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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 the 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

300px-Krishna_River_Boat_travel_map
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 successull 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

Personalities: Prolaya Vema Reddi

ProlyaVemaReddi

Those of you following us on twitter would have read our tweets on the Reddi Kings (storified for you here: Reddi Rajyam — Romantic Age of Andhra). This dynasty of rulers has a special place in the heart of Telugus. It was an era of romance, of great kings feuding, and chivalrous knights clashing, and it truly was an age of romantic poetry.

It was the mighty personality of Prolaya Vema Reddi who made this all possible. The title he took is emblematic of the spirit of Andhra he embodied ‘Mlechchhabdi Kumbhodbhava’ (Agastya to the Ocean of the Mlechchhas)“. He proved a successful successor to the Legacy of Saka-pallava-yavana-nisudhana.

Gautamiputra Satakarni of the Satavahana dynasty would similarly defend Andhra when faced with foreign invasions. Both the rulers of Amaravati and Addanki respectively would preside over a cultural flowering as well. While the Satavahanas would become veritable all-India emperors, the Reddi kings of the coast are notable for a different type of emperor they produced—a Kavi Sarvabhauma named Srinatha. And it all began with Prolaya Vema Reddi, one of our Great Andhra Personalities.

Background

Malampalli Somesekhara Sarma garu provides the following etymology for the Reddis. Noting their erstwhile connection with the Rashtrakutas or Rattas, he writes that the term Desati was a form of Desarattodi. This word is found in the copper grants of the Eastern Chalukya king Ammaraja Vijayaditya VI. Rattodi then became Rattadi, Ratti and Raddi. Desarattodi in turn transformed to Desarattadi, Desaratti and Desatti. [3, 56] Reddi nobles are considered to have come from towns like Simhavikramapuri (Nellore), Duvooru, and Gandavaram.

During the rule of the Kakatiya dynasty, Reddis became administrators and even mahasamantas, governing tracts of the Telugu desa. The Kondaveeti Dandakavile and the kaifiyat intimate that Donti was the family name of this particular clan of Reddis, or atleast one of its affiliate branches. They are said to have found a treasure and then migrated to Hanumakonda, the preceding capital of the Kakatiyas.[3, 53] Elsewhere, specifically in the Kasikhandam and Bhimesvara Puranam of Srinatha, we find the surname Desati attached to them. Nevertheless, this family  became influential in the united Andhra desa.

One of the 77 Nayaks of Mahamandalesvara Prataparudra Kakatiya II was Prolaya Reddi (his wife was Annemamba). Prolaya’s father Vema was the Vamsakarta and his grandfather was Kaamabhupa. [3, 48 ] Members of this clan were also noted for their service under the Telugu Chodas of Nellore. This connection would become important when the dynasty rose to power. But it is his son who would become the most famous of the dynasty: Prolaya Vema Reddi, whose leadership ran from 1325-1353.

ReddiRajyamGenealogy
[4, 215]
The Fall of Warangal in 1323 led to terrible consequences. Not only did the Kakatiya dynasty end, but all of united Andhra desa, from Telangana to Rayalaseema to Kosta suffered under the depredations of the Delhi Turks. The Tughluqs committed terrible atrocities, creating the conditions for the successful Andhra Liberation War. While Prolaya Vema Reddi may have revolted as early as 1325, in 1326, a council of Nayaks was convened, and Musunuri Prola Nayaka led the cause, with his cousin Kapaya successfully retaking Warangal just a few short years following its fall. After Andhradesadeesvara, Musunuri Kapaneedu, died in battle at Bhimesvaram, Reddi asserted independence and established his rule in Guntur, Prakasam, Nellore, and Kurnool. Addanki (Ongole District) became his capital, and his kingdom soon stretched from Srisailam and Ahobilam to the borders of Tirupati.

