The Abandoned Palace

This is a post dedicated to all the lonely forts and palaces in India, that have been constructed with due grandeur, but left in the cloud of desolation and neglect, or simple forgotten.

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.

Datia Palace

Datia, Madhya Pradesh

March 2022

Credits: Kevin Standage

Despite its multitude of names (ranging from Govind Mahal, Govind Mandir, Jahangir Mahal, Satkhanda Palace, Purana Mahal to Bir Singh Palace), this 17th century residence, built between Gwalior and Jhansi, struggles to find its identity amidst neglect and forgotten glory. Representing finest of Indo-Islamic architecture, Datia palace is a tribute to the friendship between the Mughal emperor Jahangir and Bundela chieftain Raja Bir Singh Deo. Bir Singh championed Jahangir’s cause against Akbar and even beheaded Abul Fazal, Akbar’s vizier, confidant and general. In return Bir Singh Deo was made ruler of both Orchha and Datia when Jahangir ascended the throne in 1605. Years later when Jahangir announced his intention of meeting his old friend, Bir Singh Deo commissioned the construction of 52 buildings in the kingdom. One of them was the palace at Datia that would serve as a pitstop for the emperor during his journey.

The plan diagramme has been described variously as a ‘char-bagh’, a ‘mandala’ and a ‘swastika-like-pattern’ in contemorary literature. (Reference – Architexturez)

Built on top of a granite ridge, the palatial structure is basically a square fortress comprising of three layers, approximately 40m high, few external openings, and a ‘palace-tower’ at the centre capped by a mandap, fortified outer layer, and interiors designed in geometric symmetry and organisation. Stepping across the elarborate entrance gives an impression of entering a bat cave, with all your sense of vision and smell clamouring to adjust! Four flights of stairs later, all you keep thinking is that this better not be a waste of time and I do not want to die with the smell of bats as the last sensory memory! And then the world opens up into this main courtyard with a spectacular tower-like five storied inner palace containing the royal apartments.

Remarkably, Datia Palace has never been inhabited by a ruler, not even by Bir Singh Deo himself. Even though the palace was built for Jahangir, the Mughal emperor also never visited the palace. Since it was a gift, neither Bir Singh Deo nor his family ever used the palace for their personal use. And so, the 440 rooms spread across 7 floors and built entirely from stone (no use of cement, iron or wood), which was completed just four years before Bir Singh Deo died, remained largely vacant for more than 400 years. Apparently, in 1835 the palace was visited by Colonel Sleeman, a British soldier, and a report was published in the Datia State Gazetteer. The Colonel was curious as to why such a palace has stayed vacant.  The locals replied that no present day ruler was worthy of a such grand palace, nor would one be comfortable living in a palace that had been built to house such a great king.

In the opinion of Sir Edwin Lutyens, architect of New Delhi from 1912 to 1930 :

“Datia Palace was one of the most interesting and perfect buildings architecturally in the whole of India”.

He was so inspired by what he saw at Datia that he incorporated aspects of the palace in the interior design of New Delhi’s North and South Blocks.

Honestly, out of all the buildings seen during MP Tour of March 2022, this would be my favourite palatial structure!

You can also check out my Orchha guide to learn about the connection between the two towns.

Orientation Tip:

Datia is a popular day trip from Orchha. The other two nearest localities would be the airport city Gwalior (2.5 hrs distance) and the railway station Jhansi (30 minutes). Reaching Datia Palace is some what of a tortuous affair, if you have decided to rent a vehicle for the day; the roads are extrmely narrow and are often blocked with vendors or marriage processions. There is a second option of accessing Datia by the main road, but many drivers seem to be unaware of this fact or will pester you to visit the Shaktipeeth temple instead.

Related (and not-so related) Posts:

Madhya Pradesh

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