Orchha – a town of 500 year old Palaces and Temples

Orchha – a town of 500 year old Palaces and Temples

25th March 2019 12 By vandanamalaiya

Orchha is a historical town about xx km from Sagar. As is the case with most places close home, I had not been there even once. So, with my brother and his family we took off on 22nd March, early morning by car. The roads in MP are very good. The expected travel time was 3.5 hrs. The route is lined with farms. Mostly wheat, nearly ready for harvesting, a smattering of green in largely yellow fields. Some of the tesu trees are still flowering. There are a number of old forts ruins which one can see from the road. some day I have to do a road trip to see all these up close.

The first stop was Pavagiri, a Jain temple complex. On the way we saw multiple groups of Nilgay and Langoors and a nevla crossed our car. The temple complex is huge and has a number of temples. An octagonal well at the entrance was something unique I have not seen before. It took us about an hour to visit the temples. It was 10:00am when we left. We took an inside road through villages towards Orchha. After crossing Babina, we took a right turn and drove through some village roads to Orchha. This is a good short cut to take rather than driving upto Jhansi and coming back on the highway.

The Lakshminarayan Temple is visible from the road. The road up to the Temple was kuchha but since we did not know of the other road we took it.  The whole city including all the historic monuments are visible from the temple. The temple looks almost like a fort. It was built by Veer Singh Deo from 1605-1627. The temple has a number of paintings done on red ochre mostly on Krishna stories. The veiling of all the corridors are curved to the centre and have paintings from Ramayana and Mahabharat. While the colors have dimmed the lines are and some paint is still visible. Most of the paintings in the temple are fairly well preserved. There are narrow steps on all the 4 sides to go up to the first floor. The view from the top is even better. There is a tower in the middle which has steps to go up further but there is no safety on the very narrow steps so we skipped that.

As we drove towards the city we came across the pucca road which is a better option to get to the top. On the way to the city we drove past a number of ruins which also looked from the same era as the temple. The Ram Raja temple is very famous. It closes in the afternoon. So, we parked the car and went to the temple.  The roads leading to the temple are lined with shops on the footpath selling all kinds of items like sweets, holi colors, bangles and fake jewellery, brass items, earther ware etc. My niece bought some sweets and flowers for offering at the temple. The structure of the temple is relatively new. This is the most famous landmark of Orchha outside of the city so it attracts large crowds. We spent a few minutes there and then headed to the Chaturbhuj temple.

The Chaturbhuj Temple in Orchha is one of the most fabulous and ancient architectural marvels of the time in the town. I photographed this temple from all the monuments we visited. The temple has an idol of Vishnu. It was built by king Madhukar in between the years 1558 and 1573 AD. The fort and palace complex is clearly visible from the back side of the temple and is a good photo spot for the visitors. The temple structure has four stories and is fairly well maintained.  While the Ram Raja temple is more famous I liked this temple better because of the architecture.

We were all very hungry. Found a small joint which served simple vegetarian food. I wish I had noted down the name. The owner cum service person served us excellent hot hot rotis. We all ate more than our usual diet. Complimented the host and left for the Palace complex which was within walking distance.

There is a single ticket for all the monuments open to public at the entrance of the fort palace. It is just Rs 10/-. I felt it was a pity that the fee was kept so low. For the kind of architecture one gets to see the fee should perhaps be increased to 100/- or such and the income used to maintain the place much better. As expected, we were surrounded by guides as soon as we entered. None sounded authentic. We decided to go ahead without a guide. The complex houses Raja Mahal, Jehangir Mahal, Sheesh Mahal and Hamam khana.

The fort was built by Rudra Pratap Singh, a Bundela Rajput from 1501 -1531 AD. The palaces and temples within the fort complex were built by subsequent rulers of Orchha state.  The Raja Mahal was built by Madhukar Shah who ruled from 1554 to 1591.
The Raja Mahal is towards the right hand side on entering the fort complex. Between the Raja Mahal and Jehangir Mahal is the Sheesh Mahal which has been converted into a hotel. It would be worth staying at this hotel for a night given the royal surroundings.

