Rama Bhakta- Bhadrachala Ramadasu
Kancherla Gopanna or Bhadrachala Ramadasu, is one of the most popular personalities in Telugu history, music and literature. There is hardly anyone in Andhra Pradesh that never heard his songs. Many people right from scholars to beggars know some of them. They are known for their superb lyrical quality and ‘Bhavauchityam’ with great Bhakti Bhava. His ‘Dasarathi Satakam’ has also been an extremely popular Satakam. Many old timers know several poems of the Satakam by heart. He became popular not by virtue of being a king, a warrior or a great scholar but because of his captivating life story and his equally touching songs and poems.
Kancherla Gopanna was born in Nelakondapalli village of present day Khammam District. He was a nephew of the famous Akkanna and Madanna. They were the Chief-of-Army and the Prime Minister, respectively, in the court of the Muslim king Abul Hasan Kutub Shah (alias or Taneesha). This Kutubshahi king was the last and the most liberal in a line of very open-minded rulers of Golconda (which later became the Hyderabad State under the Nizams). Akkanna and Madanna rose from the ranks of courtiers and in CE 1682, occupied the highest offices under the king. Their popularity with the king as well as with the general population was partly responsible for the court intrigues that eventually lead to the downfall of this once prosperous kingdom in CE 1687.
Gopanna was said to have drawn towards the worship of Rama even as a boy. It is said that he received the Taraka Mantra:“Sri Raama Raama Raameti Rame Raame Manorame Sahasranaama Tattullyam Raamanaama Varaanane ” from Saint Kabir, he took to the chant of this mantra with his heart and soul. He became ultimately God realized soul.
Taneesha was well versed in Telugu like his predecessors. He appointed Gopanna as the Tahaseeldaar of the present day Bhadracalam area. Gopanna for a while was busy collecting taxes on behalf of the Nawab and looking after the areas. One day, Gopanna heard the news that the villagers of Palvoncha area were proceeding to witness festival celebration at Bhadrachalam , He too out of curiosity visited Bhadrachalam . He found the deities in an amazing appearance and was quite disturbed at the sad and dilapidated state of the once famous temple. Ramadasu then asked the villagers to contribute liberally for the construction of the temple .The villagers in response appealed him to spend the revenue collections for the construction of the temple with a promise to repay the amount after harvesting the crops.
Towards the completion of the temple, he had a problem of fixing ‘Sudarshana Chakra’ at the crest of the main temple. He was deeply distressed and fell into sleep. On the same night, Lord Rama in his dream asked him to have a holy dip in river Godavari where he will find that – accordingly. On the next day morning Gopanna did so and found holy Sudarshana Chakra in the river without much difficulty. He presumed that Sudarshana Chakra itself was shaped up with the divine power of his beloved God Rama. His private treasury ran out in no time. Undaunted, he used up the revenue he collected for the Nawab and straightened up the place to a much better condition than when he originally found it.
The king, however liberal he might be, demanded the revenue due to the government. Failing to get a satisfactory answer, he remanded Gopanna to a jail cell with orders that he be released only after the exchequer received all the taxes in full. Apparently, his influential uncles could do nothing to intervene on his behalf. Gopanna spent the next eleven or twelve years in the jail. One can still see this particular cell inside the Golconda fort. Gopanna, by now famous amongst the local populace as Ramadasu (Lord Rama’s servant), began writing many beautiful musical compositions while in the jail cell. They praise the Lord for all his mysterious ways and plead with the Lord to ease his suffering. If that doesn’t work, they plead with his consort Goddess Sita to recommend to her husband to ease his devotee’s pain. All else failing to invoke a response, they even resort to accusing God of being an ingrate. Of course, the songs quickly apologize for the harsh language and end in a state of total and unconditional surrender to the will of the Almighty. These are some of the most endearing songs in the entire Indian musical literature. Many of his compositions are second to none in terms of feeling and ‘Bhavauchityam’. In spite of this, for some mysterious reason, Gopanna does not seem to have been given his due as an early pioneer of the Karnatic music. It is said that the Tondaiman rulers of Pudukkottai in Tamil Nadu loved Ramadasa keertanas very much and took great interest in popularizing them.
At long last, it is said that Lord Rama decided that his devotee’s suffering had reached its pre-ordained ending (because of a certain transgression his soul had committed in a previous birth). Rama and Lakshman took the disguise of two young warriors and entered the bedchambers of the king in the middle of the night. They gave the king the requisite money in gold coins imprinted with Rama’s own seal. The king was bewildered at the presence of these charming but strange youngsters in his inner quarters. They demanded and obtained on the spot, a written receipt for the money. The receipt was shown to the Jailer who released Gopanna the same night. The next day, both Gopanna and the Nawab realized what had happened. Gopanna did not care much for his release but was inconsolable at his not having seen his Lord even with all his devotion while the Nawab, in spite of being a Muslim, had a visit from the Lord. The Lord then appeared to Gopanna in a dream and explained him the real reasons for his actions and promised him salvation at the end his life. The king was convinced that what had happened was a miracle of Allah. He sent the entire money back to the Bhadrachalam temple. Until recently, it was the royal custom of the Hyderabad State to send gifts to the temple on the occasion of Sree Rama Navami celebrations every year in Chaitram. Even if we concede that there are inevitable embellishments in the story of Gopanna, it has certainly captured the popular imagination. In that sense, he ranks as one of the greatest devotees in the Indian religious systems -along the same lines as Annamacharya and others in Telugu Bhakti tradition, the famous Alwars and Nayanars of Tamil tradition or Tukaram of Maharashtrian tradition.
It is unclear at what point of life had Ramadasu composed his famous ‘Dasarathi Satakam’. From internal evidence, we can conjecture that the bulk of the poems were written either before the jail term or well after his imprisonment ended. We see in the poems, a devotee firmly entrenched in his belief system, content at the thought that he received his calling in life, convinced that there is salvation at the end of the tunnel. Compare the poems with the ‘Kalahasteeswara Satakam’ by Dhurjati Mahakavi. Dhurjati was also a great devotee. Some of the sentiments expressed by the two are very similar. Both were firmly attached their own chosen forms of the Supreme Being. Both sought the same end result-salvation from the cycle of pain and suffering. Ramadasu was convinced that he was going to get it. Dhurjati knew that it was possible but was unsure. Dhurjati was negatively preoccupied with all the ills of the society. He could not explain all the problems and troubling aspects he saw in the world around him. Ramadasu also saw the same things to some extent, but just imagined that they were part of life and that his Lord will take care of them. Dhurjati could not calm himself that way and could not contain his tongue from lashing out. In the end, both the Satakams became famous
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