Greetings to all on the auspicious Ram Navami which was celebrated few days back!!
Ram Navami is the birthday of Lord Sri Ramachandra of Ayodhya and I am narrating the story of one of Sri Rama’s devotees Bhadrachala Ramadasu.
Bhadrachala Ramadasu was a 17th century devotee who was born as Kancharla Gopanna (or Goparaju). He was born in 1620 CE at Nelakondapalli which is in Khammam district of present day Telengana. His parents Linganna and Kamamba were affluent brahmins, and his two uncles Madanna and Akkanna were ministers in the court of Qutb Shahi Sultan Abul Hassan Tana Shah, also known as Tani Shah.
Tani Shah was the eighth and last ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty of Golkonda till 1687, when he was defeated and captured by Aurangazeb as his relations with the Mughals had become strained.
Gopanna was devoted to Lord Sri Rama since his childhood and had unwavering faith in Him. After he finished his education, he was appointed as the Tehsildar (tax collector) of Palvancha Taluk by his uncle Akkanna, who was working under Tani Shah.
It is said that Gopanna was a very sincere person with the highest level of integrity and did his job of collecting revenue of Palvancha Taluk in a splendid manner, but at the same time not giving up his worship of his Ishta Devata Sri Rama by always chanting the ‘Rama Nama’ and feeding the poor.
Once, Gopanna had to visit a village fair in the nearby Bhadrachalam. There was an old temple of Lord Sri Rama at Bhadrachalam. It was in a very dilapidated state.
When Gopanna saw the state of the temple, he was very mentally disturbed. The temple was ancient, and it was said that Sri Rama had visited Bhadrachalam on his way to Kishkintha. This temple was also said to be the place where Sri Rama had given directions to another great poet Pothana to translate the Bhagavatham into Telugu.
Such a historically significant temple lying in ruins was something which Gopanna could not digest.
The idols of Rama and Seetha were dressed in dirty oily clothes with no ornaments whatsoever and the scene filled Ramadasu with tears. “He is the one who provides everything for all the beings in this universe. And here He is not being taken care of…” the very thought left Ramadasu distraught.
“It is Rama who has made me visit this place, as I am destined to restore this temple to its original glory” he said to himself.
He enquired with the people there.
“We do not have the resources to renovate the temple Sir” they said.
“True” thought Gopanna. “To renovate the temple earnestly and restore its grandeur, it will cost a lot”
Thinking thus, he told the people, “Do not worry, we will all join and renovate this temple. Please contribute whatever you can”
The people were very willing to contribute whatever they could by way of money and jewels and Gopanna pooled in his resources and in the process emptied all his savings also.
The temple was coming up very well but Gopanna was not satisfied as he wanted to give the very best only to his beloved Sri Rama. He made so many ornaments with gold and pearls, like the Chintaku Padakam, Patchala Padakam and other ornaments to decorate his beloved Rama and Seetha. His unending love and devotion to Rama and Seetha made him feel that whatever was done was not enough at all. So the renovation went on and on with magnificent structures being continuously added.
There was no more money left and when the villagers came to know of this, they suggested to him that he should use the revenue collections for the remaining amount and they (villagers) would replenish the amount after the harvest.
Gopanna, being an honest and upright person, thought for a while, but his love for Rama was so much that he did not think it was a wrong idea after all…
So, he used up the revenue collections as and when he collected and completed the truly magnificent temple for Sri Rama. The total amount of revenue collections used by him was six lakhs rupyas – without the permission of Tani Shah.
Historically, the silver coins were called ‘Rupyakam’ or ‘Rupya’. Interestingly the word ‘Rupee’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Rupyakam’ meaning silver coin.
After the completion of the temple, Gopanna was pondering on fixing a Sudarshan Chakra on the pinnacle of the Gopura of the main temple. That night, Lord Rama appeared in his dream and asked him to go and take a bath in the Godavari which flows near Bhadrachalam. When Gopanna went and did as the Lord instructed, he found a perfect Sudarshan Chakra in the river bed and took it as the Lord’s blessings and installed that on the Gopura.
The temple was consecrated with a very grand celebration and people from far and near came for the function. They were amazed by the sheer grandeur of the temple and the ornaments worn by the deities – all of which was given by Gopanna, who had by this time earned the name of Ramadasu – servant of Rama.
Word spread about the wonderful temple and very soon the news reached the ears of the King Tani Shah.
Tani Shah, knowing the integrity of Gopanna, was perplexed on why this activity was not informed to him by Gopanna. It was strange that he got to know of a magnificent temple in a land ruled by him by someone, and not through Gopanna who was employed under him.
As he was enquiring about the cost of the temple and other details, some enemies of Gopanna who somehow got to know that Gopanna had used the revenue collections, used this opportunity and told Tani Shah that there was something fishy in this matter.
“You must investigate thoroughly, your Majesty!” they said, chuckling at the thought that Gopanna would soon be behind bars.
Tani Shah ordered an enquiry immediately. Gopanna admitted that he had spent all the revenue collections amounting to six lakhs rupyas.
