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Cultural Landscapes of Orchha

Reclaiming the Lost Heritage

Department of Landscape Architecture University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA


List of Illustrations

Introduction 1

Fig. 1. Bundelkhand Physiography Fig. 2. Forts of Bundelkhand Fig. 3. Bundelkhand Timeline Fig. 4. Visual Structure of Orchha Fig. 5. Orchha Monuments Fig. 6. Historic Photographs of Orchha Monuments Fig. 7. Location of Orchha Monuments Fig. 8. Anand Mahal Bagh Fig. 9. Phool Bagh and its precedents Fig. 10. Townscape Fig. 11. Riverfront Streetscape Fig. 12. Tourism in Orchha Fig. 13. Pilgrimage in Orchha Fig. 14. Orchha Master Plan Fig. 15. Visual Management Plan for Orchha Town Fig. 16. Visual Structure of Island Fort Fig. 17. Visitor Trails Fig. 18. Viewpoint and Padav Sthals on Visitor Trails Fig. 19. Prototype for Padav Sthals Fig. 20. Archaeological Park Trail Details Fig. 21. Archaeological Park Trailhead Design Fig. 22. Existing Landscapes in Island Fort Fig. 23. Eco-Cultural Trail Fig. 24. Land Use Pattern Fig. 25. Urban Spaces in the Sacred Center Fig. 26. Activities in the Sacred Center Fig. 27. Orchha Site Plan Fig. 28. Conceptual Planning for the Sacred Center Fig. 29. Design proposals for the Sacred Center Fig. 30. Anand Mahal Bagh Restoration Proposal Fig. 31. Proposed Landscape Plan for the Archaeological Park Fig. 32. Phool Bagh Restoration Proposal Fig. 33. Restoration Plan for Phool Bagh Waterworks Fig. 34. Existing Water Channels and Pools in Phool Bagh Fig. 35. Riverfront Redesign Fig. 36. Cenotaphs on the Betwa: Site Analysis Fig. 37. Nalis in Orchha Fig. 38. Site Hydrology Fig. 39. Proposal for the Nali system Fig. 40. Moat Reclamation Fig. 41. Site Analysis of Moat and Riverfront Fig. 42. Streetscape Redesign along the moat Fig. 43. Low-income Housing Design Fig. 44. Traffic Management Proposal Fig. 45. Analysis of Traffic Patterns Fig. 46. Proposal for Parking and other facilities

Bundelkhand 3 Bundelas 5 Natural Heritage 7 Landscape Heritage 9 Archaeological Heritage 11 Garden Heritage— Anand Mahal Bagh


Phool Bagh 17 Cultural heritage—Myths and Legends


Rituals and Festivals 21 Arts 23 Vernacular Heritage 25 Tourism in Orchha 28 Orchha Site Planning 29 Orchha Master Plan 31 Visual Management—Town 33 Visual Structure of Island Fort


Heritage Trails 37 Archaeological Park Trail


Eco-Cultural Trail 41 Sacred Center Reclamation


Site Plan 45 Anand Mahal Bagh Restoration


Phool Bagh Restoration


Riverfront Redesign 51 Sanitation Planning 53 Moat Reclamation 55 Housing Design 57 Traffic Management


Conclusion 60 Bibliography 60 Project Credits 61

Summary The monograph summarizes the results of a site workshop in Orchha (January 5-9, 2012) by faculty and students from the Departments of Landscape Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urban Champaign, USA and BNCA College, Pune, India. The landscape planning and design proposals for conserving Orchha’s natural, cultural and archaeological heritage outlined in this workshop were developed in a semester long studio (January-May 2012) back in UIUC campus. Orchha is one of the most important heritage towns in Madhya Pradesh, India. As the capital of the Bundelas from 1531-1783 CE, its monuments, gardens, temples, and murals represent great achievements in the arts, in buildings and landscape design. The cultural landscape sustained a rich tradition of myths, ballads, literary and folk arts. Site mappings of terrain and hydrology revealed the historic landscape structure guided by vastu-vidya, i.e. traditional planning and design principles used in building forts and locating temples. Orchha’s heritage is under threat from new development, degradation of historic sites, and loss of collective memory. Each category of heritage is described briefly and its conservation and interpretation though landscape planning and design is outlined. In our proposal, heritage precincts are protected and managed through interpretive trails linking the monuments in the archaeological park proposed in the island citadel with those in the town. Cultural heritage is promoted through reclamation of historic plazas and gardens for performances and exhibition of arts and crafts, and extension of panchkroshi parikrama marg for re-enactment of ritual processions. Natural heritage is conserved through ecological planning of the riverfront, constructing a weir and extending the ghats. Sanitation improvement through storm water management, street tree planting, and constructing wetlands in the moat is recommended. Low-income housing design using vernacular architecture precedents is proposed. Traffic management by separating high speed traffic from the pedestrian core, providing parking and other service facilities is suggested. The master plan offers a blueprint for conservation of Orchha’s heritage through environmentally sustainable site planning proposals.


“Thus we have an instance of a city between whose foundation and complete abandonment there is an interval of only three centuries. Though not very ancient, it contains many subjects of great interest for the traveller. Built all at one period by a young and powerful race, it has a distinctive character peculair to itself. Everything in it is imposing, full of originality and broadly concieved; and its palaces and its chief temple bear comparison with the masterpieces of the great Hindoo Schools of Architecture.� -Louis Rousselet (1882; p. 350) ii



rchha’s heritage is multi-dimensional although its monuments receive the most attention and are protected by the Department of State Archaeology. Archaeological heritage, however, is only one segment of its heritagescape. Its natural heritage is barely acknowledged in the protected Orchha Forest Sanctuary. Its landscape heritage is of equal, if not greater significance than its historic architecture. Historic landscapes represented the social order, religious values, and the Bundela culture’s view of nature. The planning and design principles used for producing and (re) producing habitable, defensible, and a symbolic landscape in the three centuries of their rule, are lost knowledge today. The cultural landscape survives as a barely discernible palimpsest, its historic layers buried in new development. It is a site of memories and their enactment, encapsulates a way of seeing and also of imagining the past. The living traditions of temple worship, festivals, and rituals performed in the Betwa, are site specific, leading to the continual remaking of the public spaces. But the historic precincts that are not sites of worship lie neglected and uncared for, unless they are farmed.

are embellished to extol and admonish. They contain allusions to Orchha’s landscape—its palace gardens and its river, but no factual descriptions of the citadel and the settlement. Landscape history of Orchha therefore must be constructed from relics and remnants of the past and assessed for its heritage value.

Bundela architecture had an intimate and indissoluble relationship with the landscape. Visual axes integrated the buildings into a cohesive urban structure that today is barely discernible, making the imaginative interpretation of the past, difficult, if not impossible. Palatine and temple designs of the Bundelas were stylistic innovations in medieval Rajput architecture. Based upon archetypal mandala forms with elements from Sultanate and Mughal architecture, they are unique aesthetic statements. Bundela art, an integral part of architecture, in palace and temple murals, is a window into their inner world. It depicts the cultural master narrative containing models for values and behavior. The appreciation of Bundela art and architecture is possible to its fullest extent only if the cultural landscape, from which they derive their forms and meanings, is conserved and managed. Bundela legends are oral histories sung as ballads, in the process reinvigorating collective memories. These legends create the context for interpretation of monumental heritage. Stories of valor and piety tie the historic personages to specific sites of their temples and palaces. The epitome of Bundela literature is Keshavdas’s texts in vernacular Brajbhasha, written in poetic traditions from classical Sanskrit. Ratnabhavani and Virsinghdevcharit are idealized narratives of Bundela princes in which historic facts 1

Fig 1 : Bundelkhand Physiography

Fig 2 : Forts of Bundelkhand


Bundelkhand Bundelkhand Plateau is part of the greater Vindhyachal Plateau, north of the Vindhyachal mountain range. Low gneiss and sandstone ridges with quartz veins running north-east, south-west are crossed at right angles by basaltic dykes. The rivers Betwa, Dhasan Ken and their tributaries have carved narrow deep valleys upstream with ravines downstream towards north. Seasonal streams spring up during monsoons tracing their courses in a dendritic pattern through the rocky plateau. Teak forests flourish in the alluvial plain formed with soils of sandy loam and disintegrated basaltic Deccan trap. Beyond are the scrub jungles of Mahua, Kardhai, and Khair. This rocky, barren landscape was ideal for fort building by the Rajputs in the medieval period and was their sanctuary from Mahmud of Ghazni’s raids, and later attacks by Sultanate and Mughal forces. A few were ancient strongholds such as Ajaigarh and Kalinjar on high spurs of the Vindhyan range, built up as strong forts by the Chandellas. Ajaigarh was their capital while Kalinjar described in the epic Mahabharata as tapasyasthana and abode of Shiva, destroyer of time, was an important stronghold. Both forts were taken over by the Mughals and later occupied by Chattrasal Bundela of Panna. Garh Kundar was built in the 9th century by the Chandellas, taken over by the tribal Khangars on their decline and then occupied by the Bundela chief Sohanpal in the 13th century until their move to Orchha in 1531 CE. Forts built by the tribal Gonds and rebuilt by the Bundelas include Talbehat rebuilt by Ram Shah and Dhamoni by Birsingh Deo. Chanderi Fort on a sandstone hill overlooking the Kiratsagar Lake was built by the Chandellas, came under the Malwa Sultanate and became famous as the site of the great battle between the Rajput Medini Rai and Babur. It was given by the Mughals to the Bundela chief, Bharat Shah. The fortress palaces of Datiya and Jhansi built in the 17th century by Birsingh Deo Bundela rise on low hills overlooking lakes Karan Sagar and Barua Sagar.

