Popular Legends of Bundelkhand

Abstract: Bundelas always revolted against Mughals and fought for independence.  Descended from Vindhya Range they ruled in Bundelkhand. Thewere a Rajput clan of Chattari  lineage who ruled several states in central India  in Bundelkhand region. They grew to prominence in the beginning of the 16th century. The Bundelas of Bundelkhand trace their ancestry to Maharaja Hemkaran (Pancham Singh Bundela) who was driven from his kingdom by his four elder brothers. While in exile, he propitiated the goddess Vindyhavasini and with her assistance established a kingdom at Mahauni in the Vindhya Range of central India. One of Pancham's three sons, Sohanpal, is believed to have wrested Garhkundar from the Khangars in the middle of the 14th century A.D. The Khangars were listed in the 19th century by the British as one of the tribal groups of Bundelkhand. The Khangars themselves claim Rajput descent.

Introduction: According to Khangar folk tradition, a Khangar warrior, Khet Singh, fought along with Prithviraj Chauhan in the war against the Chandela king Parmal, and was awarded part of the defeated king’s territory. Khet Singh is believed to have made his capital in a massive seven-storied fort in Tikamgarh district, Garhkundar. We know little about the Khangar kingdom for over the next hundred years, till the emergence of a Bundela chief, Sohanpal. The Bundela chief Rudra Pratap founded the state of Orchha. This city rapidly became the epicenter of Bundela supremacy in the region. Rudra Pratap, it is said, began planning the city and the fortifications of the citadel.  He was martyred when he single handedly tried to rescue an unfortunate cow from a ferocious tiger. Though the cow was saved, Rudra Pratap died due to injuries, leaving the throne of Orchha to his Son Bharati Chand who continued to work on developing the capital.

For the descendants of Bundela Rajput Royalty and the numerous individuals and families that still remain, the ‘Rajput’ issue still is a significant one. However, in the wider context of history, what is significant is not the battles that were fought but instead the rich legacy of the written and performed words, art, architecture and folklore that the Bundela Rajputs left behind. The present paper deals with some popular legends of Bundelkhand.

Bund Lelo: A very popular Bundelkhand legend is that in the fourteenth century, Hurdeo Singh, a Rajput prince was expelled from the Kshatriya caste for marrying a slave-girl. He left the Rajputs and went to the court of one of the smaller sovereigns of Central India. A young family grew up around him there. In process of time the king's son became enamoured of Hurdeo's beautiful daughter. He asked for her hands from her father. Hurdeo gave his consent with a condition. The condition was that on the nuptial day the king and his whole court would be present at a banquet. For his son, the aged king became ready. On the nuptial day the whole court was seated around Hurdeo's princely board. There in magnificent goblets of silver and gold, drinks containing opium were served to the guests. They lost the power of resistance and became an easy prey to Hurdeo's hired assassins. In this way Hurdeo gained the throne and soon made himself the master of all the surrounding areas. With his sons and the numerous adherents, he formed a new clan known as the Bourdillas, or ‘Sons of the Slave’ Thus he gave the new name Boundilacund or Bundelcund to his country. Since then warriors from the region often used to go into the battle shouting ‘Bund Lelo’.
Extreme Penance: The Bundelas of Bundelkhand trace their ancestry to Pancham Singh Bundela (Hemkaran or Jagdas). It is said that Virbhadra, the ruler of Kasi had two wives. The elder had three sons and the younger just one – Pancham. When the king died, the sons of his elder queen refused the young prince his share of the kingdom and instead sent him into exile. As a wanderer, he traveled into the mountains of the Vindhyas to worship Vindhyavasini Devi. When the extreme penance brought no response from Devi, Pancham proceeded to cut off his own head. When the steel drew the first drop or ‘bund’ of blood from his throat, the Devi appeared and said that she was well pleased with his courage and devotion. She blessed the sword that he carried and turned the drop of blood into a boy. She again added that this boy would be destined to become the founder of the ruling clan of Bundelas, the givers of the drop of blood. There are of course, many other versions of the same story, all stressing on the fact that the Bundelas were  heroic people who were willing to sacrifice their lives for a cause. It would be useful to note here that Vindhyavasini Devi was worshipped by all the royal Bundelas as a clan Goddess.

<div class="MsoNormal" style="text-align: justify; text-indent: .5in;"> Idol of Lord Ram: Rani Mahal, today’s the Ram Raja Temple, may be of religious significance but in Madhukar’s time it had been designed as a Palace for the Queen. A charming legend is attached to it. It is said that once King Madhukar Shah brought an idol of Lord Ram from Ayodhya to his capital. The idol was to be later installed in a temple. When the idol proved impossible to move, the king recalled, too late, the deity's edict that the image would remain in the place where it was first installed. Today with its soaring spires and palatial structure, the temple is surely one of the most unusual in India. It is also the only temple in India where Ram is worshipped as a king.

