What if ? A Historical Theory Simulation

As devout Hindus around the world in their millions celebrated the return of Ram Lalla in Ayodhya in a new mandir, it is fitting that Jai Shri Rama is the new zeitgest. People greeting each other with the name of Rama sets a new standard of vocabulary. And this is what gets me thinking about a less discussed incident in the mists of time that makes me wonder every time - what if...?

Orchha in the ravines of Chambal on the Madhya Pradesh side of Bundelkhand has been the stronghold of Bundelas for long. The beautiful but haunting hamlet today was once the capital of the Bundelas, and housed many such amazing structures, The historic town sits on the banks of river Betwa. Founded in the 16th century by the Bundela Rajput Chief, Rudra Pratap, the city is a major tirtha for its Rama Raja Mandir, where Shri Rama is worshipped as the King of Orchha and gets a 21 gun salute every evening after the aarti.

Rama Raja Temple of Orchha (credit: Kandukuru Nagarjun )

The story of the temple reads for a fascinating story that talks of the culture of the time as much as it raises questions in the mind. A gist of it goes as follows:

The King of Orchha, Madhukar Shah Ju Dev (1554 to 1592) was a devotee of Banke Bihari ji of Brindavan. In contrast, his wife Ganesh Kunwari, also known as Kamla Devi, was a devotee of Shri Rama, especially in his bala svarupa of Rama Lalla. The legend goes that the King got upset with Kamla Devi for wanting to go to Ayodhya and not Brajmandal. An infuriated Madhukar Shah then ordered Kamla Devi to go to Ayodhya, and return only with Rama Lalla. Kamla Devi vowed that she would go to Ayodhya and return only when she has Rama Lalla with her, else she would drown herself in the river Sarayu. Once in Ayodhya, the Queen started praying to Shri Rama near the Laxmana Fort near Sarayu, undertaking intense austerities. 

A month went by Shri Rama did not appear. A despaired Kamala Devi decided to end her life, and chose the jala samadhi route of death, and started to step into the river. Just when she was about to jump deep into the Sarayu, in the wee hours of midnight, something magical happened.

Shri Rama appeared and stopped the Queen. Pleased with her devotion, Shri Rama ordered Kamala Devi to not end her life. He told her that yes, as per her wish, Rama Lalla would accompany Kanwari Devi to Orchha, provided his three conditions were fulfilled - He would travel only in Pukh Nakshatra from Ayodhya to Orchha on foot along with a group of sages; on reaching Orchha,  He would be declared the King of Orchha; and wherever Rama Lalla is seated would be his permanent sthana, and would be famous by the name of Rama Raja." 

Rama Raja Sarkaar, Orchha (courtesy: Varsha Parmaar)

Kanwari Devi, blessed that she was, agreed and started her journey to Orchha with Rama Lalla in her lap. Since the queen travelled only in Pukh Nakshtra it took over eight months to reach Orchha from Ayodhya on foot (between 1574 and 1575).

Meanwhile, Madhukar Shah was given darshana by Banke Bihari ji in a dream, wherein He reminded the King that Shri Rama and Banke Bihari are one and the same. A remorseful Madhukar Shah woke up and learnt of his wife's return from Ayodhya. On her return to Orchha, Kanwari Devi went back to her palace with Rama Lalla and retired for the night, vowing to take Him to the Chaturbhuj Temple being built next door the next day.

Chaturbhuj Temple in Orchha (Wikimedia commons)

But she forgot a small detail - the condition set by Shri Rama. Hence, Shri Rama transformed into a vigraha, and got transfixed in the queen's palace itself. To this day the Rama Raja Temple is in the queen's palace (Ranivaas or Rani Mahal) and not in the Chaturbhuj Temple which is right next to the palace. 

The History - What if?

Now, while the story goes the way it does, there are several layers to it which makes me wonder - what if?

