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Documenting the Jahangir Mahal in Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, India

Architectural documentation work is akin to a detective’s job. One needs to undertake a background study, carry out field investigations, question the people involved, hear local accounts, and finally piece together the evidence to arrive at a definite conclusion. This documentation not only provides us with a contemporary record of the monument and its state of general being but also provides vital clues with regard to its evolution, historic layers, building techniques, and processes prevalent during its construction.

Our team carried out extensive documentation work of Jahangir Mahal between the months of April to October 2013. During multiple visits over this six month period, we documented all the floor levels, internal and external wall surfaces, and other decorative elements of the monument. A total station survey of the monument and adjoining areas revealed its context and relationship with the immediate topography. Past data with regard to conservation works carried out on the monument have remained largely elusive and insufficient. Our effort has been to collate the relevant information available of past conservation works along with the archival images, gazetteer noting, historical accounts, and narratives, into a consolidated set of documents which may serve as a valuable reference source of Jahangir Mahal for future purposes.

An important aspect that we placed adequate emphasis on whilst documenting Jahangir Mahal was to observe and record the monument through the varied seasons. Unlike modern buildings, the monument, having been built in lime mortar based masonry construction, has a more porous surface and, thus, undergoes considerable changes with the change in season. During the hot summer season, all the building surfaces are stark dry making it easier to be studied in greater clarity. The monsoon period, when the nearby forests and rivers come alive, provided a good time to record the monument’s susceptibility to rain in terms of water seepage, clogging, and dampness. The post-monsoon season revealed to us the specific areas that were vulnerable for vegetation growth. Hence, we learned the essentiality for conservationists to study the building across all seasons to attain a greater understanding of a historic monument.

The task of documenting a popular monument such as Jahangir Mahal comes with its own challenges and experiences that may test one’s skills of patience, adventure, and bravery. The unwarranted attention and incessant queries from inquisitive tourists needed to be answered patiently and politely. Our brave side was tested while fighting for space with the native langurs (long-tailed monkeys) who felt intruded by human presence in ‘their’ areas. We also learned the ability to keep calm while measuring the bat-infested, dark, and dingy cellars of Jahangir Mahal while the bats furiously circled over and around our heads. There were some captivating moments as well, especially while witnessing the residing vultures from close quarters and watching them soar high into the blue sky.

In all, it’s been a memorable journey documenting Jahangir Mahal. However, in the midst of these eventful months spent on the project, what, at the end of it, continues to intrigue me is an agonizing coincidence—that of Jahangir’s death on the 8th of November, 1627, exactly 350 years ago to the day I was born! A lifelong fascination with the Mughal Emperor has, thus, ensued. It remains, therefore, my personal endeavour to establish any past life linkages, particularly the ones that lead to the secret of the hidden treasures!