Orchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present

Orchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present

Orchha is a town in the Tikamgarh district of Madhya Pradesh, India. It is known for its historical significance and architectural marvels. Orchha was the capital of the Bundela Rajput kings in the 16th century and is home to several well-preserved palaces, temples, and forts. The monuments here are splendid works of art, and all of them have stories and legends behind them. This is the only place where Lord Rama is not worshiped as a god but as a king and also given the Guard of Honor. Let’s take a closer look at the monuments and legends linked to the fascinating historical place called Orchha.Orchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present

Unveiling the Timeless Charm of Orchha

Nestled on the banks of the Betwa River, Orchha stands as a testament to India’s rich cultural heritage. In this enchanting town, history seamlessly blends with the present, creating a unique tapestry that captures the imagination of all who wander its ancient streets. Usually, a fort is built on a high hill. Some forts are in the middle of the sea, like Murud Janjira. On the other hand, the Orchha Fort is built on a natural island formed by the confluence of the Betwa and Jamni rivers. A river has to be crossed to reach the fort. This slows down the advance of the enemy army, which is called an ideal position from a strategic point of view.

The Architectural Marvels of OrchhaOrchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present

Orchha is a living museum, showcasing architectural marvels that transport visitors back in time. The Raja Mahal, with its intricate frescoes and regal architecture, stands as a symbol of the grandeur of the Bundela rulers. Meanwhile, the imposing Jahangir Mahal narrates tales of a bygone era where artistry and power converged.

The Birth of Orchha: A Strategic Haven Against Mughal Intrusions in Bundelkhand

Orchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present

The Suryavansi Bundela Rajputs used to rule in the hilly and rocky region between the Yamuna in the north, the Narmada in the south, the Tons in the east, and the Chambal river in the west in the fifteenth century. Today, the geographical area divided into Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh is known as Bundelkhand. Not only were there bitter political relations between the Mughal Empire of Delhi and Bundelkhand in the sixteenth century, but there were frequent rumors of Mughal invasions of Bundelkhand. Hence, Bundela King Rudra Pratap Singh decided to build a fort away from the reach of the Mughals. For this, they were looking for a place that would be hidden from the eyes of the Mughals. After much investigation, one such place was found near the confluence of the Betwa River, which flows through dense forests. Rudra Pratap Singh named it Orchha. Orchha means hidden.

Crossing the Gateway to History: Discovering Orchha Fort Complex and Its Architectural Marvels

Orchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present

Today, the fort can be accessed by crossing a bridge over the Betwa River, locally known as the ‘Terah Dwari Darwaza’ (actually 14-arched), to reach the Orchha Fort Complex. The bridge, made of granite stones, is 105 meters long and 9 meters wide. It was built in the eighteenth century, during the reign of Bundela King Prithvi Singh. To the west comes a wide and tall main gate studded with sharp iron nails, popularly known as the Katila (thorn) gate. After crossing this gate, one enters the Orchha Fort complex. This complex houses different structures, like palaces, temples, and pools. Each has its own history and unique architecture, without which a visit to Orchha would be considered incomplete.

Raja Mahal

The oldest structure in the Orchha complex is Raja Mahel. Bundela King Rudrapratap started its construction in 1531 AD. But after his death in the same year, the next ruler, King Bhartichand completed it in 1539 AD and shifted the capital of Bundelkhand to Orchha. Over time, the Bundla rulers have created their own unique architecture on the same premises.Orchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present

The style combines Islamic domes and arches, Jain pinnacles, umbrellas, etc. The construction of the Raja Mahal with an open square resembles a castle in a way. The square has five floors on three sides. The rear was the royal residence, while the front was reserved for soldiers, invited guests, citizens, celebrations of festivals, activities including dancing, etc.

The Diwan-e-Aam hall, with a total of 28 pillars, looks beautiful because of the colorful paintings of flowers, elephants, deer, wild buffaloes,Orchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present peacocks, and parrots, as well as the colorful paintings on the ceiling. Establishing direct communication between the king and the people, this place had a three-tiered seating system to accommodate the king, nobles or courtiers, Brahmins and merchants, and other citizens. The king’s seat was in the corner, arranged so that he could not see the complainant. The king’s ears should only listen to complaints, not judge by looking at a person! Seeing the seating arrangement of the king in the Diwan-e-Aam, one remembers the idol of the blindfolded goddess of justice in India.

