Tag Archives: Personalities

Personalities: S.V.Ranga Rao

In the annals of Andhra cinemadom, there are certainly many actors who have attained superstardom, and many actresses who became Pan-National stars.

But perhaps no star is as synonymous with a single  dialogue and song as a certain actor is with Vivaha Bhojanambu.

From Maya Bazaar to Gundamma Katha to Bhookailas and beyond, SVR is one of those rare thespians whose admirers and fans cut across caste and class alike.

Few actors fared as well in cinematic fare as S.V.Ranga Rao, who is the next feature in our Continuing Series on Andhra Personalities. We begin our introduction with SVR’s own Introduction, because no yesteryear character could make an entrance like he could.

Background

Samarla Venkata Ranga Rao garu was born in 1918 to Lakshmi and Koteswara Rao. They hailed from Nuzvid, Krishna District in what was then the Madras Presidency.

His father was a government employee. In light of that, and irrespective of an early interest in the stage, SVR soon focused on serious studies. Interestingly, despite doing his bachelor’s in Science, he had been contacted by a relative in Madras’ budding film industry to act. After his fresher feature (Varudhini), he was bitten by the acting bug. Though he briefly had a stint at the Tata office in Jamshedpur, he soon quit and never looked back.

At the age of 31, he married a young lady by the name of Leelavathi. They would have two daughters and a son together.

Back in his professional world, the aspirations of pre-Independence India becoming post-Independence achievement would be reflected by SVR’s own career. A rather unique fact is even in his earliest days in the industry he was routinely playing Thaathaiah’s (old men). In fact, his very first feature film with NTR was NTR’s very first feature film (Palleturi Pilla), and SVR essayed a role literally titled “Thaatha”.

His filmography reads like a list of TFI’s great Golden Age hits: Paathaala Bhairavi, Missamma, Maya Bazaar, Bhookailas, Narthanasala, Sampoorna Ramayana, and even Bhakti Prahalada. Though no stranger to negative roles, SVR could humanise even the hated Hiranyakashipu with such scenes.

Little known is that S.V.Ranga Rao had two director credits (Bandhavyalu & Chadarangam)  and a few producer credits to his name. Nevertheless, though he was fated to pass away all too soon, he was destined to be remembered as one of the finest actors in Indian cinema, and especially Telugu Cinema. Frequently reprising his Telugu roles in Hindi, he even featured in original roles in Tamizh. Indeed, his last movie was in Madras’ native language, but Andhra’s Cinema Sarvabhauma would not be forgotten in his native land.

He passed away in 1974, at the relatively young age of 56. This was the same age as his method actor-character actor predecessor, CSR Anjaneyulu.

Achievements

  • Afro-Asian International Film Festival (Indonesia)
  • Nandi Award (Multiple times, for Best Actor and also Best Director)
  • Filmfare Award (South)
  • Rashtrapati Award

Though it is often standard repertoire to list a battery of awards and honours an actor has accumulated over the years, SVR is best remembered through his on-screen personae.

So captivating was his delivery, so identifiable was his style that it became almost a standard cultural practice for Telugu actors to deliver dialogues as he might, some out of jest, but others out of genuine desire for gravitas. He could appeal to tiny tot and serious cinema-goer alike.

Whether he was a grandiose gourmand of Ghatotkachic proportions (Maya Bazaar) , a genteel gentleman of the gentry (in Missamma), or a leering lech (in Narthanasala), he brought a grandeur that was instantly recognisable and enrapturing. With performances that could register with the backbenches as well as august halls of cultural stalwarts, he was the larger-than-life quality of chalanachitram itself.

Nevertheless, notable roles include the following:

Paathaala Bhairavi – His role as Nepala Mantrikudu was equal parts engaging and reviling. His devious behaviours and penchant for abhichara made him the perfect foil for the innocent protagonist. Despite being an antagonist here, this was one of the early roles that would cement SVR’s place in celluloid history.

Ghatotkacha – Without a doubt his most celebrated role, he managed to find the perfect balance between intimidating and accessible  as well as avuncular and childlike. The scene where he consumes the Vivaha Bhojanambu itself is emblematic of that plasticity of facial innocence he managed to conjure up despite playing the role of a Rakshasa. Food, it appears, brings out the child in all of us—even Ghatotkacha.

Hiranyakashipu – Quite possibly the marquee performance in a long line of titles on the marquee, SVR shone in this role of a lifetime. He was the perfect foil to the humble vinayam of Prahlada. Indeed, his diction and dialogue delivery in rapid-fire prose would be emulated for decades.

More than anything else, however, he set the standard for cinematic authenticity. This character actor truly was the authentic character for audiences and comedians alike.

Imitation as they say is the finest form of flattery. Which comedian to better capture this than the current day comedy king himself: Brahmanandam. S.V.Ranga Rao’s inspiration clearly crosses generations even to this day.

Legacy

Statue of S.V.Ranga Rao, Vijayawada

The legacy of SVR is little remembered, but oft-remarked. In an industry with many accomplished character actors (Gummadi, CSR Anjaneyulu, Rao Gopal Rao, Kota Srinivasa Rao, Tanikela Bharani, etc), Nuzvid’s naata nayaka was one character who dominated a stage filled with stars.

He could effortlessly play a secondary protagonist (Bhookailas), genteel supporting cast (Missamma) or even a villainous antagonist (Paathaala Bhairavi). While it was perhaps Maya Bazaar and its most famous song that forever cemented his celluloid immortality, movies such as Manchi Manasulu also showed his range, and everyday character too.

