In September 2012, I conducted a photo-tour to Orchha, a small town in MP (District Tikamgarh), with a meagre population of 10,000. And, it packed a lot of surprises for us.
This quaint little town was founded in early 16th century by Bundela chief, Rudra Pratap Singh, on the banks of Betwa River. There’s an interesting story about how the name ‘Bundela’ came about. Legend has it that the first ruler of Orchha used to offer drops of blood to Goddess Kali, and thus the name Bundela – one who offers drops.
As a town, it is surprisingly rich in culture and architecture. Few of the notable structures here are the Orchha palace and fort, Chaturbhuj Temple, a cluster of cenotaphs, Raja Ram temple and Lakshmi temple.
Orchha palace has two distinct sections – Raja Mahal and Jahangir Mahal. While Raja Mahal is modelled on Bundela architecture, Jahangir Mahal is a sterling example of Mughal architecture.
Orchha – The Hidden Gem
This part of the palace was built for Salim (Jahangir), who had fought with Akbar, and had left home. Orchha means ‘hidden’. While passing through Central India, he came across this hidden territory ruled by fierce Rajput tribe of Bundelas. At that time, the Bundela Chief, Bir Singh Deo, extended tremendous help to him. Subsequently, Salim and Akbar had made up, and Salim went back.
This help had earned Orchha unparalleled royal patronage. And that’s when, with their coffers loaded, many chrismatic palaces, temples, and buildings reflecting Bundela architecture came about.
Betwa river is a rocky river (not navigable for half its length), suited for minor rafting for enthusiasts, and is a tributary of Yamuna. During monsoons, it swells and cuts off the other side, as the fragile bridge submerges.
The Cenotaphs or Chattris were built to pay homage to the dead ancestors of the Bundela kings, on the banks of Betwa. There are 15 cenotaphs in all. These were built for every Bundela chief who ruled Orchha, till the lineage faded. These cenotaphs demonstrate superlative workmanship.
Raja Ram temple is in a palace, and this is the only temple where Ram is worshipped as a king, and not as a God.
Lakshmi temple here, surprisingly, has no idol of Goddess Lakshmi, (It was stolen) but has an altar meant for sacrifices, very similar to the temples of Tantric cult. Interestingly, the temple’s walls resemble a fort’s, replete with slots for canons, to fire at the enemy.
For a small town, this place swells with tourists during the season (October-March), with most tourists coming from France and Germany. It is surprisingly geared for tourists, with many hotels and resorts, including one (Bundelakhand Riverside), built recently by the descendants of the Bundela chief.
A travel enthusiast will not regret visiting this place at least once, as this place also boasts a minor wildlife sanctuary, is close to Matatila Dam, which is important for migratory water birds, and has another lesser known place of interest, Kranti Sthal, the memorial of freedom fighter, Chandrashekhar Azad.