Fig 3 : Bundelkhand Timeline

Courtesy: Department of Landscape Architecture, DR. B. N. College of Architecture, Pune, India



Bundelas The Bundelas rose to power as the Chandella influence waned in the region. They claim to be suryavanshis, tracing their lineage to Lava, Lord Ram’s son. Gaharwars of Kashi were their ancestors, confirming their status as high class Rajputs. Bundela name was given to one Hemkaran who was dispossessed of his inheritance by his brothers. He offered his head in sacrifice to the Great Mother Goddess in the forests of Vindhyanchal. Bundela derives from either Vindhyachal or boond (drop) of blood that appeared when Pancham attempted to cut his head off. The Bundelas ruled for 500 years first at Mahoni and then at Garh Kundar (occupied in 1257 CE) before their move to Orchha in 1531 CE. They acquired the reputation of being warlike and a thorn on the side of the mighty Mughals.

The fragmentation began soon after Birsingh Deo’s death as the Bundela territory was divided into fiefdoms ruled by the twelve descendants of Rudra Pratap Singh. The most important of these fiefdoms were Orchha, Datiya, Chanderi and Panna. The ruler of Orchha was regarded as the chief of Bundelas. Champat Rai and his son Chattrasal were legendary Bundelas ruling from Panna. With the decline of Mughals and rise of Marathas, Bundela suzerainty did not extend much beyond their forts. The capital was moved to Tikamgarh in 1783. Vikramjit, ruler of Orchha signed a treaty with the British in 1812, and supported them during the 1857 Uprising. The oblivion of Bundelas from the pages of history can be attributed to stronger forces—Mughals, Marathas, and finally the British.

When Rudra Pratap Singh selected the site of Orchha to build a fort, he ushered in a new era of consolidation, acquisition of new territories, of building palaces and temples, and of patronizing literary and performing arts. The territory Bundelas ruled came to be known as Bundelkhand, bounded by the rivers Yamuna and Narmada on north and south, and Tons and Sindh on east and west respectively. The region acquired a distinct cultural identity in its language, customs, arts, and architecture. Birsingh Deo was the greatest ruler and a prolific builder. Besides building in Orchha, Datiya and Jhansi, he built temples in the holy cities of Mathura and Varanasi. He was responsible for establishing the Bundela styles of art and architecture. Bundela legacy is vast and much of their heritage is undocumented. The Bundelas had a fraught relationship with the reigning Mughals who were their allies and adversaries at different times. Madhukar Shah, grandson of Rudra Pratap Singh had to capitulate to Akbar. Conflict among his sons resulted in his successor Ram Shah being ousted by another son Birsingh Deo who had proved his loyalty to Prince Salim (Mughal Emperor Jahangir) by assassinating Abul Fazl, Akbar’s biographer and arch enemy of Salim. The relationship between the Mughals and Bundelas worsened when Birsingh Deo died. His son Jhujjar Singh was killed by the Gonds when he on the run from the Mughal army and Orchha became part of the Mughal Empire for five years. Orchha was restored to the Bundelas in 1641CE and its rulers assisted the Mughals in campaigns in the Deccan, although they did not always escape their wrath as the torching of Orchha temples at Shajahan’s order indicates.



Natural Heritage The River Betwa, known as Vetravati/Vetravanti in earlier times, is ascribed great purity and power in ancient Hindu texts. Described as the Ganga of Kaliyug, it is supposed to wash away all the sins accruing in this sinful age. Similar to other rivers of the Vindhyan Range, it is regarded as symbol of Shakti. The dialogue between Shiva and Parvati in Padmapurana says that it destroys sins, even those incurred by criticizing the Vedas. Brahmapurana refers to Betwa as flowing past the ashram of sage Parashar while the epic Mahabharata describes it as place where the sage Bhrigu performed yagya (sacrifice). The Tungaranya forest on the banks of Betwa is regarded as tapovan (forest) where ascetics did penance in their ashrams, taught the Vedas and purified the wilderness of its evil. Betwa’s origin is in a kund in the Pariyatra Hill near Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, and it merges with the Yamuna at Hamirpur in Uttar Pradesh. The demon Vatrasur is said to have dug the kund from which Betwa flows. Its two tributaries--Jamner and Ghurari—merge with it at Orchha. The many streams and the islands they created, on the largest of which jal durg (water fort) was built in the 16th century, are known as Satdhara. They are said to have brought to the site by Orchha rulers—Rudra Pratap Singh, Bharati Chand, Madhukar Shah, and Rai Dulha. The main ghats are Bateshwar/Shankar, Kanchan and Chiriya. Tulasi Ghat, named after the author of Ramayana, and Tungaranya Ghat after the sage Tunga who meditated on the banks of Betwa are on the north. Orchha Wildlife Sanctuary, covering an area of 46 sq. kms, was established in 1994 near Betwa. It is a forest preserve with flora typical of Bundelkhand region—Kardhai, Dhawa, Teak, Khair, and Palash. Its fauna include spotted deer, nilgai, wild boar, blue bull, peacock, and monkey. Bird watching, canoeing, river rafting, trekking, and camping are its attractions.


Fig 4 : Visual Structure of Orchha


Landscape Heritage The cultural landscape of Orchha evolved over time as the barren wilderness was slowly transformed into the picturesque capital of Bundelkhand. The settlement derived its name from the phrase ’Ondo chhe’ meaning low or hidden. The site was indeed bowllike, buffered by bluffs and forests. The citadel was built on an island in the River Betwa, as a jal durg (water fort) according to site planning and design principles codified in the medieval Shilpa Shastras. The Orchha fort is unique since all other forts in Bundelkhand, even those in proximity to Betwa, are hill forts. The site selection for the jal durg was guided by defense requirements— the fort was made inaccessible by waters all around it—even as it was made auspicious by the fording of streams. The citadel rose on the island like Mount Meru from the cosmic ocean, an archetypal image resonant with sacred architecture in India through the ages. The cenotaphs towards the south rise over the confluence of Ghurari with Betwa like an axis mundi, linking symbolically the heavens, earth and the netherworld. They are reflected in the waters, floating upon it, and provide an arresting skyline above the bathing devotees in the boulder strewn river.

auspicious as attested by the landscape yantras at Chitrakut, the site of Rama, Sita, and Lakshman’s exile where they connect hills, ashrams and sunrises and sunsets at solstices. Yantras are visually discerned due to the location of temples on the promontories and hills in the undulating topography. Chaturbhuj Temple and Raja Mahal Palace are roughly built on the same level—224 meters and 220 meters respectively. The temple is framed in the balconies and windows in the upper level of palace for darshan. Smaller temples—Raghuvamsamani (228 m), Kanhayain Ka Mandir (2227 m), and Radika Raman (218 m) temples are elevated above street level and can be seen from afar.

The landscape structure evolved in accordance with sacred geometries—the circle of mandala and triangle of yantras. In this landscape, defense requirements were met together with the need to consecrate the site and make it auspicious for the Bundelas. The roughly semi-circular city wall closes with the Betwa on the north and south. Circles can be drawn with Raja Mahal Palace in the island fort as the center, that organize the landscape into a pattern. The western half of outer circle roughly conforms to the city wall while on the rims of the inner circles are the locations of many Orchha temples. The east-west axis contains the sequence of palaces, Chaturbhuj Temple and urban growth towards the city gate on the west. An isosceles triangle is formed when the inner city gate, Raja Mahal and Lakshmi Narayan Temple are joined. Another isosceles triangle is formed between Ram Raja and Lakshminarayan temples and the cenotaphs on the south, and yet another between the cenotaphs, Ram Raja Temple, and Raja Mahal Palace. Raja Mahal Palace lits up at the sunrise and sunsets on the winter and summer solstices. The significance of triangles in Orchha’s planning can be traced to the earlier Bundelas worshipping the Great Goddess Vindhyavasini as yantras are symbolic diagrams associated with her. The later Vaishnavaite orientation of Orchha Bundelas also finds them 9

