Orchha was famed as an erstwhile princely state in the Bundelkhand region. The legendary Bundela chieftain Rudra Pratap Singh founded the town of Orchha, way back in the 16th century. Raja Jujhar Singh, a former Orchha monarch had renegaded against the mighty Mughal potentate, Shah Jehan in the 17th century. This act met with disastrous consequences and soon afterwards, in between 1635 to 1641 AD, the Mughal army took over the princely state and caused carnage and destruction. Very soon, however Orchha grew into a powerful empire. It became the only state that did not succumb before the Marathas in the 18th century. In the year 1783, the town of Tehri (present Tikamgarh) was established as the capital of Orchha. Tehri is also a historically eminent town that houses the majestic and crenulated fort of Tikamgarh. In the long lineage of the Orchha emperors, Maharajah Hamir Singh was another celebrated monarch who ruled over Orchha from1848 AD to 1874 AD. Maharaja Pratap Singh, Hamir Singh's successor ascended to the throne in 1874 AD and worked solely for the noble cause of the sustainable growth and development of the state's engineering and irrigation facilities. In fact, Orccha reached the zenith of prosperity during his regime. In the year 1904, the state encompassed an area of 2080 sq. miles and marked a net populace of 321,634 people. The first and foremost of the Bundela states with a 15-gun salute, the Maharajahs of Orchha were deeply esteemed in the region and were conferred the hereditary title of the First of the Princes of Bundelkhand. The annals about Orchha state that Vir Singh had coalesced his princely state with the Union of India on 1st January 1950.
Orchha lies in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. It has average elevation of 285 meters (936ft.). It has escaped being in the forefront in records over a long period of time. It contains majestic ancient architecture, known to be well preserved. The town lies on the banks of the river Betwa. The land-locked town of Orchha has a rocky terrain. Orchha spans across the latitudinal meridian of 25 degrees 35 minutes North on one hand and the longitudinal meridian of 78 degrees 64 minutes on the other.
By Air: Nearest Airport for reaching Orchha by flight are in Gwalior (150Kms) and Khajuraho (195Kms). Gwalior airport have connected with Mumbai and Delhi airport where as Khajuraho airport have connectivity with Delhi & Varanasi airports. In addition to this, air-taxi service connects Gwalior airport with other major cities of Madhya Pradesh like Jabalpur, Indore & Bhopal.
By Train: Nearest railway station to visit Orchha is Jhansi (Railway code: JHS) at a distance of 20 km /40minutes. Jhansi railway station is connected with many important cities & tourist destinations like Delhi, Agra, Gwalior, Jabalpur, Katni, Umaria, Bhopal, Pipariya, Haridwar, Chitrakoot, Varanasi, Nagpur, Mumbai, Bangalore, Gaya, Howrah etc. If you are looking for more train options to Rajasthan destinations like Jaipur, Bharatpur, Udaipur than Gwalior station (150kms) will be better option.
By Road: Orchha town lies on State-Highway No.37 that connects Jhansi city to Tikamgarh town. Orchha can be accessed by road from Agra, Gwalior, Khajuraho, Panna National Park, Shivpuri, Chanderi, Bhopal etc. Jhansi is the nearest larger town from Orchha. One can get bus & auto-rickshaw service between Jhansi to Orchha at frequent interval.
The average rainfall of Orchha is about 900 mm per year which comes mostly from south-west monsoon arises from Arabian sea. Here the monsoons last for 3-4 months spanning July to October. During monsoon, the weather remains pleasant as the Betwa River is filled with water and flows swiftly. Summer season prevails from April to July where temperature rises up to 47Â°C. Winter season spans from December to February.
The Orchha Nature Reserve is situated across the Betwa River, on way to Khajuraho and Panna. The forest is bounded by the Jamni and Betwa Rivers on all sides. There is a wildlife sanctuary which is located on the far bank of the Betwa River in Orchha. The sanctuary spreads over an area of 15 km wide and 25 km long. There are about 200 species of birds and wild animals such as wild boar, blue bulls and sloth bears. The forests around Orchha (Chandpura, Ronda, Katelkhandi, Sujanpur and Larpura forest reserves) and the plantation in the heritage zone especially the citadel area makes the region rich in flora and fauna.
Orcha is only slowly catching up to the times in terms of infrastructure. It is a quaint town which has its bustling market places and hubs. Like many places in India that are in transition from village to town, the infrastructure for water, sanitation and waste management is woefully inadequate in Orchha. Open defecation is still the norm, plastic waste is scattered along the roadsides and new houses are constructed without proper drainage or waste water treatment. Steps have been taken towards mindful construction of houses in Orchha, pertaining to tradition. Most houses are brick walled. The traditional roofs are sloping and covered with clay tiles. A tradition that is better suited to the climate than the flat, concrete roofs that are mushrooming in Orchha.