Theatrical drama and Comedy were the two main markers of the man many consider to be the greatest character actor of them all. This is so much so that even the Nandi award in this category is named after him. And that is perhaps the greatest tragedy. Whether it is Nedunuri Krishnamurthy in Music or S.V.Ranga Rao in acting, yet again another Andhra great was ignored at the national level, despite international recognition. How sad that an Indonesian International Film Festival could recognise him, but not his own national film fraternity.

Despite Paathaala Bhairavi being a national hit, with Viswa Naata Chakravarthi reprising his role as Nepala Mantrikudu, there was no Padma for this mahanaata. People have all the time in the world for Mughal-e-Azam, but a culturally rooted Pan-India blockbuster actor could not expect recognition from the Delhi Durbar (ironically, he himself played the same Mughal in Anaarkali). He would play many all-India figures including Raja Bhoja in the silver screen version of Mahakavi Kalidasu.

And that is also why if people like S.V.Ranga Rao did not get their due at the national level (Rashtrapati award aside), the proper path is to not point fingers at “North this and that”, but identify the real problem: cultural sellouts and the cultureless (despite their pompous airs, these overlap more often then not). Court eunuchs engage in career nara stuti for the highest bidder, so why would they recognise a great Nayaka hailing from a Dharmic culture that “Secular, Socialists” would not patronise? Or perhaps they did treat patronisingly while refusing to give real patronage to those who stood for the native Civilizational ethos.

Irrespective, the issue as in all these things lies in lack of culture. Not the culture of court eunuchs with the mere form but absence of cultural spirit, but the essential truth of the trial of life: that the great Drama of Indian Culture is in Dharma. The truly deserving dramatists are those may not always live it, but do their utmost to celebrate and propagate it, not only for the cloistered few, but for the people as a whole.

In any event, in recent years there has been a small push to get him considered for a Padma Sri, posthumously. Whether or not the effort fructifies, he remains a lotus of modern cinema as far as modern Telugus are concerned.

Whether it was his earliest days in pre-Independence India or his final ones in undivided Andhra, he remains the “Global Acting Emperor” in the eyes of Trilinga desa.

Even a scene with no dialogue could result in SVR stealing the show:

So we end as we began. To most he is remembered simply as S.V.Ranga Rao, to others as Viswa Naata Chakravarthi, but as far as we’re concerned, only one salutation is good enough for him:

Hai Hai Nayaka!

References:

  1. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0710036/
  2. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/Padma-Shri-sought-for-S.V.-Ranga-Rao/article14497248.ece
  3. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/telugu/movies/did-you-know-/SV-Ranga-Rao-was-conferred-the-best-actor-award-at-Indonesian-Film-Festival/articleshow/34794951.cms

Personalities: Pothana

In light of our Spotlight on the Telugu Bhagavatamu, it is only appropriate for us to spend a little time on the background of its author.

We continue our ongoing Series on Telugu Personalities with today’s post on Pothana.

Background

Pothana Mahakavi may be famous for one thing, but he was known by many names. Also called Potaraju and later Potanamatya, he is a native of the town of the same name as his surname. Bammera Pothana was born some time in the first decade of the 1400s , in Nalgonda District of Telangana. While his exact birth year is not known, it is said that he lived between 1400 and 1475. [3] A minority school of thought has argued that his birthplace was in fact Vontimitta in Kadapa district.

Irrespective, it is known that his mother was Lakkamamba and his father was Kesana, who was of the Kaundinyasa gotra and attached to the Apastamba Dharmasutra. [1, 535] His elder brother was Tippana.

There is a beloved myth among Telugus that Pothana and Srinatha were brothers-in-law. In contrast to the spiritual and penurious Pothana, Srinatha lived an hedonistic life, and would periodically visit to poke gentle fun. Pothana is said to have always had a ready riposte to the Kavi Sarvabhauma’s gest and celebration of sensuality. However, Professor T.S.B. Narasaraju garu asserts that this tale of relation by marriage does not have any historicity to it.  Nevertheless, comparison remain apt:

Pothana was honoured in his day for his purity, integrity and independence. In this he was a striking contrast to his brother-in-law, Srinatha, who lacked the subtle sense of self-respect. Srinatha basked in the sunshine of royal favour; Potana avoided kings and courts. Srinatha knew how to turn rhyme into rupees, Potana preferred poverty with honour [2, 63]

In any event, Pothana did marry and had one son named Mallana and another son named Kesava, who was also a great litterateur. He earned the title Praudha Sarasvati, and the entire lineage itself is said to be blessed with literary prowess. [3]

As for the man himself, he is thought to not only have been a self-made man,but self-taught as well, with little or no formal schooling. To what extent he was an auto-didact was not known, given his father’s own status as a Pandit, nevertheless, it speaks volumes not only about his dedication to the divine, but to learning itself.

A yogi name Jeetananda blessed him in his younger years, and that was said to be the origin of his later intellectual awareness and talent for poesy. [2, 64]

Potana’s Bhaagavatam, a translation of the Sanskrit Mahabhaagavatam, is his magnum opus. This great work also shared, for causes unknown to us, the same fate as the Bhaaskara Raamaayana. There is a traditional story current in the country that Potana buried his Bhaagavatam underground to save it from destruction at the hands of Sarvajna Singa III, to whom Potana refused to dedicate that work [1, 536]

Unlike his contemporary, Srinatha, Pothana didn’t stoop to ninda-stuthi (praise of men). Further Sarvajna, though a cultured ruler, nevertheless remains infamous in the annals of the Telugu history for his family’s alliance with the Turkic Bahmanis and betrayal of the Musunuri Nayaks, as well as his war with the Reddi Kings.

