Churu The Town

_MG_2894_Churu_Rajasthan_2013-09-16_-¬BhavenJani_2013Today a district town, it was considered the second town of the princely state of Bikaner before independence. It is said to have been founded in 1563 by a Jat, whose name it took, whilst the work on present fort begun in 1739. Churu opens the gate to the great desert of Thar, there are drifting sand – dunes around the town, particularly on the south and west sides.

The town was an important centre for the caravan trade with the families of Mantri , Poddar , Bagla and Kothari being amongst the important merchants of the place. Several havelis in their names still dot the town. A heritage walk around the old town will take you to striking magnificence of its rich past.

Churu Heritage Walk

Point 1

East along the road from the railway station is a tall red stand-stone tower called ‘DHARAMSTUPA’ and here the road turns toward the bazaar. Turn left from the girls college for Malji Ka Kamra. This is an Italianate fantasy of slender pillars and stucco built around 1920 by Malji Kothari. Once beautifully maintained now restored and converted into a comfortable Heritage Hotel to stay.

Point 2

A Little to the east of no 1 the north side of the road an alley leads up between two large Havelis, both built by the Kothari family, Jain merchants, and both dating from the turn of the century. The alley leads to the back of a further Kothari Haveli built Malji Kothari from about 1870. The courtyard of this haveli was repainted in 1833 dor the marriage of Malji Kothari’s son. There is a painted room inside.

Point 3

Surana Double Haveli, known sometimes as the Surana Hawa Mahal (wind palace) or the ‘1100windowhaveli’. Built in early 1870s and painted on outer and courtyard walls with some decorated rooms. Two gateways lead through the forecourt, which is a public right of way. There is a good view of the town from the roof. Nearby, to the west and south-west of 3 there are three more, later, havelis of the Surana family who like the Kotharis, are Oswal Jains. Following the road north from the east gate of 3 you will come to a haveli painted in 1945 with scenes of the bombing of an aircraft carrier etc.

Point 4

Two more Jain havelis, this time of the Banthia family, on south side of the road, built around 1925 and with amusing paintings on the north wall, and the Baid family on the north side of the road.

Point 5

Following the turning north just west of 4 the road passes several painted havelis then gives a view straight ahead of perhaps the finest external frieze in the whole area , that on the south wall of the Kanhaiyalal Bagla haveli c1880 (see photograph). There is a mosque, the Jama Masjid, on the left side of the road and, with permission, one can get a good view of the frieze by standing on the well that neighbours it. Access to the haveli is by way of the main bazaar. The frieze illustrates at least 2 well-known stories- the ubiquitous Dhola- Maru, the lovers fleeing on their camel, and, in front of them on horseback, the lovers Sassi and Punu from a Punjabi folk tale.

Point 6

This small Banthia haveli is a good example of 1850 ochre murals, though on the facade it is possible to see that the paintings have been renewed twice- once around 1870 and again c1890. The original murals on the south wall are good.

Point 7

Temple of Ganga, on the north side of the little square that surrounds the white clock tower in the main bazaar, built by the Lohia family around 1890, is worth a visit.

Point 8

Balaji Temple, built by Kanhaiyalal Bagla in 1891. A large and ornate structure when seen from south or east, contrasting with the plainness of the more concealed north wall. There is some gold painting above the temple door and also in the porch of the shrine. Another large temple, also in the Baglas, stands a short way to the north of this.

Point 9

The Aath-Khambh (‘eight pillar’) or Taknet chhatri (see Photograph). This was built in 1776 by a mason form the town of khandela- we don’t know if he had also painted the inner dome but these are some of the finest and oldest murals in churu. As usual, the majority of the paintings deal with incarnations of Vishnu, particularly Ram and Krishna. One panel, damaged, shows a scene of a Rajput with his court, probably the man commemorated, whilst a second shows Nagas, martial ascetics, with a ruler.

Another interesting picture occurs towards the top of the dome: there is a little procession, with a Rajput on his horse, approaching a Shiv Temple containing a lingam. One of the men nearest to this temple wears a hat and carries a musket he is an early example of the European mercenaries. The basement of this chhartri is in very poor condition and windblown dust has so raised the ground level that the arches that one entered this basement have been long blocked. Built over bakshi Ram Taknet.

Point 10

Mantri Chhatri, built over a seth of the Mantri family in 1871, There are paintings on the basement walls and also in the dome, the latter mostly incarnation of Vishnu. North of this chhatri is one built to a member of the Bagla family and dated 1853. To the north-west of this is a handsome well In a ruinous state set back form the road. The road leading north reaches a johara and the ‘gaoshala’ after about 1 km, then continues to recent holy place known as Nathji.

Point 11

Jayadayal Khemka Haveli. At the south end of Mantri Marg, this haveli has some good paintings on its outer walls, it also has a painted room. The building dates form around 1870. Neighboring it to the north is fine Mantri Haveli, c1850, which has two painted rooms, that over the main door being painted about 1895. Several other buildings in this road are worth a look.

Point 12

The fort. Founded in 1739, the fort is now in poor condition with the footings of the walls in a bad state of decay. The building is threatened with demolition. It withstood a long siege during 1813 by the Raja of Bikaner, Surat Singh, but was finally forced to ammunition; the ladies gave up their silver and gold ornaments to be turned into musket balls. When the fort finally fell the Thakur, Sheo Singh, poisoned himself- or, as they say in Churu, he swallowed a diamond and died. The buildings within the fort are not of great interest and include a clinic, the jail and a temple.

Point 13

Poddar Haveli. An impressive haveli with a remarkable fine carved beam in the porch. The family acquired the land in 1827 and probably built the haveli soon after, although the murals in the forecourt date form around 1860.

Point 14

‘Nagar Shree’, above a shop on the north side of the bazaar. Here are collected paintings, photographs, sculpture and literature relating to the district, including many documents on the merchant community. The organization publishes its own magazine ‘Maru Shree’ with information o monuments, documents or historic events relating to he district.

Point 15

Jain Temple and well. Built in 1935 it contains paintings decorated with gold by jaipur painters.

Point 16

Lohia Temple dedicated to Sita-Ram and built around 1890, it has some good murals on the facade and in the courtyard.

Point 17

Dharamshala and Temple build by Bhagwan Das Bagla. This is just beyond the area of the map, perhaps a little over 100m west of the crossroads knows as Subhash Chowk on the south side of the road. The dharamsahala has now become a school and has murals of average quality. The complex was built in the early 1890s.

Point 18

Sethani ka johara ( ‘the reservoir of the lady seth’) lies on the north side of the road perhaps 5km west of churu along the Ratangarh road. It is perhaps the finest johara in the area in that it is not only attractive but also efficient, holding a store of water often from one monsoon to the next. It was built in 1898 by the widow of Bhagwan Das Bagla as part of the famine relief projects that the merchants financed in those terrible years of the close of the century. A peaceful place, which attacts a few water birds in winter.

Point 19

Seksaria well. A large well on the western firings of the town form which water is still raised by bullocks in the early morning and evening to irrigate the land around it. Not far to the east stands the chhatri of Jail Poddar, who died in 1833.