DATIA PALACE: NO ONE EVER OCCUPIED IT
Datia Palace, on NH 44, is one of the best examples of amalgamation of Indo-Islamic architecture
It is not every day that you chance upon monuments like Datia Palace as we did during our road journey to Jabalpur on National Highway 44. We had travelled around 75 km ahead of the historic city of Gwalior on way towards Jhansi when to our left we saw this remarkable structure. We wanted to reach Jhansi before sunset; it was already 5 pm and we were still 40 km away from our destination, but we somehow couldn’t resist the charm of this old architectural marvel.
So, we halted, got down and enquired; a local told us that it was Datia Palace. We were in Datia, a small ancient town, also mentioned in Hindu epic Mahabharata as Daityavakra.
Winding our way through a narrow kuchcha road passing through the local haat (weekly marketplace), we reached the seven-floor structure. Datia Palace is also known as Bir Singh Dev Palace or Bir Singh Palace after the name of the ruler who got it constructed. Just outside the building, we saw a notice board proclaiming it to be an ASI-protected monument. We hoped to meet the palace’s caretaker. However, no one was in sight. A few kids playing just outside the entry of the palace informed us that Banwari Lal, the ASI caretaker, had gone to the nearby temple. And before we could realise, one of them rushed to inform Banwari Lal about our arrival and in no time the man was with us.
But while we were waiting for the caretaker, we looked around. We found the monument to be in good condition and well-maintained. After a quick round of greetings, Lal had us know that the Datia Palace is one of the few palace structures in north and central India that boasts of an amalgamation of Indo-Islamic architecture. “The building, also known as Datia Mahal or Satkhanda Palace is symbolic of the friendship between Mughal prince, Jehangir and Bundela king, Birsingh Deo. Jehangir wanted one of the nine jewels in his father Akbar’s court, Abul Fazl (the author of Akbarnama), killed as he suspected Fazl of having opposed his accession to the throne. Jehangir hatched a plot with Birsingh Deo. Fazl was then assassinated by Birsingh Deo while he was on his way back from Deccan at a place between Vir and Antri near Datia. Later, to commemorate the visit of Jehangir to his ruling belt, Birsingh ordered the construction of Datia palace. It took eight years, 10 months and 26 days to complete the structure and he spent around Rs 35 lakh back then on it,” Banwari Lal tells us.
Interestingly, Datia Palace is made purely of stone and bricks without any trace of iron or wood. On almost all the floors, you will find an intricate jaali work, murals and frescoes which are attractive and out-of-the-world. The palace has been designed as a Swastik (ancient Hindu religious symbol) and constructed in the form of a square with the monotony being relieved by four octagonal towers, one at each corner, and string courses of stone lattice work defining five storeys. Numerous chhatris ornament the summit and are crowned with ribbed domes.
While the first and second floors of the palace were supposed to be occupied by the army, the third floor was for the guards. The fourth floor was meant for the queens and guests while the fifth was to be used as Diwan-e-Khas. Sadly, it was never occupied by the royal family. Lal told us that the descendant of Birsingh Deo, Ghanshyam Singhji Deo, stay in another palace in Datia.
Though an ASI protected monument, no proper arrangement has been made for lighting inside the complex. In case you visit the place in the evening, we suggest you carry a torch that will help you move around. You can go till the fourth floor, visitors are allowed till that.
The entry gate of the palace is heavily infested with bats as not many visitors come to this heritage location so be careful and preferably, as advised by Lal, cover you head with a piece of cloth or handkerchief. If you happen to be in Orchcha, Gwalior or Jhansi, do visit this beautiful piece of architecture in the vicinity.