It came into existence as the custodian of Hindu dharma and culture, and to revive the old Vedic traditions and ritual which suffered a death blow and became almost extinct under an alien rule. [3]

Prolaya Vema was the son of Prolaya Reddi, and was among the 75 subordinates of Musunuri Prola and Kapaneedu (Krishna), who successively served as Overlords of the Andhra Nayak Confederacy. Prolaya Vema as the middle of five brothers. His younger brother Malla became ruler of the subordinate branch at Kandakooru. This branch would successfully face off against Alauddin Bahman Shah, who invaded shortly after his reign began. [3, 77]

Malla Reddi, the commander of the Reddi forces drove them away after inflicting a severe defeat on the Bahmani Sultan, Ala-ud-din, and protected the Reddi kingdom. [3, 78]

Malla would go on to conquer the great Kakatiya Port of Motupalli. Prolaya Vema would strengthen his position by giving his daughter in marriage to Choda Bhima (son of Bhaktiraja.”The Reddis regarded themselves as masters of the south-eastern portion of the Kakatiya dominion extending from Srisailam in the Nandikotkur taluk of Kurnool district to the east coast.” [3, 78]This dynasty controlled 84 forts, including the legendary Kondaveedu, along with Vinukonda, Kondapalli, Bellamkonda, and Dharanikota. They also had a famous rivalry with the Recharlas of Rachakonda, traitors of Andhra who betrayed the Musunuri Nayaks and allied with the Bahmanis. While some claim the fall of Krishna Nayak’s prestige led to the Nayaks of Korukonda and the Reddis to declare sovereignty, records from the Reddi kingdom itself tell a different story.

The Kaluvaceru grant of Anitalli, dated Saka 1345 (1423 A.D.) gives a different account of Vema’s assumption of independent rule. It says that Vema, originally one of the seventy five subordinate chiefs of Kapaya Nayaka, began to rule the territory independently only after the death of his overlord. [3, 80]

In any event, the leader of the Panta Reddi clan would thus go on to establish a powerful kingdom that would culturally revive the Andhras of the Coast, and protect them from Turk depredations for a century.

Achievements

A staunch Hindu devoted to Dharma, Prolaya Vema patronised the Hindu religion as well as the Telugu language. After liberating coastal Andhra from the criminal regime of the Tughluq Turks, he restored Agraharas to Brahmanas and re-consecrated Temples desecrated by the Delhi sultans. Prolaya’s patronage extended to the famous Errana (Erra Pragada) who finally completed that masterpiece of Telugu literature, Andhra Mahabharatamu.

A dutiful and considerate ruler, Prolaya was also known for planting trees on the edges of roads and digging wells for the benefit of journeymen.

Kondaveedu

  • Revolted against Delhi Turks. Became one of the Commanders who liberated Andhra
  • Founded the Reddi Kingdom
  • Built or renovated 84 forts according to tradition
  • Constructed the great Fortress of Kondaveedu, which would later serve as capital
  • Gave 44 Agraharas to Brahmins who had been dispossessed by Tughluq Turks
  • Built temples and constructed tanks and replenished treasuries
  • Set up feeding houses and drinking water sheds.
  • He also planted numerous flower and fruit gardens for the public.

Legacy

ReddyRajyam

The Panta clan of Reddis would set up and rule three different kingdoms at Kondaveedu, Rajamahendravaram, and Kandookuru. There were three main families, with Prolaya Vema’s being the senior one, but Allaya Reddi’s (Donti family) and Kataya Vema Reddi‘s also being influential. These would all inter-marry, along with the Suryavamsa Kshatriya family of Choda Bhaktiraja (relations of the once Telugu Choda Kings of Nellore).

Vema ruled his new principality very ably and justly. He strove hard to relieve the brahman and the peasant from their miserable plight and to give them protection and every facility to follow their own pursuits and professions, unmolested by foreign aggression and internal disorders. He thereby rightly earned the title dharmapratishtanaguru, the revered that established the dharma. [3, 87]

He generously spent his resources to give patronage to brahmanas, as they were repositories of knowledge and custodians of Vedic rites and rituals. He is said to have given as many as 44 agraharas during his reign. Such a notable yajamana was he that he was called anavarata-purohita-krta-somapana, one who cause the purohits to take the Soma juice incessantly. [3, 88]

Interestingly, neither he nor his overlord Musunuri Kapaneedu took the traditional Royal title Mahamandalesvara, as the Kakatiyas Kings did, and as the Vijayanagara Emperors did from the beginning. Prolaya Vema Reddi contented himself with the title Srimathu.