Fig 5 : Orchha Monuments


Archaeological Heritage Orchha’s monuments are the main draw for tourists. Thirty six monuments are protected by State Archaeology and 20 are on the recommended list for protection. The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has identified 165 monuments distributed over six kilometers in Orchha Heritage Zone as deserving of protection. The largest concentration of monuments is in the island citadel. Besides the palaces, temples, stables, hamams, weapon houses, and mansions, there are fort-walls, bastions, gateways, and the bridge over the moat—all part of a fort complex that today should be a protected heritage precinct as in an archaeological park. In the town are similar but smaller group of monuments, part of the sacred center of Orchha. Many of these are in active use as places of worship or government offices. They form a heritage precinct that should be protected and conserved. Another group of monuments are the cenotaphs on the Betwa that are protected but are not integrated with the riverfront. Charbagh gardens connect two major groups—these can be developed as a mini archaeological park. Other monuments are scattered across Orchha—some such as Lakshminarayan, Saiyyad Baba’s shrine, Raghuvamsamani and Radhika Bihari Temples are not in active use and with the exception of Lakshminarayan Temple, are facing dereliction with their precincts encroached. Their heritage value, as part of an ensemble of structures that together with their sites, gave meaning to public life in the past, is not understood. The monuments of Orchha represent the epitome of Bundela style of architecture, particularly those built in the 16th-17th centuries dating back to Birsingh Deo’s reign and before. The palaces—Rani Mahal (now Ram Raja Temple), Raja Mahal, and Jahangir Mahal—show a gradual refinement in palatine architecture. Based upon the introverted courtyard type, they are highly evolved formal exercises in composition and massing, detailing, and play of solids and voids. They belong to the family of paramsayika vastuprurusha mandala forms, i.e. square subdivided into smaller squares and rectangles with open space in the center. Jahangir Palace, built on the highest point within the island citadel, is the most spectacular and shows cosmopolitan influence at work. While its direct precedent is Tomar architecture in Gwalior, it assimilated Sultanate influence into Rajput architectural vocabulary and was the model for the early Mughal palaces such as Jahangir Palace in Agra Fort. Many innovative gestures in Orchha

palaces marked the achievement of Bundela style--open courtyards alternating with pavilions at higher stories such that interior open spaces formed an inverted pyramid. Chattris and domes break up the roofline; projecting walls, jail corridors, brackets, and balconies enliven the blank outer surfaces. Murals, tiles, and ornamentation make the interiors visually interesting and tactile. The very first palace built outside the citadel was converted into the Ram Raja Temple, and opened to the public probably in the 19th century and attracts the largest number of devotees. Additions were made to house the sacred sanctuary but overall the palatine form still exists. Other temples—Chaturbhuj and Lakshminarayan—built by Birsingh Deo, are innovations in temple architecture. Chaturbhuj has the Bundela octagonal shikhara (tower) like a pine cone, dome over the mandapa, large open interior to accommodate large numbers of worshippers and a cross-axial plan. Lakshminarayan Temple is an unusual rhomboid shape and is perceived as a triangular, fort-like structure. It appears to be a cross between a temple and a fort because of its crenellations and high tower. Located on a hillock, it offers panoramic views of Orchha and its surroundings. The dilapidated temples in the island citadel—Vanvasi, Radhika Raman, Chitrakut—allude to Ram, Sita, and Lakshman’s exile in the forest in their iconography. Panchmukhi and Shiva temples are similar small structures, meant for private worship of the royals and their courtiers. The cenotaphs are a unique group of monuments built over a long period as memorials for the Bundela rulers and are called chattris. They are not mausoleums but sites of cremation, commemorated in the square panchayana temple form with four smaller towers surrounding a large central tower.



Fig 6 : Historic Photographs of Orchha Monuments

Fig 7 : Location of Orchha Monuments


Fig 8: Anand Mahal Bagh


Garden Heritage: Anand Mahal Bagh At the foot of the Jahangiri Mahal in the fort complex that occupies the island encircled by the Betwa River, the Rai Praveen Pavilion, which was the residence of the consort of the Bundela ruler Indramani (r. 1672-75), overlooks an expansive garden. The Anand Mahal Bagh (as it is popularly known) is contained within a slightly irregular rectangular enclosure that is high enough to provide visual privacy. The enclosure measures approximately 125 m. (east-west) and 95 m. (north-south), with the pavilion itself forming part of the southern wall, from which an excellent view is provided from its upper story and terrace. Inside the garden enclosure, and also arrayed along the perimeter walls, were two smaller pavilions along the north wall and a structure (on the west wall) that lifted water from a deep cistern by means of a bag and pulley system, releasing it into a shallow pool from which water channels ran to the sunken plant beds. The garden is divided into two unequal portions by a high wall that stands 25 m from west enclosure wall (thus dividing the garden proportionally into portions that comprise 2/5 and 3/5 of the whole). There are doorways cut into the wall at each end, allowing passage from one side of the garden to the other. The dating of the garden is speculative, based on the association of the garden with Indramani. The pavilion and garden may have replaced an earlier garden, and indeed such rebuilding-especially of gardens--was common. The odd separation of the garden into two areas may reflect an additive and reactive process of construction rather than a coherent design. The problem of dating is further complicated by the fact that there is little else with which to compare the Anand Mahal Bagh. The garden is typologically distinct from the Mughal charbagh type, characterized by four quadrants divided cross-axially by paths or water channels as seen at the Tomb of Humayun and other imperial tomb complexes. It also does not follow the landscape logic of the Mughal gardens of Kashmir, where the central axis is a water channel that runs through terraced gardens that adapt to the sloping mountainous topography. The Anand Mahal, in comparison, seems formally undisciplined.

diameter, with intervening spaces of about 1.7 m. between them. Without excavation their actual depth and original surface level cannot be ascertained, but the current soil surface is sunken about 20 cm. below the pavement, so that the water from the surface channels can flow into the octagonal depressions and fill them. This is an irrigation technique that preserves water by ensuring that it goes directly to the trees rather than surrounding soil. Orchha does not lack water--the fort area stands as an island in the Betwa River and the underground cisterns fill readily. But moving the water from cistern through the large garden to the plant beds requires energy, and the builders would have sought efficient strategies for water usage. The result is a garden that appears like a grove of trees, interspersed with functional tanks and ornamental pools. The gracefully swaying Ashoka trees and broad canopied orange jasmine shrubs that grow there today may have been planted as part of the garden restoration in 2002, and they recreate the historic experience of a heightened sensory environment. When Orchha was the Bundela capital, the trees in the Anand Mahal Bagh provided pleasure for the ladies who lived there, and evoked the sacred grove and water tanks where the deities were known to reside, perhaps even enticing them to dwell there.

However, with respect to planting logic, the garden makes perfect sense. Most of the surface area is covered with a packed mortar pavement into which pits have been hollowed for planting. These are octagonal in shape and measure about 2 m. in 15

Fig 9: Phool Bagh and its precedents


Phool Bagh Located in the center of the town, Phool Bagh consists of a high walled rectangular enclosure containing two gardens. Jhujhar Singh Mahal built by Jhujhar Singh (original structure may date back to Madhukar Shah’s reign) overlooks the garden complex. Without archaeological study, the original character of the garden enclosure to the east cannot be assessed. However, lacking extensive paved surfaces and stone water channels, it is unlikely that this garden enjoyed the aesthetic investment seen in the Phool Bagh’s main garden (also known as Hardaul Vatika), a formal space overlooked by a two-storied pavilion with the Bundela style palanquin roof on its south side, raised almost two meters above ground level with a cool chamber below for summer use. Like the Anand Mahal Bagh, the Phool Bagh garden is constructed by placing shrubs in basins sunk into the pavement. However, unlike the Anand Mahal Bagh’s large scale and informality, the Phool Bagh has the appearance of a well defined courtyard garden, with red sandstone pavements whose vertical edges are articulated with ornamental scalloped edging. The garden is divided by broad walkways into square quadrants (16 meters on one side), as a charbagh. In the center, there is now Hardaul shrine, actively worshipped by pilgrims, but it does not appear to belong to the same period of construction as the rest of the garden and it may have been built to cover over a pool. Each quadrant contains a regular grid of eight sunken basins (the ninth position taken up by the central platform with the shrine), most of them planted with a solitary tree, the branches festooned with offerings from the women whose prayers for motherhood were granted. The octagonal basins measure approximately 4.5 meters. The elevated walkways measure almost 4 meters in breadth, and running down the center are wide water channels, 1.9 meters in breadth. These fill the small pools placed in the spaces between the tree basins and irrigate the basins through subsurface pipes. As is often the case in a garden, the moment of the water’s entry into the environment is visually exciting. The water is stored out of sight in a very large, above-ground cistern (which is scarcely noticeable) south east of the main pavilion. Pipes bring the water below the floor of the pavilion and release it, seemingly miraculously, down a chadar (water chute). Thus animated, the water flows through the channels and ultimately reaches the furthest corners of the enclosure.



Cultural Heritage: Myths and Legends Vaishnava mythology has imprinted the cultural landscape of Orchha in a significant way. The epic Ramayana has inspired the flowering of Bundela arts—palace and temple murals, iconography of Vanvasi and Chitrakut temples, literary productions of Keshavdas—and the participation of the entire community in festivals and processions celebrating the epic events. The most famous legend is that of Ganesh Kuvari, queen of the Orchha ruler Madhukar Shah, bringing Lord Ram from Ayodhya. The idol appeared in the River Sarayu when she threatened to jump into the river and accompanied her as she travelled on foot in the eight month long journey from Ayodhya to Orchha. As legend has it, Lord Ram refused to move from Rani Mahal where he was installed as the Chaturbhuj Temple had not yet been completed. Thus the palace became the Ram Raja Temple, the center of Orchha, from where Lord Ram ruled over his kingdom.