Similar to Diwan-e-Aam, another hall with huge arches is Diwan-e-Khas, where the king’s royal visits,Orchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present celebrations, and events were discussed and various council meetings were held. Below it are several rooms, as well as a secret way leading to the dense forest in times of emergency. One can enter the royal residence from Diwan-e-khas. Most of the rooms in Raja Mahel are 4 by 4 meters or 4 by 2.5 meters. Each room contains various types of pictures, such as Rama, Vishnu, Dashavtar, events in the Bhagavad Gita, flowers, etc. There is also a small temple in the king’s room, which reveals the religious past of the Bundela kings.

Jahangir Mahal

Orchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present
Jahangir Mahal

The construction of this palace with ocher and yellow stones started at the end of the sixteenth century. It was completed by Bundela Veer Singh Dev in 1606 AD. The name of the palace after Jahangir is linked to the story of the friendly relationship between Veer Singh Dev and the Mughal emperor Jahangir.

Emperor Akbar of Delhi had a strained relationship with his son Salim (later known as Jahangir) at one point. Salim strongly believed that Abul Fazal, a special confidant of Akbar, was involved in the rift between father and son. Hence, Salim sought the help of Veer Singh Dev to evict Abul Fazal. Veersingh Dev ignored Akbar’s fear, beheaded Abul Fazl, and presented him to Salim. Eventually, prince Salim took the throne of Delhi and named himself  ‘Jahangir’. One day, honoring the request of Veer Singh Dev, Jahangir visited Orchha and stayed there for a night. Along the way, the palace was renamed ‘Jahangir Mahel’ by Veersingh in honor of the emperor Jahangir.

The architecture of two different cultures, Hindu and Islamic, is the hallmark of Jahangir Mahal. AOrchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present short path from the Raja Mahal leads to the Jahangir Mahel, but the main entrance to the palace is in the east as per the Hindu architectural system. Much like the Raja Mahal, this palace is characterized by its artistic carvings and fountains in the open square that exude coolness and fragrance. The main eastern entrance, built of red stone, has very fine carvings. The door knobs are designed in the shapes of elephants and peacocks. To welcome Jahangir’s arrival, there are sculptures of elephants ringing bells in the chabootra-like frames on both sides, and the high ceiling is beautifully carved with marble. This should be called a special feature, as Sangemarmar (marble) is mostly used in paving. In order to hold the marbles firmly to the ceiling, an efficient lubricant needs to be used. Otherwise, it may fall due to its own weight in a few moments. One must feel respect for the skillful craftsmanship of the architects of the time by seeing the marble intact on the roof of Jahangir Mahel today.

A total of 236 rooms with beautifully carved doors are said to have been decorated for Jahangir andOrchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present his convoy. Artistic lattices, woodwork, artistic bracket pots under the canopy, elephant sculptures, etc. were used to make the palace attractive. The eastern wall of the palace is decorated with blue tiles believed to be from the Mughals. A total of eight domes on a terrace, with four big ones at four corners and four small ones in the middle, give an overview of the Mughal architectural style, and the lotus flowers and umbrellas above give an overview of the Hindu style. Twenty-two years of hard work have been involved in the construction of this palace, which is becoming a center of attraction!

To the west of Jahangir Mahal is Sheesh Mahal, built by Bundela king Udait Singh in the early 18thOrchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present century. The two-storied Sheesh Mahal has been constructed in such a way that it looks like a part of Jahangir Mahal itself. With a big hall in the middle and rooms on both sides, this palace would once have housed King Udait Singh. The structure is known as Sheesh Mahal because of the numerous small pieces of mirror embedded in the ceiling and the stained glass windows. Today, it is a heritage hotel in Madhya Pradesh in the form of eight rooms and a restaurant.

 

Royal Baths: Hammam

Orchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present

In preparation for the arrival of Jahangir in 1606 AD, Iranian-style Hamamkhanas were prepared. The 4-meter by 3.60-meter pool has three beautiful arches and an octagonal hall. The ‘shahi toilet’, made of rectangular stone, has the following basic structure: a cold water hose for bathing, an external heating system for hot water, a platform for massaging aromatic substances in the bath, and the drainage system, which is the main attraction of the Hammam. This is a fascinating document of how royal facilities were prepared for the daily tasks of bathing centuries ago, when there were no technological innovations!

