Castles in the Sand - Rajasthan Mandawa

As the name suggests, Rajasthan is the land of kings. Be it the royals or the Rajputs; it is arguably India’s most princely state. A major hub in Indian and world history, Rajasthan is known for its colourful art and traditional beauty.

Rajasthani Havelis are known not only for the intricate paintings depicting gods and goddesses but also for the portraits of kings and old families - especially on archways. With their complex geometric designs, these paintings are meant to convey the authority of the royal family. Though originally ethnic, they were influenced by British rule. Some of the most stunning and interesting paintings would have to be those of various Rajasthani festivals.

In the rich cultural centre of Mandawa, some 200 kilometres from Jaipur, is a grand structure: Castle Mandawa. The fortress has been converted into a heritage hotel, and the royal family still resides there. The Mandawa Haveli was converted under the reign of Thakur Devi Singhji, the 17th ruler. It was one of the first heritage hotels in India, and despite providing every luxurious amenity one associates with five-star accommodations, this structure retains its rusticity.

Castle Mandawa was originally built by Thakur Nawal Singhji in 1755 as an outpost to protect the trade route. He later gave the fort to his son, Thakur Narsinghdas, as pocket money; he made it his headquarters, though he ruled from Nawalgarh. Through the years, the castle has been done and redone in parts by the different inhabitants according to their individual requirements and tastes. Its architectural design is now a mixture of Rajput, Muslim and colonial influences.

The hotel has 70 rooms of varying brilliance, each furnished with both medieval and modern furniture. The rooms have been built so that no two are alike, yet each conveys comfort and convenience. A short distance from the castle is a desert resort built by Thakur Kesri Singh in 1985. Kesri Singh’s love for billiards, vintage cars, and camel riding is evident in these havens of rural and urban culture. His time is divided between Mandawa and Jaipur, where he manages the hotels and resorts he has built. He married the daughter of Maharaj Ghanshyam Singh of Mansa, Thakurni Darshana Kumari.

They have two daughters, Gitanjali and Priyanjali, and one son, Shivarjun Singh. The second brother, Thakur RandhirVikram Singh, is married to the daughter of Col. Guamn Singh of Banera, Thakurni Manjul Kumari. They have two daughters, Rohini Kumari and Niyati Kumari. Thakur Pradumn Singh is the youngest and married Hemant Kumari, the daughter of the late Maharaj Sher Singh of Chamba. They have two sons, Kr. Anirudh Singh and Kr. Angad Deo.

Because the castle is built on a giant dune, there are two tunnels from it - one to the local well and the other as an escape route. People come from all over to get a feel for the rich heritage and the wonderful warmth this town offers. Mandawa is famous for its juttis (Rajasthani mojhadis) and peda. The castle often plays home to tourists from Europe, courtesy of Dominique Lapierre’s book on Mandawa. He was struck by the romance of the place and found his trip to be a magical one.

This castle is now home to the family of Mandawa; the three brothers run the place. The Mandawa family hails from the Kachhawa clan, descendants of Lord Ram’s son Kush. The family’s many victories in battle and subsequent awards have earned them great respect, and they live by the quote on their family crest: Veer Bhogya Vasundhara (“The brave shall inherit the earth”). One of their proudest possessions is their mammoth coin collection. Coins from almost every dynasty and kingdom in Indian history are likely to be found in it. The albums contain over 10,000 priceless coins from every period; some even date back before the Common Era!

At one point, the region of Mandawa and its surroundings were under the Nawab’s rule, but the region was won back by Sardul Singhji, who fought battle after battle to acquire it. He overthrew the then Nawaz, taking the throne and later dividing the territory equally among his five sons.

The area is today called Panchpana, which roughly translates to ‘the five estates’. As traditional as the place is, this region of Panchpana is socially advanced; so much so that it is possibly the only one that doesn’t follow the concept of primogeniture. Everything in the inheritance, is instead, divided equally between male and female heirs. It is a truly exotic place, with gardens that are often visited by peacocks! It possesses an extraordinary balance of the conventional and unconventional. In the women’s quarters, or the zenana, one room features antique murals and the other a marble fountain. The turret room even boasts walls that are seven feet thick!

 

One room in the castle is considered the most auspicious, and when newlyweds come here for their honeymoon, this is the one they are given: 308. The materials used to build the fort are chunna (limestone), Jhajjar (an extremely rare stone with unique flexibility), wooden planks and marble. The frescos you will find on many of the walls of Castle Mandawa have been created using the buon fresco technique, in which the colour is mixed with wet plaster, applied and dried along with it. These colours were imported from Europe by the affluent families of the area, and the majority are earthy in the truest sense: they were taken from the soil and fields. The earthen pigments range from reds and yellows to browns and greens. The burnt colours produced even more shades, which you can clearly see in the walls of this magnificent castle.

Though commercial interests have taken a foothold in Mandawa, the region is still home to a very strong sense of culture and ethnic pride. Welcoming all visitors, the people of this region and the royal family remain open-minded to other cultures while retaining great pride in their origins. What they say of Rajasthan is true: the history here is still alive. Stay at Castle Mandawa, and you’re sure to see the real truth behind this.     – Saloni