Khajuraho, a small town located in Madhya Pradesh, is a globally recognised UNESCO World Heritage site that embodies the rich cultural heritage and innovative architectural marvels of ancient Indian civilization. The rich legacy of Bundelkhand can be found in its palaces, temples, baolis, and royal gardens. The 18th-century royal produce gardens, better known as The Royal Gardens of Rajnagar is one such example, situated a mere 4 kilometers from the temple city of Khajuraho.
The Belgian Chapter of the Indian Trust for Rural Heritage and Development (ITRHD) was collaborated with Dharatal, a design studio with a specialization in traditional architecture and historical landscapes, and the Pateriya Family, in spearheading the restoration of the 18th century Royal Gardens, formerly known as the Lost Gardens of Khajuraho, in Rajnagar.
As a major milestone, the Inauguration Ceremony of the ‘Visitor’s Center’ for the Royal Gardens of Rajnagar was held on April 30th, 2022 in Pateriya ka Bagh, Rajnagar, Madhya Pradesh. Distinguished guests included Shrimati Uma Jadhav, Deobagh, Gwalior, Sushri Ira Saraswat, Orchha, Mr. Ganesh Pathak, Rajnagar , Mr. Santosh Pateriya , Rajnagar and Mr. Vincent Miny Director Alliance Francaise, Lucknow along with local cultural heritage experts like Mr. Anurag Shukla, Dr. Murad Ali , Journalist and co-convenor Intach Khajuraho chapter and Mr. & Mrs. Jeevan Jyoti Pateriya. Also present were Mr. Vivek and his daughter Ms. Khyati Pateriya, the Pateriya Bagh (royal garden) owner who has been working tirelessly with ITRHD and Dharatal for the restoration.
The opening ceremony recognised the collective efforts of ITRHD Belgium, Dharatal, the MP Tourism department, civil society organisations and the local community in restoring the magnificence of the Royal Gardens of Rajnagar.
This concentration of 15 royal gardens had faded from public memory and was in ruin until 1998 when the Indian Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage made a holistic development report for the Khajuraho Region. All these royal gardens in Rajnagar range from 3 to 6 acres with a small Shiva temple, an outhouse (kothi), cenotaphs (Samadhi) with several wells (including stepwells) and irrigation channels.
Dharatal was commissioned by ITRHD Belgium in 2016 to design the visitor’s centre by restoring the small Kothi (a ruined rectangular structure), adjacent to the existing Shiva temple and revitalising the produce gardens. The new Visitor’s Centre seeks to balance the architectural innovations with unique Bundeli architecture representative of the local community.
Various elements of 18th and 19th century Bundeli architecture have been incorporated into the design of the centre. One of the unique features of Dharatal’s architectural intervention is the jharokha (balcony) in the kothi. An ornamental jharokha has been added above roof-level on the wall, inspired by the original jharokha in the older structures. Further, a staircase has also been added, inspired by the stepwell which is typically found in Bundeli gardens. The staircase adds to the aesthetic beauty of the garden with a brilliant display of light and shadow for visitors.
Geert Robberechts, Convener, ITRHD Belgium, opines that restoration of such lost heritage sites with the support of local stakeholders is crucial for cultural conservation and cultivating the spirit of community ownership of shared resources.
Beyond just restoration, the project envisages these gardens to emerge as centres of cultural wealth and sustainable development in the region. Mr. Nishant Upadhyay, Founder of Dharatal, said, “Since these are produce gardens, the most important part of the project is promoting organic farming as a sustainable way of livelihood among the young generation and teaching them about Bundeli culture.”
The creation of a community seedbank with local varieties of vegetables and fruits; and the cultivation of these varieties by the young generation will promote agri-entrepreneurship in the region. Thus, the centre will serve as a space for training in organic farming for locals and gatherings to celebrate local festivals and rituals.
Such restoration projects are vital in rediscovering our cultural and ecological heritage while engaging the younger generation in sustainable agricultural and tourism practices.
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