Prolaya Vema I had three sons, Anavota I, Anamaacha, and Anavema and two daughters.  One daughter Doddamba, who married Kata Reddi II, and the other daughter married Choda Bhima, who was the son of Bhaktiraja. Anamaacha appears to have died young.

The celebrated poet Erra Pragada himself sketches an image of his patron, Prolaya Vema. The Court Poet of the first Reddi King wrote in his Harivamsam that the ruler was an expert bow-man and a great warrior. Prolaya Vema was humble and god-fearing, and a disciple of Ghodeyaraya Gangeyadeva.

Ghoderaya Gangayadeva

Members of the Ghoderaya family exercised over the Reddi kings much influence as their gurus throughout their political career.” [3, 65]

As spiritual guides and preceptors, the Ghoderayas  would have encouraged the commitment of the Reddi kings to traditional Hindu Dharma, and to the restoration of the ancient Vedic rites and rituals. Gangayadeva was considered an honest and able administrator, who himself undertook many charitable works. Nevertheless, Prolaya Vema Reddi was very much his own man.

Kondaveeti Kota Srimathu

Kondaveedu-Fort

Perhaps nothing embodied the contributions of Prolaya Vema Reddi more than the great fortress of Kondaveedu. Though Addanki was the first capital, Prolaya Vema showed great strategic foresight in recognising the need for strong fortifications from which to resist the murderous attacks of the cavalry archer Turks (Tughluq or Bahmani). Kondaveedu was the stone citadel that would be celebrated by later generations in both story and song. Truly, it was the home of the Kondaveeti Rajas.

Thus, his legacy extends from Addanki to Kondaveedu to Kandukooru to Rajamahendravaram. Coastal Andhra and even parts of Telangana and Rayalaseema saw the force of arms from this Reddi King and his successors. Some accounts assert he successfully campaigned as far as Odisha.

The valuable assistance rendered by his maternal uncles Potaya, Nagaya, and Chittaya, along with that of his brothers, showed the value of family and community unity in forging state unity. [3, 77] Each building block was a force-multiplier to the other (as Shivaji would later show in setting the stage for national unity).

Thus, the legacy of Prolaya Vema Reddi is one that extends from the great Andhra Liberation War, to the establishment of the 100 year Reddi Kingdom of Coastal Andhra, to the Cultural Revival of Andhra. Truly a great personality and a great king.

 

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
  4. Chitnis, Krishnaji Nageshrao. Medieval Indian History. New Delhi: Atlantic Publ. p.215

Personalities: Chitti Babu

chitti-babu-veena

As a follow up to last week’s article on the Veena, it is only natural that we highlight one of Andhra’s greatest Veena players, and one of India’s greatest in the modern era. Like many of our artistes, he too did not receive much deserved national recognition, while he was still living. We intend to take a small step towards setting that cultural record straight and give this vainika par excellence his due.

Our next musical Andhra Personality is a man who may be all but unknown to the younger generation, but to people of a certain age, is not only famous but is fondly remembered for his talent. We are of course speaking of none other than the divinely gifted Chitti Babu.

Background

chitti-babu-early

Born on October 13, 1936, this Andhra gandharva was born to Challapally Ranga Rao and Sundaramma in Kakinada. His early childhood was spent in Pithapuram, and the family later moved to Chennai. Originally named Hanumanlu Challapally, his nickname became so popular his father legally changed it to Chitti Babu. Inarguably gifted in the truest sense of the word, he stunned his father, who was playing the Veena, when at the age of five, young Hanumanlu corrected his mistake. From that day on, Chitti Babu the child prodigy was dedicated to Sarasvati’s vaadya. He gave his freshman public performance at age 12. He learnt first from his father, and then took basic training from his first teachers Pandarala Upmakkaya, Singaralu, and Eyyuni Applacharyulu.

Nevertheless, Chitti Babu would forever remain associated with his  Veenacharya, Emani Sankara Sastry garu, a renowned Andhra vainika in his own right. Together, they would virtually define the guru-sishya tradition among Telugu musicians, with both teacher and student taking pride in their mutual association. Chitti Babu would honour Sastry garu throughout his later life, and even played at his guru’s final public performance.