It only goes to show that while Dharma is the foundation of our Culture, it is possible for one to be cultured and adharmic. As such, despite writing on the Bhagavata Purana, which largely focuses on the life of Sri Krishna, the dedication was to Lord Vishnu’s 7th avatar:

Potana dedicated his Bhaagavatam to god Sri Raama. He had the title sahajapaanditya, which shows that he acquired proficiency in the Telugu language and poetics by his self-effort. Potana’s poetry is mainly devotional in character. He is at his best when describing a devotional episode. He intensely felt the emotions of a devotee whom he described and went into ecstasy, while singing the glory of god Visnu. [1, 536]

But perhaps the best commentary on this Saastriya Telugu Poet is one that shows how his life influenced and was in turn reflected in his art:

In his later life when he wrote his Bhaagavatam, Potana was a bhakta practicing bhaktiyoga. He was, therefore, able to add devotional fervour to Telugu poetry. [1, 536]

Achievements

Pothana is credited with authoring 4 works: The Telugu Bhagavatam, Veerabhadra-vijayam, Narayana Satakam, and the Bhogini Dandakam.

Telugu Bhagatavam is in fact longer than the original Srimad Bhagatavam of Veda Vyasa. This is because, as stated by Narasaraju garu, Pothana’s translation style was a combination of Svatantra anuvada (taking liberties with the original) and Bhava anuvada (focus on the essence rather than word for word). That is also why Pothana is so celebrated. Rather than merely repeating word for word, Vyasa’s own work, the great Poet of Telangana added his own original thought, while holding true to the spirit of the Maharishi.

Hence, his work, Bhaagavatam may be aptly termed as a devo-tional lyric. Potana had such a mastery over the language that sabdaalankaaras, like yamaka and anupraasa and others, crept into his poetical lines without effort. In spite of these sabdaalankaaras his poetry has a fine finish and an innate beauty about it, characterised by its sweetness and melody. The flow of his poetry is smooth, and his style vigorous and supple. Potana’s imagery is superb. He can make us realise the spirit conveyed in his poems intensely. He pressed the figures of speech in to service so as to make his imagery perfect…” [1, 536]

His style of Telugu was also rich in Sanskrit, making him the litterati’s delight. At the same time, the work is so popular, that large sections are famous even among the unlettered masses. Such is the impact the Telugu Bhagavatam has had on Telugu culture.

Veerabhadra Vijayam is an interesting work. According to legend, Pothana is said to have written it as atonement for writing the section of Bhagavatamu where a Rakshasa insults Lord Siva. Coming from a staunchly Saivite family, the Poet of Bammera felt the need to expiate himself for repeating the words in translation.

A third work of interest in the Narayana Satakam. The least known of the 4 credited to Pothana.

The last is in fact said to be his first, and is a work with rati as the sthayibhava, though this remains subject to much debate. There are those who argue that Pothana, like Srinatha, initially lived a more materialistic life in his youth before fully dedicating himself to traditional austerity. But it is also important to note that the orthodox do not accept this asserting that in marked contrast to Srinatha, Pothana lived according to traditional observances his whole life and did not write this text, known as Bhogini Dandakam. [1, 89]

The first work, Bhogineedandakam, furnishes the clue to settle the date of Potana. He wrote that work on a vesya of his patron Sarvajna Singa Bhoopaala. Some Telugu scholars contend that the author of this Bhogineedandakam could not have been Potana for the simple reason that, as he was a great devotee, he could not have stooped to write this work on a courtesan.” [1, 535]

Historians will have to settle the matter. For now, however, it is better to focus on the composition of his that most reflects his character and his contribution to our Culture:

Legacy

The state the Telugu Bhagavatamu is found in is very much a commentary on the state of Telugu society.

decay of some of the portions—the fifth, sixth, eleventh and twelfth skandhas—which were later on comple-ted by some Telugu poets, namely, Gangana, Ercoori Singana and Veligandala Naaraya, a pupil of Potana himself. [1, 536]

Pothana was disgusted with material life, and did not publish the Telugu Bhagavatam himself. Believing the people of the time too be too engrossed in material worldliness, he felt them to be unworthy of his work. He passed it on to his other son, Mallana, instructing him to give “this Pearl of Great Price…to a pure man who had devotion in his heart.” [2, 65] Interestingly, Mallana never opened the box, and when he gave it to Veligandala Naarayya, the manuscript was found to be partly diminished by worms. The sections that were destroyed were later re-translated by Erchoori Simganna and Velingandala Narayya.

Pothana himself was later emulated by Haribhat who translated parts of the Srimad Bhagavatam in 1660. There is also the Baala-Bhagavata of Koneru Kavi, and the Devi Bhagavata translated by Dammanodara and later Srirama Pantulu and Mulugu Paapayya. [2, 65]

Pothana’s entire collection of works can be accessed here for free.

To read Bhagavatamu in Telugu, click here.

Those of you who wish to read in English can download T.S.B. Narasaraju garu’s translation of Telugu Bhagavatam’s Dasama Skandha on our article here.

Those who wish to buy book versions can go to online publishers such as these:

 

Click here to Buy this Book set Today!!

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Click here to Buy this Book Today!!

There is much dividing the modern states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. However, Mahakavi Pothana is, without a doubt, one of the many things uniting the Telugu people, on both sides of the Polavaram.

There was a movie in 1942 featuring Chittoor Nagaiah and Hemalatha, called Bhakta Potana.  Here is a lovely clip from it here:

The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) sponsored a Serial on his life, with a title by the same name.

Pothana’s work is said to be rhythmic with beauty and alliteration, so much so that it is said to be best savoured through music.

As such, we will end with a poem from the Prahalada Charitam of Srimadandhra Bhagavatam written by Bammera Potana.

