Crowning a rocky hilltop less than 1km west of Orchha village, the solitary Lakshmi Narayan Mandir will certainly be one of the highlights of Orchha for anyone who makes the effort to visit this temple. Located at the end of a long paved pathway, it takes just 20 minutes to reach there on foot, and there are a few shops selling refreshments on the way if, like me, you decide to visit during the hottest part of the day.
With a blend of temple and fort architecture, the building is quite unlike anything else I have seen in India. Its high square walls make it look like a fort, and most unusually, the temple is aligned diagonally with the main entrance in the eastern corner. Crowning the entire structure is a high domed octagonal tower above the sanctuary.
It’s a beautiful building without doubt, but that fact will pale into insignificance once you see what lies within the temple itself.
I was first struck by the paintings that were decorating gallery walls, some that have clearly been renovated in recent years depicting what appears to be mostly leisure scenes; hunting, wrestling, and curiously what appears to be the heads of two members of the British army.
(Note : click on individual images in the collages below to view them full screen)
One of my common mantras when visiting any building in India is “always remember to look up !”. So I did, and that’s when the true treasure of the Lakshmi Narayan Temple revealed itself…
Adorning the ceilings of the gallery all the way around the temple are magnificent 17th – 19th century paintings. To say they are profusely decorated almost feels like an understatement, it’s one of those times when revisiting a scene multiple times constantly reveals new detail that you didn’t notice previously.
I apologise in advance for just how many images there are in this blog post, click each one to view in larger format.
The subject matter of the paintings, in a style known as the developed phase of Bundelkhand School, is quite diverse. Episodes of Ramayana and Shrimad Bhagvad Geeta are perhaps to be expected, but these sit alongside more recent paintings from Indian history.
One of the friezes depicts the siege of Jhansi fort by the forces of the British East India company during the 1857 uprising. The scene shows the rani in an upper room of the fort next to her horse, while musket-bearing British troops with cannons are in battle outside the fort walls.
The cannons are firing, body parts are scattered on the ground, calvary from both sides are engaged, whilst further back in the scene the British generals are sitting in their tents, far removed from the massacre that’s unfolding in front of them.
Elsewhere, episodes from the much-loved Krishna story crop up alongside other Gods and Goddesses, and portraits of the Bundela rajas and their military and architectural achievements.
Amongst all of this is an interesting painting of the legendary ‘Shungi Chirya’. This is a monstrous bird that could fly away with elephants captured in its talons. Some believe this could have inspired the Roc from the Arabian Sinbad stories, as such a animal is mentioned in both the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics.
This Lakshmi Narayan temple was built by Bir Singh Deo in around 1662. Due to inadequate maintenance the condition of the temple soon declined, until 1793 when it was reconstructed by Prithvi Singh.
The temple is of course dedicated to Goddess of wealth and prosperity, Laxmi (Lakshmi), and within the inner chambers Singh made arrangements for offering sacrifices for Laxmi.
As of 2018 the temple is being renovated, so some areas you may not be able to see. During my visit I was not able to climb the slightly scary looking flight of steps that takes you up to the top of the octagonal tower, I’m actually not too disappointed by that 🙂 I was however able to climb up to the top of the perimeter wall, where there are fine views across Orchha and beyond.
For anyone interested in art, history or photography, the Lakshmi Narayan Temple in Orchha is the sort of place that makes you wish there was a shop just outside selling SD memory cards :-). I thought I would only be there for around 30 minutes as the building is not huge, in reality it turned out to be closer to two hours !
It was certainly an unexpected surprise, and should be on every travellers list of places to visit whilst in Orchha.
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