Interestingly enough, his first big break was in acting. As a child artiste, Chitti Babu acted in Laila-Maju (starring Bhanumathi and Akkineni Nageswara Rao).He continued as a struggling instrumentalist with a long innings in playback (1948-1962). He even became a music director for films in Tamil and Telugu—Sri Raghavendra Vaibhava being one of his key productions. Nevertheless, he was determined to make his name as a classical veena artiste and finally achieved his dream after decades of hard work. Coming to notice of the carnatic elite, he soon peformed to packed public performances in music halls around the world.

He married Sudakshina Devi and had children during his playback phase. Regardless, he managed to balance work and family due to the strong and dedicated relationship he and his wife had. Here is a heart-felt family-run website that serves as a tribute to his memory and legacy.

Unafraid to break from tradition, Chitti Babu was that rare classical performer who respected tradition, and even honoured it, but nevertheless sought to innovate. He freely experimented with his vaadya of choice, progressively moving from the venerated Saastriya standards to Playback to Western to Fusion. He even composed original musical works, in many cases dedicating the piece to capturing a particular sentiment or emotion (bhava) rather than following the regimented strictures. Indeed, he evolved his own style on that specific basis.

Chitti Babu passed away in 1996, just short of his 60th birthday.

He had traveled extensively across India and also to USA, Europe, Australia, Middle East and Asia Pacific and had performed to jam packed auditoriums for nearly 5 decades, transcending many barriers and taking his music and along with it, a part of India’s rich cultural heritage across the world.[1]

Wedding Bells

Quite possibly one of the most easy to appreciate of his pieces is Wedding Bells. It is an original composition quite obviously composed in the Western style. It shows not only his adaptability as a composer, but the versatility of the veena itself. To listen to it is to experience a Spring day on strings.

Indeed, his life’s mission and life’s work was proof of this rooted cosmopolitanism. In contrast to our modern rootless cosmopolitans, he was able to preserve and pass on tradition, while adding onto it and even transcending the training itself to commune directly with nature. No composition better displayed this then when Chitti Babu captured the cuckoo bird’s very character on his beloved veena.

Kommalo Koyila

Achievements

“No Critic is Greater than the Artiste; No Artiste is greater than the Art.” [1]

Chitti Babu was not only a musician, but a composer as well. Despite being classically trained and performing Saastriya Sangeeta standards, he had the creativity to musically experiment with different styles. He would even effortlessly play western classical standards, as well as make his mark in the world of playback. But while he first made his name with movie scores, he would also ascend to the notice of the royal cultural connoisseur of his time.

“HRH Maharajah of Mysore – Sri Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar after hearing Chitti Babu play in 1967, in a spontaneous gesture,  removed the gold chain with a resplendent pendant that he was wearing on that day, and put it around Chitti Babu’s neck as a mark of appreciation and admiration. Chitti Babu considered this, one the greatest honours he had received because HRH Shri Wodeyar was considered to be a great connoiseur and was also known to be a “Musician among Princes and a Prince among Musicians”. Since that day, Chitti Babu proudly wore this gold chain and pendant for all his concerts, all his life”.[1]

Chitti Babu may never have been given his due by the arriviste “secular” elite of Delhi, but the traditional elite of Mysore recognised and honoured a cultural gem when it had the chance. Padma Sris may have devolved to popularity polls, but the cultural doyens and doyennes of aristocratic Mysuru, showed the nature of an elite with true taste—generosity to the deserving. Beyond this notable episode, Chitti Babu accumulated many accolades in his comparatively curtailed career. Here is a brief listing of them:

  • First called Vainika Sarvabhauma in 1968
  • Annointed Vainika Shikhamani by Maharajah of Mysore Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar
  • Asthana VIdvan Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams
  • Honoured as Telugu Velugu by Andhra Pradesh CM in 1981
  • Awarded Kalaima Mani by Tamil Nadu CM in 1972 & State artiste title by MGR
  • Honorary Doctorate by Andhra University (1984)
  • Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, 1990.

Above all, however, was his creation of a new style. Verily, this is what cemented not only Chitti Babu’s place in the Indic Veena Pantheon, but his musical legacy as well.

