June 13, 2008

An Evening in the Medieval Town of Orchha


Though I normally break travel posts into different parts, here I have tried to fit details of my travel to Orchha in a single post. I wonder if this method is preferable.



The Legend


I would like to begin this post with an interesting story of the Bundelkhands. The Bundelas were a warrior tribe of the Rajputs. War, blood, and sacrifice were the keywords to describe Bundelas and they became a symbol of valour. There is a legend that there was a young Rajput prince who agreed to offer himself to the Vindhya goddess, Vindhyavasini.


Though there are varying versions whether he actually sacrificed himself or intended to, what’s important is that the goddess was pleased with his devotion, and she named the Prince Bundela, a translation of which is: giver of drops (to mean, one who offers drops of blood). How true or not this story is, one thing is sure that the Bundela life and Rajput history of India testifies to this act and the Orchha Bundelas came to be known as the chiefs of the Bundela clan.


History of Orchha


Orchha is a small town in Tikamgarh district of Madhya Pradesh state, India. The Rajput Bundelkhand clan ruled over Orchha for more than two centuries.


When the Tughlaqs, who were ruling Delhi in the 15th century, pushed the Bundelkhand kings out of Garkhundar, it is said that the Bundelas retreated to the remote regions of Orchha.


Orchha is believed to be founded in early 16th century by the Bundela Rajput chief, Raja Rudra Pratap Singh, who was the first King of Orchha. Of the succeeding rulers, the most notable was Raja Bir Singh Deo who built the exquisite Jehangir Mahal. Bir Singh Deo was a favored commander of the Mughal Emperor, Jehangir. Those times during his rule between 1605-1627 is believed to be the golden age of Orchha.


As I have already indicated in a previous post, there is one such interesting phase of history when the friendship of Bundelas and Mughals gave the Bundelas a special role in the politics of the region during the reigning period of Mughal Emperor, Jehangir and Bundela King, Raja Bir Singh Deo.


However, following that golden age Raja Jujhar Singh rebelled against Shah Jehan whose armies almost ruined Orchha and occupied it from 1635-1641. Now what has remained of Orchha is beautiful reminders of its majestic past.


Orchha and its twin city, Datia, were the only Bundela regions not subjugated by the Marathas in the 18th century.


Jehangir Palace


There are historical accounts that Jehangir visited Orchha to attend the coronation ceremony of Raja Bir Singh. Raja Bir Singh built the grand Datia Palace (also called Jehangir Palace) and also built the major landmark of Orchha, which is also called the Jehangir Palace, to commemorate the visit of Jehangir to Orchha in the first half of the 17th century.


Jehangir Palace

For a better understanding of this post on Orchha, I would recommend my reader to have a look at my post on Datia entitled Of Bundelas and Mughals. Here's a quick ready reference:


Akbar captured Orchha in 1604 and deposed Raja Ram Chand, Bir Singh's eldest brother. It is said that Bir Singh, an errant chieftain himself, beheaded Abul Fazl during the battle in Badoni (midway between Gwalior and Orchha) and sent his head to Salim (a young Jehangir). It is also alleged that this was done at the prompting of Jehangir, who was susceptible in those days because of his dalliance with Anarkali who apparently had irked Akbar to no end. In his memoirs Jehangir declared that it was Abul Fazl who had abused Akbar's mind so that he turned away his love for his son.

Anguished at Fazl's death and to challenge Bir Singh's audacity, Akbar tried to have Bir Singh captured. Bir Singh teamed up with Jehangir, who by then was rebelling against his own father. Bir Singh and Jehangir apparently shared distressing moments before they both ascended the throne. Interestingly, when Jehangir was imprisoned on his way to Kabul by one of his own generals, Mahabat Khan, it is alleged that Bir Singh's youngest son, Bhagwan Rao, came to his rescue and liberated him. As a token of gratitude, when Jehangir ascended the throne, he made Bir Singh Deo the ruler of Orchha and the Bundelkhand region.



Jehangir Palace, Orchha


If the Jehangir Palace in Datia was considered unique for it was never used as a residence by any king or his descendents, then it is equally interesting to note that Jehangir stayed in the Jehangir Palace of Orchha just for a day!


My Memoirs


I explored Orchha in December 2007 on my way to Khajuraho after my visits to Datia and Jhansi.


