Symbol of devotion to Sri Rama
Thousands throng the Sri Rama temple at Bhadrachalam to witness Sita Kalyanam conducted as part of Sri Rama Navami celebration (March 30). N. V. R. SWAMY writes...
The temple of Lord Rama at Bhadrachalam with the Godavari as the backdrop.
THE SMALL township of Bhadrachalam is most picturesquely situated in an area, which once formed part of the Dandakaranya forest, visited by Sri Rama, Sita and Lakshmana during their exile. The jungle in the vicinity of the temple was the actual site of Rama's retreat and it was at the parnasala (32 km from here) that he built a hut for himself and Sita and wherefrom Sita was abducted by Ravana. The temple has been built on the very spot where Rama crossed the Godavari to go to Sri Lanka.
Bhadrachalam has been named after Bhadra Rishi, who is said to have met Sri Rama at this place after a severe penance.
Legend says that Sri Rama appeared in the dream of a woman `Dammakka' and told her about the presence of the idols on the Bhadragiri hills. She found the idols and put up a modest structure and thus the temple came to existence about 300 years ago.
The present temple was constructed in the middle of the 18th century. Bhadrachalam was then under the Kutub Shah kings, with capital at Golconda. Gopanna, nephew of Madanna, Minister of King Abul Hasan Tani Shah (1674-99), the last of the Kutub Shah Kings, became Tahsildar of the Bhadrachalam area. He was so intensely devoted to Lord Rama that he spent about Rs. 6 lakhs of revenue on the renovation of the temple and making ornaments for Sri Rama. For this diversion of royal money, he was arrested and incarcerated inside the Golconda fort. This dungeon is even now known as Ramadas's prison and is shown to visitors at Golconda. Sri Rama himself is stated to have appeared in his dream and handed over to him a receipt for the money spent in building the temple. Next morning, Tani Shah (Nawab of Golconda) himself came to the cell and released Gopanna.
A thoroughly shaken king not only restored Gopanna to his position as Tahsildar, but also gave huge amounts of gifts and in addition, sanctioned a substantial annual grant for the maintenance of the temple, continued by the Nizam's Government.
Ramadas is credited with having composed many devotional works, hymns and prayers to Sri Rama. "Dasarathi Sataka" is considered to be one of his most popular works.
After Ramadas's death, the temple fell into disrepair and it was left to another ardent devotee, Thummu Narasimhadas of Guntur, to make some improvements, to prevent further deterioration of the temple. He secured from Raja Chandulal, a Minister under the Nizam of Hyderabad, the gift of a village, the revenue from which was to be utilised for maintaining the temple services.
Sri Tyagaraja visited Bhadrachalam, drew inspiration from the kritis of Ramadas for his own immortal compositions and composed three or four kritis in the presence of the deity, the well-known among them being "Mohana Rama" and "Enna Ganu Rama Bhajana."
The temple lies on a hillock, commanding a grand view of the Godavari and can be reached by climbing about 100 steps.
The idol of Sri Rama (moolavar) has distinctive features. The deity is in the padmasana pose with four hands, (Chaturbuja Rama) holding the bow and arrow in the front two hands, and Sankha and Chakra in the rear hands. The Sankha is held in the right hand and the Chakra in the left, indicating that having completed the destruction of the "rakshasas" with the Chakra, the Lord is assuring the world of peace and protection as represented by Sankha. To the left of Sri Rama is Sita and Lakshmana is on her left. But in the utsava vigrahas, Sita and Lakshmana are on either side of Rama. Adi Sankara, who is stated to have visited this temple, described Sri Rama as "Vaikunta Rama."
On either side of the entrance to the muhamandapa are the Dwarapalakas Jaya and Vijaya. The faces of the four pillars in the muhamandapa contain exquisite image of Ashtalakshmi, 18 forms of Lord Siva, Dasavatar, 12 Azhwars, etc. The ceiling of this mandapa contains the figures of a three-petal lotus, made out of a single piece of granite stone. Apsara women adorn the inner portion of the muhamandapa and the sanctum.
The octagonal-vimana (tower) over the sanctum is a three-storey construction with granite stones, the kind seen in the temples in Thanjavur and Chidambaram of the Chola period.
The other face of the Vimana contains beautiful stone images depicting the 48 forms of Lord Vishnu, Garuda, Simha, Somaskanda and Dakshinamurthy.
Another unique feature in the sanctum is that the sikhara (dome) crowning the vimana is carved from a single block of granite, weighing about 36 tonnes.
This is the biggest in the recent centuries, the oldest being the 80-tonne sikhara over the vimana of the Big temple in Thanjavur.
The Sikhara is crowned with Sudarsana Chakra, which Ramadas got from the Godavari. The eight-faced Chakra with thousand corners contains Sudarsana Murthi, engraved in the centre. Nearby stand three pillars "Ramakoti Kratu Sthamba" among the 108 such pillars installed in various pilgrim centres in this country by Sri Ramanujar.
On the sides of the pillars are carved inscriptions of "Samkshipta Ramayana" in Sanskrit in Devanagari script. One of the pillars contains the verses from "Dasarathi Sataka" written by Ramadas with a white marble stone of his image in front.
The most attractive and awe-inspiring feature is the Kalyana Mandapa outside the temple. It is a treasure house of sculptures, which are not only those of gods and goddesses, but also scenes from legends.
There are also exquisite floral designs. On the ceiling, the Ramayana and the 12 zodiac signs are inscribed.
Close to the temple on the top of another hillock is the Ramadas Dhyana Mandir, a huge hall used for conducting philosophical and devotional programmes. The interior and exterior walls are inscribed with poems from Dasarathi Sataka and kritis sung by Ramadas. A life-size statue of the poet stands in front of this building.
Chitrakuta Mandapa is used for conducting cultural activities and performing marriages by devotees. The `sthala purana' of this place is depicted on the walls.
Two festivals are most important here Sri Rama Navami (March-April) and Vaikunta Ekadasi (December). During Sri Rama Navami there is a huge influx of pilgrims not only from Andhra districts, but also from other distant places to attend the wedding of Lord Rama with Sita. The idols of Rama and Sita are bathed in the river Godavari and bedecked with jewellery. They are then taken out in a palanquin procession to the Kalyana Mandapa, where before a huge gathering, the marriage ceremony takes place to the chanting of Vedic hymns.
Bhadrachalam Road is the nearest rail-head on the branch line from Dornakal Junction (between Vijayawada and Kazipet). Bhadrachalam Town can be reached by bus (42 km) from Bhadrachalam road station.
Direct bus services are also available from Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Warangal, Nalkonda, Khammamet, Rajahmundry, Ellore and Masulipatnam. But people prefer the shortest route of 100 km from Khammamet.
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