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Orchha: Confluence of rich archaeology and tourism 

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Reference: Namaste Orchha Mahotsav- March 6 to 8

Orchha: Confluence of rich archaeology and tourism 

भोपाल : मंगलवार, फरवरी 18, 2020, 15:41 IST


Orchha is famous as Ram Raja Mandir. The city is situated on the banks of the Betwa River. Archaeological survey of both sides of Betwa River shows that this area has been continuously flowering and flourishing since prehistoric times. The area of ​​Orchha falls under Bundelkhand. From the earlier survey, many ancient sites of the Tamrashma period in the area were discovered by the then scholars. After this period, we get to see a systematic history of the Brahmi script records of the pre-historic period, Mauryan period, Shunga period, Gupta, Pratihara, Parmar, Chandel kings in this region. Temples, sculptures and residential remains made by these rulers are seen in the nearby villages of Orchha, Garhkundar and Tikamgarh etc. Bundelkhand was ruled by the Chandel rulers after the 9th century, whose remnants can be found here in the form of temples, ancient monuments and bavdis etc. around Mohangarh and Garhkundar Fort near Orchha.

Chandrabardai, who was a poet in the court of Prithviraj Raso, wrote that in the 12th century, Orchha belonged to the Chandela rulers. Garhkundar Fort was ruled by the kings of the Khangar dynasty after Paramardidev and Khoob Singh Khangar declared himself as an independent ruler. Sohanpal Bundela defeated the last Garhkundar ruler Harmat Singh in 1257 AD and established his Bundela power. Among the rulers who ruled in this region, Sohanpal, Sahajendra, Prithviraj, Ram Singh, Ramchandra, Medini Pal, Arjan Dev, Malkhan Singh, Rudrapratap etc. were important.

Rudrapratap shifted the capital of the Bundelas from Garhkundar to Orchha in 1531 AD. Even before the Bundela rulers of Orchha, there were remains of settlements here. The Bundela rulers merely rebuilt them. Char Diwari and the entrance gate were the main among them. Rudrapratap and Bharti Chandra built Orchha Fort within Char Diwari on the banks of Betwa river. Bhartiya Chandra, Madhukar Shah, Ram Shah, Veer Singh Bundela are notable among the Bundela rulers of Orchha. Among them, considerable construction work was done in Orchha by Veer Singh Bundela. At this time, the practice of Bundeli architecture and Indo-Persian architecture started. The forts, fortresses, palaces, temples, bavdis etc. and mural paintings of Bundeli Kalam represent the paintings here. Later the Bundela rulers made Tehri i.e. Tikamgarh their capital. They built heritage buildings in the surrounding areas, including Tikamgarh, Mohangarh, Lighora, Dighaura, Aaston, Khargapur, Baldevgarh etc.

Orchha, the city of Ram Raja

We know Orchha as the city of Lord Rama, the king of Ayodhya. When Rani Ganesh Kunwari came to Orchha from Ayodhya with Ram Raja, according to one of the three promises of Lord Rama, Lord Rama was placed by Rani Kunwari in a particular place where he stayed and still remains installed in the same place even today. The same place is today known as Ram Raja Mandir. Here, in addition to the devotees / tourists of the country and abroad, local, regional lakhs of people visit Ram Raja. A large number of people visit and worship Rama Raja after taking a dip in the Betwa River.

If we want to know about the 52 State Archaeological Protected Monuments of Orchha along with Ram Raja, then there are many such architectures looking at which one feels he is in Bundelnagari. While there is Raja Mahal, Jahangir Mahal, Rai Praveen Mahal in Orchha, the Chaturbhuj Temple and Lakshmi Temple here are also famous for their architecture among temples.

Raja Mahal: - The foundation of the construction of Raja Mahal was laid by King Rudra Pratap in 1531, but the construction work was completed by his eldest son Bhartiya Chandra. Later, it was finalized after some changes and additions by his brother and successor Madhukar Shah. This palace is divided into two parts. Apart from the residential rooms, Diwan-e-Khas and Diwan-e-Aam are the major portions of this palace. These include beautiful mural paintings. The subject matter of these paintings is mainly the story of Krishna Leela and Ramayana based on the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita. Apart from this, pictures of mythological raga-raginis are also depicted.

