Orchha is a city filled with history in every street and corner.
Wherever you turn, there stands a monument ready to tell you stories, stories from the evocative past that its walls must have witnessed.
Orchha, a town by the beautiful Betwa River, was reigned over by the Bundela kings and queens ever since the time seems to have stopped there.
What are the stories behind these abandoned empty courtyards? How did the rulers live? What was their culture? I bring you all such stories of their religious faith, friendship, and love affairs.
Orchha is the perfect place to travel back in time. Walk with me and get to know the Orchha History.
Discovery of Orchha:
Orchha, a seasonal island formed by the river Betwa, was founded by a Bundela king. The Bundelas who were ruling the Bundelkhand dynasty was at war with the Tughlaqs and the Mughals.
In the 15th century, when the Bundelkhand kings were pushed out of their capital Garhkundar, they searched for another place to rebuild their dynasty.
Orchha, which means “hidden”, was founded by Raja Rudra Pratap. The King was captivated by the dense jungle island with a serene river flowing around it. He decided to settle there, build palaces and make it his capital.
Raja Mahal – Orchha Fort complex:
The very first and the only Mahal to be constructed by Raja Rudra Pratap was the Raja Mahal. Sadly, he did not get to live here. He died while the palace was still being built.
Not even his immediate successors who completed the Raj Mahal seem to have lived there. Only Madhukar Shah, who also gave final touches to the Raja Mahal, seemed to have lived there with his queens! Yes! More than one Queen.
The Raja Mahal has intricate murals on the ceilings that are still intact. There are two courtyards— one, Darbar-I-Am to meet the citizens and the other, Darbar-I-Khas to deliberate over the political strategies.
If you pass through these courtyards into the Mahal, there is an open courtyard, the bedroom of the King, the bedroom of the Queen, and some more rooms for his other queens. There is a raised platform for dance and musical performances.
There is also a secret passage that only Madhukar Shah knew where it led to!
When you walk through these courtyards, you realize what it means when one says— Time stands still!
History of Raja Ram Mandir Orchha:
The King being a devotee of Lord Krishna and Queen being a devotee of Lord Rama, there seems to a competition between t
Well, there was a clash of the titans! I mean, Gods!
It so happened that the King was a devotee of Lord Krishna and the Queen was a devotee of Lord Rama. The palace has stories of both the Gods painted all over its walls. Many mythological stories on Lord Vishnu and His incarnations can also be found.
The King and Queen visited Mathura to get the blessings of Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna, overwhelmed by their devotion, danced with them.
Now having had the ‘darshan’ of Lord Krishna, the Queen wished to meet Lord Ram and decided to go to Ayodhya. However, the King refuses to accompany her this time.
he two, with stories of both the Gods painted all over the walls. Many mythological stories on Lord Vishnu and His incarnations can also be found. The King and Queen visit Mathura to get blessings of Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna overwhelmed by the king’s devotion dances with them. Having seen darshan of Lord Krishna, the queen wishes to see Ram as well and decides to go to Ayodhya. However the king refuses to accompany her.
The Queen was annoyed, for her husband thought that Krishna is superior to Ram. She left by herself to Ayodhya. Meanwhile, she instructed her servants back in Orchha to commence constructing the Chaturbhuj temple to house the Lord Ram idol that she plans to bring from Ayodhya.
The Queen meditates in Ayodhya. Lord Ram, pleased with her devotion, agrees to come along with her but on three conditions (yes, they spoke to each other).
- He will travel only on an auspicious day.
- He will take a seat wherever He is placed.
- He is the Raja, and He will rule Orchha.
Now there is His checkmate! He says He will rule the place!
When the Queen comes back, she is still frustrated with the King despite his apologies. The Queen heads to Rani Mahal, right next to which the Chaturbhuj temple is being constructed, places Ram in the kitchen, and resumes her work.
Ram takes His seat with full grandeur! Rani Mahal hence becomes Raja Ram Mandir. As per His third wish, the King leaves Orchha!
The Raja Ram Mandir is the centre of attraction of Orchha. The life of the city revolves around the temple. From shops selling mawa peda, milk bhandar, poori bhandar, souvenir shops, temple pooja item selling shops, everything seems to be centred around the temple.
As the name says, Lord Ram is the Raja here. He is dressed like a king sitting in his darbar and has a sword. He even has police personnel guarding the King (no kidding!), and armed salutation is done every day!
The Lord seems to love milk sweets as many shops sell the same to be given as offerings. Devotees throng the temple, and it becomes chaotic.
The huge Chathurbhuj temple, which was constructed for Ram, now has a picture of Lord Vishnu!
However, this temple is seen more as a tourist place than a place of worship. The ceilings still have a bit of color intact. There is a staircase leading to the top of the temple.
There are also small balconies on top overlooking the gallery within. These must have been built so that the Queen could sit there to watch the proceedings down below.
This the most prominent structure too that you can see in the entire town.
Jahangir Mahal: The Friendship of Jahangir and Veer Singh Deo
The Orchha fort complex houses the biggest Mahal of Orchha — Jahangir Mahal.
