Monday, June 12, 2017

Sathguru Thyagaraja

The music world recently (on 4th May, 2017) celebrated the 250th birth anniversary of the Saint of carnatic music Sathguru Thyagaraja Swami. Year-long concerts were organized by several groups to mark the great year and as the actual date drew closer there was intense musical activity across the globe. Newspapers were not left behind and in particular The Hindu also ran a series of articles related to the saint composer. It was indeed a thrilling time for the connoisseurs as also the common man of music. Several of us need just a pretext to discuss and listen to a Thyagaraja Kriti and as pretexts go, this 250th birth anniversary served as the biggest by far. While we basked in the devotional, musical aspects of the kritis and reflected upon the deeper spiritual meanings as also the human values embedded in them I did hear a few discordant notes here and there about the poor opinion that Sathguru had towards women and the bias he had towards caste. A famed carnatic singer also alluded to the same.

The argument was based on citing out of context of some kritis like the one from the pancha ratna duDukugala nannEdora koduku brOchura. The curious may look at this link and refer to svara sAhityam 6 teliyani naTa-viTa kSudrulu vanitalu and svara sAhityam 9 mAnava tanu durlabham in which he talks about being modaTi kulajuDu - born in the first clan - arguably a Brahmin. These two lines are the ones that the critics always use to tell the story of how the saint was against women and lower castes!! Nothing can be farther from truth than this.

This begs the question, why did the saint then deify Sabari, the woman born in the lower caste? In the rAgam mukHAri, he composed entani nE varnintu sabari bhAgyamu - how should I describe the good fortune of Sabari? He talks highly of Ahalya, the woman with alleged infidelity towards her husband in many kritis. He often pleads with the Lord to bless him like He blessed these women from the rAmAyaNa. This argument is likely enough to seal the myopic views of the critics regarding the attitude of the saint towards women. But let us not stop here. Let us go a bit deeper into understanding the work of the saint. 

The saint was primarily on a spiritual journey. For his journey he chose the music as the vehicle. The goal of spiritual journey is moksha or nirvAna or liberation. With this in mind he kept his vehicle in good shape by constantly practicing music. And this vehicle seemed to have a life of sorts. So it had to be fed. He fed it the name of srIrAmA. So while the vehicle was thus fed well and kept in good shape, it made the journey a great pleasure (Ananda) and automatically reached the goal. It not only reached, on the way it gave great joy to several other chariots as well and enabled (and still enabling) them to reach the goal.

Unraveling the above metaphor we find the saint's work to be holistic package of devotion, music and spirituality. These three aspects are deeply interwoven and provide the promised nourishment only when taken in totality. The mistake that the learned men seem to commit is that they tend to treat the different aspects in isolation. Reductionism and compartmentalism are hallmarks of our times and this is what often leads to commenting out of context. 

As the saint kept the goal of liberation in front of him, he constantly discussed with his mind what are the obstacles and enablers to reach his goal. Hence the repeated use of o manasA in almost every kriti of his. He saw it from a social angle (in fact there is no other angle to see this). He commented on the ways of the world that obstruct in the journey. One such he said is women. But he also said what kind of women. He talked about the types of women who are engaged in dancing or resorted to flesh trade. Such women caused an obstacle to others as they are viewed by others with tinted lens of lust. I am very sure no woman would ever want to be seen only thus, in this era or in the eras gone by. The lust in his opinion was not as detrimental to the object of it as it was to the one who harbored it. We do see the fallout of such attitude towards women in today's world also. Therefore every criticism of this object of lust is actually a warning for the pursuer of it. 

Now it is not as if women don't journey on spiritual path and are not entitled for liberation. They too can be subjects of such an attitude towards men in which case it obstructs their path. Therefore the mention of woman itself is a sort of figure of speech.

In the spiritual plane, woman is equivalent to prakrithi (or nature) which attains fulfilment when combined with purusha. This needs to be understood beyond all gender stereotypes. In many ways swayed by women or exploiting them is equivalent to exploiting nature for selfish gains. Again I don't need to belabor the point of how exploitation of nature is causing widespread problems in the globe. This may appear farfetched but do think about it from a spiritual angle, the one from which Sathguru Thayagaraja Swami viewed life (as is eminently evident from his other kritis). Exploitation of women at the personal level brings disharmony in the personal conduct, family and when practiced widely brings ruin to the society. Exploitation of the woman that nature is brings disaster to our lives. Both are as true today as they were during Thayagaraja's times or even before that. Those are eternal principles that obstruct liberation.

