Cloudy mornings and red sunsets, along with the ferociously flowing Betwa river, can make anyone fall head-over-heels in love with the deserted Bundelkhandi empire. But there is much more to explore…
The historic town of Orchha, nestled on the banks of river Betwa, was founded in the 16th century by the Bundela Rajput Chief, Rudra Pratap Singh. The ancient town seems frozen in time, with its many monuments continuing to retain their original grandeur even to this day. The captivating ambience and flavour of a bygone era invites one to travel back in time. Orchha is a short drive away from the Jhansi Railway Station and the slight effort is worth it. An erstwhile glorious medieval kingdom, Orchha was built by the mighty Bundelas. They ruled from this rugged terrain, which was criss-crossed by the lively Betwa river. It was a kingdom of power, myths, love stories and blood-stained politics. Such was the grandeur, that even the Mughal emperor, Jahangir, paid it a visit and a grandiose palace was built in his honour.
Sadly, not much of Orchha’s glory remains preserved and the Bundela kingdom has indeed epitomised its name. Today Orchha, which means ‘the hidden one’, is an exotic ruined ghost town where dhak forests have nearly tangled the derelict palaces, havelis, temple shikharas and sandstone cenotaphs out of existence. The skyline is truly unforgettable and gorgeous ruins loom over a sea of trees. It is a time-warped place, forgotten by most, and signs of having slipped through the cracks of history are clearly visible. No long queues or blatant tourism awaits the traveller here and Orchha lulls one into loosening-up and doing nothing.
THE HIDDEN JEWEL
When heavy rain makes outdoor explorations difficult, it offers a wonderful opportunity to spend long hours inside every individual monument. It’s here where the treasure lies. Explore their quiet niches – the gorgeous world of Bundel Kalam or Bundeli paintings. Orchha’s murals are one of the finest examples of Bundeli Kalam and they rank high in the fresco map of India. The paintings reveal the fascinating glimpses of various aspects of the prevailing Bundeli culture of that time. Mostly religious in nature, the subjects include the life stories of Rama and Krishna. Puranic tales also feature among them along with scenes from the royal court.
The image of Lord Krishna romancing the gopis on the banks of the Betwa with the rugged terrain serving as a backdrop for depicting battles or hunting expeditions has been painted many times. The most beautiful murals of Orchha are found at the Laxmi Narayan temple. Built by the charismatic Bundelkhand ruler, Vir Singh Deo, the Laxmi Narayan Temple is an architectural gem. Famous for elaborate carvings and imposing structure, it also had galleries of the excellent 17th and 19th century murals. One of the most famous fresco depicted the battle of Jhansi with the valiant queen fighting with the musket armed British soldiers. Stories of Lord Krishna, delicate vines and flowers too decorated the temple and the decaying colours cried pitifully for better preservation.
The grand royal palace or the Raj Mahal also contained some remarkable paintings and they showed various avatars of Lord Vishnu, court scenes and festivals. Rag Ragini dominated the walls and mystical animals, beauties with birds and lotuses, flowers mingled in their midst. Beautiful murals decorated the interiors of the Rai Parveen Palace, where the highly esteemed courtesan has been depicted in various dance poses. Orchha’s murals are extraordinarily beautiful. Marked by an exuberant use of vivacious and bold colours. Striking black boundaries bring out the subjects from a palette consisting of red, ochre, blue, green, yellow and grey and on a rain-splattered day.
Splash of colours can uplift a cloudy mood anytime and Orchha‘s murals are more than just paintings. They are precious tangible heritage, history in living colours and ‘a love which cannot live, but never dies’. Today, though meaningless graffiti and lack of active preservation threaten the longevity of the murals of Orchha, as long as the tiniest scrap of colour remains on those old walls, Bundela’s glory will continue to be remembered.
Text: Svetlana Baghawan