This most famous legend has another version. According to this version Ganesh Kuvari, the queen of the Orchha ruler Madhukar Shah, was bringing the idol of Lord Ram from Ayodhya. On the way the idol disappeared. Ganesh Kuvari became very sorry. The idol appeared in the River Sarayu when she threatened to jump into the river and accompanied her as she travelled on foot in the eight month long journey from Ayodhya to Orchha. According to the legend, Lord Ram refused to move from Rani Mahal where he was installed as the Chaturbhuj Temple had not yet been completed. Thus the palace became the Ram Raja Temple, the center of Orchha, from where Lord Ram ruled over his kingdom.

Ecstatic Dancing of Madhukar: The ecstatic dancing of Madhukar Shah, a devotee of Krishna, on the banks of Betwa, caused a shower of golden coins as the doors of Jugal Kishore Temple opened for him to worship. This episode is commemorated in the naming of Kanchan (golden) Ghat below the cenotaphs. Madhukar Tika, the tilak (decorative symbol worn on the forehead) is named after Madhukar Shah who refused to take it off even though it was forbidden to wear it in the Mughal emperor Akbar’s court. The legend celebrates the courage of Orchha ruler in keeping the symbol of his faith even as he was forced to capitulate to the stronger Muslim power.

Hardol’s Martyrdom: A very popular Bundelkhand legend is that of Prince Hardaul, brother of Jhujhar Singh, ruler of Orchha. During his lifetime, Vir Singh had declared his eldest son, Jujhar Singh, as his successor, but the fact was that his third son, Hardol Singh, was the more able man. Being lily-livered, Jujhar was perfectly happy to accept Mughal suzerainty, and was summarily summoned to the Imperial Durbar. In his absence, Hardol got the charge of Orchha, and he intended to rid the kingdom of all Mughal influence. When Hardol Singh collected a large army to take on the Mughals, he became hugely popular among the people of Orchha. The Mughals balked at the thought of Orchha’s independence and mounted an invasion of the city. Hardol Singh sliced through their defenses like a hot knife through butter. This sent his popularity graph in Orchha soaring further upwards. However, Hardol Singh’s rising popularity incensed his brother, Jujhar. During this time, Shah Jahan occupied the Peacock Throne of the Mughals, and he did his best to stoke the fires of envy that were raging furiously in Jujhar’s heart. Emperor Shah Jahan sowed seeds of suspicion in Jujhar’s mind about the fidelity of his wife. Jhujhar suspected Hardaul of having an affair with his queen and to test her loyalty Jujhar asked his wife to poison Hardol. Hardaul’s taking poison and his death made him a powerful icon of sacrifice for family values. It was said that Hardol’s sister, Kunjavati, visited his resting place a few days before her daughter’s wedding. He is said to have miraculously appeared with gifts when his sister’s daughter was getting married. To this day Hardaul is invoked in marriages as the giver of boons. He is worshipped by women desirous of an offspring. Hardaul Baithak, usually a shrine under a tree, is found in many villages of Bundelkhand.

Islam or Death: Once Shah Jahan made a triumphal entry into Orchha, the capital of the Bundelas. He demolished the lofty and massive temple of Bir Singh Dev and raised a mosque in its place. Two sons and one grandson of Jujhar Singh, who were of tender age, were made Musalmans. Another son of Jujhar Singh, Udaybhan, and a minister, Shyam Dawa, had fled to Golconda where they were captured by Qutbul-Mulk and sent to Shah Jahan. According to Badshahnama, “Udaybhan and Shyam Dawa, who were of full age, were offered the alternative of Islam or death. They chose the latter and were sent to hell.”
Celebrating the Beloved: Nearly 400 years ago the besotted Bundela Rajput Inramani built Praveen Mahal for the woman he loved. As a courtesan, she could not be part of the royal household so she was given a separate space. It is said that here she spent her time in the company of her three Dasis who tutored her in the arts of poetry, singing and dancing. If you enter her Mahal and ascend to the upper floor you will see her represented on the walls along with her three attendants preparing her for her evening performances. Every evening before sunset, it is said that Indramani would visit her. She used to sing for him. The birds, they say, would fall silent and even the wind was held transfixed by the notes that flowed from her lips. The sun, it seemed, was lulled to sleep by her voice and sank into the soft cushion of green beyond the rippling Betwa. When it was dark, the oil lamps were lit and the musicians tuned their instruments. Then she used to dance for him and Indramani watched her adoringly. Her feet beat intricate patterns on the stone as her body sinuously moved to the music. They say there was a time when storm clouds held back from raining until she had completed her performances and retired indoors with her lover. There was a time; they said when the Mughal Emperor in Delhi was so enamoured by her beauty and her art that he commanded her to present herself at his court in the Capital. She did…and when he wooed her with gifts and praise and asked her to remain, she replied that she was like half-eaten food fit only to be eaten by creatures of the wild and outcasts. Did the Emperor qualify? Realizing he had been outwitted, he permitted her to return to Indramani her beloved.