Again he compassionately defines what is mOksha in the sAramati kriti mokshamu kalada. In this he questions if liberation is ever attainable for one who is not liberated while living. In other words, he categorically says liberation is not something attained during death after living a life on earth. It is living like a liberated soul even while being on earth - in harmony and happiness. As we discussed music being his chosen vehicle, he goes on to say steadfast and honest pursuit of music gives you that harmony and happiness.

Those that call him being against women should also note he was no great fan of men either!!! That is men who displayed all the insignia of being spiritual but really acted out of tune to the guise they have put on. He was against men who for the sake of fulfilling their wants indulged in flattery of the rich. he criticized men who fell for the sensuous. 

In summary it means he spared nobody who was hypocritical and professed to be on path of liberation but indulged in actions quite opposite to that. Through his work he called for single pointed devotion to the Lord. At the face of it, he eulogized srIrAmA with a bow and was deeply into mythology. But a closer look at kritis like endhundi vedalithivo in darbAr clearly tell us that Sathguru thought of srIrAmA as the eternal divine principle. He liked The Ultimate with the name srIrAmA. 

Therefore in my opinion before commenting on isolated aspects of Sathguru's works one needs to weigh their thoughts on the touchstone of rAmabhakthi (devotion to Lord rAmA) and the ultimate goal of life as visualized by the saint. Those with the goal of filling up a column or air time should steer clear of it no matter how tempting the thought of playing to the (current day) gallery is.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Srimad Andhra Bhagavatham

It feels somewhat strange to write on this topic of Srimad Andhra Bhagavatham. Particularly so because at best I am just an enthusiast with very little knowledge of it. I have heard it with admiration for decades now from my now nonagenarian grandmother, who had no formal education but recalls still with aplomb several of the poems written in chaste Telugu by Sri. Bammera Pothana, the Telugu farmer-poet who lived in the 15th century near present day Warangal in the Telangana state.

The Telugu Bhagavatham is a celebrated work that is rich in literature, richer in devotion and richest in submission to God. It is a translation of the Bhagavatham, the story of Lord Vishnu's various earthly careers (avatars) and accomplishments written in Sanskrit by Veda Vyasa, the man to whom we owe the whole of the literature and scriptures. 

Legend has it that Lord Rama Himself granted a vision to a meditating Pothana, and commanded him to undertake the translation of the Bhagavatham story into Telugu and promised all help! Exhorted thus, Pothana did a wonderful translation in which he didn't always stick to the original narrative but added his own imagination of the situation, lucidity of expression using a rarely seen command over Telugu grammar and usage. 



Photo from http://pothana-telugu-bhagavatham.blogspot.in/2015/02/blog-post_10.html


For instance, in the episode of the Gajendra moksham, where the elephant battles the crocodile in a lake for thousand years and finally calls out to Vishnu in total surrender, Vyasa describes that Vishnu, upon listening to the cry of the elephant rushes to the spot on His Garuda and slays the crocodile, thus saving the elephant. Pothana however says, Vishnu goes running without even leaving the hand/saree pallu of Lakshmi that He was holding at the time, completely taken away by the surrender-filled cry of the elephant devotee. The narrative full of lovely grammatical usages, poetic beauty does appear to have compromised on the factual. But the real fact that needs to be appreciated is that Surrender begets the Lord and the elephant and crocodile merely are characters in that. Therefore, Pothana has done a translation-plus, if you will, in stead of merely substituting words. That in fact is the soul of this work.

In the six centuries that the Andhra Bhagavatham has existed in this world, it has filled the hearts of many a seeker, the foremost among them being Saint Thyagaraja Swami. It is said that study of Pothana Bhagavatam constituted a part of the daily prayer schedule of the epic composer. Little wonder then that their sentiments expressed for Lord appear equally sublime. 

As recently as forty years ago, the popular poems from Pothana Bhagavatham used to be household treasures taught by parents and grandparents to toddlers and thus at least some of them were preserved in the public consciousness. As the need for English education grew and understandably so, this work began to fade from public memory and was a privilege of a few learned pundits and occasionally admired by enthusiasts such as yours truly. This was partly also because the lack of effective dissemination media post independence and in our quest for industrial jobs and modern civilization we neglected the great treasure to some extent. 

