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New Delhi, India
September 10, 2010
Inside, the Lakshminarayan Temple looks like a scaled-down version of the Orchha Fort, but with a greater emphasis on indigenous elements of architecture—the whaleback roofs, the overhangs or dripstones, and the oriel windows that are common in places like Rajasthan are in evidence here, much more than the domes that predominate in more Mughal buildings. The main gate is decorated with a scalloped arch and carving, including two small figures of stylised lions that jut out over the doorway.
We go through small courtyards, past arches decorated with plaster figures of deities, and into the first of several rooms decorated with murals. This room is open on one side, held up by slender columns; the wall is covered over with a deep brick red colour, into which delicate line drawings have been traced in white. These are mainly depictions of the Hindu god Krishna, playing the flute and cavorting with his many ladies in pleasure gardens.
Similar styles of painting follow in the other rooms we visit. The themes, however, really run amok! I expect illustrations of Krishna in a Hindu temple; I do not expect large paintings of 19th century British officers having a tête-à-tête! But they are there, two men dolled up in boots, breeches, tricorn hats and coats heavy with braid, drinking wine as they chat. Although no mention has been made of alterations or additions to the Lakshminarayan Temple after the 18th century, there are obvious signs of work having carried on well past the 1850’s: one of the rooms has the upper half of its walls covered with small, intricate images of the mutiny of 1857. Here, bayonet-holding British soldiers form ranks while their officers confer in a tent; there, the Indians move forward on war elephants and horses. While the paintings near the entrance of the temple are large, white-on-brick red, these ones are small, painted in shades of black, red, brown and ochre, on a white ground. And the scenes are not restricted to India’s freedom movement: there are also scenes from the battles of the Hindu epics, the Mahabharat and the Ramayana.
Most interesting of all are the two depictions of a local heroine whom just about every Indian knows about: Queen Lakshmibai of Jhansi (Jhansi is 16 km from Orchha). Lakshmibai was an intrepid warrior who led her armies into battle against the British in 1857. Though she was eventually killed, she did manage to make a name for herself by her bravery and her defiance of the British. The artists who painted the interiors of this temple probably realised that here was their chance to immortalise Lakshmibai: you can see her, dressed in flowing robes and sitting in a garden, conversing with a woman, in one mural; right above is Lakshmibai in her warrior avatar, on horseback. Another battle scene shows her, amidst other archers on horseback, loosing off arrows from her bow while her adopted son Damodar clings to her back.
Though the paintings on the lower walls have been ruthlessly mutilated and covered with graffiti, the ones on the ceilings and upper walls are in much better condition. They’re excellent murals, of what is known as the Bundelkhand School of Painting. And the subjects—religion on the one hand, nationalism on the other—are eclectic enough to be intriguing. Don’t miss this.
From journal Palaces, Temples and a River
Damascus, Dimashq, Syria
March 30, 2005
The temple itself contains the most exquisite paintings in Orchha. There are three rooms inside with murals on the walls and ceilings. Although painted between the 17th and 19th centuries, the colours are really fresh and vibrant. There are scenes from the battle of Jhansi and other local historical events, as well as illustrations of the life of Krishna. On a lighter note, there is also an amusing drawing of two British soldiers who are quite obviously drunk. If you are visiting the temple and you want to see the paintings, then get there before closing time at 5pm. If you do miss the interior, well, the sunset is stunning. There are also several walks leading from the temple to smaller ruins in the fields to the north. The Laxminarayana Temple is included in the Orchha 'day passport' ticket, which for 50 rupees gives access to all the main monuments in the area.
From journal A Long Weekend in Orchha