Kamalakshu narchinchu karamulu karamulu

The hands that worship the Lotus-eyed One are the real hands. The tongue that speaks Srihari’s language is the True Tongue. The looks that absorb the protector of the worlds are the right and precise eyes. The head that bows to the sleeper on the snake bed is the great head. The ears that hear Vishnu, the all-pervading one, are perfect ears. The feet that guide one to the almighty are the truthful feet. The thought that revolves around Him is the noblest thought. The day that praises the Lord of Lords is the best day. The studies that reveal the wheel holder is the true learning. The teacher who tells about the master of the earth is the real teacher. The father who bids his son to reach Hari is the perfect father.” [4]

References:

  1. Malampalli, Somasekhara Sarma.History of the Reddi Kingdoms.Delhi:Facsimile Publ. 2015
  2. Bhujanga, Chenchiah P. A History of Telugu Literature. Vol.2. London: Forgotten Books.2015
  3. Narasaraju, T.S.B. Potana. Dasama Skandha of Potana’s Telugu Bhagavatam. http://www.andhraportal.org/excerpt-dasama-skandha-ii/
  4. http://www.thehansindia.com/posts/index/2013-07-26/Pothanas-Bhagavatham-in-English-61299

Personalities: K. Viswanath

K_viswanath_legend

In honour of the recent announcement for the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, our Post today is on its 2016 recipient.

While it is true that we Telugus often feel short-shrifted on the national award front, it’s also important to recognise when the central committees actually get it right. Continuing our ongoing Series on Andhra Personalities is that stalwart of Telugu Cinema, Sri K.Viswanath.

Background

Born in 1930, Kasinathuni Viswanath hails from Peddapulivarru, in Guntur District, Andhra Pradesh. His parents were Subramanyam and Saraswathamma. His father was a manager in Vahini pictures at Vijayawada (where he would study). Viswanath would later graduate from Andhra Christian College, Guntur and then follow in the family footsteps in film.

What is often not known, is that long before he was a director and writer, he was a technician. In fact, he got his start in the Sound Department on the set of his first movie: Thodi Kodallu. Nevertheless, it was a humble start to what would go on to be a prolific career, as even a short glance at his filmography would show. With 36 films to his name as director (and around 50 in other roles), his movies represent real cultured cinema.

There are no vulgar, double entendre dialogues in his films, which are pleasant, steeped in the local ethos, and with music, dance and traditional art forms. [5]

In a poetic twist, he is said to have been noted for his talent by none other than Nageswara Rao gaaru, and the rest was history. K.Viswanath made his directorial debut in 1965’s Atma-Gouravam, featuring ANR. While he established himself in the 60s and 70s (especially with Siri Siri Muvva), it was in the subsequent decades that the screen-poet of Peddapulivarru made his maximum impact. Starting from 1980’s Sankarabharanam to 1983’s Sagara Sangamam to 1986’s Swati Muthyam to 1987’s Swayam Krushi, this was the decade in which he seemingly dominated.

In the 1990s, he would also make appearance as a mainstream actor, rounding out his cinematic abilities. Subha Sankalpam featured his acting debut, reputedly at the behest of none other than Kamal Haasan, who said the role needed a venerable person before whom he could bow.

Maximum cast in his movies were Jayaprada, Chiranjeevi, and Kamal Haasan. Other actors were Bhanupriya, Venkatesh, Radhika, Vijayasanthi, and Srikanth.

He was also fluent in Tamil and did a number of movies in that language, such as Salangai Oil and Sippikul Muthu. He also made a few Hindi movies such as Eeswar and Kaamchor, although they did not rise to the same level he achieved in Telugu.

At a time when Indic and especially Telugu language and culture is on the defensive, K.Viswanath represents the importance of steeping mass culture in classical culture. After an era plagued by back-bencher blockbusters and item-dance driven nuisance flicks, the cultural quagmire of modern India requires guiding lights to return it to the glory of Maya Bazaar and Missamma. Viswanath garu demonstrates one such deepam.

A presenter of classical and traditional art, music and dance, K Viswanath has been a guiding force in the Indian film industry. As a director he has made fifty films since 1965 known for their strong content, endearing narrative, honest handling and cultural authenticity. His films on a wide range of social and human issues had great appeal to the masses. [4]

We live in an age where stars are celebrated simply for being stars and people are famous for simply being famous. With such social afflictions, is it any wonder that kitsch has captured the market while art is ailing?

Indeed, even the names of his films had an artistic or even poetic quality to them. Whether it is Aapadbandhavudu or Sruthilayalu or Siri Siri Muvva or Swaraabhishekam, his mellifluous movie titles stand in stark contrast to the crass anglicised appellations that have since dominated the industry in descending decades.

Swarabhishekam

For the arts to revive and prosper, not only kalaanidhis but veritable kalaatapasvis and tapasvinis are required. The 2016 Dadasaheb Phalke Award winner is one such.

An ardent art lover, he made a series of films based on varied themes of art, music and dance. His films empathised with courage and frailty, aspirations and convictions, perseverance and distractions, social demands and individual struggle and at the core, believed in the goodness of the human spirit. [4]

Above all, in a vulgar age which fails to understand what real culture is, this cultural exemplar give us scenes rebuking the poseurs and providing the true meaning for samskruthi and natya.

In an industry that has come to be known for its stars dominating the movie marquees, he stood for stories weaving together the talent into an integral celluloid whole.

Achievements

From Siri Siri Muvva to Sirivennala, there is an endless list of quality contributions to Andhra and indeed Indic Cinema by Kasinathuni Viswanath. But if one film stands out, it is Sankarabharanam.

