Orchha today is a sleepy little hamlet but it was once the capital city of the mighty Bundelkhand Empire. From time immemorial, Bundelkhand has been an important destination for all sorts of tourists and travellers.
The famous Chinese pilgrim, Hiuen Tsang, visited the area in the 7th century a.d. and gave a vivid account of the kingdom of ‘Jejakabhuti’, which corresponds to modern day Bundelkhand and a small part of Bagelkhand as well.
Orchha as it stands today, was founded in the 16th century a.d. by the Bundela chieftain, Rudra Pratap. The Bundelas were a warrior tribe who traced their ancestry to a medieval Rajput prince who sacrificed his life for the mountain goddess, Vrindavasini. In return, the goddess proclaimed that henceforth, he and his descendants would be known as ‘Bundelas’, or ‘those who gave blood’. The Orchha Bundelas are said to be chiefs of the Bundela clan settled all over the plains of North India.
Although Orchha was never really a very affluent place, that did not deter the fiercely proud Bundelas from undertaking ambitious projects. Orchha’s legacy has been captured in stone and frozen in time, a rich legacy to all ages.
The remarkable proportions of the exteriors are matched by the grandeur of the interior-rich repositories of Bundela art. The richness of its palaces, temples and cenotaphs is reflected in the gently flowing water of the Betwa River.
The most notable is the Jahangir Mahal, a tiered palace crowned by graceful chhatris (domed pavilions). From here, the view of soaring temple spires and cenotaphs is spectacular.
The richness of the Jahangir Mahal contrasts nicely with the austere beauty of the Raj Mahal, built by Madhukar Shah who was a religious-minded person.
The last of the trio of palaces which embellish the Orchha fort is the Rai Parveen Mahal, built in the 17th century for Rai Parveen, the talented and artistically inclined lover of Orchha’s king, Raja Indrajit Singh.
of the three main temples, the Laxminarayan Temple is a curious mix of fort and temple architecture. Most of its walls are decorated with murals, some with secular themes. On the other hand, the Ramaraja Temple is unusual in that here, Rama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu (the Hindu Preserver of the Universe), is worshipped as a ruler, and the building is actually a palace.
Orchha, situated on river Betwa, has various historical legends associated with it. However, not much of it is known before the 1501 A.D. when the city was founded by Rudra Pratap sinhg, a Rajput ruler of Bundelkhand. He was the first king of Orchha and built the Orchha Fort.
The city was attacked by the Mughal Army under the generalship of Shah Jahan, in the early part of the 17th century. The Mughals gained reign over the city and ruled here till 1641 A.D. All the attempts of the Marathas to rule over Orchha went in vain and in the year 1783, Tehri was declared as the capital of Orchha.
The city was ruled by Hamir Singh from 1848 to 1874 A.D and in the year 1865, the king gained the title of the ‘Maharaja’. Maharaja Pratap Singh sat on the throne of Orchha in 1874.