But all is not lost. Thanks to the modern day technologies, we are able to hear the renderings and expositions in Televisions. There is a cultural resurgence of sorts and also the now somewhat-well-to-do middle class showing interest in our heritage. While there are many resources available on the internet, prominent being telugubhavatham.com, it could still be a challenge to sing these poems. 

It is here that a very important gap has been filled by Sri. Malladi Suribabu of Vijayawada. Father of the famous carnatic duo, Malladi brothers, Sri. Suribabu is a great teacher of carnatic music. He has set hundreds of the padyams into tune and rendered with his rich voice. In the year 2014, he rendered more than 800 poems from the Pothana Bhagavatham after setting them to lovely ragas. This fantastic labor of love of Sri. Suribabu has now assumed the form of a CD and will soon be available for all. 

This CD entitled "Bhagavatha Padya Madhurimalu" will be released in Rajamahendravaram (erstwhile Rajamundry) on the 03rd Dec 2015 at 10 AM. Venue: Vallabha Ganapathi Temple, Kalyan Nagar, Konthamuru, Rajamahendravaram. The detailed invitation in Telugu is given below.

All are invited!! If you are an enthusiast like me, come along and take part in spreading this lovely cultural treasure to ten more people in your circles. Let us do our bit to ensure future generations do not miss out on this great work which will enrich their lives a great deal. Do reach out to me through comments section if you want to stand up and be counted.


Invitation to Bhagavtha Padya Madhurimalu CD release ceremony 

To paraphrase Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba "Bhagavatham chadivithe Baagavutam" - we will become good by reading Bhagavatham. 

The event will also feature the release of the audio CD of compositions of Sadguru Narayana Teertha, rendered by the Malladi brothers - vidwans Sri. SreeRamPrasad and Sri. Ravikumar. This is the 4th volume that is being offered now. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Dr. Kalam

A decade ago when I joined the industry from academia I'd fiercely bat for skill. I placed skill way above any other requirements for people. I professed that we are as good as our skill. This also made me form opinions about people and judge them. Accordingly, I was surrounded by three kinds of people -  I found stars, average Joes and totally useless fellows! Of course I thought of myself as a star, at least I had to think so! Over the years however, call it ageing or whatever else, I have been inclined to treat people as people and not judge them based on their skill. Skill is something that can be acquired, human birth cannot be. This is a change that warms my heart. Now, while skill is important and must be acquired, humanness takes the top billing. Some call it aptitude or core behaviour in our industry. But as we deal with more people to achieve something and depend on them, their character (and ours) is the one that dictates whether we are on right track or not. This calls for a human touch irrespective of what field we are in. The reason for this lengthy introduction is that I found Dr. Kalam to be an embodiment of humanness. He is a rare blend of humanity, humility, passion and dedication. I never met him. I wish I could. He was on my must meet list but somehow day to day stuff always took precedence and I took it for granted that someday I will at least see him from a distance! Alas, it was not to be. He exited before that. 

However, not before inspiring me enough. In the line of education and research that I came through it is common for people to look west after finishing their education and often not return, due to either lack of opportunities or will. It doesn't matter why, but I was not inclined at all to go. Many people tried to suggest. I refused. This was also the time I read the "Wings of Fire". It was on a journey to attend the funeral ceremony of my uncle at Borigumma, Odisha. This book kept company in the Prasanthi express and in the subsequent bus journey from Vizianagaram. Just as you would swallow a favorite sweet, this book was so absorbing that I read it cover to cover in one go! The message of the homegrown missile man was enough for me to decide and for good that come what may I will stay here and pursue my career. I don't intend to say whether that was right decision or not as far as career is concerned, but it gave me a confidence that with dedication and passion one can achieve something no matter where you are. I continue to be inspired by that thought. To me he is a sage. To perform action when it is easily avoidable shows the sense of purpose of man. Dr. Kalam could have happily sat in his home and written books. He chose to go to students and inspire them. And he ended his innings in one of those. 

Pokhran 1998 is another unforgettable episode for me. India, for the first time showed political will and scientific prowess and defied the west to conduct its own nuclear tests - completely indigenous. In a determined defiance of the dominating West, India had broken away from the colonial shackles - thus filling a number of students in the scientific community with great self belief. 

