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‘India is a melting pot of cultures’—remember this line from your primary school essay?
Well, it looks like the pot runneth over, especially for the busy folks at Unesco. The historical town of Orchha is the latest entrant in the organisation’s tentative list of World Heritage Sites, leaving the registry at a fabulous count of 44. Famed for its ancient temples, monuments, gardens and murals, the proposal for Orchha’s inclusion was sent by the Archaeological Survey of India on April 15. A second round, which kicks off the creation of a ‘nomination file’, is mandatory, though, to make things official.
Orchha was established by Bundela chief Rudra Pratap Singh in the 16th century. It wasn’t originally meant as a seat of power, until Singh’s son Bharti Chand shifted base from Garh Kundar to here, to create a secure capital. In later years, Bir Singh Deo emerged as one of the region’s greatest kings—and a close ally of Mughal emperor Jahangir.
Slowly but surely, Orchha came to be known for the distinct Bundeli building pattern—an aesthetic innovation that fused Mughal and Rajput architecture. The construction of its rulers’ cenotaphs, unusual for Hindu kings, likely evolved from this combined style. Its impeccable settlement fortifications, urban planning, garden designs (with evolved hydrology systems, no less) and an endless array of temples lent to the formation of a unique cultural landscape that birthed various traditions, myths, folk arts and literary works. With so much in store, this ‘historic ensemble’ (as Unesco calls it)—and current sleepy town of 12,000—easily fit into Unesco’s parameters of proposed sites having outstanding universal value.
With easy and iconic parallels to draw worldwide, such as Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple complex, or Italian town Vicenza, Orchha’s humble exteriors certainly don’t make it secondary citizen. However, it also doesn’t guarantee speedy approval. India currently houses 37 World Heritage Sites, out of which 29 are cultural, seven are natural, and one is mixed. Until further updates roll out, Orchha might just float on the tentative list for a decade or two, next to iconic neighbours such as Odisha’s Chilika Lake, Andaman’s Cellular Jail, the Harappan city of Dholavira and Tagore’s Shantiniketan. If nothing else, it at least has excellent company.
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