While continuing with the principles of his Guru’s pioneering school – the Emani “Bani” (tradition/style), Chitti Babu, created and evolved a distinctive style and identity, entirely his own. The exquisite tonal quality and versatility that have been his magical hallmarks of his style of playing the Veena, saw him produce sounds as varied as the majestic Vedic Hymns or as delicate as the Cuckoo’s voice or even play many western-music based compositions of his own.[1]

Legacy

Chitti Babu

Buy his albums here!

“Veena is as Old as the Vedas and yet, as Modern as Tomorrow.” [1]

The life and times of those celestial souls who are veritably born with vaadya in hand, may appear all too brief, and be cause for disbelief, for those of us who appreciate their legacy. Nevertheless, like all comforting bromides, perhaps the good really do die young, and the talented shoot across the societal sky like a shooting star. Challapally Chitti Babu was inarguably one such star, and his contributions to the Divine Instrument (and the national instrument) demand not only documentation, but propagation. The younger generation, reared on Youtube, should be guided to get the most out of technology, by listening to music that feeds the soul (rather than that which spoils the appetite…).

He was known to reproduce the songs and compositions in an almost vocal like tonal quality on his Veena, and was also known to evoke deeply emotional and appreciative responses from his audiences.[1]

Where Chitti Babu truly stood out, however, was in the tonal quality of his veena playing. A difficult instrument, veena needs a fine balance between musical resonance and notal crispness. Rare among modern vainikas, this exponent of haute culture achieved the perfect balance. Perhaps no performance better demonstrates that than this one.

His live at Waldorf Astoria album for the New York-based Oriental label brought him to wide attention in the West [3]

It is an utter disgrace of the delhi set masquerading as national elite  that they failed to recognise this national and international musical star during his life. Instead, it elects to bestow padma sris on pop culture primadonnas coasting on name rather than genuine merit, and whose notable contribution to “culture” is “Hum Tum”. Let culturally degenerate south delhi debutantes have their hum tum; those of us with culture will hum the tunes of this renowned instrumentalist, instrumental in stamping the veena on the consciousness of a generation (or three). Celebrated throughout the South, Chitti Babu is without a doubt one of India’s great Veena players of the present era.

His legacy remains cherished to this day. Traditionalists may demur any deviation from tradition, but for Master Chitti Babu, the Master Vainika, love for the Veena came first, whether via tradition, folk, or fusion.

“Traditions must be respected – but conventions can be broken”.[1]

Sri. Rajhesh Vaidhya performing his Guru Sri. Chittibabu’s composition

Chitti Babu is remembered for many things veena-related. His venerable relationship with this revered guru Emani Sankara Sastry (complemented by that with his own sishya Dwibhashyam Nagesh Babu) is a singularly scintillating example of the guru-sishya parampara.He brought a rare delicacy to lute of the Devas, and an even rarer self-awareness in his performances.It was a swara sensibility that was refreshingly masculine, and yet, unabashedly sensitive. Like Brahma with Sarasvati, he cradled and caressed the veena, revealing the many layers of her being in their full vibrance.

He may have been born Hanumanlu Challapally, but he will remain Chitti Babu for all those who knew of him in his all-too-short life. Like yet another Andhra Gandharva, he left this world all too soon, but then, the lives of those vaadhyaadharas who are divinely talented do quickly return to the Deva who sent them.

“Veena is my Mission in Life”.[1]

References:

  1. http://www.veenachittibabu.org/
  2. http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/Chittibabu-remembered/article15718373.ece
  3. Broughton, Simon and Mark Ellingham & Richard Trillo. World Music: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific. London: Penguin Books.2000

Personalities: NTR

ntr

Those of you following us on twitter may have been reading our recent tweets on Self-Respect. It is a word that is often used by rowdies for all the wrong movements. But self-respect is something greater than self-glorification. Self-respect is fundamentally about respecting yourself by respecting others. After all, a gentleman behaves properly around ladies (no matter what their character), not because of what it says about them, but because of what it says about him.

