Ram Raja's seat of power, Orchha in Madhya Pradesh, is set to regain the momentum of the centuries-old tradition of Ramlila.
The Pran Pratishtha rituals and ceremony at the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya (22 January) have propelled a cultural surge in helping the Orchha Ramlila reclaim its space on the banks of the Betwa river, the forests, and several sacred spaces associated with the performance in Orchha.
At the Ram Raja Mandir, as soon as rituals began on 17 January ahead of the Pran Pratishtha ceremony in Ayodhya, a rapturous reclaiming of the Ramlila became Orchha's instinctive response to the celebration of Ayodhya’s cultural ascendancy.
The artistes performing the Ramlila would bow down in honour to the Raja — Raja Ram. Rituals would be performed before the vigraha. Ramlila actors and artistes would proceed for performance after seeking the symbolic permission of Raja Ram.
The forests of Orchha — the van-kshetra — would play the dual role of scene and venue. The vanvasis who for centuries have made a spiritual and ritualistic contribution to the prime set of rituals in the worship and celebration of Ram, would play dual roles — of devotee-audience and sometimes participants.
Asharam Pastore, a local pujari, was born in Orchha and attained his 'deeksha' in Ayodhya. He says, "this turning point in Ayodhya is uplifting the entire mandir khand dedicated to Ram. The cultural and spiritual upliftment in people’s lives in Ayodhya ji is resulting in a spontaneous and visible change in Orchha. Most importantly, it is an unparalleled moment for Hindu unity."
On 17 January, actors and artistes who are part of the Ramlila entourage enacted the “Nishadraj Prasang”, the “Shabari Prasang” and “Hanuman Milan” — in this order — during a three-day celebration ahead of the Pran Pratishtha ceremony in Ayodhya.
The three prasangas would be significant to caste unity as a sub-chapter to the Ramlila revival.
Incidentally, at the Ram Mandir Pran Pratishtha, PM Modi mentioned the bhakti of Hanuman, Nishadraj and Shabri and the fruits borne by the devotion of each of these three bhaktas.
Acharya Virendra Bidua, one of the prominent acharyas involved in the rituals at the Ram Raja Mandir, told this author: "Hindu ekta mein Ramlila ka yeh utsaha aur utsav ek pramukh bhoomika nibhayega."
He added that until 40 years ago, Orchha was the throbbing node of the Ramlila. “The Lanka ke Hanuman Temple would open to the spell bounding visual and performative narrative over scenes centred on Pawanputra. Ramsetu, Chitrakoot, Panchvati — these destinations in Ram’s journey with Sita and Lakshman would reveal themselves in the different part of Orchha — where Ram himself rules. The different scenes would be enacted at these different venues.”
It’s pertinent to note that the Orchha Ramlila share this aspect with the Ramlila of Ramnagar (Varanasi).
He adds, “the tradition of the performance of Ramlila was flourishing — all due to the efforts of the several generations of Orchha-waasis. Then younger generations lost interest in maintaining the same momentum. The time for divine intervention has arrived. The time for the awakening of the younger generation has arrived with the celebration of Ram and Ayodhya ji and the Pran Pratishtha rituals in Ayodhya ji."
This shift is expected to cement the convergence of all castes in Orchha where Ram’s presence as the Raja, for centuries, has been the sole reason for devotees to stay united.
Ramlila has been the prime expression of that bhakti. Above it, in the ritualistic order, are the morning and evening aratis at the Ram Raja Mandir that connect the mandir with the Kanak Bhawan in Ayodhya — ensuring the latter’s building and continuing restoration by the Bundela rajgharana.
The Ceremonial Guard To Raja Ram — A Tribute To Hindu Unity
The ceremonial guard of honour performed in Raja Ram’s honour is underway. The five men who perform the guard of honour to the vigraha are also moved to tears at the very mention of “serving Ram while performing duty”.
As a ritualistic offering, the evening arati performed by the pujaris and devotees witnesses the interspersing of the command of the ceremonial guard of honour. The pujaris take their spot at the inner and outer mandapas of the Ram Raja Mandir. A heady and oscillating pattern of the three beats on the gongs the pujaris hold and play, begins.
A constable throws out a mighty command from his chest. The five guards make the offering of the guard of honour between a clockwork-sequence of lifting and shifting of the arms between their bodies and air. The verbal command settles itself over the collective singing of "Shri Ram Chandra Kripalu Bhajman” in the background.
The guards then place the ceremonial arms on the side and roll over on the temple floor to perform 'shashtang dandavat'. Their five name badges bear a story of Sanatan unity.
The same policeman told this author that their duty at the Ram Raja Mandir in Orchha, and at the guard of honour is a visible sign of blessings of Ram himself. “As a guard, I soak that emotion when I am performing the guard of honour. All five guards perform a dharmic duty over their duty as men serving the Sashastra Police Bal in Orchha. We serve Ram Raja Sarkar. This is our duty. This is our dharma. This is part of our duty in dharma."
