Sunday, October 18, 1998
Though Jahangir Mehal is considered to be a
specimen of perfection, for me the most impressive
building is the Chaturbhuja temple, says Arun Gaur
FROM Deogarh, I reach Orchha. The first impression of a place is so important, though it seldom proves to be the lasting. Only a place powerful enough can transmit a first impression that can sustain itself. It is the mammoth verticality that strikes me first. Budshoots seem to have overstretched themselves, but never becoming scrawny. It is the huge mass that lifts itself like the mounds of granite and acquires the form of palaces and temples.
The room that I am given at the Sheesh Mehal, on the first floor, is apparently a narrow conversion of a corridor. Nevertheless, it is clean. At least, there is light. After the wicked experience of the light failure at Agra and at Deogarh, during the past few days, this is a welcome feature.
The evening is wonderful. It is difficult to travel in the monsoons, but the rewards that it has in store for us more than compensate the pains that one has taken. In the compartment of a train, my jeans had got torn when I tried a monkey-jump to climb onto the top berth as the others did more successfully; a portion of my bag-ply ripped asunder; later, amid the display of clenched fists in a scuffle a woman dexterously planted her booted right foot on my knee and with a leap, before I could wink, disappeared in thin air. The next instant, I found her dangling shoes overhead. Since when have Indian Railways started providing circus shows and that too in the most ordinary unreserved compartments? I never knew about this surprise item. It beats all the western entertainment that the executive class travellers get in their air journeys.
Further, it gave me an assurance that we can surpass them in any field, even the nuclear, so innovative we are! This has forced me to think how grossly we have under-estimated the powers of our Indian woman. If they are given some key assignments in the Army, wont we be the world-conquerors soon? I think the relevant authorities should seriously ponder over it. Not only am I filled with national pride, this particular lady-leap has increased my veneration for the fairer sex that can adapt so well to the vagaries of Indian conditions. Anyway, all this happened before I could react with a few mumblings of the civil code. At times the peeling of groundnut, trickling of water, kept coming down on my head. To my objections to their invariable hanging down of the shoes over the edges I got: "Mister! you have not come to have the leisure of company garden!"
Having gone through all this two-faced wonderful ugliness, today I am greeted by the unblemished evening rays of the monsoon sun of Orchha in the sky. There is an interplay of the golden rays and the dark grey clouds that many times, quenching the gold of the sky, lower themselves on the widely looping Betwa. Even if the rays are smothered, the yellow edifices sparkle in the glum. The advent of the monsoons has rendered every leaf, every shoot and blade of grass lush green. On one side are rocky moat and the little garden dedicated to Rai Praveen; on the other are layers and layers of the wet green jungle stretching to a great distance like the non-terminating waves of invading Chinese troops! Before them the Betwa loops to its confluence with Jamini, takes a turn going far and far away before disappearing finally. A little flight of steps leads to an upper terrace in the Sheesh Mehal from where I see the gleaming parapets and turrets of Raj Mehal, the royal cenotaphs at a distance on the bank of the river and a bit nearer to the right a perfectly medieval fort-like structure of the Chaturbhuja temple on an elevated rock.
It is late evening and the rain is falling thick and fast. I am stuck up just 200 feet away from the door of the Raj Mehal. There is no chance that the rain would stop. When it is reduced to a drizzle I run towards the palace door, crossing the bridge over the moat. Going through the spiked door, just above the steps, I hear a sound as if pebbles were grinding against one another. Soon on my right I discover a thick hind part of a brown snake vanishing quickly in a crumbling recess opposite the topkhana. I am told by the gateman at the hotel: "Snakes move from one bush to the other. Why wont they? After all, these are the ancient ruins!" Only in the morning a lad tells me that the ringing sounds, still emanating, are those of bats inside the recess where the snake had slithered into.
The square ground before the Sheesh Mehal has become slushy as the rain is falling heavily. Before one enters the adjoining building the Jehangir Mehal there is an apartment set aside for the residential purpose of the curator of the museum. "What has touched your heart so deeply about Orchha?" I ask him. "None can feel let down. It has something for everybody. The landscape for the nature lover. The green dense forests were surely richer 400 years back! For geologists, it is granite all round. Wherever you dig, you find something that would cater to the tastes of an archaeologist." From where did Orchha get its name? The curator tells me that it is derived from aut the sheltered nook as the town is surrounded with hills and forests, or from the sound of "Oochh" the command signal issued to a hunting dog in a legend.
I see a little grassy lawn, arrayed small trees and shrubs with an attached little building associated with Rai Praveen the paramour of King Indramani, who reigned only for four years. How enduring, how forceful can be the extramarital love? Could this paramour, so close to the kings heart, get the status of a wife? Or did she remain a mere mistress much more securely entrenched in the popular imagination? A historian will hardly be bothered by these issues maybe brushing them aside with impatience. But this romance, if the story is authentic, bears out the consummating prowess of such a love. One does not recall the king and the queen together as quickly as the king and the paramour! Perhaps, not even the king is remembered so much. The senior guide tells me when Rai Praveen was ordered by Akbar to be presented at his court, she accosted him with a rhetoric flourish: "Only the dogs, ravens and the scavengers lick the left-overs. Who are you, Akbar?" Perhaps the king sent her back only because he was himself a self-respecting man. Otherwise, who would have bothered about the saving tactics of the poetess who played so astutely with the weakness one may even say the the virtue of Akbar.?
Though Jahangir Mehal is
considered to be a specimen of perfection, for me the
most impressive building is the Chaturbhuja temple. In
its loftiness like some Bavarian castle, in its greying
grandeur overcast with pallor, in its enigmatic
uncertainty of the style; it is the authentic
representative of the medieval Orchha. A fragment of
mythology is woven around it. The chief deity was to be
installed here, but remained in the adjoining temple as
it refused to budge from there. Its style is charmingly
confused. Nothing seems to have settled down. A series of
niches, false or real, on all the four sides all over the
surface, the hemispherical dome surmounted with pillared
canopy right in front of the shikhara, the squarish
turreted towers in the front corners all of them
point to a tussle among different styles. Like every
other building, it remains unaffected by the delicacy of
the temple like those of Teli and Sas-Bahu at Gwalior.
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