Hardaul Baithak, usually a shrine under a tree, is found in many villages of Bundelkhand. At Phool Bagh in Orchha, Hardual shrine occupies the center of the charbagh as a tomb would.

The ecstatic dancing of Madhukar Shah, a devotee of Krishna, on the banks of Betwa, caused a shower of golden coins as the doors of Jugal Kishore Temple opened for him to worship. This episode is commemorated in the naming of Kanchan (golden) Ghat below the cenotaphs. Madhukar Tika, the tilak (decorative symbol worn on the forehead) is named after Madhukar Shah who refused to take it off even though it was forbidden to wear one in the Mughal emperor Akbar’s court. The legend celebrates the courage of Orchha ruler in keeping the symbol of his faith even as he was forced to capitulate to the stronger Muslim power. Other legends celebrate the rulers as upholder of dharma, protectors of cows and Brahmins, and temple builders in the holy cities of Mathura, Vrindavan, and Varanasi. Birsingh Deo, the most famous ruler of Orchha, is reputed to have died saving a cow from the clutches of a tiger. Bundela ballads, part of popular culture, are drawn from historic events that acquired legendary status on being composed in verse and sung. A very popular Bundelkhand legend is that of Prince Hardaul, brother of Jhujhar Singh, ruler of Orchha. Jhujhar suspected Hardaul of having an affair with his queen and asked her to give him poison. Hardaul’s taking poison and his death made him a powerful icon of sacrifice for family values. He is said to have miraculously appeared with gifts when his sister’s daughter was getting married. To this day Hardaul is invoked in marriages as the giver of boons. He is worshipped by women desirous of an offspring. 19




Rituals and Festivals The cultural heritage of Orchha is rooted in Vaishnavaite mythology and its re-enactment in the daily life of its residents. Pilgrims visit the Orchha temples in large numbers on religious festivals. The temple activities include the devotee obtaining darshan, giving their offerings to the gods, singing bhajans (sacred chants), and performing life cycle related ceremonies. Outside the temples, pilgrim activities include bathing in Betwa and participating in the ritual processions that culminate in the immersion of idols in the river. Fairs (melas) on festivals in the public spaces draw huge crowds from Jhansi, Tikamgarh and nearby towns and villages. These ritual enactments in Orchha’s public spaces are demonstrations of living traditions inherited from the past. Panchkroshi parikrama (circumambulation) on Orchha streets occurs every month. The ritual procession is a meaningful use of public spaces, an aspect of intangible heritage that should be conserved by addressing its spatial requirements. The parikrama begins at the cenotaphs and covers 12 kilometers in two days. The circulation of images and objects in the temple plazas and fairs is part of Orchha’s local economy. It creates a kinetic landscape, always in flux, responding to the visitor flow and festival cycle. This shifting landscape is juxtaposed with the monumental landscape of heritage buildings in the fort and town. Sacra— icons of gods and goddesses, sweets and other edibles, incense, flowers and other objects used as offerings to the gods—and ephemera—trinkets, souvenirs, antiques, household and craft objects—in stalls, shops, and vendors spreading their wares on the ground, add interesting patterns and colors to the public places. They invite curiosity, touch, and social interaction. They add life and vibrancy to the public realm. The Nagar Panchayat (municipality) owns 51 shops in the Ram Raja Temple plaza. Public feast is offered to 25,000 people at the Temple during the festival of Ramvivah Pancham (Ram and Sita’s wedding). The huge surge of pilgrims occurs on Makar Sakranti, Basant Panchami, Ramnavami, Ramvivah Pancham, and Kartik Purinima. The festivals and fairs, although ‘pulse events’ occurring episodically, stretch the carrying capacity of public spaces causing overcrowding, traffic glitches, solid waste management problem and river pollution.



Arts Bundelas of Orchha were great patrons of arts and literature created from the well-spring of Hindu mythology with words and images depicting common themes. The wall murals in Raja Mahal, Jahangir Mahal, Lakshminarayan and Panchmukhi Mahadev Temples represent in iconic imagery the cultural world of the Bundelas. Medieval Bundela culture was sustained in fort palaces whose landscape evolved over time reflecting the vision of an ideal world. This landscape was not depicted in any recognizable way although the fort was painted, not quite realistically, but one does get a sense of roof top pavilions in palaces, enclosed by high citadel walls with bastions and fluted domes, chattris, projecting balconies and palanquin arches of Orchha palaces. Figures of Jahangir, Bundela rulers, and the courtesan Rai Praveen, add the historic touch. Jahangir Mahal murals document the Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s presence in the palace and the ensuring festivities. Nayak-nayaki and Rag-ragini figures portraying emotions, wrestling matches, polo game, floral carpets, flower vases, boat rides on the river Betwa, elephant formed by twelve women, griffin with the head of an elephant holding elephants in its claws (Chungul Chidia), are portrayed. Lakshminarayan Temple murals depict historic events such as the 1857 Uprising and the Rani of Jhansi battling the British. Hunting scenes in Raja Mahal Durbar Hall—hunters killing deer and boars, tiger pouncing on a deer, falcons attacking peacocks, and fighting elephants allude to the jungles around Orchha.

the themes of epic literature reaffirming the Vaishnava theology and the visual culture in palace murals, temple sculptures, and manuscript paintings. Word and image were congruent to a remarkable degree reflecting the Bundela worldview dominated by the religious ethos of Ram Rajya. Among the many works of Keshavdas, Chandmala and Ramchandrachandrika were retellings of the Ramayana while his Ratnabhavani and Virsinghdevcharit were quasi-historical literary works on the life and deeds of Ratnasena and Virsingdeo, as understood through the prism of Kshatriya dharma. His other books Rasikpriya and Kavipriya on love poetry and composition were written for Rai Praveen, the renowned dancer and poet, and his most gifted student, and for his patron Prince Indrajit who was a scholar writing commentaries on Sanskrit texts. Hariram Vyas wrote on Radha-Krishna and gopis in Rasapanchadhyayi which formed five chapters of book ten of Bhagavatpurana. The themes of riti literature—nayak-nayaki, rag-ragini, baramansa—dwelling on human emotions and their representation in nature were visualized in compositions of line, form, and color in Bundela art.

Murals show gods and goddesses, episodes from Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavatpurana. Vaishnava Bhakti cult in Braj in early 16th century was responsible for the rich iconographic program in Bundela palace interiors. Madhukar Shah was a Krishna devotee and earlier painting centered on Krishna-lila. The ten incarnations of Vishnu, Raas-lila of Krishna with the gopis, Ram with his brothers, Sita and Hanuman, show the Vaishnavaite orientation of Bundela rulers. Ramayana episodes such as Ram vanquishing Ravana, his return from exile, and his coronation, depict his valor, fortitude, courage in adversity, and triumph over evil. They were visual reminders of the divine kingship model that the Bundela rulers were expected to follow. The flowering of arts was supported by a rich literary culture at the Bundela court in Orchha. Among the luminaries the most famous was Keshavdas Mishra. His writings in Brajbhasha echoed 23

Fig 10: Townscape


Vernacular Heritage As the settlement grew east of the island the main street extended from the Nav-chowk towards the eastern gate in the city wall. On either side of the main street, shorter north-south streets stretched the urban fabric in tightly clustered linear neighborhoods. Vernacular housing facades present a picturesque streetscape that is at the risk of being destroyed by ugly new construction. The street connecting the north gate of the city wall to the Nav-chowk extended southwards over time towards the river. Shops, restaurants and cheap lodging have sprung up on both sides of this northsouth spine. The views to the fort across the moat are framed in small gateways. Further south, vending structures obstruct the view. As the street jogs west towards the cenotaphs, the river and the open land on its bank, comes into view. South of the intersection of N-S and E-W main streets, a high-end hotel district has developed in the last decade or so.

Fig 11: Riverfront Streetscape


Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun July Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

TOURISTS AT ORCHHA commercial area sightseeing photographic spots passing route public transport

Fig 12: Tourism in Orchha


Makar Sakrantri

Shavan Teej

Ganesh Chaturthi

Maha Shivaratri Rama Navami Vivah Panchami Diwali

Mela : fair/market Basant Panchami

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun July Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec


Shravan Teej*

Basant Panchami

Ganesh Chaturthi

Maha Shivaratri

Dussehra Navratri

Holi Festival

Diwali/Kartik Purnima

Rama Navami*/Sita navami

Vivah Panchami*

Ganga Dussehra*

Ganga Dussehra


Fig 13: Pilgrimage in Orchha


Tourism in Orchha


n the 2001 census, the population of Orchha was 8501 growing to be 11, 190 in 2010. Tourism has had a multiplier effect on trade and commerce bringing a daily floating population to the town. On an average 10,000 tourists visit per month, with the maximum tourist flow between October and March. Foreign tourists usually spend a day in Orchha on their way to Khajuraho. From November 2008 to October 2009, 1,37,091 tourists visited Orchha, 30% of whom came from outside India. By 2035 annual tourism (domestic and foreign) is expected to be 4,45,029. There are only 42 authorized guides for providing interpretive services. Orchha has 5 luxury hotels, 13 medium budget hotels and the rest are low budget lodgings (dharamshalas). Pilgrimage dominates over secular tourism. The tourist and the pilgrim inhabit separate cultural worlds, the former interested only in the monuments (mostly in the fort) while the latter visit temple, shrines, and ghats on Betwa, and rarely venture into the island citadel. That of the tourist is shaped by history while myths are all important in the pilgrim experience. The two worlds are sustained by Orchha’s heritage sites, overlapping to a limited extent. They call for different responses, either triggering mythic memories or a search for historical facts. They need to be reconciled and integrated through site planning for a complete and authentic experience of Orchha’s heritage.


