Glorious Gems of MP - Purana Mahal of Datia

It is a chilly November morning at 9 am, and we are on our way to Datia. The entire drive had very limited visibility and it felt like the fog had developed its own character overnight and started travelling with us like an old companion. Little did I know, this was probably the best preface for the place I was about to visit shortly. Around mid-day, the fog started clearing up to reveal some friendly jaggery hawkers.

I looked around, and find myself surrounded by sugarcane fields! That is when I learnt that the periphery of this district is famous for jaggery factories.

Biting on a few delicious pieces, I moved towards Tourist Motel in Datia where I got a glimpse of the main attraction - the marvellous Bir Singh Palace, also known as Datia Palace and locally referred to as the Purana Mahal. I sat on a bench, looking at the breathtaking view of this overwhelmingly stunning palace!

This palace is famous as a testimony to friendship. As I wondered the story behind the palace, my guide narrated one of the most unique stories I have heard in a long time. Centuries ago, when Bundela Raja Bir Singh and Akbar entered into an alliance at Orchha, it marked the beginning of a friendship with the Mughal ruler’s son Jahangir. Bir Singh built the Jahangir Mahal at Orchha to welcome him on his first visit to the city. But the Raja was not too impressed by the Orchha Mahal and so went on to build this majestic maze of a palace in Datia.

Up close, Bir Singh Palace was more than just a spectacle. So much so that I was awe struck by the entrance gate itself. Each of the tiles, carvings, colours, motifs had a tale about a great friendship. The figures in yellow represent Bir Singh and the one in green depict Jahangir placed in numerous frames made to look like almirahs. The main arch has carvings of them catching deers, a dragon like figure as well as motifs of the sun and the moon.

Sadly, a lot of the enamel work had withered away with time but it still does not need a lot of imagination to guess how breathtaking it must have been when it was built. I spent a good amount of time gazing at the gate and figuring out these stories that were the inspiration for this wall.

Built entirely of brick and stone with no cement or iron to hold it together, this palace is one of the finest examples of the blend of Indo-Islamic architecture. Designed in the form of a Swastik, it is a great balance of classical and symmetrical.  No wonder Sir Edward Lutyens, the renowned British architect was awestruck by this palace. He was so overwhelmed by Datia Mahal that he chose to visit other edifices in India before he embarked on designing New Delhi.

The palace stands on a square base with octagonal towers on each of its corners. Some of the ceilings have beautifully carved islamic patterns that looked like the night sky filled with stars. Some of them have naqqashi work. The chhatris are in the shape of a lotus petal, whereas arches and doorways are clearly inspired my islamic architecture. Every wall spoke to me about the beautiful aesthetics and whispered poems of friendship. Although the rooms with stucco work were shut, I managed to get a peek of a few figures - trees, birds, vases - simply stunning. This wonderful fusion of two worlds made it even more interesting to spend more time around this place.

In the 17th century, the cost of building this palace was about a whopping 35 lakhs but the heartbreaking part is that no one actually ended up living in it.

And the biggest irony - even Jahangir himself was never able to visit it.

About the artist 

Neethi Goldhawk is an independent illustrator and textile print designer who loves drawing all things dreamy, inspired by nature and life. She has illustrated for platforms like Redbull Amaphiko and Launchora. Her pen name (Goldhawk) was concocted in the crowded space of her mind full of absurd characters, who are but little children at heart. She is an avid Tumblr blogger and can be found here

By Neethi Goldhawk
The Legend of Lala Hardaul

Orchha is not just a landscape of buildings. It is a town filled with stories. Every monument of Orrcha echoes tales of friendship, romance, betrayal, mysticism and sacrifice. Intriguing, funny, unbelievable and irresistible these stories breathe life into these ancient mahals and mandirs, some of them still in ruins.

Let’s take the example of the ancient Persian style towers that stand amidst a colourful market, and are popularly known as Sawan Bhadon (names of two spring months in local Indian calendar). The locals say that they stand for two brothers who meet everyday at midnight. And this is just one of the tales associated with this monument. 

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that every building in Orccha is permeated with stories, and some with strange twists too. Behind the ruins of a melancholic yellow palace which now houses a bazaar, I heard the story of Lala Hardaul, a local prince who is worshipped in a small temple and is addressed as God. “Woh hamara bhagwan hai, hamari raksha karta hai, kabhi bhi zinda aayega,” said a local woman, claiming that Hardaul is alive and is their God. 

At this point my guide narrated his story, which I am recreating for all of you:  

Hardaul, born in Datiya was a son of the famous Bir Singh Bundela of Orchha. He grew up with his brother Jhujhar Singh and was also very fond of his sister-in-law. She also treated Hardaul like his own son.

But Jhujhar Singh’s mind was corrupted by his people. He suspected Hardaul of undue intimacy with his wife.

Jhujhar Singh decided to organise a feast for Hardaul and poisoned the food which killed Hardaul and his followers.

A few years after this tragedy, the daughter of Kunjavati (the sister of Jhujhar and Hardaul) was about to get married. Kunjavati went to invite Jhujhar Singh to attend the wedding but he declined her invitation and mockingly said that she must invite her favourite brother, Hardaul instead.

Hurt, Kunjavati, went in despair to Hardaul’s tomb and lamented aloud. Hardaul from below answered her cries, and promised her that he would come to the wedding and make all arrangements.

Hardaul kept his promise, and arranged the nuptials as befitted the honour of his house.

The same night he visited the bedside of Akbar, and besought the emperor to command chabutras (platforms) to be erected in his honour throughout the empire with a promise that, if he were duly honoured, a wedding should never be marred by storm or rain. Akbar complied with these requests, and since that time Hardaul’s ghost has been worshipped in every village.

He is honoured at weddings and in Baisakh (April-May) women, especially of the lower castes, visit his chabutras built outside the village and eat there. One day before the arrival of any wedding procession, the women of the family worship Hardaul and invite him to the wedding.

If any sign of a storm appears, Hardaul is appeased with songs.

About the artist

Sajid Shaikh is a self-taught visual artist, illustrator & graphic designer and has worked for firms like Umbrella Design and Contract Advertising. His brand of contemporary graphics inspired by traditional / modern India is surreal, obscure, bold and adds a modern twist to the subject and touch of philosophy to the design.

By Sajid Shaikh