Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bhadrachalam and Ramadasu


After  Lord Venkateswara, the next most popular God in Andhra Pradesh would have to be Lord Ram himself. The Ramalayas or the Ram temples are pretty much a common sight in almost every village in Andhra Pradesh. The chariot processions or the Ratha Yathra during the Ram Navami celebrations again a very common occurence, in fact it is one of  the most widely celebrated festivals in rural Andhra. Among all the Ram temples down South, the most famous one though would be the Seetharamy Swamy temple at Bhadrachalam. And when one speaks of  Bhadrachalam, the name that comes to mind immediately would of  course be that of  Bhakta Ramadasu aka Kancherla Gopanna. The history of  Bhadrachalam, it's  rise  as a major  pilgrimage center, is interwoven  with the life of  Ramadasu  himself, much  as  Anammayya's life story  was intertwined  with  that of  Tirupati. The  unique feature  of  Bhadrachalam temple, though is that  a major part of the construction was financed and carried  out  by  Ramadasu himself, who  was a mere Tahsildar.  Also the temple regularly  received grants and gifts  from both the Qutub Shahis and later the Asaf Jahis( the Nizams)  of  Hyderabad state,  a practice that to date is continued by the State Government of  Andhra Pradesh.



As per legend, Bhadrachalam, gets it's name from the story of a sage named Bhadra, the son of Menaka and Mount Meru, an ardent devotee  of  Lord  Rama, doing  penance on the banks of the Godavari.  The sage desired for the vision of Lord Ram, and when he appeared, implored him to be seated on his head. The Lord however in search of  Sita, promised that he would do so as soon he finds her, and comes back. As  the penance of  Bhadra grew more stringent,  Lord Vishnu himself  appeared as Vykuntha Rama  in front of  Bhadra, with  Sita  seated on his thigh, and Laxman to his left. Bhadra being the son of  Mount Meru, seated  Lord Ram, Sita and Laxmana on his head, which was the peak of the hillock. And thus the name  Bhadrachalam( Hill of  Bhadra)  or  Bhadragiri  came to the place.  Bhadrachalam also has a significant part in the Ramayan, as a part of the vast Dandakaranya.  It  is believed to be the spot where Lord Ram spent the exile along with Sita and Laxman, at a village called Parnasala, around 30 Km from Bhadrachalam. It is also believed to be the spot where  Ravan  abducted Sita, and  Lord  Ram killed the demons Khara and Dhushana, after a fierce battle at another village called Dummagudem  close by.

Idigo Bhadradri, Gautami adigo chudandi.
Mudamato Seeta, mudita Lakshmanulu kalisi Raghupati Yundedi.

One of  Ramadasu's  famous Kirtanas  extolling the beauty of  Bhadrachalam, asking the people to see the beauty of  both Bhadradri  and  Gautami( another name for the river Godavari), with Seeta on his thigh, and Lakshmana to his side, does Raghupati reside here. The idol of Lord Rama is in a Chaturbhuja form, with the bow and arrows in front, and the Shanka Chakra in the rear right and left hands respectively.  The idol faces west towards the Godavari  river and is seated in a padmasana pose. The  idols  were later found by  Pokala Dhammaka, tribal woman, who  was an ardent devotee of  Lord Ram. It  is believed that  the Lord himself, revealed the location of the idols to Dhamakka, and also predicted  that one of  his devotees  would build  a huge temple.



That devotee  happened to be on Kancharla Gopanna, who would later become famous as Bhadrachala Ramadasu( not to be confused  with Samartha Ramadas, in Maharashtra). Gopanna  was born in the remote village of  Nelakondapalli located in present day Khammam district, to a pious Brahmin couple, Linganna Murthy and Kamamba.  His maternal uncles,  Akkanna and Madanna, both working in the court of  Tana Shah, the then ruling Golkonda Sultan, in very high positions.  Madanna  being the treasurer  of  the Golkonda  sultanate, ensured  employment  for  Gopanna  as a Tahsildar for the Palvancha.  Tana Shah, the last  of the Golkonda Sultans, had a tolerant policy towards  the Hindus, appointing some of them in high positions. Both Akkana and Madanna  rose to  prominence during Tana Shah's reign, the latter wielding considerable influence.

In his capacity as the Tahsildar,  Gopanna happened to visit Bhadrachalam once during a village fair( Jatara), which is where he chanced upon the now dilapidated temple.  It  was then that Gopanna  appealed to the villagers to donate liberally for the construction of the temple. In spite of the best efforts,  he  was still short of  money, forcing  him to use part of the tax revenues for the construction of the temple.  Tana Shah, furious at this incident,  imprisoned  Ramadasu  in the  Golkonda fort prison, where he was tortured  daily. 

