Orchha, Madhya Pradesh || The hidden land that adopted Lord Ram as their King in the 16th Century

History and mythology at times can be used to complement each other, to fill in the gaps, and to make the story complete. Both the mediums are prone to error, and both the mediums have their own set of faithful audience. No city demonstrates this better than the City of Orchha in Madhya Pradesh, a place of mysteries and whose name itself means "Hidden". 

Orchha was established by Rudra Pratap Singh in 1531 and he became the first King of Orchha. The capital of the state was established at Orchha town on the banks of the Betwa river. Rudra Pratap Singh died in the same year and his son Bharatichand ascended the throne. Bharatichand died in 1554 without an heir and his brother Madhukar Shah then took over. It is during his reign that one of the most interesting part or Orchha's history played out.  

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The city of Orchha is the only place where Lord Ram is worshipped as a ruler. In fact even today, Raja Ram is considered to be the ruler of Orchha. While the history of Orchha itself goes back further, the period when Raja Ram assumed the position of Ruler of Orchha was the 16th century.

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One aspect of history to keep in mind is that this was also the period when the temples of North India were seeing widespread destruction at the hands of invaders. Historical texts from various sources claim that temples were also destroyed at Ayodhya during this period. Meanwhile as per the legends, almost 500 kms away, in the city of Orchha, a tussle erupted between the erstwhile King Madhukar Shah Ju Dev and his wife Queen Ganeshkunwari. The King was a devotee of Lord Krishna and the Queen, of Lord Ram. 

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The dispute apparently was about a religious travel. While the king wanted to go to Vrindavan, the queen wanted to go to Ayodhya. The argument resulted in the queen being banished from the Kingdom with a diktat that she will only be allowed re-entry if she is able to bring back Lord Ram from Ayodhya. The Queen went to Ayodhya and did tough sadhana for 21 days. However, when Lord Ram did not appear even after that, she jumped into the river Sarayu. From where she emerged with Lord Ram as a child in her lap. 

When the Queen requested Lord Ram to accompany her to Orchha, the Lord agreed on some conditions. She was to travel to Orchha on foot, walking only on Pukh Nakshatra, and he would take a permanent seat at the place where he is set down first, and after he takes a seat at Orchha, he will be the King and there will be no other Kings at Orchha after this. The queen agreed to all these conditions and started her journey back to Orchha. In the meanwhile, the King in Orchha had a dream where Lord Krishna reprimanded him for differentiating between Lord Ram and Lord Krishna.

The queen reached Orchha in a few months, and at that time the construction of the Chaturbhuj temple, which was going to be the seat of Lord Ram was on-going. The queen set Lord Ram down in the Kitchen of the Rani Mahal in the meanwhile. True to his words, the idol could not be moved from here even after the Chaturbhuj temple was fully constructed. and the Rani Mahal was later converted into Raja Ram temple. After this, the Bundela King abdicated the throne to Raja Ram. 

Since then Raja Ram has been considered the king of Orchha. In fact it is considered that Lord Ram stays in Orchha during the day and goes back to Ayodhya to sleep at night. 

“सर्व व्यापक हैं राम के दो निवास खास, दिवस ओरछा रहत, शयन अयोध्या वास।”

The aarti for Raja Ram takes place 4 times in the day and a guard of honour is held every day. Raja Ram also has his own security in form of designated police personnel. 

I was researching more into this because it turns out that Orchha did have several kings after King Madhukar Shah. There's also a curious co-incidence, which I am not sure if it is related to this. There are records that in the 1570s, the position of King Madhukar Shah had become so precarious that he agreed to have Orchha become a tributary state and enlisted himself and his family in the service of the Mughal Emperor, Akbar. It is also reported that the Queen returned from Ayodhya with Lord Ram in 1574-75. Was this around the same time the King allegedly abdicated? I did some research but could not find any documentation supporting this view or disproving it. In case anyone knows, please do educate me.

Also, another possibility that is emerging is that the idol of Lord Ram that is currently established at Orchha was one of the idols that Ayodhya's pandits had immersed in Sarayu River to protect it from the invaders. When the queen jumped into the river, she emerged with this idol and then brought it back to Orchha. But neither history, nor legends provide the complete truth. It is only by piecing them together that one can try to form an image of those turbulent times.  

After King Madhukar Shah, the next important king was Vir Singh Deo, who was a Vassal of the Mughal Empire Jahangir. He ruled Orchha till 1626 or 1627. It was in his reign that the gorgeous Jahangir Mahal was constructed. His friendship with Jahangir also meant that Orchha was showered with wealth as a result of the patronage and some refer to this period as the golden period of Orchha. In the 17th and the 18th centuries, the 14 glorious chhatris were constructed in memory of the Kings and their ancestors. Orchha remained the capital of Orchha State till 1783, when the capital was moved to Tikamgarh. 

We will talk in details about many of the temples and other architectural marvels in separate posts, but it was important to first cover the history of this beautiful town. Do keep reading to find out more about the interesting historical sites of Orchha. 

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