Ram Raja Temple – one of Orchha’s finest historical buildings
Ram Raja’s Interesting History
Although it is called a temple, this structure does not resemble the usual Hindu temple architectural style. There is a good explanation for this. Originally it was constructed to serve as a palace for Raja Madhukar Shah’s queen Rani Ganeshkuwari. In those days it was called the Rani Mahal. According to the Imperial Gazette it is considered one of Orchha’s finest historical buildings.
Folklore has it that Madhukar Shah, a Krishna bhakti, or devotee to Krishna, and his wife, a follower of Ram traveled to Ayodhya in today’s Uttar Pradesh. While queen Ganeshkuwari was enjoying her ritual bathing ceremony in the nearby river, Lord Ram paid her a visit. He requested her to erect a temple devoted to him with a shrine with his image. Soon after, work started on Chaturbhuj Temple not far from the queen’s palace.
There is a second version of this tale; the queen was asleep in her Orchha palace when Ram appeared to her in a vision and asked for a temple to be constructed in his honor. She immediately left for Ayodhya where she sought an idol of the deity to place in the temple she sanctioned.
At this point, the two tales converge. On her return, queen Ganeshkuwari was disappointed to see that the temple was still under construction and therefore kept her lord’s statue with her in her residence. She had forgotten Ram’s warning against placing his image anywhere except in his temple, as it would remain in the location it is first installed. As a result, the idol could not be moved and her palace had to be converted into a temple for Lord Ram.
King Ram’s Magnificent Temple
In no other temple in India, the deity Ram is being worshipped like a true king. Guides like to tell visitors about the gun salutes the local police give each evening. Apparently when dignitaries visit the temple ittar or perfume, and paan or betel nut are handed out like in any royal court, instead of the usual prasad or devotional food offering.
This temple, painted in soft hues of yellow, pink, and white has quite a modern look. In his book on Indian architecture, Percy Brown compares this structure to Chanderi’s Koshak Mahal, constructed by Mahmood Shah Khalji from Malwa. Every evening at seven, the devotees of Ram assemble for the aarti and puja ceremonies.
The Ram Raja Temple faces a huge courtyard where many hawkers, peddlers, and shopkeepers sell their products and handiwork like jewelry, toys made of stone and wood, color powder, vegetables, fruit, and sacred items such as idols and amulets. The visitor can also enjoy wonderful snacks and a cup of tea at one of the stalls.
These days the temple forms the very heart of Orchha, surrounded by all the other historical monuments. Keshav Das describes it beautifully in one of his dohas when he compares the convergence of Betwa’s seven streams around Orchha to the convergence of Bir Singh Deo’s seven sons’ palaces all around Ram Raja Temple.
‘The seven streams of Betwa converge around Orchha, just as the palaces of the nine sons of Bir Singh Deo converge around Ram Raja Mandir’.
Every year in November the Ram Vivah Festival takes place in the temple. Devotees flock to the celebrations in their thousands. The festival celebrates the marriage of Sita and Ram and the highlight is the excellent performances of the trained horses.