With the Mughals giving trouble to the Bundelas often, the Bundela king decided to extend a hand for solidarity. The Bundela king, Veer Singh Deo, invited Jahangir to visit Orchha and even built an entire palace for his stay! No Kidding again!
Even the architecture of the new palace is different from that of the Raja Mahal. It has instances of Indo-Islamic architecture. Some of the rooms and walls still have turquoise-coloured tiles intact. It is a unique palace. It has a grand entrance, ornate window sills, carved elephant brackets.
But guess what? Jahangir lived or stayed there only for a night!
When Jahangir left, the King started to live there.
There is another exciting anecdote here! From the Jahangir Mahal, you can see the Rai Praveen Mahal! Wondering why?
The love affair story thus follows…
Rai Praveen Mahal: The Love story of Rai Praveen & Indrajit
Rai Praveen, the nightingale of Orchha, was a courtesan whose beauty is compared to the greats of Roopmati and Mrignayani. She was a dancer par excellence and also a very witty poet.
She was at the darbar of Prince Indrajit Singh. The romance affair between the prince and the courtesan led to the construction of Rai Praveen Mahal.
Rai Praveen Mahal has murals of the dancer. The depressions on the wall must have been embedded with mirrors or gems, or candle holders.
The beauty of Rai Praveen was so talked about that even Akbar the great summoned her to his harem. Yup! Men, I say!
To avoid a war, Indrajit sent Rai Praveen to Akbar. The witty lady knew how to rescue herself! When she presented herself in front of Akbar, she recited a couplet that filled Akbar with guilt so much that he sent her back!
She had said,
“Only a lowly person, a scavenger, a dog, and a crow eats from a plate partaken by someone else!”
Rai Praveen returns to Orchha in full glory, and Indrajit marries her.
The Rai Praveen mahal is supposed to have a garden in front of it, but now there are just shrubs.
LakshmiNarayan Temple, Orchha:
This temple, located a little away from the rest of the structures, is another marvel to marvel at!
I wish it were maintained a little better. The temple is full of wall paintings! Everywhere! Throughout the ceilings, around the corridors— only paintings.
Even the arrival of Britishers and war with them have been painted. And then there is Ram and Krishna’s life story, episodes from Ramayana and Mahabharata.
I spent a lot of time here decoding the stories that I could recall from mythology.
Centopahs or The Chhatris of Orchha:
It is probably the only structure in Orchha that is maintained with a garden and looks lively.
Ironically this is a memorial for the Bundela Kings, Queens, and the royal family! It has a functioning cemetery behind it. The body is cremated following Hindu customs, and a memorial is then constructed in that place.
This is also the only place where the endangered Indian Vultures can be seen. You need to be there early in the morning when the birds leave the nest or during sunset when they return to spot them.
To not disturb the Indian vultures and protect them, access to the upper floors of the Cenotaphs is now shut.
ORCHHA TRAVEL GUIDE
Now that you know about the places in Orchha let me help you in devising a day’s plan.
Start early and head to Raja Mahal. Get a valid ticket for all the monuments, and if you want to, hire a guide. I would suggest you hire one as he will take you through Raja Mahal, Jahangir Mahal, Rai Praveen Mahal, Lakshminarayan Temple, Chaturbhuj Temple, and end at Raja Ram Mandir. This would take about half a day.
Have your lunch at Raja Ram Mandir. Then come back to the Orchha Fort complex and go on an Orchha Heritage Walk. You will come across elephants” stables, houses of the ministers and cooks/ servants, the bathing place, and so on. Most of it is pretty much in ruins, sadly.
You can take the map and explore it by yourself; however, I wouldn’t recommend going solo for women. Safety first!
In the evening, come back to the Betwa river to watch the sunset behind the cenotaphs. The tourists generally cross the narrow bridge and go to the other side of the bank.
Watch out as only one vehicle can pass through this bridge! It has no railings, and you have to give space for the vehicles to move as well.
I walked to the cenotaphs, watched the vultures returning and the sun setting by the side of it. The rest of the evening was spent by me and my friend sitting on the ghats of the Betwa river and gorging on aloo Tikki chaat and hot chai.
While the shutterbugs were busy trying to capture the perfect sunset, the couple found a quiet corner for themselves and enjoyed the sunset, lost in each others company.. How did you enjoy the sunset? . . . . . #sunset #eveningsky #evening #Orange #yellow #Sun #incredibleindia #travelindia #naturephotography #nature #fire #instapic #picoftheday #sunsetlovers #naturelover #Orchha #madhyapradesh #mptourism #Centopah #cemetery #grave #graveyard #evening #architecture #history #ancientcity #ancientruins #ruin #ruins #river #Betwa
How to Reach Orchha:
I took the Khajuraho – Jhansi express. Orchha has a small station, and the train stops for only about 2 or 3 minutes.
The town sleeps early, so it is better to reach there before it gets dark.
Otherwise, you can visit Jhansi first and take a vehicle from there. Orchha has plenty of places to stay, so halt at Orchha.
Relish the serenity!