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Royal Chhatris of Orchha – Testimony to mighty Bundelas

5 months ago | tourtravel | 0 comments
The sun setting over the chhatris of Orchha's ruins casting a pink hue to the sky, as spotted from the Betwa River that flows by Orchha © Steve Allen

In this Article:
The Significance of Royal Cenotaphs or Chhatris
The Tradition behind Orchha’s Chhatris
Chandrashekhar Azad’s Memorial Park in Orchha

The Significance of Royal Cenotaphs or Chhatris

Reflecting in the meandering Betwa River stands a row of fourteen chhatris or cenotaphs dedicated to the erstwhile kings of Orchha. This must be the most melancholy sight in the entire region as they silently pay homage to the power and wealth of times gone by. In a way, they represent the proud history of the mighty Bundela rulers who presided here.

Built south of Orchha town, the cenotaphs nestle close together on the banks of the river. They were built between the 16th and the 18th century and all resemble temples, raised on elevated squares, except Bir Singh’s cenotaph. The majority are in the typical Panchayatana design with four subsidiary shrines surrounding the main shrine or Garbhagriha in the center. The spires or Shikharas reflect the North Indian or Nagara architecture.

The wide path laden between the cenotaphs, the royal structures dating back to the fifteenth century, looking over the structures and the greenery around, Orchha

The wide path is laden between the cenotaphs, the royal structures dating back to the fifteenth century, looking over the structures and the greenery around, Orchha © RealityImages


Bir Singh’s cenotaph was built according to a palace design rather than a temple and has no dome. Because it lies in closer proximity to the Betwa, the waters of the river would surround it completely when the monsoons arrive. Inside the mausoleum is linked to the 4 main halls and those in the corners by a passageway. The entrance faces the river as the king was rumored to love the tranquil beauty of the river and enjoyed bathing in the river.

Other chhatris were constructed to commemorate rulers like Madhukar Shah, Bharti Chand, Sawan Singh, Bahar Singh, Pahar Singh, and Udait Singh. Although they do not house any mortal remains, it is said that they were each built on the sites of the king’s cremation.

The best place to admire these buildings is from across the Betwa. The early rising sun illuminates them at dawn and their magnificent silhouettes fall darkly on the water of the river at sunset.

Kanchana Ghat has a bundle of chhattris on it, Orchha

Kanchana Ghat has a bundle of chhattris on it, Orchha © Inderkant


The Tradition behind Orchha’s Chhatris

After succeeding Bharti Chand, his brother in 1554, Madhukar Shah was constantly fighting the northern rulers. Nevertheless, he was an able ruler of Orchha and when Akbar, the Mughal emperor heard about his strong religious believes the latter immediately decided to put them to the test. He declared it illegal to have a rosary, as well as a tilak, the vermillion dot on foreheads. Madhukar would not be deterred and during a visit to the Mughal court, he wore them both. The emperor was duly impressed by his courage and piety. The Shah became his people’s hero and from that day on his tilak became the distinctive custom of the Bundelas. Madhukar defied Akbar a second time when he would not slaughter a lion when ordered to do so, believing that it represents Narasimha, a Vishnu incarnation.

The shot of an ancient temple with multiple stories and unique architecture in the idyllic town of Orchha set on the banks of Betwa river

The shot of an ancient temple with multiple stories and unique architecture in the idyllic town of Orchha set on the banks of Betwa river © DavidCallan / Getty Images


This insubordination enraged Akbar and on several occasions, he tried to seize Orchha. The first attempt took place in 1577 but Orchha could not be subdued. His attacks were relentless and he finally succeeded in 1588. During a battle led by Ulug Beg, Udai Singh Rathore and Sadiq Khan the Mughals managed to kill Madhukar’s sons, and eventually, he was expelled from Orchha in 1591. One year later he died in the hills of Narwar where he took refuge.

This tradition of constructing cenotaphs to commemorate their nobility and rulers is not unique to Orchha; they can be found in various parts of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Outside Jaisalmer, Bada Bagh has several magnificent chhatris built from sandstone and near the crematorium for the royals near Bikaner; Devi Kund has a few impressive chhatris. Other examples are those in Indore in Madhya Pradesh State, the Scindias cenotaphs at Shiv Puri, as well as the cenotaphs of the Holkar dynasty in Krishnapura.

The chhattri built in memory of Bir Singh Deo is in a different style than the other cenotaphs. The chhattri looks over the river Betwa, Orchha

The chhatri built-in memory of Bir Singh Deo is in a different style than the other cenotaphs. The chhatri looks over the river Betwa, Orchha © Sahil Ghosh


Chandrashekhar Azad’s Memorial Park in Orchha

Chandra Shekhar Azad, leader of a revolutionary organization and freedom fighter used the forest near Orchha as refuge and hide-out but was finally taken captive in Allahabad at the Alfred Park by British forces in 1931 when he left his shelter. He could not face capture and shot himself. A memorial for this brave man, together with other revolutionaries was erected in Shaheed Smarak, two miles outside Orchha towards Jhansi.