From the electrifying vocals of S.P. to the iconising of Saastriya Sangeeta to the story itself, Sankarabharanam was a modern masterpiece. Of course, who could forget the contributions of composer K.V. Mahadevan. Nevertheless, it was K.Viswanath who brought them all together in one musical magnum opus. Indeed, many even assert that the movie was responsible for increasing interest in Carnatic Music among a generation of South Indians.

It is not for nothing he has been nicknamed Kalaa Tapasvi.

 Renowned filmmaker and actor Kasinadhuni Viswanath, best known for his award-winning movies in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi, has won the Dadasaheb Phalke award for the year 2016 for his outstanding contribution to the film industry. [1]

To receive the Phalke Award is a laudable and sought out distinction for any filmmaker or artiste. To date, 6 Telugus have received it, with  B. Narasimha Reddi, B. Nagi Reddi Paidi Jairaj, L.V.Prasad, Akkineni Nageswara Rao in 1990 and D.Rama Naidu in 2009  being the previous awardees.

But despite working with mass stars like Megastar Chiranjeevi and Kamal Haasan, K.Viswanath garu is a screen legend in his own right. Celebrated and known North and South of the Vindhyas, this Andhra ratna already has a long list of awards and achievements.

  • Honorary Doctorate from Potti Sriramulu Telugu University
  • Ragupathy Venkaiah Award for Lifetime Contribution to Cinema from AP
  • Recognised with 20 Nandi Awards from the State of Andhra Pradesh
  • Received 5 National Awards and 10 Filmfare Awards
  • Won the National award for Swati Mutyam. This was India’s Official entry for the 1987 Oscars Foreign Films Category.
  • Awarded the Padma Sri in 1992 for contributions to cinema

Legacy

KViswaLegacy

Viswanath garu leaves behind an outstanding body of work that would be feted in any era. If ‘Simplicity truly is the Ultimate Sophistication‘, he embodied this in films.

The stories that Shri K Viswanath told through his films were seemingly simple. They provided an uncomplicated, direct and pleasant cinematic experience to the audience. At the same time, they lend themselves to a nuanced and layered interpretation leading many to watch them again and again and come back and discover a new hitherto unseen aspect or a have deeper understanding and realization. [4]

Movies like Saptapadi show precisely the type of introspection any society requires and the balance needed between duty and human dignity. He exemplifies the type of attitude spiritual and artistic elites require: rather than distant reservation and condescending mockery, an empathetic championing of the masses and an upliftment of their plight is what is needed.

Prathi cinema ki oka sandesam undedhi. There would be a social message in virtually all his films, proving the true potential of Indian Cinema. It is not in item dance or idiot fan followings or foreign flesh shows, but in movies that marry culture with sentiment in contemporary context. This is what represents not only state but national cinema as well.

Named for the Maharashtrian Director-Producer Dadasaheb Phalke—the famous filmmaker of what’s considered India’s first Movie (Raja Harishchandra)—this National Award is coveted across Bharat’s various cinematic industries.

The award is conferred by the Government of India for outstanding contribution to the growth and development of Indian cinema. The award consists of a Swarn Kamal (Golden Lotus), a cash prize of Rs 10 lakh and a shawl. The award shall be conferred by the President of India at a function on May 3 at Vigyan Bhawan. [4]

While at 87 years old, the doyen of the pre-digital cinema era may have been made to wait all too long, it is, as they say, better late than never.

Telugu Cinema has come a long way since the cultural morass of the mid-2000s. Indeed, from Maya Bazaar (now in its 60th year) to Magadheera (and now Baahubali), it has had quite a trip ‘There and Back Again’. If there is filmmaker who embodies the triumph of Art over Kitsch and High Culture for the Masses, it is K.Viswanath garu.

From all of us at ACP, Congratulations, andi! It is a recognition long overdue.

References:

  1. http://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/k-viswanath-wins-dadasaheb-phalke-award-for-2016/article18200164.ece
  2. http://movies.ndtv.com/regional/veteran-filmmaker-and-actor-kasinathuni-viswanath-conferred-dadasaheb-phalke-award-1685466
  3. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0899649/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm
  4. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/kasinadhuni-vishwanath-dadasaheb-phalke-award/1/936966.html
  5. http://www.deccanchronicle.com/entertainment/tollywood/250417/legendary-kalathapasvi-viswanath-gets-dadasaheb-phalke-award-for-2016.html
  6. http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/true-artists-dont-need-fame/article7455680.ece
  7. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/phalke-award-for-viswanath/article18202634.ece

Personalities: Vasantaraya

lakumadevi1
Source: Vasantarajeeya book, via Spandana

Those of you following us on our All-India site, Indic Civilizational Portal, would have seen our article on Vasant Utsav. Well, it just so happens that Andhra had a king who became so identified with the festival, he took his name after it.

The next installment in our Continuing Series on Andhra Personalities is none other than King Kumaragiri Reddi, better known as:  Vasantaraya.

Background

Kumaragiri Reddi (1386-1403 CE) was the son of Anavota I. He succeeded his uncle Anavema after the latter’s highly successful reign as the greatest king of the dynasty. “The Anaparti grant, his earliest extant record, dated in S.1312/1390 A.D., says that he had, by that year, friendly relations with the kings of the north, east, south and west. ” [1, 122] His reign is generally considered to have run from 1386 to 1403,

The family tree of the Reddi dynasty also plays an important part in the fate of the Kingdom. As previously discussed, there were 3 main families that decided its fate: the descendants of Prolaya Vema Reddi, Maacha I, and Kataya Reddi.  Thus we see that “Kumaaragiri’s succession to the throne was not a smooth and peaceful one and that he had to fight for it.” [1,122]

ReddiRajyamGenealogy

The “rival claimants to the throne might have been his cousins, Vema and Maaca, sons of Peda Komati, and grandsons of Maaca I, brother of Prolaya Vema.”[1,123]

Despite being known more as a man of culture and less as a warrior-general, it is said that…

Kumaaragiri fought successful wars with the kings of the west, north and east, that is, probably with Vijayanagar, Raajakonda and Kalinga respectively. [1, 126]

Either way, the meteoric expansion of the Reddi dynasty that occurred under Kataya Vema’s generalship, also led to its later contraction and final division and downfall. The campaigns of this era, therefore, are better attributed to Kataya than Kumaragiri, and should be described under his account, focusing on Vasantaraya today.

