- Sri Rama of Bhadrachalam is known as “Vaikunta Rama” because he has Conchi (Sankha) and discus (Chakra) , the emblems of Vishnu.
- The existence of deities, according to local tradition, was first revealed in the dream to one Pokal Dammakka. She was the first to come, identify and offer worship to the idols. She was asked to continue worshipping the lord until a day when one bhakta (Ramadas) would arrive and take up the responsibility of the temple. Ramadasu realized that he had been appointed and sent to the place only to serve the Lord and he immediately decided to dedicate the rest of his life to the same.
- Ramadasu is said to have composed nearly 200 Keerthanas of bhadrachala ramadas, most of which are available to us through Bhajana sampradaya.
- In a rare jugalbandi of philosophy and music, Chaganti Koteswara Rao and Malladi Brothers enriched and enthralled the audience with beautiful discourse and rendition of Bhadrachala Ramadasu Keerthanalu. The venue, ‘Vivekananda Auditorium’ in the premises of Ramakrishna Matt, was packed with an enthusiastic audience; some even had to stand, to catch the discourse of Chaganti Koteswara Rao.
- The popularity of Koteswara Rao is immense and his religious discourses draw an audience, like bees to a beehive. On the second day of the three-day festival presented by “Naada Prabha”, a cultural trust noted for its contribution towards the promotion of classical arts, Chaganti Koteswara Rao’s discourse was on ‘Bhadrachala Ramadasu Keerthanalu’ with a demonstration by the noted Malladi Brothers.
About Sri Kancharla Gopanna
- Sri Kancharla Gopanna (1620-1680 A.D.) is popularly known as Bhadrachala Ramadasu and Bhakta Ramadasu. He was a great Vaggeyakara who transformed the Bhadrachalam Temple in the Khammam District of Telangana State into a divine abode.
- Vaggeyakara - a Telugu word means a person who not only composes the lyrics but also sets them to music (vak = word, speech; geya = singing, singable; geyakara = singer). His devotional lyrics to Lord Rama are famous in South Indian classical music as Ramadasu keerthanalu.
- He also wrote Dasarathi Shatakam with the alias of Dasaradhi KarunaaPayonidhi (Rama, the Ocean of Compassion), a collection of nearly 108 poems. Today is his birth anniversary and close to his native place Nelakondapalle in Khammam District of Telangana State; a Lift Irrigation Project named after him as Bhakta Ramadasu Lift Irrigation Scheme (BRLIS) is inaugurated by the State Chief Minister, Sri K. Chandrashekar Rao. This project has been completed in a record time of 11 months, to irrigate 60,000 acres of land in the District. The people of the State and in particular of Khammam District are extremely happy.
- All Telangana State Newspapers and TV channels are full of this news with details of the project, today’s inauguration, and Ramadasu’s birthday celebrations.
The life story of Ramadasu
- The life story of Ramadasu is known to all Telugu people and to all those who have visited Sri Sita Ramachandra Swamy Temple at Bhadrachalam. All lovers of Carnatic music who have listened to his Keertanalu would also know about him.
- The great Thyagaraja when he was young was singing the songs of Bhadrachala Ramadasu at the temples in Tanjore and he also praised the devotion of Ramadasu in several of his Kritis.
- For those who have not heard of him, here is his life in short. As I mentioned above he was born at Nelakondapalli in 1620 A.D. not far from Bhadrachalam.
- He was a great devotee of Lord Sri Rama from his childhood. In his sixteenth year, Lord Rama appeared in his dream and blessed him. At that time one by the name Tammala Dammakka found the self-appeared idols of Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman at Bhadrachalam (it was known as Bhadragiri then) and she provided a small shelter for them for worship. Kancharla Gopanna as Ramadasu was known then became a devotee there and dedicated his life to the service of the Lord. He got initiated into Vaishnavism by Raghunatha Bhattacharya, a great devotee. He got married and entered the Revenue Service under the Ruler of Hyderabad as Tahsildar of Palvancha.
- Bhadrachalam is near Palwancha and was under his administration. While attending to his duties his attention was mostly on gathering devotees, singing bhajans, and offering prayer and puja to Lord Sri Rama at the temple.
- He was so immersed in these activities that while he was once busy feeding the devotees, his son fell into a gruel pit and lost his life. But the Lord heard the prayers of Ramadasu and the boy regained life.
About the music
- It was a beautiful blend of music and religious philosophy. The ultimate submission of the soul is termed as “Saranagathi '', and the angst one experiences while in dire circumstances and appeals to god, here, the one and the only Lord Rama. Bhadrachala Ramadasu, a 17th-century devotee of Rama and a composer of Carnatic music (Vaggeyakara), poured out his heart through his compositions, while in jail for many years.