Orchha Site Planning


hile the present day landscape is a setting for religious festivals and living cultural heritage, ‘landscape intelligence’, i.e. knowledge for siting buildings on the terrain, creating climatically responsive spaces, and designing with the river, is lost. The present day urban landscape of Orchha lacks legibility with the monuments, vernacular architecture and encroachments in an uneven juxtaposition and the public spaces crowded with large number of people, vehicles, and shops in an unsanitary milieu. Archeological monuments in the island fort and temples in town are not linked by any discernible heritage trails. There is little or no heritage interpretation with the exception of signs located at the monument entries. Pilgrim offerings, washing, and cremation rituals are polluting the River Betwa. The pedestrian scale of the town is threatened by heavy vehicular traffic. Orchha’s natural, cultural, and archeological heritage is at increasing risk through loss of collective memory and drastic social and economic changes in the last century. The site planning proposals are based upon a heritage conservation framework for conservation, remediation, and reclamation of the cultural landscape of Orchha. The reclaimed cultural landscape encourages the interpretation of the past in the present by encouraging a way of seeing and interpreting heritage in rest and movement. It offers a mediating ground for reconciling myth and history in a meaningful experience by integrating multiple forms of heritage—natural, archaeological, and cultural. Site planning is guided by interpretative framework that recovers the lost landscape knowledge though visual framing, increased urban legibility, and constructive surgery of encroachments. The proposed interventions will be yet another layer in the landscape palimpsest, amplifying and augmenting the previous ones.













































Restored historical buildings

New social housing

Restored historical gardens

Reclaimed abandoned public spaces and increasing legibility

Restored historical walls

New green public spaces

Preserved Farmlands

Recovering the moat as ecological and recreational area

Protected woodlands

Increasing productive landscapes with sustainable water management

Existing urban fabric Betwa river


New social housing


Reclaimed abandoned public spaces and increasing legibility


New farmlands Traffic Proposal



Traffic Proposal Proposed heavy traffic Existing Moderate Traffic Proposed moderate traffic

Historical Trails Proposal 2 Days Panchkroshi Parikrama Trail 3 hours Pedestrian Trail 5 hours Pedestrian Trail 12 hours Pedestrian Trail 12 hours Bike Trail Archeological trial

Proposed heavy traffic Existing Moderate Traffic Proposed moderate traffic

New green public spaces Recovering the moat as ecological and recreational area






Increasing productive landscapes with sustainable water management

Historical Trails Proposal 2 Days Panchkroshi Parikrama Trail 3 hours Pedestrian Trail


5 hours Pedestrian Trail 12 hours Pedestrian Trail 12 hours Bike Trail Archeological trial

New farmlands Traffic Proposal Proposed heavy traffic

c ity

Existing Moderate Traffic Proposed moderate traffic

Historical Trails Proposal


2 Days Panchkroshi Parikrama Trail 3 hours Pedestrian Trail 5 hours Pedestrian Trail 12 hours Pedestrian Trail 12 hours Bike Trail

apes gement

Archeological trial

Fig 14: Orchha Master Plan


LEGEND Restored historical buildings

New social housing

Traffic Proposal

Orchha Master Plan


he master plan brings together the site interventions within a socially and environmentally sustainable vision for the future. The reclaimed open spaces of temple plazas, restored gardens, and riverfront ghats and park are stitched together with pedestrian and bike trails that allow the pilgrim and the tourist to explore the cultural landscape of Orchha. Trails through the archaeological park connect with pilgrimage route linking the temples with river and extend into the countryside. Informational signage and rest facilities guide the traveler and the pilgrim in exploring the landscape from the chosen trail. An informed understanding of landscape heritage is made possible by reclaiming public spaces associated with the temples and the riverfront —some of which are derelict, others overcrowded. These plazas become nodes in heritage trails and processional paths, offering vistas and resting places that allow for presentation and representation of the multifaceted heritage of Orchha. The historic gardens in the island fort, sacred center, and cenotaphs on the riverbank, are restored based upon speculations on their original planting design, water regimes, and layout. Using temple murals and poems by the medieval poet, Keshavdas as inspiration, the royal gardens are situated in a recreated wooded landscape that resonates with the imagery in the epic Ramayana. The principle of ‘constructive surgery’ articulated by the biologist and town planner, Patrick Geddes, nearly a century ago in India, guides the reclamation of public spaces in the sacred center where pilgrim activities stress the carrying capacity of the urban landscape. Site interventions organize and manage space by removing encroachments, emphasizing visual framing and facilitating movement.

toric city walls, derelict land (39%) is twice the area of farmland (17%), indicating a lack of water, a situation widely prevalent in the region despite the river. In the landscape planning proposal, the belt of derelict land is made into productive farmland of orchards, nurseries, and community gardens through constructing macro-catchments for rainfall harvesting. These community gardens provide local sources of food as well as flowers and fruits for temple rituals, engaging the local community. Wetlands become bird habitats and resting and viewing spots in an extended bike trail for the eco-cultural tourist who also obtains panoramic views of Orchha palaces and temples in the distance and closer views of the historic city wall. The river edge, a ritual bathing space and site of idol immersion during festivals, is presently ill-defined and only partially accessible. Pilgrim activities pollute the waters and threaten the traditions that rest on the sanctity of the river. Increased flow of water is made possible by building a dam around the natural dyke and controlling it through sluice gates. Ghats (steps) are renovated and extended for the religious and recreational activities. Chattris (kiosks) are proposed for shade and for framing views. A floodplain park offers views of the fort and the river on a hiking trail.

The proposed low income housing clusters for the burgeoning resident population are based upon the time tested vocabulary oriented around private courtyards, semi-public community spaces, and building details that give identity and enhance a sense of place. The existing but inadequate household grey water and storm water system of nalis (narrow drain) is upgraded by extending it and remediating ground water pollution through wetlands in the historic moat. New by-pass, redesign of existing streets and introduction of street furniture create a pedestrian zone in the inner core, and moderate traffic in the surrounding neighborhoods. Within the his31

Visual Management in three levels HIGHEST LEVEL








Plaza 2


PLAZA 1 2 3



Plaza 3

Plaza 4


5 6


Plaza 5 PLAZA 6

Plazas Historical Site


Plaza 6



Restriction on future constructions Commercial center Protecting agricultural landscape and viewshed easement Viewshed easement and restriction on future construction Restoring existent public spaces

Fig 15: Visual Management Plan for Orchha Town


Visual Management: Town Visual management in the form of viewshed easement and protection of key features of the cultural landscape is necessary for appreciating the aesthetic qualities of Orchha townscape. Three levels of visual management are prescribed. At the highest level, consisting of buildings on promontories at 225 meters or above, sacred yantras inscribed in the landscape through the strategic location of palaces, temples, and cenotaphs can be discerned. Physical obstructions in the line of vision will prevent the perception of yantras. This is the case with the visual triangles connecting Raja Mahal with Lakshmi Narayan Temple and cenotaphs and Rama Raja Temple with Raja Mahal and cenotaphs. Views of the fort from the river and the moat should be kept clear to preserve the archetypal image of fort as Mount Meru rising out of the cosmic ocean. At the middle level, consisting of buildings and plazas/gardens built at or above 220 meters, offer an opportunity to see the townscape 2-3 meters above the street level. Openings in the buildings, mostly smaller temples, can be frames for viewing the fort and the river. Although historic, these have not been documented and are not protected. In proximity to the sacred center and the riverfront, they should be reclaimed as public spaces on the proposed heritage trails. The plazas at this level, visited sequentially, can be the connection points between the river and the larger temples. They can be reclaimed for cultural and commercial purposes, thereby taking off some of the pressure from the Ram Raja Temple plaza. The lowest level, consisting of buildings and open spaces at 215 meters, is the sphere of interaction with the River Betwa. Here many ritual activities such as bathing and immersion of idols occur and at this level cenotaphs can be seen lit up at sunset and also reflected in the waters of the river. These spaces offer unique visual and tactile experience of the landscape and therefore should be protected. Since they are in the floodplain and are inundated frequently, their development for accessibility and public use should be regulated and no new private construction be allowed. Encroachment by the private Orchha Resort should be removed. New access and viewpoints to the moat can be opened up by restoring the seasonal bridges and affording closer views of the historic fort.


