Cenotaphs of Orchha – A Dreamy Array of Castles

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A hidden wonder and undeniably a quintessence of India’s rich heritage – Orchha is a petite town squeezed between Uttar Pradesh & Madhya Pradesh. Founded in 1531 as the capital of the kingdom of Bundhelkhand by Raja Rudra Pratap Singh, Orchha is a mere 40 min (16 km) drive from the Jhansi railway station. If you are staying in the only posh hotel of the town – Amar Mahal, Orchha, be prepared to feel cocooned in the charisma of the larger than life cenotaphs mounting over the tranquil small town, giving perfect company to the cloudy sky and shining sun.

Early in the morning, the breeze greets you with soft chirping of birds and a light orange sky embracing the carefree bathers, revellers & cattle ambling around freely by the Ghats of Betwa river, situated barely half a kilometre away from Amar Mahal.

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Grouped along the Kanchana ghat of Betwa, stand the fifteen mesmerizing ‘Chattris’ aka cenotaphs or memorials to the Bundela kings and members of their clan of Orchha. Dating back to the 17th & 18th century, these cenotaphs speak of the valiant stories of those dead kings to which they are dedicated and whose memories stay etched in these colossal structures. But, here is a twist which makes them different from other architectural beauties. While admiring them, you will notice a few things like the varying size of all the cenotaphs. Ever wondered why the cenotaphs have been built in different sizes i.e. some small and some a little or lot larger? The reason behind this is that each cenotaph’s size symbolizes the time period for which the respective remembered king ruled.

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These include the cenotaphs of Madhukar Shah, Bir Singh Deo, Jaswant Singh, Udait Singh, Pahar Singh & others. Rather than employing the domed chhatri format of many Rajput funerary structures the Bundela cenotaphs incorporate aspects of temple architecture, including tall shikharas.

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Amidst this group of cubical structures with temple like spires, there is one cenotaph which is clearly the black sheep. It is Bir Singh’s cenotaph which alone stands as an epitome of Mughal architecture, but why ?  There is a little interesting tale behind it 😉

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Once upon a time Prince Salim was fleeing Agra after having rebelled against his father, the all powerful Mughal emperor, Akbar. Akbar sent his right hand man, Abul Fazl to capture the Prince. They passed through the kingdom of Bundelas. The Bundela chieftain, Bir Singh Deo came to Salim’s aid and assassinated Abul Fazl in a plot contrived by Salim. Prince Salim eventually reconciled with his father and returned to Agra. Bir Singh Deo’s favour was not forgotten and he was showered with Mughal patronage after his death.

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In case you are thinking that this is it, let us tell you that when in Orchha, a name which itself means ‘hidden’, there is more that what meets the eye. When you walk on the road between two cenotaphs on your right, there is a door on your left, which leads to a place that you could only have seen in fairy tales before. Hence, it comes at a small cost i.e. a ticket to go inside. Long verdant gardens with tall beautiful flowers surround you with the cenotaphs soaring high and looking like a group of castles with the giant vultures adding a spooky twist to them.

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Visit Orchha and get enchanted by the cenotaphs to relive and delve in those mysterious historic tales that you read and imagined as a child in school.

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