, beliefs, mythology and monies and floral designs cover practically every inch of the houses of the Rajput warriors and mercantile classes, revealing far more clearly than words the history of the people of Shekhavati from Mughal times, through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, until the influence of the British, with their customs and new technology, began to dominate.
Fresco Wall Paintings of Shekhawati are unique in themselves, although it was the Mughal kings who made murals fashionable, their religious indictments forbade them from having man or animal as motif; they were allowed only floral and abstract designs. To an extent this posed as an obstacle. Wall painting in Shekhawati boomed only after Mughal power was declined. For the early corpus, the artists depended heavily on traditional Indian subjects. This consisted of scenes from mythology, especially of Lord Krishna, local legends, animals and plants, daily lives of men and women, towns and the Shekhawat Rajas. Most of the towns are good enough to see classic fresco wall paintings, few are Mandawa, Ramgarh, Fatehpur,Nawalgarh, Bissau, Dundlod, Alsisar etc.
The fresco painting artists were called chiteras, who belongs to the kumhars (potters) caste. They are also called chejaras (masons) since they works both as painters and builders. The paintings were depicted in bright two-dimensional paintings. The chejaras used only natural colors for their art, like kajal (lamp black) for black, safeda (lime) for white, neel (indigo) for blue, geru (red stone powder) for red, kesar (saffron) for orange, pevri (yellow clay) for yellow ochre and so on. Mixed in limewater and beaten into plaster, they remained vibrant for almost as long as the building lasted.
But things changed with the coming of the British with whom came their idiom. The paintings began to be a mix and match of everything. At best, the murals were a fine hash of the vast repertoire of existing motifs and the ‘modern’ ones brought in by the British. With the combination of the great wealth of the indulgent marwaris, readily accessible lithographs and receptive painters, Shekhawati was groomed into what it is.
So by the 20th century, the mural scene had changed dramatically. The British element and the impact of technology were clearly discernible. Muralists found nothing too trivial to draw, be it motor cars, trains, gramophones or a foreigner in a hat! The painters took a delight in drawing practically every subject under the sun. A new technique of painting also surfaced – oleography. By this, an oil mural was produced by a series of impressions of stone or metal plates (the lithographic process), the impression from each plate being in a different color. The finished product resembled that of an oil painting on canvas. Photography, which popped its head in India in 1840 also played a major role, and painters drew freely from this medium too. They picked up the three-dimensional aspect too by the use of shadow. Thus looking around him everywhere, the artist saw inspiration for the pictures he would paint. In the case of colors too, natural dyes started being replaced by chemical ones imported from Germany and England. Much finer work was possible as these paints were meant to be used on dry plaster (unlike the old ones which had to be applied on wet plaster). This fusion of styles gave birth to Shekhawati’s most unique school of art, seen at its best on the walls of the turn of the century mansions. and today, the world comes to this storybook town to see its colorful frescoes.