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Architectural and Cultural Marvels of Madhya Pradesh in Central India

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Madhya Pradesh is arguably India's finest repository of architectural monuments, some of which are known while many are absolutely untouched. History buffs flock to the three sites at Orcha, Datia and Sanchi in Central India.

Orchha is entered by a gate crowned with a brilliant red, elephant-headed Ganesh. The town’s name means ‘Hidden Place’ and the name is fitting of its concealed platforms, domes and spires rising out of dense jungle. The ramshackle town is situated alongside the Betwa River. It was established in 1501 by Maharaja Rudra Pratap Singh, as the seat of a former princely state of central India.

A seasonal island on the river’s soft banks is the foundation of an impressive palace-fort surrounded by a battlement wall. The fort is made up of several inter-connecting buildings erected at different points in history. The most significant are the Raja Mahal and the Jahangir Mahal, the latter considered to be a singularly beautiful example of Mughal architecture.

A host of cenotaphs or chhatris are dotted around the fort and along the shore of the Betwa River and elsewhere about the town there are a variety of temples and tombs. Sunsets turn the circling vultures to silhouettes as the Hindu devotees chant rhythmic incantations to Lord Rama, who they believe resides in Ram Raja Temple; and the whole town is turned dusky pinks and amber before being completely swallowed by the shadows of the encroaching jungle.

Datia is yet another eventful walled city in Central India. Situated about 40 km from Orchha, it stands in testimony to the friendship between Mughul Emperor Jehangir and Bir Singh Deo, the ruler of Datia, a part of the region then known as Bundelkhand. Bir Singh Deo, the ruler of Datia and an avid builder of the times, laid the foundations of Datia Mahal in 1614 and was built to mark Jehangir’s visit to the place.

It is an imposing architectural beauty, even as it stands desolate, uncared for and apparently forgotten. The seven storey Purana Mahal , originally called Bir Singh Deo Mahal after its founder is perched atop a rocky outcrop, encircled by a fort wall and overlooking the Karna Sagar Lake.

Datia Mahal is only one of very few palaces and forts structure in north and central India that boasts a spectacular amalgam of Indo-Islamic architecture though examples of such fusion are found in several temples in the regions. The palace is marked by a large courtyard at the core, in the centre of which is the 40m-high, five-storey tower, housing 440 rooms and several courtyards. Paintings executed with vegetable and other natural dyes, exquisite and intricate in design, adorn the walls and ceilings of several chambers of the top three floors of the palace.

The play of light and shade in several areas of the palace is scintillating as you walk down its labyrinthic corridors, windows veiled with elegant stone lattice work, each motif different from the other and ornate pillars and arches. From the terrace stunning view of the city’s Fort can be seen in full view with its royal quarters and temple.

The five storied Datia Fort built by the Bundela chief, Bir Singh Deo, in 1620 is situated on a rocky elevation with magnificent balconies, bridges and beautiful oriel windows offering attractive panoramas from any viewpoint. Datia Fort played host to the then British Governor-General, Lord Hastings in 1818 and a splendid durbar was held in 1902 for the Viceroy, Lord Curzon.

Ranking among the well known Buddhist sites, Sanchi is known for its art and architecture of ancient India. It is located around 40 kms from the city of Bhopal. The Sanchi Stupa is visited by hundreds of tourists and pilgrims which makes it one of the popular tourist attractions in Madhya Pradesh.

It was Emperor Ashoka who commissioned the design of Sanchi Stupa in Madhya Pradesh in the third century BC. A beautiful structure, the Stupa is surrounded by toranas. Each of the toranas represents love, peace, trust, and courage. The central chamber is made up of large hemispherical domes. Different relics of Lord Buddha are placed inside the chamber. The Stupa is surrounded by a large railing.

A World Heritage site, it is one of the best preserved ancient stupas in central India. The entrance of the Stupa is carved with beautiful sculptures which portray various Buddhist traits and characteristics. The gateways or the entrances are adorned with grand sculptures which represent incidents from the life of Lord Buddha.

Another fascinating feature about the Sanchi Stupa is the various representations of Lord Buddha in the form of footprints, wheels, thrones and so on. There are wonderful carvings which interpret the life of Buddha and his various incarnations from the Jataka tales. An archaeological museum is also located near the Stupa where tourists can witness various relics of the Stupa and also get a feel of the ancient Buddhist architecture.

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