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HometravelRomancing the past & present in Orchha

Romancing the past & present in Orchha

Recently, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak invoked Lord Rama as the rulernonpareil.“For me, Lord Rama will always be an inspirational figure to face life’s challenges with courage,to govern with humility, and to work selflessly,” he had said.

Ramrajya, after all, is the utopian aspiration for a functioning society.And, come the seventh month of the Hindu calendar — Ashwin — and India, and many parts of theworld, revisit those ideals through ‘Rama’s journey’ (the literal meaning of Ramayana) with thestaging of Ramleelas. Orchha leads the way with one of the most authentic representations. Forits Raja Ram temple is the only place where he is worshipped as a ruler, as a king — with a dailyguard of honour and gun salute.

A fine display of Rama’s journey

Ramleela in this small town of Madhya Pradesh is a puritan’s delight. It is devoid of theheightened Bollywood invasion and the ensuing misguided following at Ayodhya or of politicos oftentaking over Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan or out-of-place informal language that has crept inelsewhere. The early 20th-century multi-million-selling Radheyshyam Ramayana, by writer andplaywright Radheyshyam Kathaavaachak, is used abundantly in ‘Orchha ke Raja Ram ki Leela’.

The wedding celebrations

The day of Rama-Sita’s wedding is the day the whole of Orchha wears an envious celebratory look,as grand as Deepavali, or even more. A magnificent procession — Rama’s baraat, goes around thetown, with many of his subjects dancing and singing away on jam-packed roads. The day isthe ultimate carnival, and its energy and festivities put every other wedding in history toshame. Armed guards give the groom — king Rama, the salute as soon as he comes out of thetemple for the procession, where he is followed by torchbearers, gatekeepers with silver rods, attendants fanning him, and residents performing aartis.

As luck would have it

But, amidst all that, Chaturbhuj temple stands as a silent spectator in a beautifully gloomybackground. It was, after all, destined to be the seat of not any other king but King Rama. As per the legend, the King of Orchha Madhukar Shah was a devotee of Lord Krishna, and his wife,Queen Ganesh Kunwari was a devotee of Lord Rama. The king once asked the queen to implode her god to visit Orchha. She travelled to Ayodhya and her prayers were answered. Lord Rama paid her a visit,agreeing to go with her as an idol. But he had conditions — he shall be the king of Orchha andwherever the queen sat the idol first would be final. Upon learning that the queen was coming back with Lord Rama, Madhukar Shah started gettingthe magnificent Chaturbhuj temple built. But, as luck would have it, the queen sat the idol in herpalace and thereafter, no force could move King Rama from his place. The queen’s palace, hencebecame Raja Rama temple. The multi-storeyed Chaturbhuj temple, made to resemble the four arms ofLord Vishnu as Rama, is one of his avatars (chatur means four and bhuj means arm), a mix oftemple-fort-palace architecture, and one of the tallest spires at 344 feet, was left without a deity.Jahangir Mahal feels similarly ignored. Once upon a time in the early 17th century, Mughal emperor Jahangir was to visit Orchha for the first time. The Bundela ruler, Bir Singh Deo, gotthe four-storeyed palace built in his honour. The ‘pepper pots and domes’ design of this Indo-Islamic blend of architecture later found its way to Edwin Lutyens’ structures in Delhi. Founded in 1531, Orchha rulers’ (Bundela clan) political affiliations meant thatit seldom witnessed fierce battles. Becoming a vassal to the Mughal empire and then entering atreaty of alliance with the British helped it hold a seat of prominence for almost 300 years.

Must see

Laxmi temple: Built by Bir Singh Deo, the murals on the walls and roofs of the temple, are asight to behold. While some depict tales of various gods and goddesses, some are mythical innature.

Cenotaphs: Right on the banks of the beautiful Betwa River are the chhatris honouring the rulingfamily, with curated flower beds and lawns adding colour to a sombre setting.

Jhansi: Just 30 minutes away from Orchha, Jhansi (Uttar Pradesh) also deserves a quick stop forits fort (from where Rani Lakshmibaijumped while riding her horse Baadal during the 1857 battle against the British rule in India); the queen’s palace and more.

(Published 21 October 2023, 19:33 IST)

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