Fig 16: Visual Structure of Island Fort


Visual Structure of Island Fort It is very likely that vastu vidya principles were used for planning the island fort in Orchha although there is no documented record. Among the Bundelkhand hill forts, Orchha Fort is unique in being a jal-durg (water fort) and represents a singular achievement of its medieval builders. Natural features of the site--Betwa and its tributaries and the presence of natural dykes--made the jal durg possible. Roughly polygonal, the fort walls rose above the river and the moat, tapering sharply to the north and south. They were built 12 degrees east of north, parallel to the moat made from deepening a tributary of Betwa, named Adhwar. This orientation determined the alignment of many buildings within the fort, including the historic temples. However, buildings in the inner fort, including the royal palaces—Raja Mahal and Jahangir Mahal--were oriented in the E-W axis, as was the Chaturbhuj Temple, built outside the island. The marking of the cardinal axis in the center of the island fort sets up an interesting spatial dynamic with other buildings and royal buildings tilted at an angle. Panoramic views of the natural landscape and the urban settlement are obtained from the island fort, especially from the bastion east of Jahangir Mahal. They enable the viewer to have a cohesive image of the larger landscape including the relationship between built and natural features and among the historic monuments themselves. For preservation of these significant viewsheds, it is imperative that the island fort become a no-development zone and be developed as an archaeological park.



3-5 hours

5-12 hours END


Panchkroshi parikrama

Fig 17: Visitor Trails


Heritage Trails


Orchha evolved as pedestrian scale settlement with narrow streets, buildings with rich textures and patterns, and vibrant soundscapes, on the banks of rushing boulder strewn rushing river with forests beyond. This cultural landscape should be explored through a linked system of interpretive trails. The interpretive trails tie together the scattered heritage precincts and the outlying sites into a connected pattern. Partially overlapping with the existing streets they extend the visitor experience from the island citadel to the town and the outlying historic city wall and to the Orchha forest sanctuary across the river thereby linking cultural heritage with natural heritage. Walking and biking provide an opportunity for an immersive experience of the environment. Viewing in motion, leading to a series of sequential views, builds a vivid and coherent mental image. Thus the landscape structure is identified, understood and remembered. Trails are planned in terms of the length of time. The shortest trail takes 3-5 hours and covers the main historic and religious monuments while the longer trails to be explored over an entire day take one to the outer part of the island fort, temples on the settlement outskirts, and the riverfront. A 12 hour bike and walking trail takes the visitor to the historic wall and its gateways and recreational sites designed in their proximity. Padav sthals (rest areas) with signage, shaded seating, kiosk, rest rooms, and a viewing arcade are proposed every 1.5 kms. The streets of Orchha are part of the panchkroshi parikrama marg (circumambulatory path) linking the city gate on the north to the river Betwa in the south through the Ram Raja Temple that is focal point. This trail is extended to include historic temples in the island fort and the cenotaphs on the riverfront.


Fig 18: Viewpoints and Padav Sthals




Fig 19: Prototype for Padav Sthals


Fig 20: Archaeological Park Trail Details


Archaeological Park Trail The citadel on the island with its inner and outer forts presently has a variety of landscapes—farmland, forest, scrub vegetation, derelict land—besides the historic gardens and courtyards of the palace complexes. Presently the historic buildings are protected but there is no site management. A landownership survey should be carried out and private land, if any, should be acquired for planning an archaeological park. Planting in the derelict areas should be in accordance with the concept of the historic hunting park. Paths are paved with different materials cobblestone, concrete, and some are just dirt tracks. The dirt paths should be paved with cobblestone. The heritage trails linking the palaces, temples and other historic structures should be extended to the outer fort on the north as well as to the south end of the inner fort for access to the river. The archaeological park should be free from heavy traffic with only light traffic allowed with the exception of service vehicles for the Sheesh Mahal Hotel. Sanitation is poor, with just one rest room and a few trash bins. An interpretive facility for visitors is proposed at the entry point from the historic bridge adjacent to the Tope Khana building. Seating is lacking especially near smaller monuments. Informational signage is not complete; directional signage is lacking, Materials and style for signage needs to be coordinated throughout the archaeological park.

Fig 21: Archaeological Park Trailhead Design

Fig 22: Existing Landscapes in Island Fort


Plants List

Plant List

Curcuma longa (Turmuric)

Tectona Grandis (Teak)

Fig 23: Eco-Cultural Trail


Elettaria cordamomun (Cardamom)

Ocimum sanctum Terminalia chebula Bombax ceiba (Red silk Cotton) (Tulsi, Holy Basil) (Haritaki)

Musa spp. (Banana)

Cocus nucifera Indian Ginseng Dalbergia sissoo (Ashurangandha) (Indian Rose wood) (Coconut)

Eco-Cultural Trail Bundelkhand does not have enough land under irrigation-- many of its districts are often drought-stricken. At Orchha, only 16% of the land is farmed, forests cover 22% and about 39% of the land is lying fallow because of lack of water. The mapping of seasonal streams, nalas (natural drains) and other water catchment areas revealed that rainwater harvesting on a large scale on the outskirts of Orchha town can be done in unpopulated areas. A series of low lying macro-catchments linked by a nala and fed by monsoon runoff from adjacent hillocks are proposed. Along them runs a walking and bike trail that takes visitors to the historic city walls and its gateways. On this eco-cultural trail connected working landscapes with heritage sites, magnificent views of the temples and palaces of Orchha can be obtained. This shaded trail begins from the city gateway on the north and ends at the cenotaphs on the riverbank. A bird sanctuary and community gardens for growing flowers for temple worship are proposed as rest stops.

Fig 24: Land Use Pattern


Linear Plaza- Main Entrance to Sacred Center




Level 1 - +0.0cm Level 2 - +152cm Level 3 - +30cm Level 4 - +335cm

Hierarchy of Plazas

Level 2 - Ram Raja Temple Plaza

Built Mass Open Spaces Plazas Green Areas Ram Vivah Procession

Ram-Vivah Procession Path

Level 1 and 2 - Ram Raja Temple Plaza

Level 3 - Way to Hardaul ki Baithak

Level 5 - Linear Plaza to Chatubhuj Temple Level 4 - Plaza near Ram Raja Temple

Level 5 - Square Plaza in front of Chaturbhuj Temple

Built Mass Open Spaces Plazas Green Areas Visitor Movement Local Movement

Visitor Movement

Fig 25: Urban Spaces in the Sacred Center


Most Active Active Moderately used Least used

Plaza Use Pattern

Level 4 - Plaza behind Ram Raja Temple


Sacred Center Reclamation Nav-chowk is the sacred center of Orchha with temples and palaces built around a series of courtyards, gardens, and public plazas. Ram Raja Temple is the focal point and its plazas are the most crowded, especially during festivals. It is the origin of religious processions such as Ram Vivah. During festive seasons, the whole town becomes a part of the sacred area as the procession passes through entire town. Other plazas—in front of Chaturbhuj Temple, and Palki and Jhujjar Palaces—although smaller, are also lined by vendors and shops. Visitor movement through these public spaces is an unfolding kinesthetic experience, as one steps down or up, and goes from a smaller to a larger space as for example from the linear street plaza from the main street of the town to the two plazas facing Ram Raja Temple. The spaces are sensually stimulating, being visually dense and acoustically rich. The plaza with the cooling towers, Sawan Bhadon, is largely taken over by a fenced garden. An unused, abandoned well and queue shade structure divides the plaza in front of Ram Raja temple and creates unpleasant spaces in the plaza. Encroachments and the presence of vendors have reduced the carrying capacity of the public areas and the situation becomes critical during festivals when thousands of devotees gather. The lack of clean, hygienic public restrooms and drinking water facilities in the sacred center plazas, is one of the major issues for pilgrims, while visiting these plazas. Unorganized public activities like food distribution and begging, in the plaza, adds superfluous crowd in the plaza, thereby disturbing the visitor movement.

Fig 26: Activity Mapping in the Sacred Center


- re-organizing activities a - increasing capacity -framing visual axis, impro ence


LEGEND Restored Historic Buildings Reclaimed and Redesigned Plazas Restored Historic Gardens Reclaimed Maidan Garden

Fig 27: Orchha Site Plan


ORCHHA SITE PLAN Moat reclaimed as wetlands Pedestrianized Main Street Existing Urban Fabric Restored Fort Wall

Site Plan Laxmi- Narayan Temple

To reduce the stress on the crowded Raja Ram Temple, the urban design principle of ‘constructive surgery’ promoted by Patrick Geddes in his projects in India nearly a century ago, is used. It means removal of encroachments and opening up views, thus increasing the carrying capacity of public spaces to hold a larger number of people and accommodate their activities especially during festivals. The inaccessible garden in front of Sawan Bhadon is redesigned as a shaded tree plaza. An interpretation center with public restrooms and drinking water facilities has also been added to this plaza. Pergola covered path along the new shops selling local handicrafts, line the east edge of tree plaza. Ram Raja Temple plaza is framed by a gateway and opened by removing the ugly tin shade and shoe racks in the center along with a shopping arcade built at the edges. An amphitheater is designed for Ram Lila and other performances with Chaturbhuj Temple as the backdrop and distant views to other temples and palaces in the citadel. A maidan to its south will become the site for folk art exhibition and sale. Visual and physical connections between the sacred center and island citadel are made possible through reclamation of derelict historic plazas adjacent to and above the main street. Viewpoints are designed as small stepped plazas going down to the moat. Pedestrianization of the main street is proposed as way to conORCHHA SITE PLAN nectLEGEND the sacred center with the archeological park, bringing toHistoric Buildings Moat reclaimed as wetlands gether Restored pilgrims and tourists. A series of new public spacesplazas, Reclaimed and Redesigned Plazas Pedestrianized Main Street Restored Historic Gardens Existing Urban Fabric viewpoints and padav sthals are proposed along this pedestrianReclaimed Maidan Garden Restored Fort Wall ized main street, for a better tourist experience.