And a decade before that, the "Agni ka saphal parikshan...." messages from a proud prime minister Rajiv Gandhi interspersed in the commercial breaks of Mahabharath in our school days mean a lot to me in retrospect. And we know the Man who enabled all this. 

However, Dr. Kalam was perhaps not your quintessential scientist with great brainwaves emerging all the time. He didn't have to be. He was far more than that. He conquered people across the spectrum - politicians, engineers, scientists..... The internal enemies didn't trouble him much and so he didn't have external enemies. I've been looking for an Ajathasatru (one whose enemies are not born!) ever since I came across this name in Kings, I wondered if such people can exist. Dr. Kalam comes closest to that description.

A true leader who enabled his teams and helped them achieve greatness. This is not done by skill alone. Skill is required but also needs to be channelized. This can be done by only a leader and a visionary.

Sad that Dr. Kalam is gone; but very glad that he came!

To rest in peace, there is only one way and that is to live in peace (with oneself). Dr. Kalam did that with aplomb and he really doesn't need my pitiable RIP wish. So long, Dr. Kalam.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Ati Rudra Maha Yajnam 2015

11 pits of sacrificial fire, 121 priests chanting hymns, 11 namakams, 11 anuvakas (verses) of chamakam, 11 days of spiritual extravaganza, 550 volunteers.... all under one roof. Welcome to the Sai Ramesh Hall at Brindavan Ashram, Kadugodi, Whitefield, Bangalore - venue of the Ati Rudra Maha Yajnam, fondly called the ARMY. The ARMY of 2015 kicked off on 1st March 2015 and will go on until 12th of March 2015.

Namakam and chamakam are hymns that are part of the Yajur veda and each consist of 11 verses. Namakam visualizes the Lord Rudra in all of creation and pays obeisance to Him who is in all and thus makes us all equals. Accordingly the word namo, namo  (I bow, I bow) are oft repeated in this. Chamakam lays down all the requirements for a good and godly life and requests the Lord to bless us with those. 

Chanting namakam 11 times and chamakam once completes one Shri Rudram. 
Chanting namakam 11*11=121 times and chamakam 1*11=11 completes one laghu Rudram. 
Chanting namakam 11*11*11=1331 times and chamakam 11*11=121 completes one maha Rudram. 
Chanting namakam 11*11*11*11=14641 times and chamakam 11*11*11=1331 completes one Ati Rudram. 

That means 11 Shri Rudrams make a laghu rudram, 11 laghu rudrams make a maha rudram and 11 maha rudrams make the Ati Rudram. 


Abhishekam of the Lord Trayeeswara (photo courtesy: RadioSai)

Obviously it is impossible to do it alone. Hence there are a minimum of 121 priests chanting Rudram 11 times a day thus completing a Maharudram in a day. The chants are accompanied by the ceremonial bath of the Lord with water, milk, honey, ghee, sugar, fruit juices. 





The Lord is decked up beautifully after the abhishekams. And in His divine presence, sacrificial offerings in to the 11 sacrificial pits are offered after the ceremonial bath known as abhishekam with loud chants of hundreds in unison. 





Rudra Homam (photo courtesy: theprasanthireporter.org)


The program commences every morning at 05.30 AM and goes on until 12:00  noon. Evening programs are marked by vedic recitals, discourses, musical renderings and bhajans - Cultual programs to regale the majestic Lord. The marvellous marble Lord that you behold here is christened Trayeeswara.

The believers have the conviction that this prayer for universal peace will spread positive vibrations in the world and keep every being happy and contented. May this really be so. If you're around Bangalore, don't miss this one. We are already past the half way mark. Come and pray for universal peace and brotherhood. Our world needs it.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Sundara kaanda - Ramartham Vaanaraarthamcha

After being reminded of his amazing might by the great bear Jambavantha, Hanuman decides to cross the huge ocean and search for Mother Seetha in Lanka. He gets onto the mountain on the seashore and takes a good look at the task ahead as well as the (otherwise) insurmountable obstacles. He sums up all his strength, takes a deep breath and with a mighty leap takes off into the skies to get across to Lanka. As he pressed the mountain with his feet, it quaked and showered all the flowers that were borne on the trees. The inhabitants of the mountain, animals, snakes and other people fled thinking the mountain is being harmed by a demon. And then they heard the scholars in the sky saying thus:

