A forgotten royal jewel

A forgotten royal jewel

Orchha

A forgotten royal jewel

I could never understand why it was called Orchha, or the Hidden One. Founded by the Bundelas in the 16th century, the capital city, situated on the banks of the Betwa river, is one of the most beautiful places in the region that should not be hidden. Stories of valour, romance and revenge resound in the walls of the structures that line the river bank. This was once the land of warriors.

As one crosses the ancient stone bridge, a clutch of palaces loom up in the distance, some of them in ruins. Within the ancient city wall, on the fortified part of Orchha stand magnificent palaces with winding corridors, cool halls, lofty pillars, windy terraces reached by spiral stairways. Most of them are in disrepair, today. Myth and stories prevail, pride wells up in eyes as locals narrate tales of past glory and Bundela valour to the travellers. The dusty surroundings notwithstanding, Orchha is a striking place.

Historic significance

Jahangir Palace is easily the most impressive one of the lot. The palace is said to have been constructed by Raja Bir Singh Ju Deo to celebrate the visit of Emperor Jehangir to Orchha. A pair of stone elephants at the entrance lend it a distinctive touch. The palace, constructed in Indo-Islamic architectural style, once had a blue tiled facade, I was told. Not many remain today. Large airy halls, sunny terraces, balconies and pierced stone screens formed can be seen in the royal palace. Some of the rooms were covered with murals. Most of the murals have faded, leaving behind blurred pictures of a glorious past.
The Raj Mahal is one of the oldest palaces in the complex. With its exquisite frescoes depicting Krishna’s antics, it was once a very impressive palace. There are distinctive royal quarters, romantic balconies and labyrinthine passages that echo with mysterious tales.

Sheesh Mahals must have been a status symbol for the kings, at one time in history. These mirrored halls formed an important part of the Mughal as well as Rajput palaces. Same is the case with Bundela kings. Orchha has a Sheesh Mahal, too. Remnants of the mirror inlay on the walls reflect its past glory.

Set amidst a sprawling garden, the small two-storeyed Rai Praveen Mahal has a romantic story to narrate. The charming garden mansion was constructed for Rai Parveen, the beautiful concubine of Raja Indramani. The Raja adored her. She was an accomplished poetess, dancer and singer. It is said that Mughal Emperor Akbar, impressed by stories of her beauty and talent, summoned her to Agra. The intentions were not honourable, but the Bundela king could not refuse the order. He was but a subject of the mighty emperor. The concubine, however, was an intelligent woman. A poem was composed. In cleverly-worded verse, she conveyed that it didn’t behove an emperor to settle for leftovers. Realising his folly, the emperor sent Rai Parveen back to the Bundela king. Folklores narrate the tale of their love, even today.

The temple complex is as impressive as the palace complex. Right at the end of a small market stands Ram Raja Mandir. According to a legend, king Madhukar Shah decided to construct a temple for Lord Ram. An idol of the deity was brought from Ayodhya and placed in the palace while the temple construction took place. One night, the queen, a devotee of Ram, had a dream wherein she was ordered to let the idol to remain in the palace.

Glorious shrines

After the completion of the temple, when the priests tried to remove the idol from the palace, they just couldn’t move it. A part of the palace was turned into a temple and the idol continued to remain there. As a result, the Chaturbhuj Temple, which was constructed to house the idol, continues to remain empty.

The Lakshmi Narayan temple is known for its beautiful murals, which time has not been able to fade. The vivid colours of the beautiful paintings still remain as fresh.

The Phool Bagh was once an oasis of green amidst the ruins. Today, the garden is struggling to remain green. An 8-pillared palace, known as the Dinman Hardaul Palace, stands near the fountains. The garden with its fountains and greenery, once served as the summer retreat for the Bundela kings, but the Hardaul Palace has a tragic story to narrate. Prince Hardaul, the younger son of King Bir Singh Ju, was accused of romancing the elder brother’s wife.

The valiant prince, unable to bear the charge, committed suicide to prove his innocence. A clutch of cenotaphs stand forlornly on the banks of Betwa. These exquisitely designed cenotaphs of Bundela kings and their kin reflect the fine architecture of the region. As the sun sets, its last rays are reflected in the Betwa and the backdrop of chhatris form an arresting visual that no camera can capture.

Frozen in time, Orchha’s structures echo stories of people who lived and loved, warred and died on the banks of Betwa.

Reaching There

By Air - The nearest airport is at Gwalior, which is about 120 km away.
By Rail - The nearest railhead is at Jhansi, which is 16 km away.

For Stay

Two hotels run by Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development
Corporation (MPTDC) are the best bet.

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