Chaturbhij Temple

Jehangir Mahal

Kowdi Shah ki Haveli

- re-organizing activities along periphery - increasing capacity -framing visual axis, improving visual experience

- orienting the amphitheatre based on surrounding views.

Fig 28: Conceptual Planning of the Sacred Center

proposed sacred center plaza

new shopping spaces

proposed amphitheatre

re-designed plazas

Fig 29: Design Proposal for the Sacred Center


Fig 30: Anand Mahal Bagh Restoration Proposal


Anand Mahal Bagh Restoration The two gardens in front of Rai Praveen Mahal--Anand Mahal Bagh and the one adjacent to it—should be restored since their physical structure is largely intact. Views to and from the gardens are criteria for planting as are fragrance and shade. In the garden in front of Rai Praveen Mahal, Ashoka trees that cut off views to the building (except for a narrow framed view to the center) are replaced by shorter flowering Champa and Jasmine trees. The historic water channels should be repaired and maintained. Rainwater harvesting tanks filled with lotuses are proposed on the northern and eastern edges of the two gardens. The gardens symbolize ordered nature in an architectonic frame, situated in all likelihood within a hunting park.

Bir Singh bathed in the Ganges water, and honoured all the gods. He heard the Puranas recited, and gave the gift of a cow Before taking his sumptuous meal. After eating he went into the women’s quarters to take pleasure. He then climbed to the jewel-studded terrace, Looking out in joy at the forest expanse. Bir saw the mangoes in bloom, swaying in the gentle Malaya breeze. The trees were slender, like the arms of Kamadeva, or delicately woven banners. The charming clove vines were like swings, Propelled by bees stirred in their passions. The beautiful cuckoos cooed gently, As though delivering a message from spring.

Fig 31: Proposed Landscape Plan for the Archaeological Park

Then the king saw the festival pavilion, And along with beautiful women he listened to the special program. The drums of the god of love resounded in victory, All were steeped in love’s magic…

Virsinghdevcharit by Keshavdas Tr. Busch (2005, p. 44)


Restored water channels and re-planted planters

Proposed picnic garden next to Phool bagh

P L A N T I N G Tulsi (Ocimum S basilicum) C H E M E

Phyllanthus emblica (Aamla Tree) Tree)

Plumeria Alba (Champa Tree)

Proposed Lotus Pond

Fig 32: Phool Bagh Restoration Proposal


Saraca asoca (Ashoka Tree)

Nelumbo nucifera (Sacred Lotus)

Phool Bagh Restoration The historic Phoolbagh is presently heavily used by devotes of Hardaul who come to pray at the shrine in the center of the garden and give their offerings. The tree pits, water channels and tanks are inappropriately used for sitting and eating. The garden should be protected from over- and inappropriate use by encouraging recreational activities in the adjacent garden. The largely extant waterworks should be repaired and made to function again with water pumped from underground storage tanks to the embedded channels feeding the tree pits and lotus ponds. The small lotus ponds and the large central tank around Hardaul shrine can be filled with water again. The garden should be replanted with flowering champa and the sacred tulsi shrubs. Through extensive planting, by removing the benches to the adjoining garden, and regulating entry only for worship, the pressure of user activities can be reduced and the sacrality of the garden enhanced. The adjacent garden, when restored, can accommodate some of Phoolbagh’s recreational activities in the lawns in the charbagh plots. The restoration of the central water channel and planting of shade trees such as neem, ashoka and pipal will make the garden attractive and welcoming for the devotees who come in large numbers to Hardaul shrine and spend time in the garden complex. Pavilions in the palaces overlooking the gardens should be repaired including their water channels, chadars, and tanks. Vendors lining the entry walkway to the two gardens should be relocated outside in the adjoining plaza. Fig 33: Restoration Plan for Phool Bagh Waterworks

Fig 34: Existing Water Channels and Pools in Phool Bagh


Fig 35: Riverfront Redesign





5 3

Riverfront Design Situated axially across each other, the two groups of chattris are integrated into a complex through lawns set in a charbagh pattern, very similar to the Mughal tomb gardens. Birsing Deo’s chattri sits apart, rising out of the confluence of Ghurari and Betwa. Instead of spires, it has domes, now fallen. The derelict space between the cenotaphs and the river is transformed into public plazas designed in the charbagh pattern. Buildings in Orchha Resorts grounds in the flood plain are relocated to protect the flood plain. The axis from Chaturbhuj Temple through the cenotaphs to the riverfront was historically significant and needs to be restored by opening up views.


9 6 4



Surrounding landscape

The banks of the river Betwa should be protected from new development especially in the floodplain immediately to the south and southeast of the town. Most spectacular views of the cenotaph reflected in the waters at dusk and distant views of the island citadel are seen from here. The riverfront is the destination of many festival processions, most important of which are those that end in immersion of idols in the river. Betwa is used for ritual bathing, washing clothes, and recreational activities such as boating and rafting. Some of these activities cause pollution that should be monitored and if high, steps taken for remediation. The existing ghats are inadequate, narrow, steep and not shaded. They are redesigned with small chattri pavilions and extended into the river.

Farmland River Hotel

A natural dike in the river is utilized to build a weir and its stored water diverted through a sluice gate to the moat in the dry season. The small island in the river, south of the fort, is presently used for seasonal farming. It is redesigned as an ecological park with a trail that connects to the heritage trail in the archaeological park in the citadel via a pedestrian bridge. The ecological park is contoured with terraces for rising water levels in the monsoon season and planted with grasses at the lower levels at the edges and trees in the center and higher grounds of the park.


Fig 36: Cenotaphs on the Betwa: Site Analysis


Fig 37: Nalis in Orchha


Sanitation Planning Since there is no sewerage system in Orchha, only one in four houses has a toilet facility with a septic tank. Nalis collect household waste water as well as storm water and drain them into the moat and the river. Although built with sufficient gradient, they are frequently choked because of waste dumping. This can be prevented by covering them with removable lightweight metallic grates. Presently both north-south and east-west streets are only partially lined with nalis. The nali system when connected and extended is a low 窶田ost solution to the problem of flooding during storm events. It is a relatively inexpensive way of collecting grey water that can be filtered and recycled until underground storm water drains are constructed. Bioswales at the nali junctions can be planted with shrubs and trees thereby introducing greenery into the town. Mapping of site hydrology showed overflow areas where water collects and stagnates. To treat the stagnant water as well as prevent the polluted water from flowing into the river, underground filtration basins are proposed in three locations in north, west, and south of the settlement.

Fig 38: Site Hydrology

Fig 39: Proposal for the Nali System


Fig 40: Moat Reclamation


Moat Reclamation The moat, likely a tributary stream—Adwar--of River Betwa, instead of dividing the island from the town, can serve a seam uniting them. The moat has little water during dry season but with water released from the weir upstream, has the potential of becoming a riparian habitat corridor. If encroachments are removed, it can also function as a view corridor with rest stops for taking in the magnificent views of the citadel. Linear wetlands are proposed in the moat that can filter up to 60% of the grey water collected from the nalis in Orchha. The contaminants can be filtered in a series of cascading pools, thus cleansing the water downstream. Spine Obstructions Tourist Attractions This is a self-sustaining ecosystem that can adapt well to variable trees and shrubs parked vehicles water flows. street vendors encrochment

Spine Obstructions Local vs. Tourist Spaces trees and shrubs local parked vehicles tourist street vendors encrochment

Tourist View Attractions Sheds

existing views of archeological park best views of archeological park

Fig 41: Site Analysis of Moat and Riverfront There are picturesque views of the fort rising out of the waters from the town center at the entry to the island fort until the cenotaphs on the riverfront. This view corridor should be protected and the stretch redesigned as a street promenade with view and rest spots leading down to the moat. Encroachments should be removed and randomly occurring vending should be consolidated 0.35 miles into designated areas. With amenities such as rest rooms, seating, convenience shops, information booth in the plaza across the Chaturbhuj Temple, and lighting, seating, and trees on the widened sidewalk, visitors will be encouraged to walk down the street to reach the cenotaphs on the riverfront. 0.55 miles

Access to River + Distance

Access to River + Distance

Local vs. Tourist Spa local tourist

0.35 miles

0.55 miles


Fig 42: Streetscape Redesign along the moat




Roof Parapet Main Doorways & Decorations

Fig 43: Low-income Housing Design


Housing Design Traditional housing in Orchha is climate-responsive, built with local materials, and well adapted to the requirements of the family and community. A colorful palette of design elements is used making the streetscape picturesque and charming. Rooms in the house are oriented around an open courtyard, a family gathering space, where many daily household functions take place. The most visually distinctive elements include the otta—a raised platform between the house and street; highly decorated entry doors painted blue with blind windows on either side, roof parapets with decorated jali patterns, and whitewashed walls plastered with lime.

of heritage conservation. Inspired by Charles Correa’s Belapur Housing in Navi Mumbai, a neighborhood module of 15 houses, based upon a palette of vernacular design elements is proposed. Each dwelling has a private courtyard or two dwellings share a semi-private courtyard with space for building an extra room should the family’s economic situation improve. Otta, entryways, and decorated parapets are used in the façade, thereby retaining a sense of identity rooted in place.

