Saturday, June 9, 2001
M A I N   F E A T U R E

Tryst with tradition

A view of temples near Kesar Talab.
A view of temples near
Kesar Talab.

The magnificent havelis of Barwaa, 25 km south of Hisar, are its most attractive feature. Over two dozen havelis, many of them two-storeyed and exhibiting traditional architecture, were built by the Mahajans of the village in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A tour of these grand havelis reminds one of the old glorious days when the prosperous Mahajan community did flourishing business on the old trading route between Delhi and the big towns of Churu, Sikar and Jhujhunu via Bhiwani and Hisar,  says Ranbir Singh

AMIDST the vast expanse of the arid countryside in south- west Haryana, adjoining the sandy zones of northern Rajasthan, is situated a once prosperous village called Barwaa. It is 25 km south of Hisar on the Rajgarh-Bikaner state highway.

It was but natural to start a tour of Barwaa from the Garh, called Thakuron kee Garhi (a fortalice) in the village. Thakur Brij Bhushan Singh, 65, is a scion of the owners of the Garhi. The ancestors of Thakur Bagh Singh Tanwar, who was the grandfather of Brij Bhushan Singh, had carved out this village estate for himself and his relations 600 years ago by arriving from Jeetpura village in Rajpootana. Incidentally, the Tanwar branch of Rajputs had established themselves firmly in several village estates around Bhiwani town. Consequently, Bhiwani became the head of the Tanwar Khaap i.e., a cluster of villages. In the early medieval period, the Tanwar Rajputs, uprooted by the political turmoil of those times when Muslim invaders were in the process of occupying this land and establishing their supremacy, migrated to Haryana and hill regions in Himachal Pradesh. In the Mughal period, the Tanwar Rajputs could, however, peacefully settle and carry on business in their village estates around Bhiwani. The village estate of Barwaa, with a population of nearly 10,000 is now a part of Bhiwani district.


A portrait of a thakur of Barwaa
A portrait of a thakur of Barwaa

The ancestors of Bagh Singh Tanwar, who had settled in early huts around a big natural pond filled with rain water, occupied the entire land holding of 14,000 bighas in the village. Consequently, as fate would have it, much of the land was transferred to his descendants and other communities in the village. The existing Garhi, a spacious monument of a medieval style, also called Brinda Bhavan, situated to the north-west of the village on the banks of a big pond named Ramsar, was erected in 1938, which according to old people of the village was a year of scarcity. Due to the failure of the monsoon, the crops could not be raised that year. Therefore, Bagh Singh thought of engaging his kinsmen in building the Garhi and found useful employment. The Garhi, built in traditional architectural style on a sandy mound, has a large and sturdy wooden gate to this day, impregnated with iron plates and spokes. Several spacious rooms for dwelling and public attendance, besides a line of several quarters for storing straw and grain, were provided by the builders.

Thakur Bagh Singh, the sole lambardar and natural headman of the village, was responsible for collecting land revenue and depositing it in a government treasury. Just over a decade ago, Thakur Brij Bhushan Singh relinquished his lambardari over a minor scuffle with the then tehsildar who could care little for the traditional status or prestige held by the family of these Thakurs. The lambardari of the village is now held by Mangtoo, a Prajapat.

Besides the descendants of Thakur Bagh Singh, nearly 100 other families of Rajputs live in this village together with nearly 125 families of Baniya community, 150 of Brahmins, 100 of weavers, 150 of Chamars and a whopping 600 families of Prajapats i.e., Kumhars. This is why the lambardari is held by the Prajapats. By relinquishing the lambardari, the prestige of the family of the old Thakurs has not diminished in any way. This family now owns 1400 bighas of agricultural land.

