Faith, Friendship & Love – Orchha History & Travel Guide

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The Betwa river was gently jingling along as I walked through Orchha. Orchha, 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 past that only the walls of these monuments have witnessed. Orchha, a town that was vacated by the Bundela kings and queens and it seems like time has come to a stop ever since then. Who lived in these palaces and mahals? What are the stories behind these abandoned empty courtyards? From stories of strong religious faith, friendship and love affairs, Orchha is the perfect place to get carried away to yesteryear. A town that can very much be covered by foot, I started walking around it. Come walk with me and get to know the Orchha History.

 

Orchha history

Orchha – A random house with a beautiful entrance

 

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 were pretty much on war or on the run from the Thuglaqs and the Mughals. That is what happened in the 15th century when the Bundelkhand kings were pushed out of their capital Garkhundar, they went in search of another land, another place to build their dynasty. Orchha meaning “hidden” was founded by Raja Rudra Pratap. The dense jungle island with river flowing around it, stole the heart of the king that he decided to settle there, build palaces and make it as his capital.

 

Raja Mahal – Orchha Fort complex:

 

The very first Mahal to be constructed by Raja Rudra Pratap after he discovered Orchha was the Raja Mahal. Sadly he did not get to live here. He died during the construction itself. Not even his successor who completed the Raj Mahal seems to have lived there. It was only his successor Madhukar Shah, who did final touches to the Raja Mahal, seemed to have lived there with his queens, yup plural, queens. The Raja Mahal has beautiful murals on the ceilings that are still intact. When you get to walk through these courtyards is when you will realize what I meant by time stands still. The Murals are intact and so intricately drawn. There are two courtyards, one Darbar-I-Aam to meet the citizens and the next Darbar-I-Khas to do 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. Also a secret passage that only Madhukar Shah knows where it leads to. And a raised platform where dancers dance and musicians play.

 

Raja Mahal Orchha

Inside the Raja Mahal, Orchha

 

murals on ceiling raja mahal orchha

Murals found on the Ceiling of Raja Mahal. The middle one is from one of the bedrooms

 

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 the 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.

 

Raja Mahal Orchha

On the wall of the Queen’s bedroom – Raja Mahal, Orchha

 

The queen annoyed that her husband thinks Krishna is superior to Ram, leaves by herself to Ayodhya. Meanwhile, she has also told her servants back in Orchha to commence the construction of Chaturbhuj temple to house the Lord Ram idol that she plans to bring from Ayodhya. The queen meditates there and 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 checkpoint! He says He will rule the place! So when the Queen comes back, she is still frustrated with the King who actually is sorry about his behavior and apologizes. The queen heads to Rani Mahal, right next to which the Chathurbhuj temple is being constructed, places Ram in the kitchen and resumes her work. Ram takes His seat! Rani Mahal hence becomes Raja Ram Mandir. As per the third wish the King leaves Orchha! It’s like they found Orchha, built a dynasty and then left the place!!

 

Raja Ram Mandir, Orchha:

 

The Raja Ram Mandir is the center of attention of Orchha. Life revolves around the temple. From shops selling mawa peda, milk bandar, poori bandar, souvenir shops, temple pooja item selling shops, everything seems to be around the temple. As the name says Lord Ram is the Raja here. He is dressed like a king sitting in a darbar, has sword and other weapons like a king, has police personnel guarding the King (no kidding!) and armed salutation is done everyday! The Lord seems to love milk sweet as there are lot of shops selling the same to be given as offering to the God. Devotees throng the temple and can get crowded.

 

Ram raja mandir orchha

Ram Raja Mandir, Orchha – Photography prohibited inside

 

Chathurbhuj Temple:

 

The Chathurbhuj temple which was constructed for Ram now has a picture of Lord Vishnu and that is being worshiped. However this temple is seen more as a tourist place than a place of worship. The temple is huge, the ceilings have little bit of colors in tact. There is a staircase leading to the top of temple which is locked. There are also small balconies on top overlooking the gallery within, these must have been built with the idea of queen sitting there to watch the proceedings down. This the most prominent structure too that you can see in the town.

 

Chathurbhuj Temple Orchha

Chathurbhuj Temple, Orchha. The feature image too is Chathurbhuj Temple

 

Jahangir Mahal: The Friendship of Jahangir and Veer Singh Deo

 

The Orchha fort complex houses the biggest Mahal of Orchha which is the Jahangir Mahal. With the Mughals giving trouble to the Bundelas often, the Bundela king decides to be cordial with the Mughals. The Bundela king, Veer Singh Deo invites Jahangir to visit Orchha and builds a palace for his stay! No Kidding again! He builds a palace just to please Jahangir. Even the architecture is different from the Raja Mahal. The Indo Islamic architecture is evident and some of the rooms and walls still have the turquoise colored tiles intact. But guess what? Jahangir lives just for a night and his room looks very simple. It is one well made palace, be it the grand entrance, the window sills, the carved elephant brackets, it is just so beautiful. So once Jahangir leaves, the king starts to live here. What you can also notice is that, from Jahangir Mahal you can see the Rai Praveen Mahal! The love affair story thus follows.