The Raja Mahal has 4 floors and is built surrounding a courtyard. As per one of the guides the palace has over hundred rooms. All the floors have corridors and there are stair cases on all four sides to climb to the next floor. The rooms have high ceilings. The paintings in many of the rooms on the ceiling and walls are still well preserved. The murals are mostly stories related with Rama and Krishna. The beautiful jharokhas are very symmetric. There air circulation in the building provides natural air conditioning. The jaalis from most of the windows are missing. While some of them have been replaced with new ones others are barren. Many of the rooms have  all four walls lined with beautifully designed niches from ceiling to floor perhaps for keeping items as well as lamps. The steps are very steep. Some of them more than a 14-16” in height. It was good that I was accompanied by my brother Rajesh, who lend a helping hand to haul me up these steps. On the top floor the burj is still completely intact. While it was a bit scary especially when crossing the chattari, the view around made it all worthwhile. The boundary wall of the fortress is intact like new. At a distance one can see ruins of an old settlement, a fort gate and a few other monuments which all looked worthy of a visit. The Chataurbhuj temple is visible from the jharokas of the palace from all floors. Perhaps designed so for the queen to get darshan any time of the day or night. The descend on the tall steps was more difficult than the climb. So came down slowly and steadily.

We then walked to the Jehangir palace. This was built during the reign of  Veer Singh Deo in the 1605-1627 period supposedly to appease Jehangir who stayed there just for a day as per folklore. The architecture supposedly inspired Lutyens for his buildings in New Delhi. The entrance leads you to a huge courtyard the centre of which is a structure which was supposedly a bath or swimming pool. This is surrounded by four lily ponds. Surrounding the courtyard is the palace. The verandah on the first floor is supported by a beautiful stone  elephants in dark brown stone.  The palace is built in four levels. The architecture has features of Muslim and Rajput architecture. The palace layout is a symmetrical square with a number of rooms with arcade openings, projecting platforms and windows with excellent lattice design work.

The stairways for the top floors were steep and narrow here also. From top the views were phenomenal again. The wall of the fort can be seen clearly from the top The temples and Chhatris on Betwa provide a picture perfect view from the top.  We could not go all around the top due to  a group of langoors which had started attacking some of the tourists after being instigated. After taking a ton of pictures we came down.

Behind the palace is a huge building for the king’s Elephants, camels and horses. The back side of the palace has a hige gate called the Hathi darwaja. The jhaali work in the palace windows can be seen from this side. At a distance one can see another palace but there is no access to reach it. We relaxed a bit and started back. We had half a mind to enter Sheesh Mahal for a coffee but given the time started off to the Chhatris.

The Chhatris, a total of 15 in number are built next to the Betwa river. There are few architecture styles on which these are built over a period of time by different kings, though at least 8 of them seem to be following the same architectural style. The area has been developed well with a nice garden in the centre between the cenotaphs. I visited only one of the cenotaphs from inside. The santo santorum is in the center with the main chatri above and four shorter chattris in the square surrounding the centre. The one I visited was not very ornate. I wish I had more time to go around and see a few more especially with a different architecture.

My niece was keen on river rafting. On enquiring we found that it was stopped due to inadequate flow of water in the river. Pedal boating was however going on. We took a pedal boat and went around for 15-20 minutes. After returning soaked our feet in the water for sometime, had refreshing sugar cane juice and started back. While the visit to Orchha was more than I had expected, there was so much more that I had not managed to see. Promising myself to return with more time, with Kannan to spend a few days to see all the monuments and to photograph all the paintings I sat in the car. I have never missed a professional camera more than I did on this short trip.

We decided to drive back via Tikamgarh. This is another place with a lot of architectural value. Unfortunately, it was post the visiting hours of the fort and we had to drive past it without stopping. We wanted to reach Paporaji, another Jain Teerth Kshetra before sunset.  We reached around 6:15 pm. With some time on hand we went for darshan to a couple of the 75+ temples in the complex. The samosharan is very well done. Later I learn that one of the temples has a statue which is over 800 years old. This temple complex has a significance for the family in a way that the entrance which is made like a Rath/chariot was built by my maternal grand father’s family.  Maybe on my next trip, I will get a chance to visit at least the old temples in this large complex. We had carried some food from home. So had an early dinner there itself. The drive from Tikamgarh to Sagar was a bit tiresome and slow as the road is not divided and the truck traffic was heavy. We reached home exhausted. Rajesh had done all the driving and was extremely tired. It was a day very well spent. I went to bed wondering what took me so many years to visit this historic town so close to my home town!