I was informed that I reached Orchha as the taxi waded through a narrow dusty road and the first scene that caught my eye in the distance was the ancient Chaturbhuj Temple against the backdrop of the beautiful Jehangir Palace. The temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu's four armed reincarnation and hence the name Chaturbhuj Temple, was built during the days of Raja Bir Singh Deo. Orchha town had a rustic look about it.


Chaturbhuj Temple


What followed was a quick drive through the streets of Orchha, and then onwards to a solid island of rock surrounded by the River Betwa. After an approach provided by an arched bridge over the River, I reached Sheesh Mahal, the place where I had made a prior booking to stay overnight.



At Sheesh Mahal


Orchha has two hotels run by the Madhya Pradesh state tourism: one, the Betwa Retreat amidst beautiful surroundings across the Betwa River, where I passed by later that evening. The other is the Sheesh Mahal in the quadrangular courtyard where the Jehangir Palace and Raj Mahal are situated.



Musicians


The Sheesh Mahal is palatial and caters well for tourists. At its entrance is a board with the words Athithi Devo Bhava written on it, a Sanskrit phrase to mean a guest is the reincarnation of God. Raj, who manages the hotel and claims to be a descendant of the Kalchuri dynasty, was a gracious host at the Sheesh Mahal.


As soon as I reached Orchha, I went about exploring the place with a kind and helpful guide, Mishraji. I started with the Jehangir Palace, brief details on its history are mentioned above. Jehangir Palace is one of the most attractive monuments built at a height, and the view from there of the soaring temple spires and cenotaphs gives the Orchha town an enchanting look.


The architecture of the Jehangir Palace is of the Bundelkhand style (an interesting fusion of Mughal and Rajput styles) with the free mix of domes, symmetrical plans, surface decoration etc and I found it is similar to the architectural style of Fatehpur Sikri.


One of the doorways, Jehangir Palace


My next visit was to the Raj Mahal. Raja Rudra Pratap started the construction but his son, Bharti Chand continued. The final touches to this Palace were added by Raja Madhukar Shah, the predecessor of Raja Bir Singh Deo. It is alleged that Madhukar Shah, who was defeated in a battle by Akbar, won Akbar's friendship and respect and used to frequent the Mughal court dauntlessly sporting the banned tilak on his forehead. Akbar, being the secular emperor that he was, may have made him feel welcome!


Raj Mahal


A smaller palace nearby is the Raj Parveen Palace built in honour of the poetess, dancer, musician and the beautiful paramour of Raja Indramani. A thought: Why did Indramani not marry her? There is this legend that Akbar was so enamoured by Parveen's beauty that she was summoned to his court. She, however, so impressed the Mughal emperor with clever words to express her purity of love for Raja Indramani that he sent her back safely to Orchha!


Laxminarayan Temple entrance area


Thereafter I went to explore the famous Laxminarayana Temple. Mishraji was kind enough to take me along to the outskirts to reach there. The temple is impressive and houses an attractive range of Bundela paintings. There are vibrant murals encompassing a variety of religious themes and the ceiling of this huge ancient temple is beautifully decorated.



Laxminarayan Temple Murals


So much so was the association of Bundelas and Mughals of those times that I was surprised to learn that the entrance to the Laxminarayana Temple is diagonally located and aligned with the Jehangir Palace on the opposite side of this little town!


On the way back from Laxminarayan Temple, I stopped by at this cutely painted house and as I proceeded to photograph it, the woman of the house, on her own, stood at the doorway and posed for me.



Orchha dweller


I greeted her with a namaskar from afar as I did not wish to get too close to intrude on her privacy. It did feel good to see her smile and her hand wave in acknowledgment of my presence.


As the day was to end soon, it was then time to rush to the area where the popular 14 Orchha cenotaphs (Chattris) were located. Except for Raja Bir Singh Deo's cenotaph which is like a palace located in the flow of the River Betwa, all other cenotaphs are in the form of temples and are situated close to the river bank.


Orchha Cenotaphs


Most of the cenotaphs have a melancholic look about them, with some of them surrounded by weeds. It made me get a feeling that I was in the middle of a city of museums.


Orchha Chattris


Following that, minus Mishraji, I walked around the market place of the quaint little town of Orchha. It was fascinating to see public walkways having background of imposing monuments of the past.