रामार्थं वानरार्थं च चिकीर्षन कर्म दुष्करम
समुद्रस्य परं पारं दुष्प्रापं प्राप्तूमिच्छति
రామార్థం వానరార్థంచ చికీర్షన్ కర్మ దుష్కరం 
సముద్రస్య పరం పారం దుష్ప్రాపం ప్రాప్తుమిచ్ఛతి
He has set upon this arduous and impossible (for others) task for the sake of Rama and the fellow monkeys and decided to cross to the other side of the ocean ||1.30||
(Sundarakanda: Follow this link for the verses and meanings)
The most wonderful aspect leading to this verse is that Hanuman never even once feels he is doing this to earn personal glory. In this verse he has squarely put the team (vanaras or the monkeys) and SriRama(the "Boss") ahead of himself in the sincere pursuit of the goal. This observation has been made by the onlookers, the scholars in the skies watching over the proceedings. This implies Hanuman has created a strong perception of why he is doing what he is doing. Such perception creation is obviously not possible without strong behaviour. The key point though is that Hanuman never craved to make an impression and build an image for himself. The image built itself based on the manner in which he carried himself. As Jambavan praises him and reminds him of his amazing might, Hanuman grows to gigantic proportions and dwarfs everyone present before him. Yet, he bows to the elders exemplifying humility. Being humble in the backdrop of great accomplishments is a great quality to have. This is important because we never achieve anything in isolation. There are immense contributions of people around us in everything we do. And finally when we realize without the grace of God, we count for nothing, humility and gratitude will automatically appear. The idea is not to belittle oneself and feel insignificant. It is only not to have an exaggerated feeling about oneself. In order to do so, one must place the goal (the work of Rama) and team (people around) before oneself. Thus Hanuman is a great example of working selflessly for the sake of SriRama and his mates. This seems to have brought him immortality and ultimate glory without setting himself to achieve it. The point is further strengthened by Ravana whose sole aim was himself and his pleasures and his glory. In order to achieve that he didn't shy away from taking shortcuts, doing immoral acts, putting the entire state machinery at work to fulfil his desires till ignominy caught up with him and he finally perished becoming the perfect example of how not to be in life. Hanuman's personality traits, work ethic and selflessness stand in stark contrast to Ravana's pride, selfish motives and his obsession with himself. The result is today Hanuman is worshiped as a God and Ravana is remembered for examples of wrong doings. 
At a worldly plane, Hanuman holds lot of examples for us to follow. In our day to day life, we should be valorous like him, giving our best in whatever we do. Excelling in the sphere of our activity should be our goal. That satisfaction is its own reward. "Work is worship, Duty is God", it is said. Finally offering it to one's beloved master and thanking for the opportunity makes one light. Hanuman was well aware that it is Rama who was powering him to do this job and that made his job easier. When the self takes upon the doership, discrimination leaves us. This can potentially make us take wrong decisions. By surrendering to the master and thinking whatever happens is his will and giving our best we don't put the pressure of failing on ourselves and thus usually do a better job. This is a great working philosophy that one should adopt in order to excel. The work we do is always an opportunity. It could have been done by someone else but we got a chance to do it. So we should do it such that we are remembered for that. This is where goal includes and transcends skill.

In the spiritual plane, Hanuman signifies budhhi that losely translates as intellectual aspect. Rama signifies the Supreme soul and Seetha, the individual soul. The union of the individual soul with the supreme soul can happen only when budhhi decides to do it. The individual soul is hijacked by the ten senses that signify Ravana. Saving the individual soul from the clutches of the senses and merging it with the supreme soul is fraught with obstacles. It should be done by budhhi for the sake of the supreme self itself since everything came from that and should ultimately merge in that. It is this symbolism associated with Ramayana that makes it eternally sweet. I wrote about it here quoting Sri Sathya sai Baba.

Read in the backdrop of this, the above verse is really loaded with implications in our worldly and spiritual life. Comments welcome. 

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Sundara Kaanda - Sundare Sundaro Rama...


Sundara kaanda is the fifth of the seven parts that makes up the epic Ramayanam. This chapter exclusively deals with the daring search operation conducted single-handedly by Hanuman, the trusted servant of Lord SriRama for mother Seetha. With no scope for advice or second opinion in this adventure Hanuman solely relies on his judgment and might to wade through the several challenges that come his way and ultimately emerges successful.  Valmiki is at his best expounding the thoughts that run in Hanuman's mind as he undertakes this extremely critical mission alone. There are lessons galore packed beautifully in the Sundara Kaanda. With the grace of the Lord, I endeavor to present one sloka that appeals to me with the meaning and hopefully a contemporary take on the same every week.

