Orchha- sunsets & sandstone
A small town that became the hub of temples, palaces and stone chhatris or cenotaphs—Orchha is a wonder in stone by the humble banks of the Betwa river. It is said that there was a time, when besides walking the hallways of its astonishing buildings, one could collect sunsets by the river bank. Orchha was known to have riverbed stones that could paint a sunset, in its brilliant colours, due to the presence of photo-chemicals on their surfaces.
It was here that I made an impromptu visit with my colleague, who was involved in the restoration of Jahangir Mahal and Raja Mahal sponsored by the World Monuments Fund (WMF) in collaboration with the Madhya Pradesh Government. We accompanied members of the WMF for a day around Orchha– walking through the small town to observe the completed restoration work. I stood in awe of the intricate, hand drawn splendour of the frescoes depicting mythological tales from the Puranas, the Ramayan and Mahabharata at the Laxmi Narayan Temple. The earthy and monochromatic vegetable coloured tones on the walls and ceiling were breathtakingly sophisticated– not a wall or ceiling overdone or unnecessarily opulent.
The river presented us with what I call ‘Malgudi’ scenes- uncomplicated, quintessential small town Indian scenes. A mid-morning montage by the Betwa comprised of resting cattle, push carts lined with local sweetmeats and seasonal fruit, boys enjoying a mid-day swim & women who did their washing by the banks. Nearby a group of elders squatted in a circle under the shade a large Peepal tree, accompanied by sleeping pariah dogs and a rotund policeman who rested on his baton surveying the surroundings with eyes half closed.
In the evening life at the river mellowed but in place was a dramatic incandescent sky against which birds, beasts and humans returned home. Temple bells sounded in the distance and the out lines of the 17 & 18th century Chhatris on the banks of the Betwa observed with silence the close of another day.
These stone homages to kings and gods inspire stories and tales that echo through the very air of this small town. But the sunsets are ours to keep for a lifetime.
Words- Sugandha Das and Shivani Dogra
Photographs- Shubhra Lal and Shivani Dogra