The legacy continues
Old buildings turned into small shops, their old wooden doors are replaced by modern shutters, but that's as far as it goes. There are people everywhere, some looking to buy things and some looking to sell them. Bandhani items on display in the most charismatic colours that one can imagine. Women buying lac bangles sitting at the bangle shops, with their heads covered right till the end of their faces. A blacksmith working on making his tools display a bit more attractive. And then here I was standing in front of a huge gate, again surrounded by shops, to my amazement it was the Sikar fort.
For me, it was a weird combination of modernity and history. As I entered the gate, I saw what once must have been a place to leave the sentry's horses now being surrounded by shops, shops and more shops. In the middle of yard was the statue of Raja Kalyan Singh ji, the last ruler of Sikar.
As I ventured further inside the walled fort, I saw burning liquid iron being poured into some kind of a mould. Stacks of iron rods being put together and stored in front of what looked like rooms of the fort. I go a little further and I see men working on making various jewellery pieces. After speaking to a couple of shop keepers I found out that the fort was bought by an Aggarwal Samaj back in 1961 and was turned into a shopping centre with markets in and around the fort's premises. I was asked to meet Avatar Singh Sharma the caretaker of the fort for the Aggarwal Samaj. I found my way up through the typical narrow and steep steps that took me right in the middle of a wedding celebration. Finding Avatar Singh was not too hard, sitting inside a small room, he welcomed me with a warm smile. It took me two minutes to explain my agenda and he was more than grateful to oblige. On asking why the fort was sold, Avatar Singh told me that the last ruler was unable to cope up with the taxes and the expenditure for the fort and had decided to sell it through an auction.
A traditional experience
While I waited with Avatar Singh for his employee to come and open the Makrana Mahal for me, I desperately wanted to experience a traditional Rajasthan wedding. The most striking part of the wedding was the jewellery and the colourful dresses of the women and the songs that were traditional songs sung by them. I sat with one of the members of the family who was sitting outside with the rest of the men while the pheras were going on inside a hall. On asking why everyone was not attending the pheras, I was told that a certain ritual called the "Bhaat" was going on which was being performed by the bride's maternal uncle and hence they could not go in as yet. It was not a majestic celebration but a celebration by all means, simple, yet so beautiful.
The grandeur that once was...
The Makrana Mahal is the only part of the fort, which has been preserved by the Aggarwal Samaj. However, they use it personally for their own functions. It was an empty hall, with fading painting, which must have adorned the walls at one time making it look grand. The Makrana hall gave a fantastic view of the whole city; it is the highest point from where the entire Sikar can be viewed.
The havelis of Sikar with their beautiful mural paintings are something that compels the tourist to come to Sikar. The most famous one being the Biyani Haveli with its beautiful blue frescoes, a colour which was traditionally the most difficult colour to render in wet fresco plaster. The havelis were a symbol of the status of the rich in Sikar and that can still be seen in these massive structures of art. The Biyani haveli also has a small temple inside its premises decorated with mirror work, though it is scarred badly in places where antique dealers have torn out the glass-covered pictures.
Sikar and Sikar District remains unexplored unlike its many counter parts in the Shekhawati region. However, district Sikar has a plethora of art and architecture to showcase through the smallest of towns around Sikar. About 30 odd kilometres away from Sikar is a small town called Lachamnnagar. Unlike Sikar, Lachmannagar is not a very big town. As we drove through the narrow streets of the village, just like the movies we have the children follow us behind the cars. While looking for the fort, we were told that the Lachmannagar fort is now a private property and unfortunately not for the public. I however, was lucky to walk up to the temple inside the fort. This massive structure is the highest point in the small village. Situated atop a hill and surrounded by the hills as well, one could never imagine how anyone could ever even think of attacking a mammoth like this. Standing right at the entrance of the fort, the clock tower looked handsome right in the middle of the town. Coloured in bright red and yellow, it looked like a sentry watching over its town.
A reflection of the past glorys
Havelis are a big part of the Shekhawati reagion, it is said that people would have everything about them painted on the walls their stories, their life and even their gods. As I walked into the Sanwatram Chokany Haveli, I saw the magnificent, paintings primarily in the shades of blue and maroon. For a second I thought I had entered a temple, the walls of the haveli have been adorned by murals of Radha and Krishna. The there is the creator of the Hindu trinity, lord Vishnu, beautifully painting on the faÃ§ade. The half- male half -female figure combined with Shiva and Parvati makes for the most prominent paintings here. The most famous Char Chownk Haveli was built back in the 1840s. The haveli looks abandoned from the inside however speaks volumes once you enter. The paintings somewhat faded but still represent art in its full form. As you enter you can see the wooden carvings on the door with metal studs, which I found to be an influence of the mughals. Even though the painting have withered off and faded a bit, one can still see the magnanimous structure in its glory and I kept telling myself that I was born way too late. For all religious purposes The Khatu Shayam is about 35 kms from main city Sikar and is famous for Shyamji Temple built with white marbles. Ponds for holy dips and Shyam garden is worth visiting. The legend of this immensely popular Krishna temple can be traced back to the medieval Mahabharat where, Barbareek the son of great Pandav brother Bhim and Nag Kanya (snake princess) displayed his great warrior skills that pleased Lord Shiva who endowed his blessings in the form of Teen Ban (three arrows) and Agni Dev (fire god) gave him a bow, so that he could conquer all the three worlds. In order to watch the famous war of Mahabharata he sat towards the battle field and in between his tryst with a Lord Krishna in disguise become a vital part of the history and thus the incarnation of Khatu Shayamji. Temples are a big part attraction in this part of town. From Khatu Shayam one can further go up to Jeen Mata temple and the Harsh Mata temple and then back to Sikar, which is exactly what I did. Harshmata temple is atop a hill and is surrounded by beautiful mountains. It is said that after Mount Abu, Harshmata Temple is the highest.
Old Sikar city still manages to keep its charm and history alive. The shops are still in there original form and people still continue their daily work from there. The old building some of them in ruins, still manage to give you a sense of the years of culture and history gone by. The modernisaton of Sikar has somewhat made the city loose its history, however, one can still venture into the lovely havelis of Sikar. Even though the Havelis and the monuments have lost their luster, one can still capture the essence of the city from the bazaars with its old building and the varied art forms displayed on it.