Admiring the Fine Architecture of the Chhatris of Orchha | India

I was roused from my sleep as soon as I feel our Mini-bus rolling into a bumpy off-road trail. I opened my eyes into a view of the Betwa River and its murky waters. From the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of a towering structures with arresting looking tips.

Our guide then hollered and pointed to us "that is the Royal Chhatris of Orchha". Still reeling from my brief slumber, I said “what” meaning to only address myself. Our guide heard me and so he offered aloud a brief explanation. “These are actually the cenotaphs dedicated to the Bundela Kings of Orchha and some members of their families”

I’ve been to India for quite a few times and I’ve come across Cenotaphs in other olden cities to know that it is an empty tomb honoring a distinguished person—a past ruler perhaps—whose actual remains are buried somewhere.

The Magnificent 14 Chhatris of Orccha

A "chhatri" is a widely-used design element in Indian Architecture. It is highlighted by elevated, dome-shaped pavilion that can rise one level and up to multiple stories high.

A chhatri is usually the main architectural design of a site where a cremation or a funeral of an important person was held. It can be an actual tomb or in the case of the Royal Chhatris of Orchha; a cenotaph.

Projecting the Bundelkhand style of architecture, each Chhatris stands at three-storeys built on elevated platforms with windows placed strategically to attract a continuous flow of the wind coming from the river.  The size of each chhatri varies in accordance to the length of rule of each leader.

The first of these Chhatris was constructed at Kanchana Ghat, on the tiers of Betwa River in early 17th century in honor Bharti Chandra, the first Bundela King of Orchha who died in 1554. 

In the succeeding centuries of the height of the rule of the Bundelas—a Rajput clan of Central India—additional chhatris was constructed honoring their fallen rulers. Among those who have cenotaphs erected in their name were Banka Umed Singh Ji, Vir Singh Deo (who ruled from 1605-1627), King Sujan Singh (💀1675), Maharaja Bhagawant Singh and Jashwant Singh (💀1684). Most of the Chhatris were adorned with spires on its tip except for the cenotaph of Raja Bir Sing Deo whose chhatri uses an Islamic dome design.

The chhatris are built in almost linear rows of three and separated by footpaths and lavishly landscaped gardens.

Disregarding the overly bright gleam of the sun, I explored each Chhatris by entering and even climbing to the top of a couple of the finest looking ones. After seeing our guide gesture to us that we still have half an hour to spare, I rested at one of the cenotaph buildings and just stared at the still waters of Betwa River.  Trying to conjure whatever imagination I could muster, about the olden and glorious days of Orchha, I slowly lulled myself to sleep.

A gentle tap to my shoulder from a staff of Madhya Pradesh Tourism slowly roused me back to consciousness. “Let’s go Marky, we’ll be having lunch now”.

I stood up looking forward to another round of mouth-watering Indian cuisine and also at the same time, fully nourished with another new set of knowledge about Orchha's history.