Jahangir Mahal: This palace was built by Veer Singh Dev in the honour of Mughal Emperor Jahangir. The construction of the first phase was completed in 1606 AD before the Mughal emperor Jahangir came to Orchha. Eight square rooms of the second floor and domes and chhatris above them were built in 1618 AD. There are bastions on each corner of this palace based on square-shaped plan, with elephant structures on top, carousel, archway, hanging Padma petal-shaped structure are specimens of Rajput style architecture. The elaborate octagonal and Padma structures of the domes and chhatris of the second floor are the primary examples of Bundeli architecture. The interior and exteriors and depiction of the palace halls display a perfect blend of Hindu-Muslim architecture.

Rai Praveen Mahal: This palace was built by Indrajit Singh, younger brother and caretaker ruler of Maharaja Ram Shah of Orchha, for his beloved Rai Praveen. This unique building was constructed in two phases. In the first phase, there is a structure of double huge hallway on the ground floor and a square hall on either side and a verandah and rooms with arched doorways on the first floor. This part appears to be of the last decade of the 16th century on the basis of its architectural features, while the front verandah and eastern structure of the palace is of the 17th century. At about the same time, Sundar Udyan and Anand Mandal Baradari were constructed, in which Rai Praveen used to write poetry in the north side window. The structure of the top part of the palace, external decoration and mural paintings are of Bundeli style. Rai Praveen was the principal dancer of the theatre of King Indrajit Singh and disciple of Mahakavi Keshav Das. Mahakavi Keshavdas praised Rai Praveen’s beauty in his book “Kavi Priya”.

Chaturbhuj Temple: - The Chaturbhuj Temple is historically and archaeologically important. The construction of this temple was started by Maharaj Madhukar Shah in 1574 AD. Maharani Ganesh Kunwari wanted to install the idol of Lord Rama in this temple, but the construction of the temple could not be completed due to the death of Prince Horal Dev in 1578 AD in the war during the Mughal invasion of the western part of Bundelkhand. In such a situation the queen installed the idol of Lord Rama in her own palace. The construction of this temple was completed in the second phase by Maharaja Veer Singh Bundela. This temple is situated on a high installation. Its plan consists of sanctum sanctorum, interval, semi-pavilion and pavilion. Above the sanctum sanctorum is the Nagar style peak. There is a structure of miniature chambers at the four corners. The construction above the pavilion was done with brick and lime. This temple is an important example of Bundela architecture.

Laxmi Temple: - The Laxmi temple was built by King Veer Singh Dev in 1622 AD and the additions were made by King Prithvi Singh in 1743 AD. The temple is built in a rectangular scheme in a square courtyard. All its corners are covered with multicoloured starred bastions, from which an entrance door is built. The monument built of bricks looks like a citadel and its summit gives it the form of a temple. Beautiful paintings have been made on the walls and vines of the temple and the surrounding corridors. These paintings have scenes from the stories of Ramayana, Shrimad Bhagavad Gita. The paintings are in Bundeli style and have been developed from the 17th to the 19th century.

Apart from these major monuments, the other important monuments of Orchha are the Chattris near the Betwa River which are significant for its architecture. Chhatris of rulers like Madhukar Shah, Bharti Chand, Veer Singh, Sujan Singh etc. are prominent among them.

If we talk about local legends, everyone knows how Ram first came to Orchha from King Ayodhya, how he got installed in Rani Mahal. Secondly Rai Praveen’s visit to the Mughal court in Delhi and musician Rai Praveen’s return to Orchha with full honour after clearing up of the situation. The third important thing is the story of a woman belonging to another religion, her love for the king’s son and the security of the Chaturbhuj temple on its basis. Similarly, the story of Lala Hardaul is also famous in the region. The story of Bundelkhand is not complete without many legends like these and many more.

Bundeli Kalam

The mural paintings in the Raja Mahal, Laxmi Temple etc. in Orchha are known as Bundeli Kalam. Most of them have paintings of Ramayana, Krishna Leela and hero-heroines etc. The method of making them was very advanced. In the beginning, the first surface is made of lime dry, sand and jute. On this again a layer of lime and conch powder was used. For flat and smooth surface, its surface was rubbed with clamshell and agate stone. They are decorated with gray outline and a variety of colours. These paintings are inferior to the Mughal style paintings, but their energy, heat and thematic connection makes the Bundeli Kalam unique.

Plans have been made to revive Rai Praveen Bagh and Phoolbagh of Orchha. Due to the cultural heritage of Orchha, the architectural style of palaces and buildings, and the Bundeli Kalam, it has been nominated in the Tentative List by UNESCO. It is expected that it will be listed in the World Heritage Monument Group soon. If this happens, it will become the second World Heritage Monument group of Bundelkhand. (The author is a Tagore National Fellow)

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