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