Mural and Fresco painting of Madhya Pradesh

A recent trip to Gwalior, Jhansi and Orchha in the heartland of India was enriching in many ways. It is a land of forts and palaces, that gives testimony of our glorious history. However, while visiting the forts and listening to the stories of battles and the valor of our queens and kings, I found something quite unexpected. It was the paintings on the walls of the royal palaces and temples of this region. These murals and fresco paintings on the walls and ceilings of the historic forts, palaces and temples of this region are approximately 200 to 500 years old.

Jhansi Fort

The visit to the historic Jhansi fort was emotionally overwhelming. Since my childhood, I had read about Rani Laxmi Bai and tales of her courage. While walking on the walls of the fort, visiting her durbar and the Panch Mahal, I got transported back in time – to a period when the very young queen raised the first army of women, where the brave women practiced horse riding and trained for sword fighting. From the fort, the guide pointed out an old mahal (a large house). Painted yellow, it looked like a regular building till we were told that this became the home of Queen Lakshmi Bai after she was widowed. The queen shifted from the main mahal inside the fort to the mahal outside after her husband King Gangadhar Rao passed away. The guide informed us that currently the palace serves as a museum. We were debating whether to spend time inside the museum since we had other places to visit. However, ultimately, we decided to pay a quick visit.

         Mural Painting, Rani Mahal, Jhansi

Mural Paintings in Rani Mahal

The moment we stepped inside the rooms of the queen, a great surprise was waiting for us. The entire wall of the long and spacious hall had been exquisitely painted. The paintings were done using very vibrant colors of red, yellow, blue, green, and golden.  The themes were mostly flowers, trees, peacock, and other birds. The trees reminded me of Kalpavriksha paintings prevalent in Odisha. Even if the walls have peeled off at multiple places due to attack by the British and neglect thereafter, still many of the paintings have remained as beautiful as ever to tell their tale. The colors are still bright, with astonishing level of intricacy and symmetry in the design.


Mural paintings in the palace of the Vaishnav kings

Our next stop was the Jahangir Mahal and Raja Mahal in Orchha. As we learnt about the valor of the kings of Bundelkhand, we also learnt that the kings were Vaishnav, worshippers of Narayan or Krishna. As we moved from the courtyard of the Raja Mahal into the bedrooms of the queens, we were greeted by elaborate paintings on the walls of the bedrooms. Most of the paintings were based on Vaishnav themes, with the Dashavatara theme (depicting the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu) featuring prominently in almost every room. There were also themes from Ramayana, paintings of Brahma, Vishnu and Krishna.

        Mural Painting Raja Mahal Orchha

The paintings were elaborate, the figures drawn neatly with great amount of detailing and the colors were bright. While I had seen such paintings in several other temples in India, seeing them inside the mahal of the royal queens was quite unexpected. The style of the painting was unique, typical of Bundelkhand region.



Engraving or Scratching technique – The Lakshmi temple

Our last stop was the Lakshmi temple in Orchha. Again, what we found inside the temple was quite unexpected. The temple is built in the shape of a Shree Yantra. It also served as a fort, with watch towers on the sides. On both sides of the entrance passage, the walls were painted in a unique style, with red and white colors. These are known as engraved paintings. The guide explained the process of engraving. First white plaster is applied on the wall. Then red oxide is applied on top of the plaster. Then figures are drawn by scratching off the surface of the wall. The themes of these wall painting were interesting as well – a lady drying her hair, wrestlers wrestling, royal personages on elephants and so on. On some of the walls, frescos can also be seen. Frescos are paintings that are done when the wall is built fresh and the plaster is still wet. The paintings done on the wet surface become an integral part of the wall as the colors and the plaster dry together, giving the art a long and preserved life.

Wall engraving in Lakshmi temple
  Wall engraving in Lakshmi temple, Orchha

The Fresco on the ceiling – Lakshmi temple, orchha

As we entered inside the Lakshmi temple, the scene was mesmerizing. The entire wall as well as the ceiling were covered with beautiful frescoes. While some of the frescoes were mythological in nature, there were some with scenes of wars. One particularly amazing painting was that of the mutiny of 1857. It is said that the king of Bundelkhand was proud of Rani Laxmibai and so got the painting done in her honor. However, due to his alliance with the British, he wanted to be diplomatic and hence the depiction of Rani Laxmibai was not there anywhere in the painting. Still the other details of the painting made it clear that it was the famous battle of Jhansi.


Some more wall paintings of Lakshmi Temple

   Mythology on wall Lakshmi temple
Depiction of the fort, palace and royal court – Lakshmi temple
Ramayana and the scenes of battle – Lakshmi Temple

4 thoughts on “Mural and Fresco painting of Madhya Pradesh”

  1. Such a wonderfully descriptive account of the visit to these monuments that are not so well-known across the rest of the country! It definitely whets one’s appetite for exploring these historical sites. Thanks for sharing the lovely videos and photos!

  2. A well documented and written account of the paintings from palaces, temples and forts of Madhya Pradesh. I had no idea of such paintings on ceilings and walls in our country. The themes are so historical and Indian. Thanks for sharing this beautiful account.

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