Indian Mansions (A Social History of the Haveli)

Indian Mansions (A Social History of the Haveli)

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Item Code: NAG884
Author: Sarah Tillotson
Publisher: Orient Longman Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 1998
ISBN: 9788125013853
Pages: 220 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 290 gm

About the Book


Numerous accounts have shown us the life in India’s royal palaces, but what of the mansions of the aristocracy and wealthy merchant families? Their history has remained unchronicled. A walk down the streets of historic Indian cities leaves the visitor’s curiosity unsatisfied. Behind elaborate doorways and ornate balconies, the past is doubly hidden: by the secretive nature of the enclosed buildings, turning back on their own inner courtyards, and by the changes of modem times. Who created these mansions, or ‘havelis’, as they are called in northern India? They were built for a style of life which remained virtually unchanged over the centuries, but which has now vanished, leaving the buildings doomed to neglect, or destruction by redevelopment. The havelis made up the core of India’s urban culture, and so provide a key to an understanding of the traditional pattern of social life of the rich or noble families and their retainers.


Indian Mansions follows the course of a day in the life of a haveli, expanding specific events to examine wider patterns of life, and combining individual observations with the historical background. We come to understand haveli society, and see how the disintegration of that society has been reflected in the decay of its mansions. The book draws on written accounts, from the diary of the Mughal emperor Babur to the reminiscences of those who worked for the British East India Company; and it is brought up to date by the author’s first-hand interviews with those who live in the havelis today.


About the Author


Sarah Tillotson is an architect practising .in Cambridge. She has published articles on architectural conservation in India, and includes here many of her own photographs and plans, as well as historic photographs and drawings. Her text is written for the general reader, but is fully documented. This book will be welcomed by all those interested in conservation, as well as anyone with a natural curiosity about an exotic but recent past.




A walk down the street of any Indian town leaves the visitor with an unsatisfied curiosity. The elaborate doorways and balconies of the grand houses attract interest, but they give away no secrets. The past is doubly hidden, by the enclosed form of the buildings and by the changes of modern times. This book is the result of one visitor’s curiosity about the style of life that created these houses or havelis-a style which remained substantially unchanged for several centuries. By focussing on the havelis themselves, and on the various activities of those who lived and worked in them, it reveals the traditional pattern of social life in Indian towns.


Much of the following description is relevant to the greater part of the north Indian plain from Mughal times up until Independence. Obviously there were changes-the most important of these are noted in the text-and there were variations not only with time, but with geographical area, and even from house to house. There will always be exceptions, but a striking feature of all the various sources used is the similarity of the life which they describe. The origin and date of all quotations are given to make this continuity clear.


The description draws on written accounts-from the diary of the Mughal Emperor Babur to the reminiscences of nineteenth-century members of the East India Company-and on the personal recollections of those who have lived in the havelis in more recent years (interviewed by the author). All the people who are quoted are introduced as they appear in the text, and all the havelis mentioned by name still exist and most are illustrated in the photographs.


The central chapters follow the havelis through the day, using the pattern of daily events as an introduction to a wider pattern of life- explaining things when they happen, as they might be explained to a visitor who was able to turn back the clock forty years or more and walk in through one of the attractive but forbidding doorways. The final chapter records the decline of the traditional social patterns, and looks at what has happened to the buildings they left behind. But first, we encounter the havelis and their occupants, as if under the cover of darkness, before the business of daily life begins.




List of Illustrations







The Havelis and their Occupants


The Haveli in the City; The Construction of a Good House; The Haveli at Night; Zenana and Mardana-The Purdah System; People of the Haveli-The Women; The Joint Family; Servants and Slaves




Early Chores; Bathing; Dressing; Religious Life




A Landowner’s Works; A Merchant’s Work; Going Out; A Man’s Recreation; The Children’s Day-Education; Children at Play; In the Zenana; Family and Servants; Cooking and Eating; Further Chores; The Women’s Siesta; Zenana Recreations




The Reception Room; Feasting; Music; Dance and Other Entertainments; Festivals and Celebrations; Marriage; Dowry; Age of Marriage; Matchmaking; The Wedding


Today and Tomorrow


The Twentieth Century and Change; The Havelis Today; A Future for the Havelis












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