Ram Raja Mandir (or Rani Mahal)

An interesting legend is attached to this architecture, located one kilometer away from the Raja Mahal. Bundela king Madhukar Shah was a devotee of Lord Krishna, while his wife Ganesh Kunvari was a devotee of Lord Rama! Once, during their discussion of Rama-Krishna’s devotion, the king challenged the queen to prove her devotion. Rani Ganeshakunvari left Orchha with the mission of bringing Lord Rama. She reached the banks of the river Sarayu in the city of Ayodhya and started worshiping. Despite the passage of time, there was no sign of Lord Ram. Exhausted, Ganeshakunvari jumped into the Saryu, and Lord Rama’s child form appeared in her lap. The Queen insisted he come with her to Orchha.Orchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present

The child Rama asked Ganeshakunvari to walk from Ayodhya to Orchha, but made a condition that he would not change the place where he would be seated. The queen accepted the condition.

The construction of the (quadrangular) temple for the Lord was in its final stages when Lord Rama came to Orchha after eight months. Hence, Queen Ganeshkunvari took Rama’s idol with her to the residential quarters of the Rani Mahal. As soon as the construction was completed, it was decided to install the idol in the temple immediately, but the idol did not budge from its place. Finally, Ganeshakunvari vacated Rani Mahel as the residence of King Rama. Lord Rama was appointed as the king of Orchha in the palace itself and the building came to be known as Ram Raja Mandir. Tourists visiting the Rani Mahal today are thrilled to hear this legend.Orchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present

Usually, a statue of Lord Rama is seen in a standing pose with a bow in hand, while in the sanctum of the Rama Raja temple in Ochcha there is a statue of Rama holding a sword and shield in his right hand. To his left are Sita and Lakshmana, wearing the crowns. Besides, there are statues of Sugriva, Jambuvant, Hanumanji, Narasimha, and Durga present in his court. Adorned with beautiful paintings of Lord Rama and other deities, the sanctum is worth seeing.

राम राजा सरकार के दो निवास है खास,
दिवस ओरछा रहत है, रैन अयोध्या वास।

These lines are spoken by almost every person in Orchha today. In keeping with such religious belief, King Rama is offered royal food, and after daily Sandhya Aarti he is handed over to Lord Hanuman, who transports him to Ayodhya for sleep. Such sentiments among the Rama devotees of Orchha have been alive for centuries. Motivated by this sentiment, King Rama is given a guard of honor and a gun salute by the local police.

Quadrangular temple

The king Madhukar Shah started the construction of this temple for Lord Ram near Rani Mahal, onOrchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present request of Ganesha Kunvari when she went to Ayodhya, in 1574 AD. It is said that the architects of the temple were Muslims. The temple was named Chaturbhuja as Lord Rama is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu with four arms. Built on an eight-meter-high platform, this temple has a central sanctum, a long and high arched space, and a mahamandap extending at right angles to both sides. There are about 67 steep steps to reach the temple. The main entrance of this temple is from the east, with entrances in all four directions. Despite being a single-story sanctum, it appears to be multi-storied due to the high and wide Mughal-style grand arches and domes. Various balconies have been made to enhance the decoration of the walls. The peak of the temple is 105 meters high. Due to this, Chaturbhuj is one of the temples with the highest spire in India.

 

Lakshminarayan Temple

Lakshminarayan Temple, 27.70 km from Orchha Fort and close to Chaturbhuj Temple, covers an areaOrchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present of 26.70 meters. After its construction in 1622 AD, it was repaired by Prithvi Singh in 1793. Bricks, lime, and mortar were used in the construction of the temple. The temple is a benevolent creation, showing the genius of its architects. The five-storied spire of the temple is octagonal with a two-storied royal entrance. Viewed from the top, any of the two turrets and the high central dome create the illusion of an owl’s two eyes and beak. According to religious belief, the owl is the vehicle of Goddess Lakshmi.Orchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present

Another feature of the temple is the murals done in red and white. The main subjects of the pictures are Ramacharitmanas and events in the life of Lord Krishna, as well as scenes of the revolt of 1857 AD, including fortresses and bastions. In this place, apart from being religious, the pictures of historical events and the picture of two Englishmen drinking alcohol create a strong contrast

Rai Praveen Castle

Rai Praveen is said to have been the sweetheart of Indrajit Singh, the younger brother of Raja Veer Singh Dev. Apart from being extremely beautiful, she was a skilled horse rider, dancer, musician, and poet. The royal poet Keshavdas, who was born in 1555 AD, has described the stories of kings in poems like ‘Ratan Bavani’ and ‘Veer Charit’. In the poem ‘Kavipriya’ he wrote about Rai Praveen.

