Trip Start Jan 15, 2011
Trip End Mar 19, 2011

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Where I stayed
En Route from Khajuraho to Agra

Flag of India  , Madhya Pradesh,
Saturday, February 12, 2011

               After breakfast, Sadiq introduced me to my guide-for-the-day, a young man named Raj.  Raj was to accompany me for the four-hour drive to the historic town of Orchha, home of the Raja Mahal its neighbor, the Jahagir Mahal.  Afterwards, Raj would continue with me for another forty-five minutes to the city of Jhansi where I would board the two-hour train ride to Agra.

                Within minutes, Raj and I had clicked and become friends.  He is a Brahmin and as I was and am interested in Hinduism, I asked him if he would suggest for me a daily mantra I could use.  He was kind enough to write down the Gyatri Mantra, which I believe, should be said eleven time a day for 128 days.  Something like that.  I need to find out exactly, because I'm not sure and I want to start practicing this.  For translation, click on the title to get the link:

Gyatri Mantra
OM hom ju shah om bhu
Bhava suahah.  OM tremkem
Yaja mahey shugandin shakti vardhanam
Urva Rukmiv vandhananam.
OM hom ju shah.

                (Once again just to clarify, as I mentioned in one of the Varanasi entries, OM is a powerful sound used in many mantras and is said to be the sound with which the universe was created.)

                Raj suggested two possible sites en route appropriate for an ash casting, both loci along the sacred waters of the Betwa River.  As a Brahmin, he was qualified to bless Jim's ashes.  Driving over a bridge, he indicated one such site.  Surveying the area, I was distressed that the surrounding trees and vegetation were all but smothered by gray dirt and dust created by nearby construction.  No, this wouldn't do, so we continued into Orchha, which pops up out of nowhere, literally nowhere, and is known for its medieval fort palace.  Orchha was founded in 1501 A.D. by the first of the Orchha kings, Bundela chief Rudra Pratap Singh who tried to save a cow from a lion.  The lion had him for dinner.  And since I presume the lion had no intentions of cow worship, this was probably one well-fed cat!

                After lunch, we continued to the Raja Mahal, where Raj conducted his private tour.  The Raja Mahal, although just a tad rough around the edges these days, boasts murals of both religious and secular themes lining the walls and the ceilings.  The turreted walls contain gardens, gateways, temples and pavillions which create a fascinating legacy of Bundela Rajput-influenced Moghul architecture.  

                The palace is built on a perfect square base and houses two rectangular courtyards that follow the Indian concept of mandapa ("a porch-like structure through the gopuram (ornate gateway) and leading to the temple..." Wikipedia)   The most important feature is the Diwan-i-Khaas (Hall of Private Audience), noted for its fantastic motifs.  The interior is home to some splendid paintings while the exterior is decorated by elephant and lotus-shaped lattices.

                The Jehangir Mahal was built in the 17th century and architecturally combines Hindu and Muslim styles.  Built in honor of Jahagir by an Orchha ruler named Vir Singh, their friendship flourished whilst both were young men.  In 1606 as a return favor when Jahagir delivered the head of a foe to Vir Singh,the latter erected the Jahagir Mahal in his pal's honor for when Emporer Jahagir's visit to Orchha.  The palace today stands as a monument to their friendship, even though Jahagir never stayed there.  So they can't say "Jahagir slep ere."  So much for real estate sales pitches.

                Maybe I found this interesting because of my show business background, but a future ruler, Raja Indramini (I've heard and read "Intraput" also, so I'm not sure which is correct), kept a famous little paramour beauty named Rai Praveen.  Known as "the Nightengale of Orchha", not only for her beauty but also for her music and poetry, her fame eventually landed her in the court of the great ruler Akbar, who was instantly smitten and pled with her to abandon the apparently rather glum Indramini, who had basically given up on her anyhow.  She refused Akbar's advances and, touched by her loyalty, Akbar sent her back to Orchha.  The Rai Pravene Mahal was built in her honor and remains as a testimonial to her beauty, art and integrity.  Prominent on the terrace is the platform where she use to practice her act - I mean art.

               Raj amused me with his charming manner as we forged through the walkways and whatnots of this labryinth of palaces.  Everytime we came to a set of steps or a doorway, he would warn, "Watch your step."  "Watch your head."  I'm perfectly capable of falling down the stairs on my own without someone else's admonitories.  Of course, I didn't disappoint.  I routinely faked headbumps and step stumbles just to humor him.  I was just waiting for him to trip but he didnt. I would've retaliated, "Watch your step!"  I kept thinking of Glenn Close having to navigate that staircase night after night on Broadway in "Sunset Boulevard."  I was glad I didn't have to negotiate these steps on a daily basis.  I think they were all Olympic gymnasts in the olden days.