One such gentleman was celebrated for not only the characters he portrayed on screen, but the character he showed on the political stage. In fact, our very own Chandra Mohan garu wrote on the topic and the man here. Though we will build upon this theme, we will focus more on the biographical, cinematic, and political aspects of his place in history.

Few men in their lives (and after) can be recalled by the masses with simple initials: NTR is one such man.

While Sri Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao garu may have passed away 2 decades ago, his life and legacy, in cinema and in politics, touches every Telugu to this day.

If any actor ever put the mythos in a mythic career, it was the man who defined it and defined “Mythology” in the minds of the Telugus. That is why he is the topic of today’s installment in our Continuing Series on Andhra Personalities.

Background

Born in the village of Nimmakuru, Krishna District, on May 28, 1923, NTR hailed from an agricultural family of modest economic background.His parents were Venkataramamma and Laxmaiah. Due to the customs of the time, he was adopted by his childless paternal uncle Ramaiah and his wife. After completing class 5, young Rama Rao had to matriculate in Vijayawada to complete primary, and secondary studies. He later enrolled in SRR and CVR colleges. In a twist of fate, his first play was written by the head of the Telugu Department at his College, Kavi Samrat Viswanatha Satyanarayana. The drama was a progressive piece on women’s issues in Rachamalluni Dautyam. In those days, society was very conservative and ladies did not act in plays. The famously masculine ‘man of the masses’ was made to play (reluctantly) the heroine’s role…an experience which would later come in handy in Narthanasala, no doubt!

Nevertheless, the consummate thespian, NTR played the role to perfection and won first prize. This gave him the taste for theatre, which he would later bring to the silver screen.

From his early days of youth itself, he was a breadwinner for the kutumbam, selling milk on his bicycle to help the household make ends meet.

At the age of 20, he married Basava Tarakam. However, he had yet to complete his studies, and thus, had a difficult time succeeding in his examinations, given this new responsibility as a householder. He finally succeeded in passing out of Andhra Christian College in Guntur, with a Bachelor of Arts, in 1945. He also founded the National Art Theatre, a drama group. He later met the famed director L.V.Prasad. This chance meeting was a taste of things to come, and would play a pivotal role in his career.

In the mean time, however, the demands of supporting a family meant that he had to take up a job.  He passed the Madras Service Commission examination and was given a job as sub-registrar. This minor post was not to his liking, and he was stunned upon seeing the open bribery taking place.

Nevertheless, he had cultivated a booming baritone signing voice, and was blessed with good looks and broad shoulders. Deciding to chase his destiny, he quit his job and resolved to make a career in films.

From his first part, a walk-on as a police officer in Mana Desam (1949), for which he was paid 500 rupees (today about pounds 10 sterling), he became one of the cinema-crazed state’s best-known idols. [4]

A mere three weeks into his job, his photo was picked out of L.V.Prasad’s album by B.A.Subba Rao, for the hero’s role in Palleturi Pilla. This would launch the most legendary of all Telugu film careers.

ntr-headshot

The list of films ,of course, is endless. While Palleturi Pilla was itself a super hit, due in no small part to NTR’s refusal to have a stunt-double for his bull-fighting scene (he was hospitalised after being thrown by it), it was Paathala Bhairavi that would launch him into the stratosphere. So successful was this blockbuster, that it would later be made in other languages.

But, it was Maya Bazaar, of course, that would seal this screen legend’s place in Cinema-dom. Virtually living in the role of Sri Krishna, NTR’s acting here would set a trend of divine performances (pun intended) that would forever mark his place on the psyche of the Telugus. So scintillating was he in these pauranic roles, and so synonymous with these puranic stories, that many village and towns folk would touch his feet in divine association, in a way only seen since for actors of Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan and B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharat. Such is the power of Cinema—something NTR would leverage for his second career, in his second innings.

Fittingly, and indeed, very politically, his last movie before entering politics in 1982 was Bobbili Puli. It would serve as the ideal segue and launch pad for him into politics. The film released on his Sashtipoorthi (completion of 60 years), with the Telugu Desam Party, the party he founded, marking its formal entry into politics on the same day. He grandly seized power in a landslide election victory in 1983. Though ousted in a coup the following year, he returned quickly with an even greater mandate.