Vasantaraya

A man of pleasure, learning, and celebration, Kumaragiri revived the ancient Vasantha Utsavam (spring festival).

There was a great carnival and the King would go to a park specially decorated for Vasant. There would be a pandal for Kama and Rati, Vishnu and Lakshmi, Siva and Sakti, and Sachi and Indra. Perfumes such as camphor, musk, civet, saffron, sandal were used, rosewater was freely sprinkled on people along with water mixed with turmeric. A bamboo water soaker was used (like pichkaris in holi). “The sport included sprinkling and scattering of various powders, coloured and un-coloured, perfumed and non-perfumed, and sandal paste. Camphor pieces and powder were showered on the crowds” [1, 358] People mixed freely and the Reddi kings, especially Karpoora-Vasantharaya, gave it royal grandeur.

He generally left administration to his brother-in-law, Kataya Vema Reddi, to pursue artistic and literary interests.

He was a great lover of music and dance and studied all the old works on dance written by Bharataacaaryas and dance-experts and produced a comprehensive work on that art called Vasantaraajeeya after his own name.  [1,145]

The sanskrit treatise on dance was called Vasantarajeeya as he was called Vasantaraya. A man of art and aesthetics was naturally a great lover of loveliness. He was said to have been enamoured by the narthaki Lakumadevi, who was a stunning beauty. The love story between the two is a touching tragedy, as recounted here, but is nevertheless symbolic of the sacrifice and burdens of ruling a kingdom.

Due to varied attacks from the Bahmanis, Recherlas, and Vijayanagara Emperors, Kumaragiri had many threats to face.  Kumaragiri eventually elevated Kataya Vema to generalissimo.

They were simultaneously attacked by the Gajapatis who were defeated outside of Viharanagari or Kridaad. Vijayanagara also attacked and occupied a portion of the south. Kumaragiri also had to face a rebellion by the Kandukuru branch, and prince Komati Reddi, son of Maacha I occupied territories as far as Tenali in Guntur district. [1, 148]

An invasion by the Bahmanis, under Firuz Shah, threatened the Reddi kingdom in 1398 C.E. “Gajaraavu Tippaa Naayaka, a distinguished noble of the kingdom, appears to have defeated the muslims on the plain outside the town of Kambamumetta and driven them back.” [1,147]

A matrimonial alliance was concluded with Vijayanagara, and Kataya Vema was given Harihara Raya’s daughter (Hariharamba) in marriage. This would have ramifications on the Reddi Kingdom in a few years. Kataya Vema would go on to make conquests in the East and expand the dynasty’s direct rule to Rajamahendri.

As mentioned previously, the campaigns to Bengal are better discussed in future articles. Nevertheless, Kumaragiri’s military commanders such as Kataya Vema and Allaya Reddi are said to have taken Vasantaraya’s banner to central and eastern India. Another name that bears mention is Ariyeti Annamantri (from the family of Musunuri fame). He was appointed governor of the fort of Bendapudi.

Kumaragiri’s only son and viceroy at Rajamahendravaram, Anavota II, died prematurely, some time around the year 1395. He therefore appointed his brother-in-law and prime minister Kaataya Vema the Raajamendri Rajya ruler, out of gratitude for recovering southern territories from Vijayanagara. “This step caused considerable discontent in the country and we cannot call Kumaaragiri’s action exactly wise. Kaataya Vema, always had many bitter opponents in the court. Peda Komati Vema and his supporters had always looked askance at his achievements; and their jealousy and resentment at this signal recognition by their king, of this daring rival of theirs must have been impossible to bear.” [1,146]

This led to an internecine dispute within the dynasty, and Pedda Komati Vema took back the throne for the main line of Reddis and drove away Kumaragiri, who took refuge in Kataya Vema’s court at Rajamahendri. This also led to division of the Reddi kingdom, and courts at Rajamahendravaram and Kondaveedu warred with each other. Kumaragiri Vijayam, rather ironically, marks his reign.

Vasantaraya’s rule ended under his viceroy’s protective care. King Kumaragiri passed away in 1402 C.E., with no heirs.

Achievements

HoliHai

While the Reddi Kings traditionally had reputations as warrior-generals and as defenders of Dharma, King Kumaragiri demonstrated the softer power of culture that they also wielded. If Kataya Vema represented the Vaana (bow) of his reign, Kumaragiri represented the Veena (lute).

Perhaps nothing showed this more than the Vasanta Utsava from which Vasantaraya takes his name. Although this title was also attributed to his predecessor, it is Kumaragiri who truly owned it. The enthusiasm with which he celebrated that festival, rightly earned him the title of Vasantaraaya, which was later embellished to Karpoora-Vasantaraaya by the generous quantities of camphor he scattered among people during this festival. [1, 145]

  • Celebrated and Revived the ancient Spring Festival known as Vasant Utsav
  • Well-read Sanskrit scholar and authority on dance and music
  • Composed a respected Sanskrit text on Dance called Vasantarajeeya (now lost).
  • Brought the Reddi Dynasty to new cultural heights, with not only learned Brahmanas but the Aristocracy and the King himself actively leading literary and musical accomplishment
  • Gave patronage to a large circle of cultural exemplars, such as poet Annaya, son of Pinnaya, son of Manuma Durgasuddhi.
  • Presided over the most widespread, successful campaigning of the Reddi Kingdom, with commanders such as Kataya Vema and Allaya Reddi. Under him, Coastal Andhra arms reached as far as Odisha, Bengal and Jharkhand.
  • Led a building programme which beautified Kondaveedu and constructed many structures such as the grha-raja samjhanam, dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi.

