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The Magnificent Orchha Fort

Situated near the Betwa river in Madhya Pradesh, Orchha was once the fortified capital of the Bundela Rajput kings. Containing several distinctive palaces, temples, and other monuments, the Orchha fort complex reflects the diverse heritage of the region.

Orchha Fort

Orchha Fort. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons


A Bundela chief by the name of Rudra Pratap Singh founded Orchha in the early 16th century. Wary of attacks by the Mughal army, Rudra Pratap planned to fortify the site. However, he died before he could finish the project. In 1531, Rudra Pratap’s son Bharti Chand completed the fortification and shifted the Bundela capital from Garh Kundar to Orchha. The rugged terrain and dense surrounding jungle ensured that the settlement was virtually impenetrable.

Orchha Fort

Aerial View of Orchha. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The most significant parts of the Orchha fort complex were constructed by Bir Singh Deo, who is often considered the greatest Bundela king of Orchha. Bir Singh had close ties to the Mughal prince Salim. Urged by Salim, Bir Singh ambushed and murdered the Mughal Emperor Akbar’s closest aide Abul Fazl in 1602. Fazl was known to have reservations about Salim succeeding his father as the emperor. Akbar responded by immediately invading Orchha, forcing Bir Singh to flee. However, three years later, Salim ascended the Mughal throne as Jahangir and appointed Bir Singh as the King of Orchha.

In 1626, Raja Bir Singh was succeeded by his son Raja Jhujhar Singh, who attempted to achieve independence from the Mughals. However, the Mughal army quelled any thoughts of rebellion by relentlessly besieging Orchha in 1635. Led by Aurangzeb as the military commander, the Mughals installed their flag at Orchha and appointed Jhujhar Singh’s brother Devi Singh as the new ruler. The campaign witnessed the extensive use of cannons.

In 1783, Raja Mahendra Vikramjit moved the capital to Tehri (which he renamed as Tikamgarh) and Orchha declined in significance. In 1811, the State of Orchha became a Princely State in the Bundelkhand Agency of the British. By the end of the following year, a treaty of alliance was signed by Raja Hammir Singh who was then given the title of Maharaja. After Independence, Maharaja Vir Singh merged the Princely State with India. At present, the monuments are under the protection of the Directorate of Archaeology, Archives and Museums, Government of Madhya Pradesh.


A new architectural style called Bundeli architecture evolved at Orchha. The chief characteristics of this style include high portals above main entrances, paintings on the walls, carved niches within panels, slanting eaves with moulded brackets, east-facing entrances, and centrally located courtyards. The style is influenced by the architecture of the Rajputs, the Delhi Sultans, as well as that of the Mughals.

Orchha Fort

Orchha Fort. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The entire settlement is split into two parts by the Betwa river. The main city lies towards the western part and includes various temples, gardens, and cenotaphs. Strong and wide fortification walls surround the whole city. The Pramukh Dwar or main entrance lies towards the north. It is a double-storied gateway with a Mughal arch on its façade.

The largest concentration of monuments is in a fort complex on the eastern side of the Betwa river. This complex contains several connected buildings from different time periods. It is located on an island that can be reached through a causeway or pul with fourteen arches. A wall with battlements and bastions surrounds the structures. The main entrance lies towards the east. Two other gateways can be found on the north-western and southern sides. The south western corner contains a number of palaces and is enclosed by ramparts. The Jahangir Mahal, the Raj Mahal, the Sheesh Mahal, the Rai Praveen Mahal, and the Jan Bhawan can be found in this enclosure. Moreover, two gardens and numerous hamams or baths are located here. Houses for workers, servants and soldiers are situated in the northern part of the fort. Many small shrines have also been built in this area.

The Jahangir Mahal was built in 1605 by Bir Singh Deo and named after his imperial patron- the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Built upon a square plan, the palace boasts of impressive bastions at each corner topped with ornate chhatris. The top of the palace offers breathtaking views of the Betwa river and the city outside. A grand ceremonial gateway stands to the east of the palace and is guarded by two stone elephants.

Orchha Fort

Jahangir Mahal. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The gate leads to the royal hamams and a small palace called the Rai Praveen Mahal. This palace served as the residence of Rai Praveen, a beautiful dancer and poet in the court of the Bundela king Indrajit Singh. The palace mainly consists of an open pavilion where musical performances and literary gatherings were held. The walls of the palace are adorned with several paintings depicting Rai Praveen.

Orchha Fort

Rai Praveen Mahal. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

According to local legends, the courtesan greatly impressed the Mughal emperor Akbar with her beauty and accomplishments. However, using her fine poetic skills, Rai Praveen gently declined the invitation to join the Mughal harem and instead remained with Indrajit Singh. The medieval poet Keshavdas praised Rai Praveen's unparalleled wit and beauty in his work Kavipriya.

One of the most significant structures within the fort complex is the Raja Mahal. This palace was largely built by Raja Madhukar Shah who ruled Orchha between 1554 and 1591. It contains the Diwan-i-Aam that was used by the king for public meetings. Numerous pillars and platforms can be observed in this hall. The highest platform was meant for the king while other ministers and nobles were seated on the lower levels, based on their rank. An entrance towards the East leads to the Diwan-i-Khas. The courtyards in this part of the Raja Mahal were used for gatherings during festivals and rituals. Murals depicting both secular and religious themes embellish the entire palace.

Orchha Fort

Raja Mahal. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Adjacent to the Raja Mahal is another palace known as the Sheesh Mahal. Built by Maharaja Udwat Singh in 1706, this royal residence is fitted with colourful pieces of glass and tiles. With palanquin-shaped roofs, oriel windows and beautiful jharokhas, the Sheesh Mahal is a stunning example of Bundeli architecture. The palace currently serves as a hotel.

The houses of nobility (Jan Bhawan) were built as smaller versions of these royal palaces. Bir Singh Deo is credited with constructing these houses or kothis for many of his close associates. The Kothi of Dauji, Kothi of Himma Hamir, and the Kothi of Shyam Daua are some of the surviving residences within the fort complex. A decorated Oontkhana (camel stable), an intricate Yajnashala (sacrificial chamber) and the Barudkhana (armoury) that currently houses the Saket Ramayana Museum can also be seen at the fort. Moreover, temples such as the Vallabh Mandir and the Radhika Bihari Temple dot the landscape and serve as fine examples of Bundeli architecture.

Orchha Fort

Radhika Bihari Temple. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Home to the beautiful art and architecture of the Bundelas, the Orchha fort complex forms a dense cluster of ornate buildings. Echoing with tales of romance and political intrigue, this unique site is undoubtedly a treasure-trove of Indian history and culture.