Orchha was founded in the 16th century by the Bundela Rajput chieftain, Rudra Pratap, who chose this stretch of land along the Betwa river as an ideal site for his capital. Of the succeeding rulers, the most notable was Raja Bir Singh Ju Deo who built the exquisite Jehangir Mahal, a tiered palace crowned by graceful chhatris. From here the view of soaring temple spires and cenotaphs is spectacular. Complementing the noble proportions of their exteriors are interiors which represent the finest flowering of the Bundela school of painting. In the Laxminarayan Temple and Raj Mahal, vibrant murals encompassing a variety of religious and secular themes, bring the walls and ceilings to rich life. Strewn around the area are the little shrines and memorials, each with its own poignant history, each contributing to the nostalgic beauty that is Orchha.
Must see places : Orchha's fort complex, approached by a multi- arched bridge, has three palaces set in an open quadrangle.
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.
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 colourlul 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ChandrashekharAzad 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.
Sound and Light Show:
This mesmerizing show of the sound and Light takes place at various destinations in Orchha. These destinations include the Chaturbhuj temple, the Jehangir Mahal, the Raj Mahal, the Cenotaphs, etc.
Excursions from Orchha - Jhansi Fort:
Jhansi Fort which is about 20 km away from Orchha is an awesome site and was built by Bir Singh Ju Deo, the Raja of Orchha, in 1613. It is situated on a rocky hill called Bangra in the town of Balwantnagar, known today as Jhansi. The fort has ten gates including the Khandero Gate, Datia Darwaza, Unnao Gate, Jharna Gate, Laxmi Gate, Sagar Gate, Orchha Gate, Sainyar Gate, and Chand Gate. The fort has a fine collection of sculptures which provide an excellent insight into the eventful history of Bundelkhand. Among places of interest within the main fort area is the Karak Bijli Toup (Tank), Rani Jhansi Garden, Shiv temple and a Mazar of Ghulam Gaus Khan, Moti Bai and Khuda Baksh.
Barua Sagar Fort:
The Barua Fort is another excellent destination just 25 km away from Orchha. The Barua Sagar fort, picturesquely located at a height, commands an excellent view of the lake and surrounding landscape. The place is named after the Barua Sagar Tal, a large lake created about 260 years ago when Raja Udit Singh of Orchha built the embankment. The town is situated on the road to Khajuraho from Jhansi.
This wonderful temple located 20 km away from Orchha is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. This place is of great historic importance as the battle between the Marathas and Bundela kings was fought here.