The haveli of Seth Paras Ram
The haveli of Seth Paras Ram

The village community has not only maintained the very old natural pond, named Ramsar, which is surrounded by age-old native species of trees like the ficus (vata and peepul) and neem, but has also constructed a Hanuman temple and dug two wells on its banks, one of them in a unique style with a parabolic cap. Apart from a memorial cenotaph, all these structures stand gracefully on the northern and eastern banks of the pond. The pond holds plenty of water. The unique well with a cap, sunk and constructed by one Khooba Ram nearly 100 years ago, still yields sweet potable water in sufficient quantity. The cap protects the well from wind-borne dust and straw falling into it. It required some ingenuity to construct a cap of this sort on a deep well because the supports required to bear the weight of the heavy cap had to be removed later and there was always a danger of an inadvertent fall of material or men into it. Many such capped kundis are still in use in the villages of Bhiwani and beyond in Churu and Sikar in Rajasthan.

Away to the north of the village is a big pucca tank known as Kesar Talab, constructed 100 years ago by Seth Paras Ram of the village. It is a square of 200 feet and 20 feet deep. Constructed with lakhauri bricks, lime and mortar, it has three tiers. The bottom of the tank, with a water holding capacity of millions of gallons, was built by expert local masons. It has four artistically made quays for the use of people in accordance with the prevailing varna system and one ramp quay for the cattle to reach the water. On the four corners of the tank stand beautiful chhattaris (in a cenotaph style) and in the south-western side a deep pucca bay was provided from which water could be lifted by running a Persian wheel i.e., a rahat. The Persian wheel used to be pulled by a pair of bullocks or a camel. It is regrettable that with the arrival of tapped water supply in the village, which is always in short supply, the age-old and time-tested technology, appropriate to the rural lifestyle, was neglected 25 years ago. Only the vestiges of this technology remain at the site.

Adjoining the rahat are a couple of old temples, raised by Seth Paras Ram and others, whose spires have become greyish black due to drying of moss on them for decades. Nevertheless, the village folk still pay obeisance to the icons and deities installed in these temples. Urchins indulge in all kinds of water sports in the tank and women wash clothes on the retaining walls and quays of the tank. Although the tank has not been cleaned for over three decades now yet its rain water inlets made into its north wall are found functional. The provision to let in canal water into the tank was also made with the establishment of modern water works on the north-western periphery of this beautiful tank. This tank reminds us of our traditional collective consciousness and wisdom towards holding even a single drop of rain water for later use. Little effort is being made by descendants of Seth Paras Ram and the village community to take care of this magnificent piece of water heritage, now a village monument.

A wall painting showing Lord Krishna playing the flute.
A wall painting showing Lord Krishna playing the flute.

Of course, the villagers proudly say that often the producers of Haryanvi films wish to drop here to do some dance and song sequences for their feature films. Regrettably, even the commercial Haryanvi film-makers have done nothing to preserve this water tank. In fact, tradition implies that the maintenance and restoration action, if any, is the responsibility of the owners. As long as Seth Paras Ram remained active or his immediate descendants stayed in the village to do business, the Kesar Talab was sufficiently cared for. Such talabs also exist in other parts of Haryana and are in an utter state of neglect. In fact, funds from either the Rural Welfare Department or the Public Works Department (Irrigation Branch) should be used to supplement the panchayat funds for the maintenance of such tanks once these have been restored by the Department of Archaeology. During my extensive tours of the villages of Haryana I could document the history and obviously negligent attitude of the village and town communities towards the maintenance of a large number of masonry tanks. A few of the fine ones exist in Seeha (Rewari district), Rewari town, Rampura (near Rewari town), Nuh, Tusham, Miran, Baund (Bhiwani district), Beri, Jhajjar and Dadri towns, Chhuchhakwas, Loharu, Kultajpur, Narnaul, Rohtak, Panipat and a number of other sites. Barwaa’s Kesar Talab was unique since it had a Persian wheel on it to draw water. Another tank with a Persian wheel, of which I am aware, exists in a small town known as Narlai in Rajasthan on the Jodhpur-Udaipur highway.