New buildings in Orchha have no courtyards or ottas. The use of concrete as building material and plain brick walls with no decorative features give an anonymous feel to the recently built houses and shops. Vernacular housing is an important aspect of cultural heritage and its disappearance implies a loss of cultural memory and a way of life tied intimately with the sense of place. Social sustainability that vernacular housing promotes is an integral part



Proposed City Hall and Community Center



Proposed First Aid and Emergency Center



Proposed Fire Station



Proposed Hospital, Clinic and Drugstore


Proposed and Existing Bridge


Proposed Parking Lot

P Po P Po Proposed and Existing Police Station Po SS Po Proposed and Existing Schools Proposed Transit Station SSTT





Existing Moderate Traffic H


P E Proposed Moderate Traffic Private





E Existing Heavy Traffic P



Proposed Heavy Traffic F


Po C










P Fload Dam Facilities







Bypass Road


Heavy Traffic Road Section



C Private



Country Roads

Moderate Traffic Road Section





City HRoads

Pedestrian Road Section

P Po S T

Fig 44: Traffic Management Proposal










Traffic Management

Pedestrian an

The street network in Orchha evolved over centuries in the pre-industrial era when there was no mechanized traffic. Narrow streets for people on foot or horses promoted a vibrant street life and were used as processional paths during the many festivals around which public life revolved. Today the State Highway 37 crosses the town in the NS direction bringing heavy traffic including buses plying between Jhansi and Tikamgarh into its crowded core. There is a severe scarcity of parking spaces and the resulting on street parking increases congestion in the road already crowded with animals, people, vendors and moving vehicles. The absence of sidewalks and street encroachments obstruct traffic and cause accidents. The existing street system is upgraded and a hierarchy introduced through design. The narrow streets are widened for heavy and moderate traffic. A bypass road for the State Highway 37 is proposed leading to the bridge over the rivers Ghurai and Betwa, diverting traffic away from the heritage precincts. Parking on moderate and heavy traffic streets with battery operated vehicles operating between parking lots and tourist destinations will reduce congestion in the town center. More seating, lighting, stone paving, bike racks and other amenities in the core are cues for vehicular traffic to slow down and defer to the pedestrian as in a woonerf.


Heavy Vehicles Moderate Vehicles Light Vehicles and Pedestrians Dirt Track

Fig 45: Analysis of Traffic Patterns P







Proposed Pedestrian Zone Proposed Light Vehicle Zone Proposed Bicycle Racks


Proposed Facility Building Proposed Facility Site and Building


Fig 46: Proposal for Parking and other facilities




Orchha’s heritage is inextricably bound up with its cultural landscape of riverfront, gardens, plazas, monuments and the urban fabric. It is necessary that this landscape be treated as an integrated entity for it to be conserved and managed. The town carries on a dialogue with the historic monuments, temples, River Betwa, and the forests beyond. The aesthetic qualities of the townscape reside in the vernacular housing and in the quality and upkeep of its civic spaces. To manage change such that this urban aesthetic is not lost, social programs for Orchha residents involving them as custodians of the physical environment should be initiated.

Aruna. Orchha Paintings. Delhi: Sharada Publishing House, 2002.

Loans for building homes should be given at lower interest rate if the vernacular design palette is used and local artisans are employed. NGOs such as Friends of Orchha who have initiated the Home Stay Program by encouraging residents to build an extra room and eco-sanitation toilet in their houses, should be supported through financial loans. Residents should be encouraged to do community gardening along the proposed eco-cultural trail on the outskirts of Orchha. Sanitation programs for trash collection and disposal and for waste recycling should be introduced with the aid of shopkeepers and residents.

Busch, Allison, “Literary Responses to the Mughal Imperium: The Historical Poems of Keshavdas. South Asia Research, vol. 25(1):31-54, May 2005. Busch, Allison. Poetry of Kings: The Classical Hindi Literature of Mughal India. Chapter 1: Keshavdas of Orchha, pp. 23-64. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Chakravarty, K.K. Art of India Orchha. Bhopal: Arnold Heinemann, 1984. Gupta, Hargovind. Betwa (in Hindi). Bhopal: M.M. Printers, 1898. Kambo, Dharam P. Orchha. New Delhi: Vashima Printers, 1984. Keshavadasa. The Rasikapriya, of Keshavadasa , Translated by K.P Bahadur . Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass,1972 Lea Associates South Asia Pvt. Ltd. and Orchha Nagar Panchayat. City Development Plan: Orchha. May 2011. Luard, C.E. Eastern States (Bundelkhand) Gazetteer. The Central India Gazetteer Series, Vol VI-A. Lucknow: Newul Kishore Press, 1907. Meyer, W.S., R. Burn, J.S. Cotton, and H.H. Risley. The Imperial Gazetteer of India. New ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1908-31. Pandey, N.P. Madhya Pradesh District Gazetteers: Tikamgarh. Bhopal: Gazetteers Unit, Directorate of Rajbhasha Evam Sanskriti, 1995. Rothfarb, Edward L. Orchha and Beyond: Design at the Court of Raja Bir Singh Dev Bundela. Marg Publications, vol. 63, no. 3, March 2012. Rousselet, Louis. India and Its Native Princes: Travels in Central India and in the Presidencies of Bombay and Bengal. London: Bickers & Son, 1882. Ruggles, D. Fairchild. Islamic Gardens and Landscapes. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. Sharma, Rita and Vijai Sharma. The Forts of Bundelkhand. New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 2006. Singh, A.P. and S.P. Singh. Monuments of Orchha. Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan, 1991. Singh, Priyaleen, “Working in Historic Cities”, Seminar, no. 542, October, 1994. Srivastava, Alok. Orchha: An Ode to the Bundelas. Bhopal: Directorate of Archaeology, Archives & Museums, Government of Madhya Pradesh, 1999. Tillotson, G.H.R. The Rajput Palaces: The Development of an Architectural Style, 1450-1750. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987. Yadav, Neeta. History and Heritage of Orchha, Bundelkhand. Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan, 2012.


Project Credits University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Fine and Applied Arts Department of Landscape Architecture Prof. Amita Sinha Prof. D. Fairchild Ruggles Amir M. Habibullah Ana Valderrama* Brittain N Allison* Erik Kepler Justin Vitkus* Krista M. Weir* Karolina Snarskyte*

Lassamon Maitreemit Negar Tabibian Neha Rajora* Pardis Moinzadeh Toshea Drew* Ziming Xie

*Participated in Orchha Site Workshop

Special Thanks to:

DR. B. N. College of Architecture, Pune, India FACULTY Prof. Shubhada Kamalapurkar STUDENTS




Prof. David Hays, Department of Landscape Architecture, UIUC Prof. Emeritus Hans Hock, Department of Linguistics, UIUC

Bahar Abhyankar Harshpreet Bagga Keerthy Jaychandra Monali Chaudhary Mrudula Mane Mugdha Malpathak

Muntazim Inamdar Neeru Gupta Neha Rajadhyaksha Nikita Paliwal Pooja Khire Pooja Shaha

Priyanka Patil Sneha Bhutada Sneha Thakur Vaidehi Kumbhar Yashodini Joshi

REPORT CREDITS TEXT Prof. Amita Sinha Prof. D. Fairchild Ruggles


Supported by: Campus Research Board, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Mr. Ashok Kumar Rajora Accounts Officer, Rajasthan


“Upon the river Betwa’s banks where places of pilgrimage are which the Tungaranya forests span there lies the city of Orchha which in the world does thriving stay and men of all four castes are there and of the ashramas four-engaged in pious acts,worship, and prayer, and study of the sacred vedas where merit always does increase and wealth made more in many ways, and compassion and charity do every moment greater grow. “

-Rasikapriya by Keshavdas

© 2012 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, USA

Cultural Landscapes of Orchha: Reclaiming the Lost Heritage  

The monograph contains landscape planning and design proposals for conserving Orchha's natural, cultural, and archaeological heritage.

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