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The road between Orchha and Gwalior is a memorable experience although the landscape is arid and dry; every now and then the motorist will glimpse what seems like an impenetrable fort sitting on top of a hill. In fact, this erstwhile kingdom of the Bundelas is peppered with innumerable temples and fortifications built by the Rajput rulers. Mostly they are located on hillocks for extra protection against enemy attacks. Datia is one of these palace forts.
An otherwise inconspicuous little town, Datia is mentioned under the name of Daityavakra in the Sanskrit epic of ancient India, the Mahabharata. However, it is of special interest since it is the location of maybe the most superb palace in the whole of India. In 1620 Bir Singh Deo, ruler of Orchha and Datia chief built his seven-story palace called Bir Singh Palace.
On the approach road from Gwalior, this huge structure crowns the hill. The solid building contrasts beautifully with the pink bougainvilleas on the slopes. Mughal influences are evident in the symmetrical lines and architectural structure of this palace but the ancient holy Hindu swastika symbol is also present. The fusion of styles attracted the interest of the architect responsible for most of the buildings in British New Delhi, Sir Edwin Lutyens and he subsequently spent a lot of time here.
The design of the Datia palace does not differ much from the other Rajput royal dwellings of the time. A central courtyard is surrounded by chambers on different levels reminiscent of Orchha’s Jahangir Mahal. Its unique feature though, is a square, tall pavilion in the center of its courtyard. From each side, a bridge connects it to the rest of the palace building. To the south lies Lake Karna Sagar while the entrance to the palace faces east. This palace is an excellent example of the magnificent architecture of the period.
Something else that sets it apart is the building materials; no wood or iron was used and the entire structure was constructed with bricks and stone. Inside are treasures like detailed jaali work, brightly colored murals, rare paintings, as well as exquisite stucco figures adorning the royal chambers. Persian motifs are painted on stucco demonstrate the strong influence of Mughal paintings. Catherine Asher, author of a work on the Mughal architecture says that these motifs resemble those on the Allahabad tomb of Nisar Begum, Jahangir’s daughter. The main gateway has a towering arch with beautiful paintings on the sides of its niche. Portrayed in the numerous paintings are the usual Mughal symbols and scenes of riders on their horses, wine vessels, geometric designs, and depictions of the royals.
The original function of the hilltop building was to serve as a rest-house for the royals. In time though, it fulfilled many different roles. The entire first level consists of dark rooms, similar to barracks. It is evident that they were meant for prisoners. The next floor up housed the guards and soldiers and the fourth was used for entertainment. Above that was the audience hall or diwan-i-aam and the sixth level was reserved for secret meetings. The top floor consisted mainly of watchtowers for detecting enemy hostilities and from here the sentinels had a magnificent sweeping view of the entire surrounding region.
Visit Datia’s Famous Temples and Other Interesting Sites
Peetambhara Peeth Temple is very popular with the citizens of Datia and many devotees pay a visit, particularly on Saturdays. Other temples inside this complex are the Dhumawati Mai, Buglamukhi Devi, and Vankhandeshwar Temples. The town of Datia has more attractions; Karna Saga Tank has ruined temples, surrounding chhatris, and ghats and Fort Bhara Garh is worth a visit. On another hill in the vicinity is Rajgarh Palace, constructed by Shatrujit Bundela. It offers a splendid view and the museum is quite interesting.
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