राय प्रवीण की शारदा, शुचि रुचि रजित अंग

वीणा पिस्तक धारिणी, राजहंस सुत संग

वृषभवाहिनी अंग्युत, वासुकि लसत प्रवीण

सिव संग सोहती सर्वदा, शिव की राय प्रवीण

नाचत गावत पढ़त सब, सबै बजावत वीन

तिन में करत कवित्त याक राय प्रवीण प्रवीण

Means that Rai Praveen is similar to Goddess Sarasvati, as she is clean and bright like the goddess andOrchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present is always accompanied by Veena and books. As the goddess Sarasvati lives with swans, Rai Praveen lives with Suryavanshi Rajput. Proficient in dancing, singing, and poetry. The praise for Rai Praveen’s beauty reached Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb who ordered her to be present in his palace. Appearing at the Mughal court, Rai Praveen spoke sarcastically about the Emperor in a poem, mentioning the nature of the extortion of others while praising Aurangzeb.

विनती राय प्रवीन की, सुनिये साह सुजान।

जूठी पत्तर भखत हैं, बारी, बायस स्वान ।।

As per the poem, she mentioned, ‘O king! Eating food left by others is not for the king but for the beasts and birds.’

Not only did Aurangzeb feel guilty, but he was pleased with Rai Praveenan’s fearlessness and sent her back to Orchha unscathed.

Indrajit Singh built a three-storied palace for Rai Praveen in an area of 128.75 by 103.9 meters, several walls of which were decorated with paintings of Rai Praveen in various poses. The courtyard features a Mughal-style garden divided into squares with several flower beds, a water tank as part of the irrigation system, and small canals to deliver water to each square. The Bundela Rajputs were known for efficient water management, which can be seen from their irrigation and water storage systems.

Artistic umbrellas

Bundela Rajput kings were cremated near Kanchanghat on the banks of the Betwa after their deaths. Here, grand chhatris (an umbrella-like construction) have been constructed on a tall roof in hisOrchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present memory. After the death of King Vir Singh, Orchha faced political instability. Hence, the canopy of Virsingh Dev, which has a touch of Mughal architecture and was built by Juhar Singh, seems to have remained incomplete. Madhukar Shah, a devotee of Krishna, was of a religious nature; hence, his canopy resembles the architecture of the temple. It also has parts of a temple, like a sanctum. It also has a marble statue of Madhukar Shah and his wife, Ganesh Kunvari.

Apart from the ones described here, there are many other palaces and gardens in Orchha. (1) Palkhi Mahal which is located in Phoolbagh and resembles a palanquin; (2) Sunder Shah’s Palace, which wasOrchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present allegedly built by Maharaja Prithvi Singh for Aurangzeb’s daughter Mehrunnisa and Indramani’s son Sunder Shah. A structure on a high hill in front of Jahangir’s palace is called Untkhana. Given the arched doorways and the frescoes inside, it would have been a place for nobles or royalty to enjoy the beauty of the River Betwa. Next to the Untkhana is a structure called the Topkhana. Canon balls could be fired from it in any direction.

In December 2020, Orchha, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, had a large number of foreign visitors. They come by studying the Bundela kings, their history, construction style, etc. Tourists in India mostly come as sightseers, who are not particularly interested in architecture other than the temples here. History and architecture are still yawn-inducing subjects for many Indians.

Architects of the architectural wonder Orchha

The main requirement for the construction of any building is money, but the money is repaid only when the skilled architects build a prestigious and durable structure. Looking at the magnificent buildings of Orchha built centuries ago, which are still intact, one can imagine how fine and detailed calculations must have been made by the then architects!14 3

The strength of the palaces of Orchha is attributed to the one and a half to two-meter-thick walls made of masonry of mortar, small pieces of stone and greet etc. between two stones. The architects used ‘Lahori‘ type bricks in the construction of the palace, which was made with red powder called ‘surkhi’, lime, dung and hemp plants and food items such as bihi (or bili) fruit, and fenugreek. The ‘Lahori’ bricks made in this way are very strong despite being light in weight.

Summers in Bundelkhand (Madhya Pradesh) are scorching, but the thick walls of the mud-plastered palace do not get hot. Also, the architects have created a system to block the direct sun by means ofOrchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present roof and stone lattices. An open arched structure has been adopted instead of solid walls everywhere except the rooms for ventilation. The numerous meshes with geometric designs in the structure also serve as air ventilation. In modern times, for such a special structure in wood or stone, machine cutting has to be done using a special computer program. The architects of Orchha carried out the work of carving the mesh with primary equipment, yet it was as accurate as machine work!