Other developments are that the approach road that links the town with the Jhansi-Khajuraho road has been upgraded. So, the intersections link the royal complex of Jehangir, Raja and Sheesh Mahals; and the chhhatris. On the hotel front, while Amar Mahal and Orchha Resort cater to the up-market tourists, Madhya Pradesh Tourism' Sheesh Mahal and Betwa Retreat continue to offer great value for money experiences. While the delightful Sheesh Mahal has recently been categorized as a Heritage Hotel, the Betwa Retreat has been categorized as a 3-star property.
As the settlement grew east of the island the main street extended from the Nav-chowk towards the eastern gate in the city wall. On either side of the main street, shorter north-south streets stretched the urban fabric in tightly clustered linear neighborhoods. Vernacular housing facades present a picturesque streetscape that is at the risk of being destroyed by new construction. The street connecting the north gate of the city wall to the Nav-chowk extended southwards over time towards the river. Shops, restaurants and cheap lodging have sprung up on both sides of this north-south spine. The views to the fort across the moat are framed in small gateways. Further south, vending structures obstruct the view. As the street jogs west towards the cenotaphs, the river and the open land on its bank, comes into view. South of the intersection of N-S and E-W main streets, a high-end hotel district has developed in the last decade or so.
Orchha's landscape features narrow gates, fort-like temples, grand palaces housing vibrant murals of the Bundela School of Painting, and perfectly symmetrical chhatris standing by the river Betwa. Orchha has a rich architectural heritage which symbolizes the Bundela architecture from 16th to 18th century A.D. The name Orchha is derived from the remark of a Rajput Chief who exclaimed the land as 'ondche' as it lies low or far enough and is considered as a place with provides natural security. The town is famous as a pilgrim centre of Lord Ram, who is worshiped in the renowned Rama Raja Temple. The heritage structures were all built between 1531 and 1627 AD by the Bundela Rajput Kings, known for their valor and virtuosity. The monuments that dot Orchha's rural landscape include Jehangir Mahal, Raja Mahal, Chaturbhuj Temple, Ram Raja Temple, Laxmi Narayan Temple, Rai Praveen Mahal, Diman Hardaul's Mahal, Phool Bagh, and Sundar Mahal. Altogether 56 monuments have been identified as heritage by the State Archaeological Department. Out of these 36 are protected by the State Archaeological Department. The remaining 20 have been recommended for being declared as protected monuments and await formal gazette publication.
The architectural heritage of Orchha represents traditional architecture of the region which is mostly the Indo-Islamic architecture. Jahangir Mahal, which is one of the most popular palaces in Orchha, is a colossal structure with each side measuring 67m, ascending to three stories and crowned by eight domes. This notable architectural achievement is often compared to structures at Fatehpur Sikri built nearly 150 years earlier. The architecture of Raj Mahal is said to be a blend of Rajput and Mughal styles (as evidenced from the multi-foiled arched entrances and stone jaali work).
Other structures with notable architectural styles in Orchha include, the Kanteela Darwaja, Raj Mahal, Jahangir Mahal, Sheesh Mahal, Ram Raja Temple, Chaturbhuj Temple, Laxmi Temple, Chhatri, Palki Mahal and Phool Bagh, Rai Praveen Mahal, Unt Khana, Shahi Darwaja, Panchmukhi Mahadev Temple, Raiman Dauji Ki Kothi, open Theatre of Indrajit Singh, Shyam Daua Kit Kothi, Radhika Bihari Temple, Vanvasi Ram Temple and Ganesh Darwaja.
The cultural heritage of Orchha is rooted in Vaishnavaite mythology and its re-enactment in the daily life of its residents. Pilgrims visit the Orchha temples in large numbers on religious festivals. The temple activities include the devotee obtaining darshan, giving their offerings to the gods, singing bhajans (sacred chants), and performing life cycle related ceremonies. Outside the temples, pilgrim activities include bathing in Betwa and participating in the ritual processions that culminate in the immersion of idols in the river. Fairs (melas) on festivals in the public spaces draw huge crowds from Jhansi, Tikamgarh and nearby towns and villages. These ritual enactments in Orchha's public spaces are demonstrations of living traditions inherited from the past.
Panchkroshi parikrama (circumambulation) on Orchha streets occurs every month. The ritual procession is a meaningful use of public spaces, an aspect of intangible heritage that should be conserved by addressing its spatial requirements. The parikrama begins at the cenotaphs and covers 12 kilometers in two days. The circulation of images and objects in the temple plazas and fairs is part of Orchha's local economy. It creates a kinetic landscape, always in flux, responding to the visitor flow and festival cycle.
This shifting landscape is juxtaposed with the monumental landscape of heritage buildings in the fort and town. Sacred icons of gods and goddesses, sweets and other edibles, incense, flowers and other objects used as offerings to the gods and ephemera-trinkets, souvenirs, antiques, household and craft objects-in stalls, shops, and vendors spreading their wares on the ground, add interesting patterns and colors to the public places.
