The last time I visited Orchha, it was a sleepy nondescript town desperately trying to wake up from its slumber. But now, Orchha has evolved as 'The Place' to visit in Madhya Pradesh. Apart from the overall infrastructure, the tourism support network of the town has improved drastically.
You'll now find river bridges that are properly fenced, there’s rafting and boating at the Betwa, there are newly built, cemented ghats, and there’s even a tourist police checkpost by the river. Some new cafes have also sprung up. Impressive, I must say. It’s a good feeling to see a small town grow into a leading destination on the tourism map.
Among the many jewels in the crown of this ancient town, the Lakshmi Temple stands true to Orchha’s name which translates to ‘hidden gem’. The murals that wash the ceilings and walls of the temple are nothing short of sublime, and absolute gems, hidden from the usual touristy bustle.
If Rajasthan has Shekhawati, I’d say, Madhya Pradesh has Orchha’s Lakshmi Temple.
The temple itself is located in a quaint corner of Orchha, secluded from other iconic spots like the Jehangir Mahal, the Chaturbhuj Temple and the Royal Cenotaphs.
I hadn't been able to visit the interiors on my maiden visit to the temple. But on this visit, I had ample time in my hand to do justice to each and every painting that met my eyes.
It is one of those places you should visit only if you have some time in your hands, so you do justice to these incredible artworks. You can’t do checklist tourism here. It’s akin to visiting an art exhibition on a quiet Thursday afternoon where you make several attempts to watch an exhibit and end up finding a new detail every time.Constructed by Bundela chieftain Raja Bir Singh Deo in 1662 AD, the temple is dedicated to the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi. Raja Prithvi Singh added to the building in 1743 AD. While most temples in India are known for the idols that sit in their sanctum sanctorum or their elaborate facades or towering entrance gates, Orchha’s Lakshmi Temple — mistakenly called Lakshminarayan Temple by most people — is known for its wealth of these gorgeous and tastefully done paintings. And rightly so.Here, you would crane your neck to marvel at some of the most exceptional artworks till your neck gives up on you. Fair warning for people with trapezitis/spondylitis like this writer. But the sheer artistic beauty of these paintings would make every bit of that pain go away in seconds. Dating back to the time period between the 17th and 19th centuries, the paintings embellish every inch of the ceilings.As you enter, you will see a series of unique scratched paintings imposingly framed by limestone arches. What differentiates scratch paintings from your usual frescos is the process of their creation.In scratch paintings, the artist first paints the wall and then draws the subjects by scratching this paint off. Most of the scratch paintings that adorn the gallery walls at Lakshmi Temple depict leisurely royal scenes like those of hunting, wrestling, smoking a hukka, a queen drying her long tresses, a king giving a rose to his queen and so on.But the chef-d’oeuvre of the temple are the paintings on its ceilings. From scenes inspired by the Ramayana and Shrimadbhagwat Gita to the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, they are absolute masterpieces.Of special note is the painting of the monstrous bird called Shungi Chidiya, which can be seen flying away with elephants captured in its talons. Full marks to the artist for his imagination. It is said that the bird finds mention in the Ramayana and Mahabharata.Then there are paintings of the Bundela kings who can be seen with their armies in the battlefield. And scenes from Lord Krishna’s colourful life, where he is surrounded by gopis. Some paintings depict British officials enjoying a drink with Indian kings, traders selling goods to customers, women making food on traditional hearths, and other such scenes from daily life. Another painting that will definitely catch your attention is the one that features Lord Vishnu resting on Sheshanaga.Over the years, these works of beauty may have lost some of their sheen, but years of restoration efforts have kept them intact. A visit to the Lakshmi Temple to appreciate its rich painterly interiors must be on the top of your list of things to do in Orchha. And as I said earlier, do keep enough time in your hand. And do hire a registered tour guide to show you around. You must also keep in mind that flash photography is not allowed inside the temple as it may effect the quality of the paintings.