The Fort-Temple of Art Galleries

Museum, and in specific, art galleries come with this image of pin-drop silence, staring at a piece of art, trying to understand the context or hidden layers of meaning, and sometimes wondering why will you do such a thing! In the process of art evolution and the attached price tag, we have forgotten about the rich and complex reflections of the cultures that produced them, including their politics, social structures, and systems of thought. From the first art museum Kustmuseum Basel, originating in 1661 to the world’s first university art museum Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 1683, to the most visited art museum in the world Lourve Museum in Paris, art has made a long journey. Let’s take this journey further to the Heartland of India, Madhya Pradesh.

If you have traveled in India, you will have definitely ventured into beautiful temples, or forts, or maybe palaces. You would have seen ornate walls, pillars, beautiful and exemplary doorways, or a statue so refined that you would just want to lightly graze your fingertips against this piece of incredible history. But, I am pretty sure you have never seen a temple, built like a fort, standing separately and yet tall because of its own merits. The solitary Laxmi Narayan temple, located 2 km from the Orchha fort is a building unlike anything else that you have seen in India. The structural plan of the temple is rectangular with four multi-faced projecting bastions at its four corners. The high square walls adds-on to the fort-like feature of the building, while its spires give an impression of a temple. Interestingly, the line and mortar building with its central octagonal tower has numerous windows that has keyholes designed for soldiers to position archers and soldiers as an additional safety feature to the Orchha fort.

If the exterior itself feels surreal for a temple, you will forget all that once you set your foot across the threshold. The walls are covered with the traditional Bundeli wall paintings, that are still used as inspiration for designing sarees. In Bundelkhand region, painting is usually done by a caste of professional painters called Chiteras. Mud plaster base composed of red clay and cow dung mixture is used, over which linear patterns are etched with fingers, in a process called as ‘Lipai’.

Folk paintings of Madhya Pradesh, specially the wall paintings of Bundelkhand, Gondwana, Nimar and Malwa are living expressions of people, intrinsically linked with the socio-cultural ambiance of the area. They are not mere decorations but also spontaneous outpourings of religious devotions.

Bundelkhand research portal

A pro tip for all the tourists out there – Remember this mantra when you set out to explore the history and heritage of India: “Always look up!” That’s the mantra that will ground you, while you walk around Laxmi Narayan temple and watch it unfolding its many stories! There are four art galleries waiting for you to explore, each unique and equally magnificent – showcasing instances and nuances from Ramayana, Bhagvad Gita, Krishna leela, lives of the local rulers and the First war of Independence in 1857. These paintings are dated back to medieval era of India, hence you can see a large depiction of Hindu deities. All the paintings have been done using natural colours, using a style of art called fresco. I have gone in-depth recently on the topic as well, so check that out!

Bir Singh Deo ji of Orchha ordered the construction of Laxmi Temple around 1622, but due to inadequate maintenance over the years the temple soon began to fall apart and had to be reconstructed by Prithvi Singh in 1793.

Interesting fact – while the temple has been built as a dedication to Goddess of Wealth and properity, it is one temple where there is no idol and yet, people end up spending 2 hours or more, all credits to the design and dedication displayed artistically on the walls. Interestingly, the altar of this temple is constructed in the shape of a yoni or vulva while its inner sanctum is similar to a Tantric cult.

Art gallery inside a temple!! Did you like it? There are thousands of temple structures and forts and palaces in India – each with its own unique brand of history, intricate decors, colorful personalities. But I have never been awed at this level!!


Related (and not-so related) Posts:


Madhya Pradesh

2 comments

  1. […] Bundela connections with the Mughal court and relations with Rajput princes around the reign of Bir Singh Deo (1602-1628) influenced their indegenous style —often referred to as Chandeli in local vernacular—resulting in the “Bundela Style” in architecture, and an associated wall-painting style, Bundeli Kalam. […]

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