Travel Shot – Chhata Rai Mukund Das Haveli

The picturesque city of Narnaul, in south western Haryana is located amidst the northern sandy plains of Aravali hills and fed by Dohan and Krishnawati -two rainy streams. Here, the landscape is dotted with several monuments and traditional urban utility sites since the medieval period. Among these, the Chhata Rai Mukund Das is a mighty looking haveli of regal magnitude overshadowing adjacent pigmy houses that mushroomed around it in a warren of alleys as the city organically grew in the last three and a half centuries. It’s a three storey towering structure built on a plot size of about 2000 square yards and rises above a platform of about 15’. The total height of the building is approximately 25 meters.

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Narnaul was an important location south-west of Delhi and whoever wished to rule India favored it for its close proximity to the centre of power. The antiquities of the city are impressive but we may briefly just mention that it passed on from Hindu hands to the Sultans of Delhi to the Afghan ruler Sher Shah Suri to the Mughals and to the British and then as a reward to the Maharaja of Patiala in 1858 in lieu of quelling the ‘Sepoy Rebellion’ at Delhi.

Rai Mukund Das was most probably either a Dewan of the Sirkar of Narnaul under Hisar-e-Firoza (modern Hisar) or the Superintendent of Grants. This massive building was constructed during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. Building materials came from the quarries located in Dhosi hills situated nine kms west of the city from which igneous rock and inferior marble for chiseling a few pillars were obtained. The bricks were locally manufactured whereas the most likely site from which the sand stone was obtained could be Pahari in Bharatpur or somewhere in the Aravali’s river basins. Massive beams of Shalva tree and sandstone were used instead of arches in the construction of this magnificent building. Most activity in the building was centered around the huge central courtyard surrounded by colonnaded verandahs on the periphery.

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The elaborate main entrance faces the west and can be accessed by a flight of wide steps passing through a vestibule.  Squinched arches in the roof-dome above the mid-rest platform of the steps were provided as additional support to the column less walls.

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The residential quarters of the security men – the vestige of which in the form of ruins could be noticed, were located on the southern flank of the platform at the end of which also exist ruins of a huge masonry well. The water to the palace was supplied from this well on which a local device known as Chadas was operated with help of a pair of bullocks. There is a huge network of underground chambers and connected cellars that were sought after during the summer for its cooler climes or for securing valuables. Staircases are provided on the all the four sides to reach the chambers on first level and the open roof tops. The chambers were provided only on the western flank, which are conspicuous by Gajaprastha (inverted like thatched Bengal roofs) style roofs. Open slab-steps were installed in the thick wall in order to climb up to the roof for a grand view of the city, particularly during the rains when the distant Dhosi hills become visible.

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Though the haveli has no vestige of art as such but obviously its magnificence is in its design and size and is a protected monument under the Department of Archaeology, State of Haryana. It has been partially conserved and do need more efforts. In addition to the above Narnaul has about 150 large old havelis, a few of them decorated in stucco work with painted floral interiors.

Author – Ranbir S Phaugat

He can be reached at ranbirsphaugat@gmail.com

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