Another Orchha monument


I came across quite a few sadhus (ascetic holy men) wearing varying shades of saffron robes carrying some sort of musical instrument or the other.


Sadhus


I wondered if they get to enjoy the music of life differently having to live on another level altogether because of their religious devotion.


During a brief inquiry at the market place with a roadside vendor, I had to shift my attention to a family who showed interest in me by starting off with broad smiles. I guess soon they found me easy to approach as I communicated with them in Hindi. Within a short time and without any request on my part, the woman went on to explain quite a bit about her personal life including how committed she was to her family and how much of care and efforts she invests in tending to her children. Perhaps she found me friendly enough to want to share those details, and in return, I mostly smiled and nodded adding some polite and relevant words.


A Family in Orchha


Here was a woman who sweetly thought the world of her family and considered domestic matters as her top priority! What could I say in return? How could I discuss my thoughts with her on matters like though a majority of women in India think and live a kind of life like she did, there is, however, a small percentage that are thankfully liberated and have been so successful that they have won several accolades in every imaginable area - to choose a few fields like in politics, sports, justice, music, activism and service, brains, beauty or films or a combination of them, or for that matter sheer selfless social service.


Then it was delightful to try out some aloo-tikki (vegetarian potato escalopes) from one of the road side stalls. That was delicious and served with a yummy sweet and tangy tamarind sauce with bits of coriander leaves sprinkled over it for garnishing.



Food stalls with Chattris in the background

From then onwards it was a feeling of awe for the rest of the evening exploring one place after the other. I recall passing by the Rama Raja Temple and further on into the areas housing palaces in the background and the "wind-catching" towers of the old times named Sawan-Bhadon by the locals. Looking around and getting absorbed in the history, sights, sounds, smells and stories of the various palaces and temples dotting Orchha was an interesting experience.


Near Saawan-Bhadon, the wind catching towers


I had presumed a day to explore Orchha would be sufficient but I was mistaken. At the end of the day I wished I had more time to spend there. Then I would not have missed out on attending the popular aarti at the famous Rama Raja Temple, where Ram is supposedly worshipped as king and not as a god, or exploring more of the fine paintings at the Raj Mahal or taking a leisurely stroll that I so wished for along the River Betwa and satiate my interest to take more photographs of the reflection of the Orchha Chattris in the River Betwa.


Most people who have been to Orchha describe it as a nondescript town but just as the very word Orchha means hidden, I found that the town did have a lot of hidden wealth about it starting from its interesting history to its rich architectural heritage. Therefore I had named my previous post as Ostensibly Orchha.


At the end of the day, I got a feeling that I was captivated with Orchha's splendour. It appeared that on this medieval town, the hand of time has rested lightly and the palaces, temples and the monuments built by its Bundela rulers have still retained much of their beauty. Few tourists are troubled to visit such small places as Orchha. Those who are endowed with an inner sense to appreciate the tranquility of the place, its rich history, its reminders of the majestic past as seen in its monuments can see its hidden treasure, and come back fulfilled. There is a certain romance about Orchha which makes me wish to revisit this city of museums.


Orchha Fort Complex at dusk


It was delightful to watch the change in hue of the Orchha monuments at sunset. I walked back to the Fort Complex when it got dark to continue enjoying the rest of the evening with the festive atmosphere of the Sheesh Mahal with live music and dance at its dining area. Little did I know then that the night was still young and much more was to follow. A state Minister was due to arrive that evening and there was to be a cultural program at the Betwa Retreat. No way would I miss that.


How to reach Orchha:

On the Jhansi-Khajuraho Road, 15 km from Jhansi and then about 10 km on the left is Orchha. Travel enthusiasts can easily make a trip to Orchha from Jhansi. Gwalior to Orchha is 110 kms. Nearest railway station is Jhansi (16 km), which is on the mainline from Delhi-Bombay and Delhi-Madras. Gwalior airport is about 110 kms while Khajuraho airport is approximately 170 kms from Orchha.



34 comments:

ROSA E OLIVIER said...

Piú giú in fondo alla tuscolana...

!?...passavo per un saluto!

Arun said...

thanks for the detailed post. Informative, and will be useful for me :)

Indrani said...

Thanks for this virtual trip through Orchha, The pictures of the monuments, palaces are so beautiful.

