Tucked away in a corner of Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer district is an abandoned village called Kuldhara from the 13th century. Once inhabited by Paliwal Brahmins, it became deserted by the beginning of the 19th century for reasons not definitely known. A study conducted in 2017 suggests that an earthquake was the probable cause of desertion of Kuldhara and other neighboring villages.
Geography and Demographics
The village is located around 18 km to the south-west of Jaisalmer city. Its location is on a rectangular site, 861 meters by 261 meters, aligned in the north south direction. A temple of the mother goddess was at the center of the town. It had three longitudinal roads, which were intersected by several narrow, latitudinal lanes. The village had a boundary wall, remains of which can be seen on the north and south sides. The dry river bed of the small Kakni river lies to the east of the village. Back walls of man-made structures used to protect the western side.
The ruins of 410 buildings are to be found at the village site. Another set of 200 buildings can be found in the lower township on the outskirts of the village.
The British officer James Todd put down the population of Kuldhara as 800 (in 200 households) based on information gathered from the people. The devali inscriptions at the site do not mention the term “Paliwal” but only describe the residents as Brahmin. Several others mention their caste to be “Kuldhar” which makes it appear that Kuldhar was a caste group among Paliwal Brahmins and the place was named after this caste.
The original settlers of Kuldhara were Brahmins who had migrated from Pali to the Jaisalmerregion. They were known as Paliwals. It is mentioned in Tawarikh-i-Jaisalmer an 1899 history book by Lakshmi Chand that a Paliwal Brahmin named Kadhan was the earliest settler of Kuldhara village. The village became populated by the early 13th century, as indicated by two devali inscriptions.
The villagers were mainly agricultural traders, farmers and bankers. They used water from the Kakni river for agricultural purposes. They also used something called khareen, which was an artificial depression dammed on three sides for tapping water.
The inhabitants of the village were Vaishnavites. Sculptures of Vishnu and Mahishashura Mardini have been found in the main temple of the village. An invocation to Ganesha can be found at the beginning of most scriptures. Miniature sculptures of Ganesha appear on the gateways. The inhabitants also worshipped bull and a local horse-riding deity.
The decline of the village in the 19th century can probably be attributed to the drying up of wells and the atrocities of a Diwan (official) named Salim Singh.
A 2017 study conducted by A.B. Roy and others, published in Current Science has suggested that Kuldhara and other nearby Paliwal villages were devastated by an earthquake. Signs of earthquake-related destruction can be found in the ruined houses of the village according to the authors.
How to reach
Kuldhara village is at a distance of 18 km from Jaisalmer and can be reached by car. It lies on the road to Sam sand dunes and the Thar Desert.