 

Raja Mahal Orchha

Elaborate windows and balcony of Raja Mahal, Orchha

 

Jahangir Mahal Orchha history

Inside the Jahangir Mahal, Orchha

 

Jahangir Mahal grand entrance

Jahangir Mahal, At the top you can see the turquoise tiles. The entrance is believed to let war Elephants inside

 

Rai Praveen Mahal: The Love story of Rai Praveen & Indrajit

 

Rai Praveen, the nightingale of Orchha, the courtesan whose beauty is compared to Roopmati and Mriganayini.. Rai Praveen was an excellent dancer and was a very witty poet. She was at the darbar of Prince Indrajit Singh. The romance affair between the prince and the courtesan leads to building of Rai Praveen Mahal. Rai Praveen Mahal has murals of the dancer, depressions on the wall which could have been embedded with mirrors or gems or candle holders. The beauty of Rai Praveen is so much talked about that Emperor Akbar summons for her to his harem. Yup, Men I say! And to avoid a war, Indrajit also sends Rai Praveen to Akbar. The witty lady saves herself however! When she presents herself in front of Akbar, she recites a couplet that Akbar sends her back. She says, “Only a lowly person, scavanger, dog and crow eats from a plate partaken by someone else”. Rai Praveen returns to Orchha and it is said that Indrajit then marries her. The Rai Praveen mahal is supposed to have garden in front of it, now there are just shrubs in front of it.

 

Rai Praveen Mahal Orchha

Rai Praveen Mahal, Orchha

 

LakshmiNarayan Temple, Orchha:

 

This temple, located a little away from the rest of the structures, is another marvel to visit. I wish it was maintained a little better. The temple is full of wall paintings! Like everywhere and about everything. Throughout the ceilings, around the corridors, it has paintings everywhere. Even the arrival of Britishers and war with Britishers are painted. And then there is Ram and Krishna’s life story. There is Ramayana and Mahabharata. Spent my time here decoding the stories that I remember from mythology.

 

LakshmiNarayanan Temple, Orchha

LakshmiNarayanan Temple, Orchha

 

Murals of lakshminarayan temple orchha

The Wall Paintings and Murals found in Lakshminarayanan Temple, Orchha

 

Centopahs or The Chhatris of Orchha:

 

Probably the only structure in Orchha that is maintained with garden, in a complex and looks lively. Ironically this is a cemetery with monuments constructed as memorial for the Bundela Kings, Queens and the royal family. It has a functioning cemetery behind. It is only a memorial, the body is cremated like that of Hindu custom and a memorial 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 protect them and not to disturb the Indian vultures, access to the upper floors of the Centopahs are now shut.

 

centopah chattri orchha

One of the many Centopahs / Chattris of Orchha

 

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 the ticket that is valid for all the monuments and if you want to, hire a guide. I would suggest to hire one. Your guide will take you through, Raja Mahal, Jahangir Mahal, Rai Praveen Mahal, Lakshminarayan Temple, Chathurbhuj Temple and end at Raja Ram Mandir. Should take about half a day. Finish your lunch at Raja Ram Mandir. Come back to the Orchha Fort complex and go on a Orchha Heritage Walk. You can take the map and go on yourself, however I wouldn’t recommend a going on solo for woman. What you will notice on this walk is things like elephant’s stable, houses of the ministers and cooks/ servants, the bathing place and so on. Most of it are pretty much in ruins.

 

ORchha heritage walk

The stuff you see on Orchha Heritage Walk

 

Evening come back to the Betwa river to watch the sun set behind the centopahs. What the tourists generally do is to 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. What I did was to walk off to the centopahs, watched the vultures returning and the sun setting by the side of it. The rest of the evening me and my friend spend sitting on the ghats of the Betwa river and gorging on aloo tikki chat and hot chai.

 

 

How to Reach Orchha:

 

I took the Khajuraho – Jhansi express. Orchha has a small station and the train stops for about 2 or 3 mintutes. It is a small station, so in all probability the train will stop where there is no platform. The town sleeps early, so better to come before it gets dark. Otherwise the nearest place to arrive is at Jhansi and take a vehicle from there. Orchha has plenty of places to stay, so halt at Orchha.

 

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PIN IT for later – Orchha History

 


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