GMG said...

Hi Celine! Back home and profiting from the Lisbon’s Day holiday (St. Anthony of Lisbon, not Padua), I’m trying to catch up your posts (What a nice week: June 10th, Portugal’s Day; June 13th, Lisbon’s Day… ;)).
Let me start with the Tranquil Tuesday pictures; they're lovely, in particular the backwater!
Now Orccha; it's a long but interesting post. Actually, I can't complain as this is my kind of posts also... ;) The first picture is stunning. You look great!!
Loved to read the story of Orccha and see the incredible pictures of beautiful Jehangir Palace and Raj Mahal. It seems that India will become as difficult as Brazil to me: I've been there (Brazil) almost a dozen times and still there is so much left to see... ;)
The Temple ceiling is stunning; some afinity with the ones in Marrakesh and Granada...
Great Post!
Thanks for the tip on the Sheesh Mahal. And thanks also for your comments at Blogtrotter, which is now landed in Santiago de Compostela, Spain!
Hope you enjoy, and have a nice weekend!

*~*{Sameera}*~* said...

That was some post!Feels like I have been to Orchha myself now :)

You have unraveled so much about this "hidden" town for sure.Excellent work!

Lavanya said...

Extremely comprehensive !! Tx. I wonder when Orccha will happen for me :(

C R D said...

those pics are so beautiful yaar. u really seem to love history and medieval architecture. i too am fascinated with forts. sadly, haven tbeen able to visit many :(

history is always intriguing. kep posting :)

Priyank said...

Hey Celine, I have so much to say.

First, this is a long post, and I also face this question of whether to write one or dice and whats the dividing line.

I liked reading the historical events. So was the tilak forbidden during Akbar's time? Must be so hurtful because both men n women those days used to wear one.

Chhatris are distinct features of Malwa and Shekhawati regions. They are beautiful, I esp remember the ones at Indore during sunset.

What is a wind catching tower?

Pijush said...

Magestic sculpture and nice description Celine. Enjoyed it. Have a nice Sunday, Take care

Which Main? What Cross? said...

Lovely travel story. Do you have some more info to share on those "wind catching' towers?

indicaspecies said...

Arun,

Thanks, and the pleasure is mine.

Perhaps you might wish to consider including a 'Walk in Orchha' in your fine series of Walks in India.:)

indicaspecies said...

Indrani,

Thanks a lot.:)

indicaspecies said...

Gil,

Thank you very much for all the compliments. I am glad that you enjoyed these posts and I wish you a great weekend.:)

indicaspecies said...

Sameera,

Thank you very much, and I am glad you felt so.:)

indicaspecies said...

Lavanya,

Thank you for your comment. Does it also mean it was too big a post? haha..

I hope Orchha happens soon for you.:)

indicaspecies said...

CRD:

Hey Chris, welcome to my blog.:)

Oh yea, I likee Indian history and enjoy exploring these places. Thank you for your comment and hope you get to visit some forts.:)

indicaspecies said...

Priyank,

Let the comments keep coming. You do know I like responding to them as much as writing the post.:)

Truly delighted to know that you enjoyed the historical part of this post, and it made me feel the efforts did not go waste.;)

As many may agree, Akbar was a tolerant and secular emperor and was not known to resort to following the policy of persecution and discrimination. But surely we cannot say the same about the religious zealots of his imperial court. I believe 'tilak' was generally allowed but not while appearing at the Mughal courts. However, is it not heartening to know that Madhukar Shah's friendship with Akbar gave him that concession?

Wind-catching towers (Dastagirs as known in Hindi, I think) is a natural way of cooling a place in the hot summer months by a system of air circulation through two adjoining towers. It is a Persian system of cooling. So you see, via the Mughals, the Persian architecture has reached the remote regions of the Bundelkhands, as also seen in other palaces of Orchha.

indicaspecies said...

Pijush,

Thank you. Hey, you are here after a long time. Welcome back to blogworld.:)

indicaspecies said...

Which Main? What Cross?:

Thank you very much for your nice words.:)

As I wrote briefly above in response to Priyank's query, the 'wind-catching' towers or wind-towers is a traditional device of the ancient times that was used to create natural ventilation in buildings and lower the temperatures in the hot summer months.