                In the distance, we could discern the faint sound of a child chanting over a microphone.  Meanwhile, by this time we were both more or less just going through the motions of the tour.  I was growing increasingly aware of the time and was anxious (I think Raj sensed this), to check out this other site he had mentioned for scattering ashes.

                We drove to a place near the river and walked past some castle ruins to a tiny little white colored temple hiding in the shadows of the castle walls.  Called the Temple of Hanumanji, it dedicated to the monkey god, Hanuman.  As we walked, the child's chanting grew more and more prominent, lending a haunting air that disturbed the otherwise silent ghosttown of our new immediate surroundings.  I surveyed the labryinth of ruins scattered amidst the sere, brushy land. As we neared the entrance to the little temple, I hesitated before entering, unsure of whether I was allowed.  Raj took off his shoes and walked in ahead of me, unafraid, so I followed suit.  He seemed to be familiar with this curious little house of worship.  Once inside, we were face to face with the child whose amplified voice could be heard across the countryside chiming a repetitive tune from a book of mantras. 

(Click on MOVIE to hear what the child is singing)

                 I didn't envy this child of his task ahead: he had twenty-four hours to sing-song his way through the entire book.  That's like telling someone they had twenty-four hours to sing the Bible!  The child didn't complain. Didn't look tired.  Occasionally he paused lon enough to breathe then continued.  I believe there's a lesson in perserverence here, and also in the trusting of accomplishment.  I mused I should never complain again when handed a song or script to learn.   Outside the temple was a small lounging area where three old holy men with those really long beard held court. There was some outdoor cookery that had been used recently.  One holy man was sleeping.  One was...I dont know what. And the third one of them began yelling at us (me?) in Hindi. 

                "Is he angry with us?" I asked.

                Raj's lip curled into a slight smile.  "He is saying, 'Praise to God."

                "He sure has a way with words, doesn't he?" I dared say.

                 I gave the holy men a few rupees which either appeased them or didn't.  They remained noncommittal in gratitude.  We continued our brief syvlan hike until we arrived at the river.  I sighed with relief!  Raj could not have suggested a better place.  The silence of the pastoral setting was interrupted by the gentle splashes of a nearby waterfall. The river was flanked by trees.  The now distant walls of the fort palace and a  dominating temple loomed across the river.  The child chants continued to ring from somewhere we had left behind.  And I was elated.  There would be a spreading today!

                I handed Raj the ashes.  Using a large leaf he picked off the forest floor, sans the prepared natural ingredients a Hindu priest would normally have on hand, Raj was left to improvise with forest props and ingredients with which to bless Jim's remains.

                "What," I begged, "are you doing?"

                " Do not worry," he firmly, almost harshly replied.  "I am a Brahmin. I know the procedures and the traditions," and trained his attention back to the job at hand.  Regarding his rather princely tone, I resisted the urge to retaliate, "Jim, what are you doing in his body?"  Raj uttered a mantra.  We hiked up our jeans around our knees and sloshed through the crystal clear waters, carefully carrying the leaf.  And as I let go the leaf holding the ashes, it floated a few yards before sinking into the shallow Betwa. There is a picture I posted here of me preparing to spread the ashes on the river.  If you look behind me, close to the water, is a plasma orb.  Jim was there.

                I found a translation on Youtube that also offers a recording of the mantra, so you can hear what this prayer sounds like musically and with the proper cadence and pronunciation.  It has the English translation also.  Click on the title for the link:

Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra - The Life-Giving Prayer

OM.  Tryambakam yajamhe  
Sugandhim pushti-vardhanam
Urvarukamiva bandhanan
Mrityor mukshiya mamritat

                And finally, I will offer here the first and last stanzas of Walt Whitman's poem (for the entire poem, click on the title)  "Song of Myself".

I celebrate myself, and sing myself, 
And what I assume you shall assume, 
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you… 

...Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged, 
Missing me one place search another, 
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

             The child continued to chant as we walked back through the temple, retreated to the car and drove away.

               I bid farewell to Raj.  Jhansi is a city near Orchha of about 800,000 people and is the capital of this area.  We arrived at the Jhansi train station about fifteen minutes early.   In two hours I'd be in Agra and at the Taj Mahal the following morning.
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