“Yes. I have spent the money for the temple” he said without any remorse. “I have spent it for my Rama and all the villagers will help me in replenishing the money. I will deposit the money once I collect from them”
Tani Shah was furious. “Such audacity! Hmmm… Throw him in the dungeons till we receive six lakhs rupyas” he thundered. “No mercy for embezzlement and arrogance!”
The next moment Ramadasu was dragged by the burly soldiers of Tani Shah and thrown into a dungeon-like prison. It had no ventilation whatsoever, except for a hole at the top through which food would be thrown in.
The prison cell was ghastly. It was a terrible place to be in. Still, Ramadasu never believed that what he had done was wrong. He bore the heat and the cold and the darkness and loneliness by chanting the ‘Rama Nama’.
He wrote thousands of songs on Rama during this time, even scolding Rama in some of them! For instance in one song he sang, “Who made jewels for you, your uncle Janaka or your father Dasaratha? Your father made you leave all the ornaments in the palace and sent you to the jungle dressed in bark.” In another song he asked Seetha to represent his case to Rama. In yet another song he teases Rama and says, “Why don’t you open your mouth and say something? Is your mouth filled with pearls that will fall out if you open your mouth??”
Ramadasu languished in the dungeon for twelve long years and nothing happened. Then…
On a dark night when Tani Shah was blissfully asleep in his heavily guarded chamber, he heard the sound of someone calling out to him by name. “Tani Shah!” the deep majestic voice called. “Get up”.
Startled, Tani Shah got up to see in the dimmed oil lamp, the figures of two handsome lustrous youth beside his bed.
Shocked that someone had come into his chamber getting through the heavy security and stunned beyond words at the radiant glow emanating from the faces of the youth, he got up and stuttered “Wh.. who… are… you?”
The elder youth said, “I am Ramoji and this is my brother Lakshmoji. Here is the money which Ramadasu spent on building the temple. Take this.” And short of flinging he dropped a bundle of coins which landed with a jingle on Tani Shah’s bed. “Count it” said the younger lad, “Hmm… go on, count it and give us a receipt and the order for release of Ramadasu”. The voice was so powerful and mesmerizing that Tani Shah could not but obey it. He counted and counted and there were exactly six lakh coins- not silver rupya but Swarna rupya (gold coins) with the name Ram engraved on them. (The coins are still at the Bhadrachala Temple museum).
Tanisha picked up a feather used for writing and wrote with the dye a receipt for the money and the order for release of Ramadasu. In those days palm leaf was used as a writing sheet. The brothers took the receipt and left before Tanisha could collect himself and reconcile to what was happening.
It took some time for Tani Shah to come to his senses and upon realisation that he had seen Sri Ramachandra in person, he rushed to the dungeon where Ramadasu was languishing to see him released by the jailor who had been given the order by Ramoji and Lakshmoji. Tani Shah then described to Ramadasu what had happened and sincerely sought his forgiveness. He pledged to send pearls to the Bhadrachalam temple every Ram Navami, which is continued to this day by the Telengana government. (The government sends silk clothes and ‘Muthyala Thalambralu’ – Plates of pearls on every Ram Navami to the Bhadrachalam temple).
Ramadasu, instead of being happy to be released was more depressed that Sri Rama chose to give darshan to Tani Shah, who was a non-follower instead of to himself, who was singing Sri Rama’s praise day and night all these years. Following his release he went home. The only thought in his mind was on why Sri Rama did not appear to him in person and chose Tani Shah.
That night, he had a dream. Sri Rama appeared in the dream and told him of Tani Shah’s earlier birth where he had propitiated Shiva to a great extent but one day, in a fit of anger that Lord Shiva was not appearing before him, broke the Shiva Linga with the milk pot used for bathing the Shiva Linga.
His darshan to Tani Shah was the effect of Tani Shah’s propitiating Lord Shiva, said Sri Rama.
“But what about me? “asked Ramadasu. “What did I do to deserve the hell of a twelve year prison sentence?”
Sri Rama smiled. “You had caged a parrot for twelve days in your earlier birth. Every action of all beings have reactions. Now you are free. I will call you to me when the time comes”
Saying thus Sri Rama disappeared.
Ramadasu then lived up to the age of sixty, singing the praises of Lord Sri Rama, and died in 1680 CE.
Ironically, Tani Shah when defeated by Aurangazeb, when he captured Golkonda in 1687, was imprisoned for twelve years at Daulatabad before he died in 1699.
The compositions of Ramadasu well known to Carnatic musicians and he has also composed a collection of one hundred poems by name ‘Dasharathi Shatakam’.
Saint Thyagaraja, who was another ardent devotee of Rama, who lived in the next century has sung of Rama’s grace in ending Ramadasu’s misery, in his song “Ksheera Sagara Sayana” where he says,
“dhIruDau rAma dAsuni bandhamu tIrcinadi vinnAnurA”
Meaning – I also heard (vinnAnurA) about Your bringing to an end (tIrcinadi) the incarceration (bandhamu) of the brave (dhIruDau) rAma dAsu (dAsuni)