The last version of the Rama Lalla temple in Ayodhya was destroyed in 1528 by Babur's general Mir Baqi As highlighted in various books and known in various legends, every effort would be taken to secure the vigraha to avoid its desecration, with the guardians hoping that they would get another chance to restore the mandir in the future. For instance, as I argued many moons ago, we know that Brijraj Swami's vigraha in Nurpur was hidden in a well to save it from the desecration of Jahangir's forces. So here's my theory - what if Rama Lalla's vigraha in Orchha was the same vigraha that was worshipped in Ayodhya?

The thought is tempting, and indeed a potential possibility. During a lecture on the subject of Ayodhya a few years ago, I did raise this question to the doyen of history, Professor Meenakshi Jain, about this possibility. Of course, she did not deny or agree on the conclusive nature of the theory - while she had had discussions with the present scion of Tikamgarh (from where the Bundelas ruled subsequently), who is coincidentally also named Madhukar Shah, there was nothing as of present to suggest the same. Though of course, one thing was obvious - this was a vigraha that was definitely found in the waters of the Sarayu in Orchha. You can see the conversation at the video below (courtesy sangam talks, 31:00 minutes onward).

And yet, it is always the case in my mind that Raja Rama of Orchha was the original vigraha of Rama Lalla from the original temple. Sometimes, it is not about just evidence; some times, you just know.

The Story of Culture - No Difference Between Rama and Krishna

From a cultural perspective, it is interesting that you hear the convergence of the Rama and Krishna bhakti stories. It is interesting that in a parallel period, we hear many stories where the difference between Krishna and Rama are being deliberately blurred. One such incident is narrated of a contemporary figure of the times, Goswami Tulasidas ji. 

In the Bhaktirasabodhini written by Priyadas ji in 1712, which was a commentary on Bhaktamal composed by Nabhadas between 1583 and 1639, there is an incident narrated about Goswami ji visiting Vrindavan. One particular miracle is attributed to the bhakti of Tulasidas ji, when he visited a temple of Krishna.

As Tulasidas ji began bowing down to the vigraha of Shri Krishna, Mahant Parashurama  decided to test Tulsidas. He chastises Tulasidas ji, saying that he who bows down to any deva other than their Ishta Deva is a fool. In response, Tulsidas recited the following composed couplet:

काह कहौं छबि आजुकि भले बने हो नाथ । 

तुलसी मस्तक तब नवै धरो धनुष शर हाथ ॥

O Lord, how shall I describe today's splendour, for you appear auspicious. 

Tulsidas will bow down his head when you take the bow and the arrow in your hands.

Shri Tulsi Ram Sthali Vigraha, Vrindavan (courtesy: Amar Ujala)

When Tulsidas recited this couplet, the idol of Krishna holding the venu and stick in hands changed to the idol of Rama holding the bow and arrow in hands.

This temple, known as the Shri Tulasidas Rama Sthali, is located in Gyan Gudhari, Vrindavan. What is interesting is that the story conclusively tries to show that there is no difference between Rama and Krishna. The story however is somewhat confusing, because the actual timeline of Goswami ji's lifetime is somewhat difficult to understand. While Goswami ji's contemporary, Avinash Brahma Bhatt's writings suggest Tulasidas ji visiting Vrindavan in 1628 Vikram Samvat or 1571 AD, there are some scholars who believe that this may not be true. Regardless, what we definitely know is that in writings attributed to Tulasidas ji, there is reference to Vrindavan as well. In fact, on this difference, we see Tulasidas ji writing in a complaining way (but more in form of playful complaint) about each leaf chanting 'Radha, Radha', which does suggest Tulasidas' possible visit to Vrindavan:

वृन्दावन ब्रजभूमि में कहाँ राम सो बैर,

राधा राधा रटत हैं आक ढ़ाक अरू खैर।

Thought I would share this story and my thoughts briefly. Jai Shri Rama.


Popular posts from this blog

The Senseless Obsession with a Uniform Civil Code - Hindus Will be Net Losers

The Kidnapping of Nahida Imtiaz - The incident that caused a spike in terrorist kidnappings in Kashmir

The People Left Behind in Assam