Legacy

Image result for kumaragiri reddy

Kumaragiri’s rule is recorded in the work Kumaragiri Vijayam. From his brave biruda-rahatta (knights-cavaliers) to his love for Lakumadevi to his Vasantarajeeya to his revival of the Vasant Utsava, Vasantaraya’s reign truly represented the noon-tide of the Reddi Rajyam: Romantic Age of Andhra.

King Kumaragiri was freed from burden of ruling & became a lover of music & arts. He was an artist (kalaavan) in every sense. “Vasantaraaya (another name of Kumaaragiri) constructed many pleasure houses (leelagrhaan) with gold and precious stones, a lofty palatial mansion, termed grharaaja-prasada with pinnacles (prasaadam-unnata-sikha griharaaja-samjnam), pleasure-ponds (kreedaasaraamsi) and pleasure-chariots (keli-radhaan), and sported with his beloved women (priyaabhih).” [1,449]

Despite the cultural accomplishment of Vasantaraya, his reign shows the dangers of a king completely outsourcing administrative responsibility to his Prime Minister and other officials. Kataya Vema was a skilled general and brave warrior, but his own ambition for power led to the break up of the Reddi kingdom. The Antar-yuddham or Civil War in which it was plunged in the later part of King Kumaragiri’s reign demonstrated this danger.

The Reddi kingdom split up in 1402 CE, with Pedda Komati Vema taking the throne of Kondaveedu from Kumaragiri, who fled to Rajamahendri. While Kumaragiri nominally ruled, it was Kataya Vema who was the real power behind the throne. It was thus natural that after Kumaragiri’s passing, that Kataya Vema would formalise his bid for power. Despite his loyalty to Kumaragiri, once the way was clear, he would make his own claim to the throne, and the warring of the Reddi kingdoms made the downfall of both inevitable.

In the succeeding decades, Vijayanagara would swallow up Kondaveedu and the Gangas of Odisha would take over Rajamahendravaram. Kumaragiri may not be directly to blame for this outcome, but his reign shows the danger of a king retiring completely from administration and becoming too dependent on ministers, and especially, prime ministers.

Nevertheless, Kumaragiri will remain Vasantaraya in the hearts of Andhras, not only for reviving this great festival, with which he is identified, but for truly making the Reddi Rajyam the Romantic Age of Andhra.

References:

  1. M.Somasekhara Sarma. History of the Reddi Kingdoms.Delhi:Facsimile Publ. 2015.
  2. Rao, P.R. History and Culture of Andhra Pradesh: From the earliest times to 1991. Delhi: Sterling. 1994
  3. http://gloriousindianpast.blogspot.com/2016/01/lakuma-devi.html
  4. Prasad, Durga. History of the Andhras. P.G. Publishers. 1988

Personalities: Anavema Reddi

Diviseema

The next great King of the Reddi Kingdom was in fact the greatest King of the Dynasty. Though most people don’t know much about him today, likely due to the reputation of the royal founder, this Reddi ruler revived the reputation of the Rajyam and greatly expanded it.  The next great Andhra Personality in our Continuing Series is Anavema Reddi.

Before we review his biography, however, it is important to understand the context of his reign.

Background

Anavota (Cir.1353 CE to Cir.1364 CE)

The next ruler after Prolaya Vema was Anavota Reddi —sometimes written as ‘Anapotha’, who ruled from 1353 to 1364. After succeeding his father as King, he shifted the capital from Addanki to Kondaveedu, the city which later became legendary for its “Kondaveeti Raja”. He did this to  protect the kingdom from Vijayanagara expansion. Attacked on all sides (Gangas from the North, Recharlas & Bahmani Alliance from the West, and Vijayanagara from the South, Anavota’s main achievement was keeping the Reddi kingdom together. His minister Mallaya Vema inflicted a crushing defeat on the Bahmanis, who had desecrated the temple of Dhanyavati (after they did the same at Pillalamarri in Telangana). After the victory, Reddi reconsecrated Lord Amaresvara at Amaravati.

Anavota was highly successful in his Kalinga campaign, and is thought to have gone to the heart of Odisha (it is not known how strong his sway was, but it likely did not last long). On his return he gave a gift of bells to Lord Bhimesvara of Daakshaaram. He was called Veer-Anavota and also improved the port facilities at Motupalli. He gave many agraharas to Brahmanas, and much charity to the populace in general, and established feeding houses and other measures for the welfare of the people. “He strove hard to establish order in the country and to revive the dharma of the land“.[3, 105]

Nevertheless, because Anavota’s son Kumaragiri was still a minor, the latter’s uncle Anavema Reddi, succeeded to the throne. He is considered the greatest King of the Reddi Rajyam.

Anavema (Cir. 1364 CE to Cir.1386 CE)

ReddiRajyamGenealogy

 

Anavema Reddi was the third son of Prolaya Vema. The middle son was Anamacha (who is said to have died young). As such, Anavota’s brother took the throne and revived Reddi Rajyam’s fortunes.