A wide shot of the regal temple complex at the Orchha city with its many dome-shaped roofs dating back the seventeenth century

A wide shot of the regal temple complex at the Orchha city with its many dome-shaped roofs dating back to the seventeenth century © saiko3p


The collapsed ceiling of once an assembly hall of the Orchha Palace is now one of the most spectacular ruins of the area, framing the sky with its traditionally vintage walls

The collapsed ceiling of once an assembly hall of the Orchha Palace is now one of the most spectacular ruins of the area, framing the sky with its traditionally vintage walls © ImagesofIndia


The ruins of what was once a corridor of the mahal or palace in Orchha now lies open underneath the sky

The ruins of what was once a corridor of the mahal or palace in Orchha now lies open underneath the sky © ImagesofIndia


Madhukar’s chhattri with its unique Ganesh shrine, Orchha

Madhukar’s chhatri with its unique Ganesh shrine, Orchha


The sheer size of the ancient structures of Orchha, even in ruins, elucidates the magnitude of its once vibrant empire

The sheer size of the ancient structures of Orchha, even in ruins, elucidates the magnitude of its once vibrant empire © DavidCallan / Getty Images


The complex and intricate painting on the round ceiling of a chhatri at an ancient royal structure of the Bundela kings of Orcha

The complex and intricate painting on the round ceiling of a chhatri at an ancient royal structure of the Bundela kings of Orcha © EPhotocorp


Women in the native rural surroundings of Madhya Pradesh’s Orchha walk by the temples and royal cenotaphs, unfazed by their historical enigma

Women in the native rural surroundings of Madhya Pradesh’s Orchha walk by the temples and royal cenotaphs, unfazed by their historical enigma © ImagesofIndia


View of Royal cenotaphs (Chhatris) of Orchha from the other side of the Betwa river, Orchha

View of Royal cenotaphs (Chhatris) of Orchha from the other side of the Betwa river, Orchha © ImagesofIndia


Well maintained lush gardens keep the ageless charm of the complex of temple Chhatris that were built in the 17th century in memory of the ruler of the Orchha city

Well maintained lush gardens keep the ageless charm of the complex of temple Chhatris that were built in the 17th century in memory of the ruler of the Orchha city © Damian Pankowiec


The rocks that were used in the building of the Bundela Kings’ palace in Orchha have discoloured with the wear and tear of time, yet they stand majestic as a reminder of the lands’ power © Goddard_Photography / Getty Images

The rocks that were used in the building of the Bundela Kings’ palace in Orchha have discolored with the wear and tear of time, yet they stand majestic as a reminder of the lands’ power © Goddard_Photography / Getty Images


The gracefully aged cenotaphs and bas-reliefs on the roof of the temple in Orchha City looking over the complex

The gracefully aged cenotaphs and bas-reliefs on the roof of the temple in Orchha City looking over the complex © Nastya Dubrovina


The Chhatris or Cenotaphs of Orchha in Madhya Pradesh, which are a part of the archeological town established by Rudra Pratap Singh in 1501

The Chhatris or Cenotaphs of Orchha in Madhya Pradesh, which are a part of the archeological town established by Rudra Pratap Singh in 1501 © Kevin Standage


The elaborately carved chhatri or cenotaph is the reminder of the rule of the Bundela Kings in Madhya Pradesh centuries ago, Orchha

The elaborately carved chhatri or cenotaph is the reminder of the rule of the Bundela Kings in Madhya Pradesh centuries ago, Orchha © dejan_k


Scattered alongside the banks of Betwa River and the whole town of Orchha are ancient temples from a long time ago which stand as a reminder of the land’s vibrant history

Scattered alongside the banks of Betwa River and the whole town of Orchha are ancient temples from a long time ago which stand as a reminder of the land’s vibrant history © DavidCallan / Getty Images


Langurs or monkeys of the genus Semnopithecus sit in the shade of the cenotaphs on the roofs of the ancient Bundela structures that once signified the seat of power in the region, Orchha

Langurs or monkeys of the genus Semnopithecus sit in the shade of the cenotaphs on the roofs of the ancient Bundela structures that once signified the seat of power in the region, Orchha © Goddard_Photography / Getty Images


A vulture sits on the top of an old structure, camouflaging into the cenotaph as it looks over the widespread complex in search of prey, Orchha

A vulture sits on the top of an old structure, camouflaging into the cenotaph as it looks over the widespread complex in search of prey, Orchha © ImagesofIndia


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