- These songs ended in a state of total and unconditional surrender to the will of the Almighty. He also wrote Dasarathi Shatakamu, a collection of nearly 100 poems dedicated to the son of Dasaratha, Lord Rama. Kancherla Gopanna (Goparaju), later known as Bhakta Ramadasu, was born in a moderately well-to-do Telugu-speaking Niyogi Brahmin family to Linganna Mantri and Kamamba in Nelakondapalli village in the Khammam District of Telangana.
- He was orphaned in the teens, triggering an impoverished life, sustained by singing bhakti songs to Rama and collecting rice door to door. His life story has been largely reconstructed from poems he composed or is assumed to have composed, where there is a mention of events of his life. For example, one bhakti song mentions Narayanadas Hulu, a term linked to the Narayana mantra, which is believed to be linked to Sri Vaishnavism guru Raghunatha Bhattacharya, who initiated him as a boy into the Dasarathi tradition.
- These and other hagiographic accounts found in Yakshagana or Harikatha compilations present him as a boy-prodigy with an impulsively creative mind composing lyrics on the Hindu god Rama.
- In 1650, Gopanna traveled to Hyderabad to meet his maternal uncles, who were at that time working in the tax department of Golconda Sultanate under the minister Mirza Mohammed Sayyad. They persuaded the minister to give a job to their nephew Gopanna. Mirza Mohammed Sayyad appointed Gopanna to the tax collection department in Bhadrachalam, where the temple dedicated to Rama already existed.
- A different version of his career is found in Ramadasu Charitra, a hagiographic Telugu text. It states that sometime after 1672, Ramadasu in his early 50s was appointed as the tahsildar (tax collector) of 'Paloncha Pargana' by Akkanna, his uncle, who was then a minister and the administrative head in the court of Qutub Shahi Sultan Abul Hassan Tana Shah.
- There are contradictory stories about his life after he became the tehsildar and led the tax collection activities at Bhadrachalam. All these stories share a common theme – he collected Jizya religious tax from Hindus in the Bhadrachalam area, he reconstructed or built anew the famed large Rama temple of Bhadrachalam, partly with donations and partly with tax he had collected for the Golconda Sultanate, his arrest on charges of fraud and misuse of the taxes, he spending 12 years in solitary confinement in Golconda prison where he composed poems for the Hindu god Rama, his release and return to Bhadrachalam.
- In some versions, god Rama and his brother Lakshmana reappear on earth and pay the ransom demanded by Golconda Sultanate for his release. In other versions, the Sultan under attack from Aurangzeb forces and facing imminent collapse, opens a new trial, finds him innocent, and acquits him. The varying accounts are found in the records of the Dutch East India Company, the temple's hagiography, and the regional Telugu oral traditions. Two Telugu movies provide additional creative versions of his career and events, again with different and conflicting accounts.
Ramadasu is one of the bhakti movement poet-saints of Hinduism, and a revered composer in the Carnatic music tradition. His compositions are largely kirtan genre, all focused on the Hindu god Rama of the Ramayana fame. He is most known for his Pallavi, anupallavi, and caravan compositions in Telugu and some in Sanskrit. His musical mudras vary and are remembered by his name or his favorite place Bhadrachalam; for example, Ramadas, Bhadrachalavasa, Bhadradri, Bhadragiri, Bhadrasyla, and others. His compositions were popular in his days and influenced many into the modern age. This includes Tyagaraja who dedicated 5 of his compositions in praise of Ramadasu, with one equating him to figures such as the Narada muni and bhakta Prahlada, legendary and much-loved personalities in Hinduism.
Questions and Answers
What is This five-day festival?
It is organized at Chitrakuta Mandapam in the Bhadrachalam temple premises.
The event is sponsored by Indraganti Alivelu Manga Sarvaiah Charitable Trust’s founder Nendraganti Krishna Mohan in memory of his parents.
The main objective of this trust is to propagate classical music besides providing support for the education of economically underprivileged students and preserving classical literature.
How to get the audio CD?
The good news is that everyone is welcome to join in the inaugural Goshti Ganam at the venue Chitrakuta Mandapam in Bhadrachalam.
For those who are not familiar with these compositions, the audio CD is available for free download and practice at http://bhadrachalaramadasu.com/navaratna-kirtanalu-telugu.
You can also visit http://bhadrachalaramadasu.com/navaratna-keerthanas. The notation is also available at this link.