Two hours from the guard of honour, the shayan arati takes place. The shayan arati is when the daily, symbolic journey of Ram, from Orchha to Ayodhya, begins. The guard of honour marks the beginning of the rituals associated with the sleep hours of the deity.
For his shayan, Raja Ram heads to Kanak Bhawan in Ayodhya — seated over Hanuman. His journey from Orchha to Ayodhya is symbolised by the passing of the flame and its symbolic “receiving” by the pujaris performing the shayan arati at the Kanak Bhawan in Ayodhya. The two temples cradle between them the sleeping patterns of the balroop of Ram and his presence.
Orchha’s Five Elements Of Sanatan Unity
This author believes that there are five major aspects of Sanatan unity of which Orchha gives an exemplary glimpse.
One: the devotee in the different roles.
Two: the ceremonial guard of honour.
Three: the Ramlila — its tradition, importance and audience in Orchha.
Four: the musical offerings made to Raja Ram in the form of bhajan, keertan and Bundeli sangeet that as the sole and symbolic medium to the symbolising of Ram Sita vivah.
Five: the rituals of Ram-Sita vivah and Ram Navami.
Feminine strength, determination and Ram bhakti of Rani Kunwari Ganesh are at the helm of the preservation of these five elements. The belief goes that in her Ram bhakti, Rani Kunwari Ganesh went all the way to disagree with her Krishna bhakt husband, Raja Madhukar Shah.
She eventually won. Ram in his balroop would agree to undertake a journey — from Ayodhya to Orchha.
Musical Offerings To Raja Ram — The Bundeli Binder
The soil of Orchha is fertile with the sweet balminess of Bundeli bhajan and keertan. The musical offerings are embracing in nature; unifying and inclusive in offering.
The ghats of Betwa, where sadhus from different parts of Bharat pour their voice into the singing of Ram nama, bhajans and keertan and the river herself, serve as the sacred amphitheatre and seat of music — between dawn and dusk.
Musical offerings at the Ram Raja Temple from local devotees include prominent instrumentation. The rhythm carries a gentle, swinging, flow — a unique quality in the Bundeli renditions. The singing is interspersed with vocalised phrases that are engaging and conversational.
"Haan, ve, hoon, ve, haan, ve, hoon, ve..." the singing of these words, pull this author to a keertan mandli (group) at the Ram Raja Mandir.
Asking this author to join, Pratibha Tiwari picks up the beat again on her dholak. The Bundeli swing in her narration pours out: "Raghunandan ke, haath pakad ke, mahalan bheetar laayi re, haan ve, hoon ve". The sakhis hold the hands of Ram and bring him to the mahal (palace).
Members of the family of Janakputri Sita — the bride — would present gifts to the family of the 'var'. Which 'side' would she narrate the events for, Ram's or Sita's or the dear ones of the two families? She would represent "all sides" and become the voice of Raja Janak, who as the bride's father would eventually tell Ram: "What can I give you, Raja Ram? I have given you Sita. What more can I give?"
Among the women in the keertan mandli is Maankumari. “Actually, I am a Yadav,” she whispered to this author in the middle of the keertan trying to hold the generous portion of prasad handed over to her by Pratibha Tiwari.
The people of Orchha view everyone as Raja Ram’s own praja — much like themselves. Maankumari added, "I could not stop myself from visiting Orchha this year — all because I am too happy with the building of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya ji. I hope to travel there soon.”
Devotees Shivkumari Yadav and Sushila Sengar took over the lead in bhajan singing and the playing of the manjiras. Sengar ensured that prasad is equally distributed to everyone in the keertan group. Overwhelmed, Sengar was noticeably struggling to hold her emotion and spilling it at the same time. "Now these tears will stop only when we reach Ayodhya," she said over tears.
A lyrical and united tribute to Raja Ram, Ram Mandir and Ayodhya is overflowing in tears, emotion and the Bundeli lilt of Betwa.
An appeal from Swarajya
At Swarajya, we rely on our readers' support through subscriptions to sustain our media platform. Unlike larger conglomerates, we are unable to relentlessly chase advertising money — our model is largely built on your patronage.
Your support has never been more crucial. We work tirelessly to deliver 10-15 high-quality articles daily, ensuring you receive insightful content from 7 AM to 10 PM.
If you believe India's story has to be articulated in a way it has never been done before without shrugging it off, become a patron (or) subscribe now for ₹̶2̶4̶0̶0̶ ₹1999 and get 12 print issues, unlimited digital access for 1 year, a special India that is Bharat T-shirt (Offer ends soon).
We are counting on you!