To start it off on this holy Vaikuntha Ekadasi day of 2015, let us see the verse that extols the Sundara Kanda. 

सुंदरे  सुन्दरो  रामः  सुंदरे  सुंदरी  कथा
सुंदरे  सुंदरी  सीता  सुंदरे  सुंदरं  वनं
सुंदरे  सुंदरं  काव्यं  सुंदरे  सुन्दरः  कपिः
सुंदरे  सुंदरं  मन्त्रं  सुंदरे  किं  न  सुंदरं ?

సుందరే సుందరో రామః సుందరే సుందరీ కథా
సుందరే సుందరీ సీతా సుందరే సుందరం వనం 
సుందరే సుందరం కావ్యం సుందరే సుందర: కపి: 
సుందరే సుందరం మంత్రం సుందరే కిం న సుందరం

Beautiful is Lord Rama in the SundaraKaanda
Beautiful is the story
Beautiful is mother Seetha
Beautiful is the Ashoka forest (in which She lived)
Beautiful is the poetry
Beautiful is the monkey (Lord Hanuman)
Beautiful is the mantram 
What is it that is not beautiful (in sundara kaanda)?


Sundara kanda full of messages for our daily life presented beautifully. The first of the poets serves a great treat of fact and beauty. Please come, let us follow the trail of lord Hanuman.

Boat trip to Bhadrachalam from Rajahmundry

Rajamundry is synonymous with the river Godavari. It is impossible not to have images of the huge bridge across Godavari flash across the mind at the mention of Rajamundry. The river seems most prominent almost in the last leg of it's journey to the Bay of Bengal. Contained in a small dam in Dhawaleswaram the river forms a delightful delta and irrigates the plains of the Godavari districts giving it the title The Rice bowl of Andhra Pradesh. The region is not just rich in agriculture, it is also a nursery of Indian culture with several Vedic pundits of great repute hailing from here. The banks of the river at this place are also famous for performing obsequies to the departed souls. The river absorbs the mortal remains of people of the area. So it is natural that Godavari evokes melancholy, philosophy, hope, life. Originating at Nasik, the land of Shiva in Maharashtra, the river enters Telangana at Adilabad before touching the feet of Goddess Saraswathi in Basara. Then it flows into the forests of Dandakaranya where it is sanctified further by the presence of Lord Rama at Bhadrachalam. This region sees the convergence of four states, Telangana, AndhraPradesh, Odisha and Chattisgarh. Thick forests and high hills are the mark of this territory. It is in these forests that Sri Rama is said to have lived during His years in exile prior to the abduction of Seetha. Godavari meanders through the hills of this area generating many a scenic beauty and supporting a wonderful ecosystem. Many a tributary pour into Godavari around here and contribute substantially to enable life downstream.



On such a holy and full of life Godavari when there is a boat that takes you to the abode of Lord SriRama at Bhadrachalam, can the excitement be contained? No. We looked forward to this trip ever since we finalized this trip a few days before. Punnami travels was our agent for the trip. We boarded bus at Rajahmundry at 8:00 AM and drove nearly 50km to Polavaram. The dock yard was full of double decked boats with the ground floor air conditioned and the first floor providing a nice view of all around, Our boat had nearly 200 people. I must admit to being a bit nervous as the date of sail approached. But as we boarded at 09:30 AM all that was forgotten and eyes feasted on the vast expanse of the river. Just as we started the guide called attention to a water tank atop a hill. This was part of the Sri Sathya Sai drinking water project for east Godavari district. This was the elixir of life that Swami has gifted to the poor of this area. 


As we relished the nature all around us, with birds flying by the waters, hills majestically looking over the river, the breakfast quietly went in. Soon shutter bugs got busy. Every scene looked photogenic! This confluence of the blue, several shades of green, brown hues didn't allow our cameras to hibernate. 







The first stop was in less than an hour at the temple of Goddess Gandi Pasamma. We had darshan and the boat proceeded on to the much talked about destination of papidikondalu, a.k.a, papikondalu a.k.a. papi hills which was about 50 km upstream. We motored against the current at a good pace and while some looked around, clicked around, others were engrossed in some on board entertainment provided by some professionals. The beat rich songs played and people gyrated and threw their limbs in the air calling it dance!   sure . It surely helped provide a good mood on board. 

