Rescued by wit

Taran learns about Rai Parveen of Orchha and how her presence of mind saved her from the Mughal court.

March 03, 2023 09:50 am | Updated 09:50 am IST

Is it important to be witty, Amma?” Taran asked. The stars had come out and they were sitting on a swing in Sheesh Mahal, Orchha, Madhya Pradesh. The palace had been converted into a hotel and Taran was thrilled to be in an actual palace.

“Being able to say the right thing at the right time and the right place is an important skill,” responded Amma. She could have passed off as a maharani, except that she was wearing track pants and a t-shirt.

“There are many famous courtiers known for their presence of mind and wit — Tenali Raman, Birbal, Mullah Nasrudin...,” Appa added.

“Oh yes! I have read their stories,” said Taran.

“And Orchha boasts of its own famous witty lady — Rai Parveen.”

“So, let’s proceed to the sound and light show, Queen Mother and Prince Taran,” said Appa doing an exaggerated bow, “if you wish to learn more about Rai Parveen’s tale.”

Yester years

The show was held in the Diwan-e-Aam, right next to the Sheesh Mahal. The palace was part of the Orchha fort complex. There was the Jahangir Mahal on one side, Raja Mahal on the other, and other structures; each added during a different Bundela king’s reign. Taran was mesmerised by how the light lit up different palaces according to the show. It mostly sang praises of the bygone kings. Rudra Pratap Singh, the first king of Orchha, founded the kingdom in 1531. Vir Singh Deo built the Jahangir Mahal for the Mughal king’s first visit to Orccha.

“Fun fact,” whispered Amma during the show, “King Jahangir only stayed at Jahangir Mahal for one night.”

“I suppose such things happened when you are royalty!” smiled Appa.

“Seems like a waste to me,” Amma muttered.

Can kings do no wrong? Taran wondered looking all around him.

Just as he was thinking, the story of Rai Parveen began. It was said she was a beautiful court dancer known for her poetry, music and dance. She and Prince Indrajit Singh loved each other. But news of her talent reached King Akbar, and he wanted her in his court and summoned her.

When Rai Parveen arrived in his court, she recited two lines of her poetry: “Oh great one. Hear the plea of Rai Parveen. Only a crow, a scavenger would be interested in food tasted and made jhoota by others.”

King Akbar immediately understood that she belonged to the Orccha kingdom and could not be expected to stay in the Mughal court. He admired her wit and sent her back.

The sound and light show ended. Taran remained in his seat lost in his own thoughts. He wondered how it might have ended for Rai Parveen if she hadn’t put across her plight so eloquently. Would she have died of a broken heart in an alien kingdom? He suddenly discovered a new respect for wit and words.

“Can we go see the Rai Parveen Palace in the morning?” he asked.

“It’s not as grand as these palaces,” said Amma, peering into a travel brochure.

“That’s okay! For me, I’m sure it will be the grandest of them all.”

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