Shailaja Tripathi Art historian and photographer Ilay Cooper travelled across Rajasthan on his bike in the Seventies. He talks to Shailaja Tripathi about his seminal book, Rajasthan: Exploring Painted Shekhawati, that recalls his discovery and adventures in the region When Ilay Cooper first came hitch-hiking to India as a 22-year-old, he hadn’t anticipated a life-long relationship with the art and architecture of Rajasthan. On his second visit in 1972, Cooper cycled across North India and discovered Shekhawati, lled with grand havelis and mansions bearing intricate frescoes. Cooper’s extensive travels along with Ravindra Sharma of Churu resulted in two books: The Painted Towns of Shekhawati and Rajasthan: Exploring Painted Shekhawati, now in its fourth edition *ROHIT JAIN PARAS AND ILAY COOPER .
As compared to its counterparts in colourful Rajasthan, this region, somehow, doesn’t figure high on the tourist itinerary. But for an art lover like Cooper, who roams around the UK in a caravan and was recently invited to India by Jaipur Rugs Company to give a talk on the subject, it was paradise. Ornate havelis bearing extraordinary paintings are a tradition here. Shekhawati, comprising the districts of Jhunjhunu, Nagaur, Sikar and Churu, was founded by Rajput warrior Maharao Shekha. He broke away from the powerful Kachwaha dynasty of Jaipur, and declared himself independent in 1471. The Shekhwat rulers built several forts and palaces during their 500-year rule over the Shekhawati region. A series of forts, built long ago to protect Shekhawati from invasion, crowns the line of the Aravalli hills.