The first thing Anavema did was consolidate his alliances. His brother-in-law Bhimadeva Choda was locked in fratricidal conflict with Choda brother Annadeva. The Reddi king’s first aim was to restore Bhimadeva to Nidadavolu. The need for this was further compounded by pressure in the south from Vijayanagara, so Anavema turned north. He first invested and took the island fortress of Divi. He then followed this up by conquering Niravadyapuri (Nidadavolu), Rajamahendri (Rajahmundry), Pithapuram, and Simhachalam from the Gangas of Odisha. He fought many battles with the Recherla Rachakonda Rajas.

The Wazirabad (Vadapalli) inscription dated to Saka 1299 records one battle in particular between the Recerlas and the Reddis. “This record proves that Anavema scored a decisive victory over the Recerla chiefs, and annexed to the Kondaveedu kingdom, at least a portion of the dominion lying to the north of the Krsna.” [3, 119]. The Boorugugadda inscription in Nalgonda provides further evidence.

Despite his military exploits and strategic acumen, Anavema was also a man of culture. He would be gifted many titles, including one that would later become synonymous with his successor.

Achievements

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The Breaker of Divi

Of all the titles of Anavema in this record, the first that claims our attention is Deevi-durga-vibhaala, the breaker of the fort of Deevi, or Dveepa.”[3, 113]

Anavema was first and foremost a conqueror. His achievements in not only consolidating but expanding the kingdom extended the dynasty’s glory for several generations.

He was called Raajya-ramaaramanee-svarayamvara-labdha-naayaka-saubhaagya, which means one who had the good fortune to be chosen king by the sweet goddess of the state. Thus, he likely was the popular choice of the nobles of the kingdom to restore the fortunes of the Reddi Rajyam. [3, 110]

He protected the Reddi kingdom and re-established its power at a critical juncture. In his Srisailam record, he was referred to as “Saagara-Gautamee-salila-sangama-sakala-jaladurga-saadhana-Raghuraama (a Raghuraama in subduing all the jaladurgas situated at the confluence of the sea and the waters of the Gautamee). Anavema was thus a skilled besieger having taken all these water-forts. [3,112]

He was a skilled diplomat, as “Anavema secured, in this campaign, the co-operation of some of the Reddi nobles like Kaataya Reddi II and Maaraya Reddi II, sons of Maaraya I and grandsons of Kaataya I, and Doddaa Reddi and his brothers of the Duvuri family, some of whom were his close relatives. Of these Kaataya Reddi II had the significant title of jaladurgamalla because of his special skill in reducing the jaladurgas.”[3,116] This facilitated Anavema’s conquest of Rajamahendravaram.

Anavema defeated the pillaging and fierce Manne tribal chiefs who made predatory raids on their frontiers. He put and end to their expeditions.

His eastern campaign ended in 1375, and he took the title Simhaachalaadi-Vindhyapaada-pratishtaapita-keerti-stambha, which means one who planted pillars of fame at Simhachalam and other places at the foot of the Vindhyas. [3, 117]

The Borrugugadda inscription marks the western limits of the Reddi kingdom, and signifies the conquests Anavema made in the Recherla territory in Telangana. He is said to have avenged his brother and defeated them. Thus, the Reddi kingdom was enhanced during his reign.

Anavema is said to have taken delight in the company of great poets, and revived many cultural celebrations (later taken to their peak by his successors).

He gave patronage to many learned men and is praised by Vennelakanti Surana (author of Vishnu Puranam) for his generosity and cultivation of learning. His Birudas (cavaliers/knights) protected the nobles of the Panta Reddi clan, and his Naya (political wisdom) protected his people.

Finally, he like his brother Anavota, granted a gift of bells. These gaja-ghantaa were given to the five holy kshetras (panchaaraamas), which are Amaraamaa (Amaravati), Daakshaarama, Ksheeraaraama (Palakol), Kumaaraama (Saamalkot, and Bheemaraama (Gudipudi).

He realised the dreams of his father to bring all of coastal Andhra under one sceptre. His accomplishments are found in the Catu Sanskrit verse which states that:

people got good food, fine clothes, musk, gold & chowries while he was the king of the land“. [3,121]

Legacy

King Anavema was the greatest of the Reddi rulers of Kondaveedu. He came to the throne by the choice of the ministers and nobles of the state at a time when its fortune was at a low ebb. He assumed the title mahaneeya-andhra-desa-pattaabhiseka-samvrta-mahaabhaagya, he who had the great good fortune of being crowned king of the glorious Andhra country‘”.[3,120] He repaired the loss sustained by the kingdom prior to his coronation, and enhanced its glory by his conquests. In his time, the power of Kondaveedu reached its zenith. It extended from Sreesailam to the sea, and from Kandakur to Simhaachalam”[3,120]

The importance of King Anavema, therefore, cannot be minimised.

Anavema was a just and righteous ruler…He was famed for his liberality and munificence. He devoted his wealth chiefly for the encouragement of learned men and gloried in their eloquence and scholarship. [3, 121]

The real pity, of course, is that our artists (amateur and professional alike) have no time to celebrate such great historical figures. Anavema and Prolaya Reddi and Prolaya & Kapaya Musunuri before them, deserve to be memorialised in paintings and sculptures (or at the very least sketches). When you forever take inspiration from the foreign, you forget the importance of remembering the native.

Great men, great kings, and great Andhras like Anavema deserved to be remembered, not only for their military and political achievements, but for the culture and language they helped defend and nourish.

References:

  1. P. Ragunadha Rao. History and Culture of Andhra Pradesh.Sterling: Delhi.18
  2. Prasad, Durga. History of the Andhras. Don Bosco Press: Guntur. 1988
  3. Malampalli, Somasekhara Sarma. History of the Reddi Kingdoms.Delhi:Facsimile Publ. 2015