Since there seems to be additional interest on these towers, I inquired with a Persian friend here who explained that the concept of wind-catching towers (what they call Badgir) was so successfully used in the olden times that the same concept was used for refrigerating foodstuff as well.

Shantanu said...

Excellent post. I have never travelled to MP, but from what I can see in the pictures, I have to do this some time. There aren't many cities in India with so many palaces of the Hindu kings outside of Rajasthan (architecturally different from the Moghul ones).

Saibal Barman said...

Firstly, your post have been more rewarding to us than what our patient waiting for it deserves...

It is one of the finest travelogues I have come across in recent years...it silently reveals diverse facets of a seemingly ordinary place in such a penetrating details that once one finishes he/she learns excellence does not reside in the subject, but in ways of viewing the subject...
Loved the history ( I was really interested to know it since I hadn't read much about this part ). It seemed quite interesting how Rama/Narayana/ Vishnu ( all of same order ) had been the principal deity in Orcha while Radha-Krishna was worshiped in Rajputana, Ganesha in Maratha and most renowed Jyotirliingams of lord Shiva are located in and around the place...so it seems pretty clearly the Bundelas had a very distinct socio-cultural pursuit; and, I find it quite agreeable in your proposition that the social bondage had had threads entwined with valour and sacarifice..

Before commenting on this, I read it for more than 20 times, just to satiate in flavour of its balanced presentation...and I'm pretty sure that it will be enjoyed by readers having interest in any of the areas like history, sociology, public administration, music, art, or simple travelling...
That's a complete presenation...
Thanks, again, for sharing it with us !

indicaspecies said...

Shantanu,

Thank you. MP does have a lot to offer to a variety of travellers. My one trip around it included a good deal of history, architecture, art, culture, cuisine, nature, wildlife etc. You would get to read about it in posts to follow. Please do drop in sometimes.:)

indicaspecies said...

Saibal,

My friend, first of all thank you for your patience. I am delighted, and to some extent flattered, to know that you enjoyed this post so much, and I must say presenting it to interested readers like you is indeed my pleasure.

The post turned out so because Orchha was not in my original itinerary and I added the place for a stopover while making plans for onward journey from Gwalior and therefore this unexpected trip that happened on the way to Khajuraho was a pleasant surprise.

You have probably complimented me more than I deserve. Thank you very much for your kind attention and all the sweet words.:)

Lekhni said...

I have been meaning to read this post for days now. I thought I'd do it last weekend, but could not :( But I am very glad I finally got around to doing it today :)

Why don't you try getting this piece (and the Datia one) published in any Indian travel magazine? If you haven't done it already, I think you really should!

Ram said...

Celine,

What a mesmerising post you have written. I have read it twice, but I am still under a spell.

Simply magnificent presentation,straight from heart and supported by some excellent photographs.

In my opinion this is the best travalogue on the region - Jhansi, Datia and Orchha.

I must confess that you have created a strong urge for me to visit Orchha soonest.

Don't worry about the length, it's the content, presentation and comprehension that matters.

Thank you for sharing such splendid information.

indicaspecies said...

Lekhni,

Travel magazine? Thank you. You have paid me a great compliment by suggesting that. No, I haven't got this published anywhere else. Thanks very much for your support and encouraging words.:)

indicaspecies said...

Ram,

What can I say? I am overwhelmed with your compliments. Thank you. I am glad that you enjoyed this post. I hope you get a chance to visit Orchha soon.:)

indicaspecies said...

Lekhni,

I noticed the link up now. Thanks a lot.:)

Lavanya said...

No. Comprehensive in a nice sort of way! I'm a big sucker of history and all unbelievable stories and the mindless data that it brings. Keep them coming :)

indicaspecies said...

Lavanya,

Thank you. I am truly delighted that you enjoyed this. A post on Khajuraho to follow, and I hope you'll drop in sometimes.:)

Ravi said...

Hi Celina this is Ravi I am from Jhansi India. I was casually surfing and came across your blog. It was very nice to see ur blog about ORchha hope u enjoyed being to Orchha.I would like to keep in touch with you .We can catch me on imravi1980@yahoo.com


Ravi

indicaspecies said...

Ravi,
Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed reading the pot. Pleased to be in touch.

indicaspecies said...

post*

Anonymous said...

Beyond any doubt blog with beneficial informations.