Ilay Cooper cycles into the heart of Rajasthan

What do you get when you cross Indiana Jones (the fictional Archeologist & explorer) with a soul of a poet? Our guess is you get ‘Ilay Cooper’, the legendary British photojournalist who went bicycling 2000 KMs across Rajasthan in search of ‘Shekhawati ‘Paintings. In Jaipur, to share his exciting story of how Rajasthan converted him from a career in Mining to becoming an author, art historian & Photographer, he has written many books on Shekhawati Paintings.


In a light-hearted tête-à-tête organised at Jaipur Rugs which left Jaipur Beat completely mesmerized (sharing that common love for Rajasthan with Ilay) , he narrated many a escapades during his 15 year travel-travails & spoke about how during the process he encountered not just mythology in the paintings but also interesting events, interpretations, society, economy, perception and undeniable humor, almost reading them like newspapers columns dating back to the 17th century.


On a serious note, he also emphasized, how preservation of this rich cultural heritage of the state vis- a-vis its crafts, buildings, and art forms in the right way is of utmost importance, otherwise, we may only read about it as history in times to come.

He also mentioned how after documenting some 2260 buildings in Rajasthan, Ilay followed British army officers Lockett and Boileau’s 180-year-old trail ( They were in Shekhawati in 1831) recreating the past. Their mission was to inquire into and record the bandits affecting the local trade in 1831. This led to the founding of a ‘Shekhawati’ Brigade to suppress robbery and bring security to the local merchants. When peace and prosperity returned, the merchants commissioned fine buildings and, as a final touch, their walls were painted in this splendid art forrm. Both men are thus depicted in contemporary murals. An interesting anecdote of how a military mission finally led to an artistic one!

One thing is for sure, this colorful state can surely bring everybody’s passion for life to the forefront.

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