Fresco paintings were in vogue during the fifteenth century. Usually the walls on which the frescoes are painted are plastered with lime, but at Orchha a slightly different method of plastering was adopted for the paintings. They were returned to the walls by making a pulp of shells. After that, polished marble chips were applied to such a surface. By applying a layer of red flower extract to it, the wall became red in color. The image is then scratched with a sharp object.Orchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present

Innovation is a feature of Bundela architecture, which is found everywhere in Orchha. Innovation in the shape of the domes, different canopies, unique arches, beautiful carvings of animals, birds, and flowers in the bracket supporting the canopy, exquisite patterns in the stone lattices… It is not often that so much diversity is integrated into a single architecture. Orchha is special in that regard.

Rediscovering Spiritual TranquilityOrchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present

Beyond its palaces and forts, Orchha is a haven for spiritual seekers. The Ram Raja Temple, a unique blend of fort and temple architecture, is a pilgrimage site of great significance. Its sanctity is further heightened by the legend of Lord Rama, making it a must-visit for those seeking a spiritual retreat.

Navigating Orchha’s Historical Tapestry

Walking Through History: Orchha Fort Complex

The Orchha Fort Complex is a sprawling testament to the town’s historical richness. As you traverse its labyrinthine passages, the echoes of centuries past whisper stories of battles, triumphs, and the daily lives of the Bundela rulers. Each corner of the fort complex unravels a chapter in the saga of Orchha.

Betwa River: Witness to CenturiesOrchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present

The Betwa River, flowing gently by Orchha, is more than just a waterway; it’s a witness to the passage of time. A boat ride along its meandering course provides a unique perspective of Orchha’s architectural splendor. The reflection of the cenotaphs, known as Chhatris, in the calm waters creates a mesmerizing tableau of the past and present.

Immerse Yourself in Orchha’s Cultural Extravaganza

Orchha’s Vibrant Markets

Orchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present

Step into the heart of Orchha, and you’ll find bustling markets that haven’t lost their old-world charm. The local artisans showcase their craftsmanship, offering traditional artifacts and handwoven textiles that reflect the cultural vibrancy of the region. It’s a journey through time as you explore these markets, each item narrating a story of its own.

Culinary Delights: Orchha’s Gastronomic Heritage

No exploration of a town is complete without savoring its culinary treasures. Orchha delights the taste buds with its array of local delicacies. From the delectable Bhutte ka Kees to the aromatic Bafla, every bite is a culinary journey through the heart of Bundelkhand.

Good to Know for Planning a Perfect Trip:

Perfect time of the year: In summer, the temperature often goes up to 50 degrees. It is suggested to avoid visiting in the summer due to the scorching heat. It is suggested to visit from July to September. Many like to visit during that time. In winter, the temperature drops to 12 degrees.Orchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present

Travelling: The nearest airport from Ochha is Gwalior (119 km). You can get a taxi or bus to Orchha. Jhansi railway station is less than 15 km away and is connected by rail to many cities in India. From Jhansi, vehicles, including buses, rickshaws, and taxis, are easily available.

Accommodation: Amar Mahal (+91 7680252102), Heritage Hotel Shrimahal (17685-252624, 9179487076) are hotels worth the excitement of staying. Betva Retreat of Madhya Pradesh Pravas Nigam (07680-252618, 8349102398) is also an option. Apart from this, Bundelkhand Riverside Resort and Madhya Pradesh Tourism Corporation’s Betwa Cottages are beautiful places to stay. Various budget hotels, inns are also available. Staying in Jhansi is also an option, for more information visit www.mptourism.com/all-accommodations.html.

Ram Raja Mandir also provides accommodation: Phone: 07680-252630

Plus know this: The entrance ticket is ₹10. The camera fee is ₹25. The videography fee is ₹200. Tickets are available from the office near Rajmahal.Orchha Revealed: Navigating the Past in the Present

Every evening there is a light and sound show from 7:30 to 8:30 in English and from 8:45 to 9:45 in Hindi, in which the history of Bundela can be known. Guided service can be taken to understand the architecture of Orchha better.

# Freedom fighter Chandrasekhar Azad should be remembered by visiting the Azad Memorial. It is said that Chandrasekhar Azad hid here as a priest of Hanumanji Temple to avoid the eyes of the British.

– A visit to the Orchha Wildlife Sanctuary, spread across sixty four square kilometers, can be arranged.

Conclusion

As we immerse ourselves in Orchha’s timeless beauty, it becomes evident that this town is not just a destination; it’s a living canvas that beautifully preserves the past in the embrace of the present. The harmony between history and modernity is Orchha’s unique allure, captivating those who seek a glimpse into India’s glorious heritage.


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