Orchha meaning a "hidden place" is located in the Tikamgarh district of Madhya Pradesh. The town lies on the banks of the tranquil Betwa river. It combines the architectural beauty of a medieval town with the secluded charm of a village. Orchha was founded by a Bundela Rajput chieftain, Raja Rudra Pratap in 16th century who chose this piece of land as a perfect site for his capital. This medieval city is dotted with many temples dedicated to Lord Ram. It is perhaps the only place in India where he is worshipped as King. The grand palaces and fort of Orchha reflect the rich Indian heritage in their fascinating architectural styles, which is predominated by the use of domes brackets, chajjas, arches and pillars.
The remarkable proportions of the exteriors are matched by the grandeur of the interior-rich repositories of Bundela art. The richness of its palaces, temples and cenotaphs is reflected in the gently flowing water of the Betwa River.
Everything in Orchha is pretty much at walkable distances. The village’s main street is flanked by houses, many with tidy white borders and neatly swept verandahs. Betwa river flows largely through non-industrial countryside and it is fairy blue and clean here. You are likely to see washed saris as well as turbans belonging to pilgrims spread out on the riverside rocks for drying.
Orchha’s fort complex, approached by a multi=-arched bridge, has three palaces set in an open quadrangle. The most spectular of these are:
The most notable is the Jahangir Mahal, a tiered palace crowned by graceful chhatris (domed pavilions). From here, the view of soaring temple spires and cenotaphs is spectacular.
Jehangir Mahal is a splendid example of Indo-Mughal architecture. The geometrically patterned domes that surround the palace are a crucial part of the Mughal architecture while the carvings of lotus flowers, elephants and other figures are typical architectural elements across the Indian subcontinent.
This palace was commissioned in the 17th century by Bir Singh Ju Deo as a gift for Mughal Emperor Jehangir. Considering the fact that Jehangir reportedly stayed in this palace only for a night, it all seems pretty excessive. The palace took 22 years to complete and even though Jehangir did not stay here, Bir Singh’s Rajputana pride disallowed him from using the palace for himself.
The richness of the Jahangir Mahal contrasts nicely with the austere beauty of the Raj Mahal. Situated to the right of the quadrangle, this palace was built by Madhukar Shah who was a religious-minded person and a predecessor of Bir Singh Ju Deo.
The plain exteriors, crowned by chattris, give way to interiors with exquisite murals, boldly colourful, on a variety of religious themes. Of special interest at Raja Mahal is a newly inaugurated Sound and Light show in the premises facing the entrance gate. The one hour show is both in Hindi and English the brings alive the four hundered year history of Orchha in a stunning spectacle.
Rai Praveen Mahal
The last of the trio of palaces which embellish the Orchha fort is the Rai Parveen Mahal, built in the 17th century for Rai Parveen, the talented and artistically inclined lover of Orchha’s king, Raja Indrajit Singh. A famous dancer, Rai Praveen is said to have caught prince Indrajit Singh’s fancy. Legend goes that when emperor Akbar got to know of Rai Praveen’s beauty and talent, he asked for the dancer to be brought to this court. Once there, her thwarted the Mughal emperor by reciting a witty composition that went something like this – “Only a royal servant or a crow or a god will like to eat something that has already been tasted and polluted by another.” Akbar was so impressed that he agreed to send her back to Orchha. Upon her return, prince Indrajit had a palace constructed in her honour. The palace is a low, two story brick structure, designed to match the height of the trees in the surroundings, beautifully landscaped gardens of Anand Mahal, with its octagonal flower beds and elaborate water supply system.
Ram Raja Temple
This temple down the road from the fort complex, does not look like a traditional palace of worship, and for good reason: it was originally the palace of Raja Madhukar Shah’s queen Rani Ganeshkuwari, and used to be known as Rani Mahal.
According to legend, queen was a follower of Lord Ram while her husband worshipped Krishna. In a dream, Lord Ram is said to have asked her to build him a temple, and so she went to Ayodhya to get an image of the lord while sanctioning the construction of the Chaturbhuj Temple to enshrine the image. While the construction of the latter was underway, she kept the idol in her palace, forgetting that the statue must be installed directly at the site it to worshipped in. When time came to transfer the idol to the Chaturbhuj temple, it was found to be immovable. Therefore, the palace itself had to be turned into a temple. It is notable also because it is the only shrine in the country where Ram is worshipped as a king. The annual Ram vivah or wedding festival is hosted by this temple, which is much revered and frequented by locals.
This temple was built by Bir Singh in 1622, it is a rectangular structure which has been well preserved. Of the three main temples, the Laxminarayan Temple is a curious mix of fort and temple architecture. Most of its walls are decorated with murals, some with secular themes. There are galleries around the inner walls of the temple and an open courtyard in the centre. Stop to admore the beautiful paintings adoring the walls and the vaulted ceilings. The subjects of these paintings span the gamut, from stories of the epic Ramayana, to mythical, martial and secular scenes, including an unusual and noteworthy depiction of two European looking soldiers drinking at the table. These paintings are excellent examples of mature phase of the Bundelkhand school of arts, which flourished in the region between the 17th and 19th centuries.
The massive Chaturbhuj temple, to the south of the Ram Raja Temple, never received the idol it was originally built for. It currently houses a shrine containing an image of Radha and Krishna, where was added later. The temple is built on 4.5 meter high platform, with its towering shikharas dominating the Orchha’s skyline.
Best time to visit
July to April