Orchha: Another ayodhya with Aarti and a gun salute

It is an aarti like none other, not at least the boy from Babhnan knew about. An aarti that gets followed by a gun salute to the deity, Ram Lalla, or baby form of Lord Ram in this case. This was in Orchha, a small kasbah now fallen 15 kilometers off the major railway route connecting India’s north to the south. It was once the mighty capital of the Bundela kings though, giving the region its name- Bundelkhand. A word mere mention of which evokes strong memories: of ballads and betrayals. Of alliances and intrigues. Of Abul Fazal and Jahangeer. 

And of Ayodhya, a very important part of the history of the once capital of the princely state accorded a 15 gun salute by the British Raj. The boy was in Ram Raja Temple, the centre of life in the small town more than 500 years after Bundela chief Rudra Pratap Singh had established it in 1501 AD, albeit at a different place nearby called Garh Kundar. He then shifted his capital to a more strategically located place, Orchha, on the banks of the river Betwa in 1931. 

The story behind the gun salute is contested and, intriguing. Most accepted version though is that of a clash of faith. Then king believed in Lord Krishna while the queen was a Ram devotee. The conflicted escalated to such an extent that the King permitted the queen to go to Ayodhya only on a condition. The condition was that she would return with Ram Lalla (Baby Ram). 

She went and worshipped. Yet, after getting no response from the lord for several months, she jumped in the river Sarayu. Lord Ram immediately manifested himself and granted her wish on three conditions. They were that he would travel only under a particular star, would take his seat wherever she first kept in the capital. She returned and kept him in his palace for taking him to the temple built for him the next day. By then he had become an idol. The king and queen tried their best to shift the idol next morning to the newly built temple but it did not budge. Legend has it that Lord Ram came in the queen’s dream in the night reminding her that as the new king, the palace was his rightful abode. 

The king and queen kept the promise. They vacated the palace and turned it into Ram Raja temple. The king also abdicated in favour of Ram Lalla, making him official king of the state and started working as his regent. 

From there started the tradition of the gun salute to Raja Ram. Interestingly, Nehru, the secular blamed for everything today, kept the tradition alive even after accession of the state in the Union of India. This also reminds me that the queen had returned from Ayodhya in 1528, two years after the claims of Babar having demolished Ram Janbhoomi or the Birth Place of Ram Lalla. But then, these are other tales for some other time. 

The fact remains that the city stands as a witness to the history of India from much before the idea of India itself was to be born. It stays witness to all the attacks and intrigues too. Of first Islam Shah Suri trying to capture the state and then Akbar himself, forcing Madhukar Shah becoming vassal of Mughal empire. Interestingly, another contemporary historian records him as a rebel much, though much later in 1583. 

What is certain though that Akbar did send his favourite son Saleem along with Abu’l-Fazl ibn Mubarak to capture the city and its then Vir Singh Deo surrendered. He vowed to never ever betray Akbar and became friends with would be Jahangeer, the Mughal emperor. As fate would have it, Deo later assisted Jahangeer during the war of succession and kill Abul Fazal at his behest. They would stay friends all their life and Deo would build many monuments, making the capital a city to cherish. Jahangeer would even visit the city again, the city which Ram Lala ruled. Deo would build a palace for just that visit of his, the most beautiful in town. 

The Aarti was over, cops in attention, gun salute ensued! It was time to retire- the day ahead was a long one with various palaces, most importantly the Jahangeer Mahal, Chhatris (cenotaphs), river Betwa and much more. Bolo Ram Raja Durbar ki Jai, the crowd ecstatically chanted. The boy from Babhnan, a stone throw away from Ayodhya, was home. 

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