Pain and foolishness lead to great bliss and complete knowledge, for Eternal Wisdom created nothing under the sun in vain.- Kahlil Gibran


The 12 long years of  imprisonment  in the Golkonda fort, was  a period of  endless suffering for Ramadasu, now  so named after  his devotion to Lord Rama.  Day after day, Ramadasu, sang to the Lord  to  rescue  him from his  misery.  At times yearning,  at  times downright critical, at times imploring, the pain and agony of  Ramadasu, manifested  itself  through  the Keertanas. A vast majority  of  Ramadasu  keertana's  written  in  prison,centered  around  his  call  to  Lord Rama. While  it  is not  possible  for me to  explore  each and every  keertana,  I am just  having a look at some of  the  more  well known ones.  One of  the  most  famous  being "Paluke Bangaramayena".
Paluke  Bangaramayena, Kodandapani,paluke Bangaramaye, pilachina palukavemi, kalalo ne naama smarana marava, chakkani tandri.
Here  Ramadasu  imploring  Lord Rama -" Has your  voice become as rare as Gold, Oh Kondandapani( one of the names of  Lord Ram),  Why do you not  speak to me, even when I call you, and I hath not  forsaken your  name even in my dreams, my Father".

Enta vegina gani, suntaina daya raadu, pantamu  seya, nenentativadanu tandri, Saranagatatrana biruduamkitavud gada, karuninchu Bhadrachala vara Rama Poshaka.

You show no mercy inspite of my repeated pleas,O Lord,who am I for you to be so adamant with me.  Here  Ramadasu  is  literally  humbling himself before the God, requesting him not to be so adamant , listen to his pleas.  You  Oh Lord, who  bears the title of  the One who grants  Refuge( Saranagatatrana),  have mercy Oh protector of  Bhadrachala Rama.  

Another  beautiful  Keertana  of  Ramadasu is  "Nannu Brovamani Cheppave, Seetamma Talli", where he  implores  Mother Seeta( Seetamma Thalli)  to request  Lord Ram  to rescue him from his misery. 

Another  keertana, one  which to date remains one of the most popular in the Telugu literature is "Ee teeruga nanu daya chuchedavo, ina vamsotama Rama, na tarama Bhava sagarameedanu, nalina dalekshana Rama".  Here Ramadasu requesting  Lord  Ram to help him cross the Bhava Sagarama(  literally  the Ocean of the worldly life,  a metaphor  for eternal salvation.  "Rama, whichever shore I am on, show thy mercy on me, Oh noble soul of  Ina Dynasty, it is not in me alone to swim across the ocean of  the worldly life:"  At one stage Ramadasu,  even implores  Lord Rama  to overlook his Karma or any mistakes  he had committed, "Krura karmamulu neraka chesithini,neramulenchaku rama, daridramu pariharamu  seyave,Daiva sikhamani Rama".  "Oh Lord, out of ignorance I had  comitted  the  mistakes  in life,  do not  seek the crimes I had done  Rama, and lead me out of this misery".   I think here  it  was due to the tale, about Ramadasu having to suffer the  long imprisonment  and torture for some of  the misdeeds  he had  committed in past life.

Finally, the tale of  Lord Ram and Lakshman, appearing  as youngsters in front of  Tana Shah,  and paying  him  the  amount, is well known, that resulted  in  Ramadasu's  release from captivity.  Tana Shah  realizing  the greatness of  Ramadasu,  donated the entire  money  to the Bhadrachalam Temple,  for it's maintenance and upkeep.  Tana  Shah also started the practice of donating  the Mutyala Talambralu( pearls)  every  year  for  the  Sri Rama Kalyanotsavam, which  was continued  by  the  Nizams too later on.   Even now the State Govt of  Andhra Pradesh,  still  follows the practice of  gifting the pearls every  RamNavami  for the Kalyanotsava.



Other  worthwhile  places  near  Bhadrachalam apart from the temple,  is the village of  Parnasala  around  30 Km  from the place,  where  Lord Ram  was believed to have spent time in exile, there is a model of the hermitage  here.  If  one  is desirous  of  visiting  the  Bhadrachalam temple, the best  way would be to take the launch ride  from Rajahmundry  to  Bhadrachalam, along the Godavari. The scenic  ride, offers  beautiful  vistas of the Godavari river,  as it  cuts  through dense forests, hills, riverside  villages, gorges, making the journey  a memorable experience. While the architecture of  the  temple  is  not  as grand  as some of  the other  temples down South, it is neverthless worth a visit,  for  the scenic backdrop of the Godavari  river, and  the thickly forested  surroundings.