Barwaa’s magnificent havelis, exhibiting traditional architecture found in the towns of the adjoining Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, are its most attractive feature. Over two dozen havelis, many of them two-storeyed, were built here by the Mahajans of the village in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Scattered in a comfortable fashion on the old settlement site of the village, a tour of these grand havelis reminds one of the old glorious days when the prosperous Mahajan community did flourishing business on the old caravan trading route between Delhi and the big towns of Churu, Sikar and Jhujhunu via Bhiwani and Hisar. The Aggarwal baniyas who are said to have migrated from Agroha in Hisar and settled mostly in south-western Haryana carried on trading caravans on bullock-carts and camels with Shekhawati and far beyond in Marwar and Mewar, often reaching up to seaports on Gujarat coasts. A large number of havelis here owe their existence to the wealth accumulated by the Mahajans of Barwaa in the trading business.

Besides wealthy Mahajans, a few enterprising Brahmin families, notable among them of Pandit Narasinh Das Bhardwaj, became exceedingly successful in establishing business at a faraway place like Darjeeling, a popular hill station in Bengal. All these business persons operated both as bankers and traders. Narasinh Das Bhardwaj established an enterprise known as Darjeeling Radio Co. He did not forget his native village and returned to erect a spacious and magnificent haveli at Barwaa. The forefathers of this family had migrated to Barwaa some 200 years ago from Mundhal. At Darjeeling, a member of this family called J.P. Sharma rose to some prominence in public life and became a Municipal Commissioner. He had a road named Pt Jai Lal Road in Darjeeling in the memory of this grandparent. The haveli of this family not only has a decorative style but holds a place of pride for its elaborately designed front door. The interior of this haveli, especially the Baithak Khana, was decorated with imported Italian ceramic tiles. Though the entrance to the haveli is designed in traditional Indian style yet within it are door panels and frames designed in an extraordinary way by placing embossed copper plates on the panels which bear figures of native flowers and Hindu deities. It was learnt that the door panels were visualised, designed and finished artistically by carpenters brought from nearby Rajgarh town. Inside the haveli, across the front door, is a porch decorated with a number of wall paintings done by a chitera, or a painter, named Jehangir. These wall paintings still retain some of their bright colours.

The Garhi at Barwaa
The Garhi at Barwaa

There are enough research opportunities at Barwaa for art historians and architects. Haroti-style wall paintings are in abundance in a dozen other havelis here. The prominent among them belong to Lala Lakhmi Chand Singhal, Lala Layak Ram, Lala Hukam Chand, Harlal and Lala Dewan Chand-Narsinh Das. Of course, the most magnificent haveli, literally a fortalice, belongs to Seth Paras Ram who built Kesar Talab. It also contains excellent wall paintings. Another dilapidated haveli, built over a 100 years ago by Lala Shriram, also contains dozens of beautiful wall paintings. Except this haveli, all other havelis are in a good condition, maybe because there is very little moisture in this arid countryside. It was learnt that all these havelis were built with lakhauri bricks, burnt locally by village Kumhars and fixed in lime and mortar by Chejaras, i.e., the masons, brought here from Rajgarh and other nearby towns in Shekhawati. Probably the presence of a large number of Kumhars in the village is due only to the construction activity provided by Mahajans in building several havelis. For several decades these families provided excellent lakhauri bricks to them. Due to a decline in business along the caravan route, most Mahajans migrated long ago to settle in faraway metropolitan cities of India and only those few who could not do so tried to carry on with the traditional business in the village and preserve memories of the bygone era.

The subject of wall paintings done in tempera style in most of the havelis of this village pertain to characters and incidents relating to the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the life and times of Lord Krishna. The wall paintings existing in the roof vaults and on the walls of the inner courtyards of the havelis, especially a nohra of Lala Lakhmi Chand Singhal, are in an excellent state. In another haveli belonging to Lala Layak Ram, most of the wall paintings, in tempera, were rendered in panels of 4 X 2 feet on the walls facing the interior courtyard. Because of the smoke emanating from improvised hearths used for cooking food, most of these wall paintings are covered with a thin film of soot. The choice of subject and depiction of wall paintings represents the socio-cultural ethos of the people of the era in which the havelis were built and decorated profusely.

It is regrettable that no effort has been made either by the village community or by the community of Mahajans to preserve the cultural heritage of Barwaa village.