A Small Matter of Love: In order to put an end to the uncertainty, Shah Jahan recalled Jujhar’s younger sibling, Pahar Singh, from the Deccan and installed him as King of Orchha. But his reign was unremarkable as he was merely a puppet king whose strings were in the hands of Shah Jahan. His successor, Sujan Singh was similarly unexceptional. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s daughter, Badrunissa, was in love with Sujan Singh’s son, prince Indramani. Sujan himself had a turbulent relationship with the Mughals, and Aurangzeb ordered his commandant, Randulha Khanwho was stationed at Orchha, to demolish the Chaturbhuj Temple and to build a mosque in its place.The news spread like wildfire throughout the town, and virtually the entire populace assembled at the site. Meanwhile, Randulha had also reached Chaturbhuj to carry out his orders, and the people of Orchha did not know how to thwart Randulha’s designs. Then, a young lad stepped forward and gave Randulha a mouthful for trying to desecrate the shrine. As a wrathful Randulha turned to confront the ‘lad’, his heart turned to jelly when he saw the latter take off his turban to reveal the ravishing Badrunissa with her thick hair cascading down her shoulders. After falling to his knees in supplication, the commandant left the shrine and the daughter managed to save the temple her father had ordered to be destroyed. The power of love, as they say, should never be underestimated.

Bagh Raj and Abul Fazl: Orchha's most illustrious ruler was Raja Vir Singh Dev. A man of dashing personality, Vir Singh was a great warrior. He was well versed in the art of statecraft. However, he was a bold and imaginative administrator and had a sense of fair play, as the bloodcurdling story of the prince, Bagh Raj, illustrates. Bagh Raj had set his dogs on a saint who refused to tell him about the whereabouts of a deer the prince was pursuing. Appalled by his arrogance, the king sentenced the prince to death by the fangs of the same hunting dogs, thereby sacrificing him at the altar of justice.

He assassinated Abul Fazl, the vizier of the great Mughal emperor Akbar and the author of the Akbarnama  to earn a huge reward from Akbar's rebellious son Salim. He intercepted Abul Fazl, chopped off his head and sent it to the crown prince on a platter at Allahabad. Abul Fazl was assassinated while he was returning from the Deccan between Sarai Vir and Antri in a plot contrived by the Mughal Prince Salim. Abul Fazl was opposing the accession of Prince Salim to the throne. Raja Vir Singh Dev was a close associate of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir. The Sheesh Mahal, which is famous for its Jehangir Mahal, was specially constructed to receive the emperor as a guest. The story goes that the palace had taken 22 years to build. Emperor Jehangir was a guest there for only a day.

Conclusion: Apart from the above mentioned legends there are numerous legends that offer us the glimpses of Bundela dynasty. In many ways they are sources of insipiration for the inhabitants of Bundelkhand.
Works Cited:

Aruna. Orchha Paintings. Delhi: Sharada Publishing House, 2002.
Busch, Allison. Poetry of Kings: The Classical Hindi Literature of Mughal
India. Chapter 1: Keshavdas of Orchha, pp. 23-64. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Kambo, Dharam P. Orchha. New Delhi: Vashima Printers, 1984.
Majumdar, R.C. The Mughul Empire, Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 2007.
Rousselet, Louis. India and Its Native Princes: Travels in Central India and in
the Presidencies of Bombay and Bengal. London: Bickers & Son, 1882.
Ruggles, D. Fairchild. Islamic Gardens and Landscapes. Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. 
Sharma, Rita and Vijai Sharma. The Forts of Bundelkhand. New Delhi: Rupa &
Co., 2006.
Singh, A.P. and S.P. Singh. Monuments of Orchha. Delhi: Agam Kala
Prakashan, 1991.
Tillotson, G.H.R. The Rajput Palaces: The Development of an Architectural
Style, 1450-1750. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.
Yadav, Neeta. History and Heritage of Orchha, Bundelkhand. Delhi: Agam
Kala Prakashan, 2012.


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