They invite curiosity, touch, and social interaction. They add life and vibrancy to the public realm. The Nagar Panchayat (municipality) owns 51 shops in the Ram Raja Temple plaza. Public feast is offered to 25,000 people at the Temple during the festival of Ramvivah Pancham (Ram and Sita's wedding). The huge surge of pilgrims occurs on Makar Sakranti, Basant Panchami, Ramnavami, Ramvivah Pancham, and Kartik Purinima. The festivals and fairs, although 'pulse events' occurring episodically, stretch the carrying capacity of public spaces causing overcrowding, traffic glitches, solid waste management problem and river pollution.
Population of Orchha is about 10000 people. As it is a part of the Bundelkhand region, the land is not so fertile and is rockier. Here the occupational structure shows that people are mostly engaged in service sector than agriculture. They are either earning their livelihood through tourism or from services in nearby cities like Tikamgarh, Jhansi, and Gwalior etc. Others are engaged in handicrafts - making bamboo items, pottery work, miniature painting etc. The new generation is more interested in the tourism industry since it earns them more money in less time as well as interaction with foreigners. It is also a source of income while not having to leave their native place.
Orchha is famous for its unique arts and crafts. These arts and crafts are community based economic activities which are mostly practiced in a small scale at household level. Traditionally, the walls of temples, palaces and Chhatris were adorned by the Bundela art. Bundela paintings depict all aspects of life and have strong religious overtones. The Ram Raja Temple and the adjacent Chathurbhuj Temple are among the finest examples of how traditional beliefs have made an impact on the present living pattern in Orchha.
Jehangir Mahal - Built by Raja Bir Singh Ju Deo in the 17th century to commemorate the visit of Emperor Jehangir to Orchha. Its strong lines are counterbalanced by delicate chhatris and trellis work, the whole conveying an effect of extraordinary richness.
Raj Mahal - Situated to the right of the quadrangle, this palace was built in the 17th century by Madhukar Shah, the deeply religious predecessor of Bir Singh Ju Deo. The plain exteriors, crowned by chhatris, give way to interiors with exquisite murals, boldly colorful on a variety of religious themes.
Rai Parveen Mahal - Poetess and musician, Rai Parveen was the beautiful paramour of Raja Indramani (1672- 76) and was sent to Delhi on the orders of the Emperor Akbar, who was captivated by her. She so impressed the Great Mughal with the purity of her love for Indramani that he sent her back to Orchha. The palace built for her is a low, two-storeyed brick structure designed to match the height of the trees in the surrounding, beautifully landscaped gardens of Anand Mahal, with its octagonal flower beds and elaborate water supply system. Skillfully carved niches allow light into the Mahal which has a main hall and smaller chambers.
Chaturbhuj Temple - Built upon a massive stone platform and reached by a steep flight of steps, the temple was specially constructed to enshrine the image of Rama that remained in the Ram Raja Temple. Lotus emblems and other symbols of religious significance provide the delicate exterior ornamentation. Within, the sanctum is chastely plain with high, vaulted walls emphasizing its deep sanctity.
Laxminarayan Temple - A flagstone path links this temple with the Ram Raja Temple. The style is an interesting synthesis of fort and temple moulds. The interiors contain the most exquisite of Orchha's wall paintings. Covering the walls and ceiling of three halls, these murals are vibrant compositions and cover a variety of spiritual and secular subjects. They are in excellent state of preservation, with the colours retaining their vivid quality.
Phool Bagh - Laid out as a formal garden, this complex testifies to the refined aesthetic qualities of the Bundelas. A central row of fountains culminates in an eight pillared palace-pavilion. A subterranean structure below was the cool summer retreat of the Orchha kings. An ingenious system of water ventilation connects the underground palace with Chandan Katora, a bowl-like structure from whose fountains droplets of water filtered through to the roof, simulating rainfall.
Sunder Mahal - This small palace, almost in ruins today is still a place of pilgrimage for Muslims. Dhurjban, son of Jhujhar, embraced Islam when he wed a Muslim girl at Delhi. He spent the latter part of his life in prayer and meditation and came to be revered as a saint.
Chhatris (Cenotaphs) - There are 14 Chhatris or Memorials to the rulers of Orchha, grouped along the Kanchan Ghat of the river Betwa.
Shahid Smarak - Commemorates the great freedom fighter Chandrashekhar Azad who lived and worked in hiding in Orchha during 1926 and 1927. Other places worth seeing are the shrines of Siddh Baba Ka Sthan, Jugal Kishore, Janki Mandir and the Hanuman Mandir at Ochharedwara.
Ram Raja Temple - the Ram Raja Temple is perhaps the most important though unusual of all the temples in Orchha. This is the only temple in the country where Rama is worshipped as a king that too in a palace. According to legends, once Lord Rama appeared in a dream to king Madhukar Shah and directed him to build a temple for him. The king followed the instructions given by Rama and brought his idol from Ayodhya, the birthplace of the lord. However, the construction of the temple was not complete when the idol arrived from Ayodhya. So it was kept in the palace for the time being. Later, the king remembered that in the dream Lord Rama had specifically mentioned that his idol could not be removed from the place where it has been originally kept. This led the king to abandon the construction of the temple and instead the palace where the idol was kept was converted into a temple.