While closely looking through murals at Orchha’s Laxmi Narayan Temple, my attention was dragged to a particular mural, the depiction of Raj Mahal with musical performance being celebrated at the front courtyard. You see the organization of space, women observing the show from first floor, few in the front pavilion and the rest in side corridor. The prince takes the centre stage. Beside him is a row of men, mostly ministers and other court officers. Likewise beside the queen and princes are dasis sitting in a row. The palace, 4 storied is built in the Bundela style and surrounded by a thick fort. In the top floor is perhaps the raja escorted by dasis.
This mural may not be an accurate representation of Orchha’s Raj Mahal of yore, but it definitely provokes you to experience yourself what the jewel of Bundelkhand would look like, both inside and outside.
Raj Mahal built in the 16th century by successive Bundela rulers (Raja Rudra Pratap Singh, Raja Bharati Chand and Madhukar Shah) is Orchha’s yet another architectural delight. Unlike the later Jahangir Mahal, which has much Mughal influence, the Raj Mahal is devoid of lofty domes. Its exterior is mostly plain and from the distance you may be mistaken it as a single storied structure. But actually it is five storied.
Once you are inside, what draws your attention is colourful interiors. Both walls and ceilings are profusely painted with spectacular murals of mythological themes. Most of the paintings however revolve around the Ramayana and Vishnu cult. Some of the well-known murals are Vishnu’s Dashavatar, Hanuman in the court of Lord Rama, the lifting of Govardhan Hill by Lord Krishna, Samudra Manthan, and Krishna with gopis and so on.
You also see Raginis with peacocks and aspects of courtly life.
In some chambers, the ceilings are filled with patterns resembling intricately carved Persian carpets. It is likely that the prevalent Turkish-Persian artistic tradition in North India had deeply influenced Orchha rulers like Gwalior. The colours used mostly natural and herbal. Some of the murals are best preserved even after 5 centuries of their execution.
On the top floor, one can see remains of exquisite mirror work on walls with evidence of glass paneling between murals on the ceilings. When exposed to sunlight, these would combined effect of lighting up the entire chamber.
The architecture of the palace is a fusion of Rajput and Mughal style. The Mughal influence can be seen at multifold arched entrances and stone lattice work.
At the entrance of the palace are two audience spaces, Darwar – I – Khas and Darwar – I – Aam. The walls and ceilings of Darwar – I – Khas are filled with floral and geometric designs and inlays. The Darwar – I – Aam overlooks the open stage that was probably used for dance and musical performance (as seen the mural mentioned at the beginning).
Raj Mahal is square in plan. The pillared chamber in the centre divides the whole compound into two parts, the outer part housing the audience hall and the inner housing the private chambers of the royal family.
To me Raj Mahal in Orchha is one of India’s outstanding palaces and interestingly its artistic features, such as murals are best preserved. It speaks about the devotion of Bundela Kings for Lord Rama to whom they found as the king of divinity and the true ruler of the kingdom.