Lunch was served by 12:30 PM and soon it was time to brace for the view of the papidikondalu where Godavari flows in between two hills making it both narrow and deep. The hills are so named as the river appears like the hairline of a traditional Indian woman cutting through the hills that appear almost black due to the dark green cover of the thick forests.



In between the hills, the current takes a right and a left turn and the whole experience even if nothing out of the world is pretty pleasing. Within a few minutes of passing this landmark, we reach Perantalapalli. A small village in the east Godavari district that houses an ashram of the celebrated Sri Ramakrishna. This really gives you an idea of how deeply spirituality has seeped in this country making it a holy land. There is also the temple of Lord Visweswara in the ashram. We had to check out of the current boat here at 3:00 PM. After praising the lord with chants of Namakam and chamakam we boarded another boat and reached Kosavaram after a one hour ride.




It was almost a 70km drive by road from Kosavaram to Bhadrachalam. The tour operator doesn't provide you with anything luxurious. 11 of us got into Tata magic and squeezed in warmly in the fast approaching dusk that lowered mercury considerably. Spirited bhajan singing from each of us ensured that the discomforts were not felt and kept our mind focused on the Lord of Bhadrachalam. Finally Bhadrachalam was reached around 8:30 PM. We retired for the night and next morning hastened to have the darshan of the Lord.

The temple at Bhadrachalam was built by Kancherla Gopanna a little over 300 years ago. He built the Rama temple with tax money that was collected and was imprisoned by the King Tanisha. He sat in the prison and pleaded with Rama in spontaneous outpouring of devotion, praising, pleading, coaxing, cajoling alternating between bliss and desperation and composed songs. Pleased with this devotion, Rama and Lakshmana came to the King and returned the money spent for the construction of the temple thus releasing the dear devotee. He came to be known as Ramadasu and the songs are popular among musicians and commoners of Andhra Pradesh alike.

The Lord was decked in the SriRama avataram. Mother Seetha seated on the left lap and Lakshmana to his right, both holding their mighty bows and an arrow to symbolize their readiness of offering refuge to the one who has surrendered. We felt blessed to be in the temple paid for by the Lord himself, in the region where he spent in exile centuries ago and lead such a life full of righteousness and moral conduct centuries ago that he continues to be revered as a very dear friend and Lord by almost every one.

After the blessed darshan, we started journey back to Rajahmundry by road through the ghats. We stopped at a clear water stream and admired nature further.




Even though we didn't spend more time at the temple it was a fulfilling trip, thoughts saturated by Rama and the often reviving thought of he having graced this land centuries ago. If you are a nature lover, this trip is for you. If you love Rama, then you cannot do without this trip!

Sri Rama Raksha Sarva Jagadraksha - May the protection of the Lord Rama be upon the entire universe.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Mandolin Srinivas


At a concert in the Sai Kulwanth Hall in Prashanti Nilayam, Puttaparthi, the well known Prof. Anil Kumar introduced the star of the evening "Mandolin is Srinivas and Srinivas is Mandolin". It was a simple yet  profound statement. Very few knew this ever smiling, humble child prodigy as U.Srinivas. He was universally known as Mandolin Srinivas! It is known that the surname of some people usually comes from their profession and then stays on for generations. But in his case this surname simply meant he was one with it. He was born to play with mandolin. When most children his age played marbles he mastered the western instrument and made it sing Indian classical music! Thus the universality of the sapta swaras was proclaimed one more time. Every music lover of Chennai of the early 80s has a story to tell about him. And that would be about how they went to the concert of a kid with skepticism and returned with superlatives.

Today when Srinivas left us in a hurry to play for the Gods in the heaven, I feel a sense of great loss and recollect meeting him at the Sai Ramesh hall in Brindavan, Whitefield last year. His humility at the pinnacle of success was both instructive and inspiring. It was ethereal as he enthralled the audience with a medley of Carnatic kritis and Sai bhajans. He ended the concert that day with this piece that I captured.


May he rest in eternal peace. It is a privilege to have heard him and we will continue to do so. Music world, grieve not, be grateful that he enriched our world so much.

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Love to blog. Every time I turn joyous or in extreme pain, I blog. Huge believer of 'charity begins at home'.