Mandawa, a remote feudal principality in the centre of the Shekhawati region, was a trading outpost for the ancient caravan routes that stopped here from China and the Middle East. The Rajput ruler of Mandawa, Thakur Nawal Singh, built a fort in 1755 to protect this outpost. The township that grew around the fort soon attracted a large community of traders, who settled here.

The City of Mandawa was made a thikana in the mid of 18th century by the Bhojraj Ji Kasubsub clan of Shekhawat Rajputs.

Every home in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthanis adorned with gaily painted murals that illuminate the arid landscape.

Traditionally, this was the stronghold of Rao Shekhaji, who founded a dynasty here and gave it his name.

Thakur Nawal Singh, son of Shardul Singh founded the fort of Mandawa in 1755 AD. The fort dominates the town with a painted arched gateway adorned with Lord Krishna and his cows. Built as per a medieval theme, the castle of Mandawa is adorned with beautiful frescoes. Rooms in the palace are decorated with paintings of Lord Krishna, exquisite carvings and amazing mirror work. The palace's Durbar Hall houses a number of antiques and paintings. Mandawa Fort has now been converted into a heritage hotel.

When the caravan traffic ceased in the late 18th century, traders created business empires in other parts of the country, but returned to Mandawa to build palatial mansions in their hometown. It is the singular and unique designs and architecture of these havelis that coin the term "open art gallery" of Rajasthan.

Some of the important and more beautiful havelis are:

Hanuman Prasad Goenka Haveli
This haveli has a painting depicting Indra Dev on an elephant and Lord Shiva on his Nandi bull.

Goenka Double Haveli
This haveli, with two gates, has a monumental façade of elephants and horses. The outer walls, jutting balconies, alcoves and overhanging upper stories are replete with patterns and paintings, ranging from traditional Rajasthani women and religious motifs to Europeans wearing stylish hats and other Victorian finery.

Murmuria Haveli
The paintings of trains, cars, George V, and Venice were executed on the walls of this haveli during the 1930s by Balu Ram, one of the last working artists of the region. In pictures - like Lord Krishna with his cows in the English courtyard and a young Nehru (India’s first Prime Minister) on horseback, holding the national flag - this haveli uses a unique theme blending the East with the West. The haveli also features a long frieze depicting a train with a crow flying above the engine and much activity at the railway crossing.

Jhunjhunwala Haveli
The haveli features a striking gold leaf painted room located to the right of main courtyard.


Gulab Rai Ladia Haveli
This haveli is located in the south of town, where the decoration of the outer and inner walls is perhaps the finest in Shekhawati. Blue washes here and there betray twentieth-century censorship of the erotic scenes that had been commonly acceptable one hundred years earlier.

The Binsidhar Newatia Haveli, Mohan Lal Saraf Haveli, Lakshminarayan Ladia Haveli and Chokhani Double Haveli are some of the other painted havelis in the area.

Murals in the Thakurji temple, located opposite the Goenka Double Haveli and the Murmuria Haveli, include soldiers being shot from the mouths of cannons, a reflection of the horrors of the Mutiny of 1857. Further west are a couple of chhatris, and a step-well, still used today and bearing paintings inside its decorative corner domes.