Jahangir Mahal Palace – Prominent Palace in Orchha
Jahangir Mahal’s Exceptional Architecture
The way to the enormous buttressed complex housing Jahangir Mahal, Sheesh Mahal, and the Raja Mahal, is across an ancient sturdy bridge with fourteen arches. Today it is called Athpula, but in the olden days, it went by the name of adhwaya. Today the Sheesh Mahal has been converted into a luxurious heritage hotel and is managed by Tourism Madhya Pradesh. Also forming part of the compound are the residences of royal servants, court musicians, and courtiers. Close by are the Anand Mandal garden, Hamam or royal bath, Rai Praveen Palace, and the astabal or royal stables.
However, the building most admired is the one towards the far side, Jahangir Mahal, the lasting legacy Bir Singh Deo left to Orchha. It is colossal in size with sides measuring 220 feet long. It surges three stories high and eight domes crown the structure. Around the extensive courtyard are 236 chambers of which 136 are underground. Floors were laid out in levels that descend and ascend in a random yet fascinating manner. The four enormous bastions in the corners, its floor layout, and the huge defensive wooden gate give this palace a fort-like appearance when viewed from outside; it looks solid, sturdy, uniform, and impenetrable.
According to ancient tradition, each of the palace’s four corners serves a specific purpose. The northeastern corner houses a prayer room, while the treasury is located in the northwestern corner. Southeast lies the kitchens and the gymnasium can be found in the southwestern corner building.
Percy Brown’s great book on Indian architecture during the Islamic period states that no-one can stand immune to the unbelievable architectural achievements of this palace; whether you are impressed by the massive solidity of the outside perspective or the intriguing complexity and order of the interior.
He continues to say that although it seems to have a complex design; it is in fact constructed according to a relatively uncomplicated composition. He compares it to the house of Jodha Bai in Fatehpur Sikri which was erected 150 years prior to the Jahangir Mahal.
He continues to remark on the intrinsic skills of the craftsmen who treated all essential elements with artistic flair.
The common entrance is at the back, facing west, and leads the visitor to the servants’ quarters. This assumption was made because of the low doors; on entry, one has to stop or you will get a nasty bump on the head. Follow along the narrow passage and you end up in the huge square courtyard measuring 125ft x 125ft. Right in the center on a raised terrace, steps lead down to a large basin where once a fountain spouted water. The courtyard is surrounded by beautifully arched doors, all adorned with intricate carvings. Hundred of brackets extend from the eaves; there is the motif of peacocks, lotus buds, and elephants.
One balcony seen on the southern wall is unique; it is small in size and has a V-shape. Called Gavakshes, these balconies were typical of the Rajput fort architectural style and were used to adorn ladies’ chambers. The archeological museum is located next to this Gavaksh apartment and contains numerous old sculptures discovered around the palace. The Hanuman shrine, a more recent addition, can also be seen in the central courtyard. Apparently, its purpose is to protect the palace’s caretakers.
Large domes cap each palace wall. The west dome has large statues of the deities of the 8 cardinal directions or Ashthadigapala, including Vayu god of wind, fire god Agni, Indra god of thunder and rain, and the deity of wealth Kubera. These gods each guard his or her corresponding palace corner; Agni looks southeast where the kitchen is found while Kubera guards the treasury in the northwestern corner.
A staircase leads to the floor above, from the west wall. The three uppermost stories are all outlined by a broad eave and have protruding balconies with sloping rails or balustrades. There are arched arcades, and the buttresses and parapets have projecting kiosks
Jahangir Mahal’s interior is made up of chambers and open galleries, all connected by passageways. In sharp contrast to the austerity of the exterior walls, those inside are embellished with trellis work, glazed tiles, and inlay work of lapis lazuli.
Plenty of fresh air and natural light flows into the palace because of the abundance of openings like jaali screens.
On the third level, at the east cornice are something of interest; stone slabs carry the original inscriptions of Bir Singh Deo’s name, as well as the date of this palace. From this site, the visitor has an extensive, sweeping view of the surrounding area, including the Betwa River almost encircling the complex. The ancient gateway or Shahi Darwaza, royal bath, or Hamam and stables or Astabal make for a marvelous tableau.
Descend a winding, narrow staircase to reach the east-facing main entrance, also called Hindola Dwar. The gigantic entranceway stands between two guarding elephants in stone, with little bells adorning their trunks. The gate itself is decorated with floral patterns or Ithikas and poli-foiled arches or Illikas. The basement can be reached beneath the platform but is presently locked to restrict entry.
It is interesting to note that this palace resembles Gwalior’s Man Mandir palace in quite a few aspects; both are designed around a huge central courtyard and both have extensive chambers underground where the royals could retreat to during the hot summer months. Furthermore, the brackets, trellis work, and eaves show remarkable correlations.
The Historical Saga of Jahangir Palace
It took longer than 400 years to complete the Jahangir Mahal. There is a far-fetched folktale that says that in the end the emperor only stayed here for one night. After extensive research during the 1980s, KK Chakravarty came to the conclusion that construction actually started in the time of Akbar. The basis for his theory is a stone with the date 1586 AD (Samvat 1643) inscribed on it inside the palace. If this is true, then the complex predates Singh Deo who reigned only from 1604 AD onwards.
Dhau’s Mansion, the Dhauji-ki-haveli
The name Bir Singh Deo’s military commander or Senapati, Raiman Dhau, called his residence was Dhauji-ki-haveli, where the word ‘haveli’ means house or mansion. Rumor has it that they were both Akhada companions. This residence lies south of the Jahangir Mahal.