Closer to home, NTR ultimately had six sons and four daughters from his marriage. The most famous of his progeny is of course, the silver screen star Balakrishna (set to appear soon as Gautamiputra Satakarni). However, the son who would have the most impact on him politically would be the one by marriage, who took over the leadership of the Telugu Desam Party. As is notoriously recounted elsewhere, there were family dissensions in the last few years of Rama Rao garu’s life. His first wife passed away in 1984. He remarried, and this time, it was to his erstwhile political biographer, Lakshmi Parvati in the early 1990s. Family politics being what they are, the grown children did not take kindly to the political changes that accompanied the personal changes. Together with NTR’s son Harikrishna, Nara Chandra Babu Naidu took over the leadership effectively in a takeover bid, and would go on to carve out a notable legacy as CM of old & new Andhra Pradesh state.

Without judgment of either side, this turn of events (whether warranted or otherwise) had a traumatic effect on NTR, who felt betrayed. True to his indomitable spirit, he planned a comeback, but Mahakaal had other plans. The celebrated Movie star, State Political leader, and National Political figure had his final innings. He passed away on January 18, 1996, at the age of 72. A lifelong practitioner of yoga, he credited it for his longevity and energy.

Achievements

ntr_achievement

The manifold achievements of this man of the masses, have faded with the passage of time. Perhaps it is time we remind the younger generation of why NTR’s name carries so much pull to this day, on both sides of the Polavaram.

His cinematic achievements are obvious, and indeed will be discussed in greater detail later in the Post. If they could be summed up in a phrase, however, it was performing High Culture for the masses. It was theatre on the silver screen that was accessible to educated and illiterate and young and old alike. Indeed, in the early phases of old AP, where there was some mistrust among the three regions of Andhra (Kosta, Rayalaseema, and Telangana), whatever differences cropped up due to history, evaporated when this screen legend appeared as the divine and historical personalities revered by all Telugus alike.

But he was a trend-setter not only in Cinema, but also in politics. The first Rath Yatra was done not by LKA, but by NTR. His ‘Chaitanya Ratham’ would conduct a yatra throughout the state, even finding him a place in the records books, marking 75,000 kms in less than a year.

When he first hit the road with it in 1982, soon after founding the party, the vehicle was an object of ridicule by the Congress. But criss-crossing the length and breadth of the State on the ‘chariot of awakening,’ with the theme song of Telugu self-respect on his lips, he was able to rouse the masses and defeat the ruling Congress. The election was a landmark in the country’s political history, as NTR stormed to power within nine months of founding his party defeating a century-old party.[6]

By the time the elections had come around, this modern Chariot and this modern Andhradesadeeswara managed to rouse popular rebellion against these modern sultans of Delhi. Rather than paeans to the decadent Nehru-Gandhi Netas of Congress, in its place sounded, Maa Telugu Thalli, throughout the state.

For months, the ‘Chaitanya Ratham’ trundled along the lush green paddy fields of coastal Andhra Pradesh, the dry landscape of Rayalaseema and Telangana and through the busy thoroughfares of the towns. “[6]

For those who thought NTR managed to merely “coast” to victory on the back of his celebrity, they clearly missed the lessons on political groundwork he gave them, free of charge. It was this campaign, this ratha yatra that garnered him the popular support and credibility to gain power. It demonstrated, as some recent film stars-turned-politician can attest, that his election was no fluke. But his political achievements go beyond political innovation. Here is a quick recap for readers:

  • In all, he acted in 292 films in a career spanning 33 years between 1949 and 1982. Of these, 274 are in Telugu, 15 in Tamil and three in Hindi.” [3]
  • Awarded the Padma Shri in1968. 3 National Film awards. 1 Nandi Award
  • Was instrumental in shifting the Telugu Film Industry from Madras to Hyderabad. This along with his life-long devotion to his mother tongue helped restore the distinct identity of the Andhras.
  • Pushed for decentralisation of governance through Mandal elections. Began restoring traditional Telugu-Sanskrit terms from colonial Nizam-Persian terms.
  • Took on and crushed the fundamentalists in Old City Hyderabad, making this Capital of Telugus from the Days of Golkonda, safe for all citizens.
  • Introduced mid-day meal programme for children of impoverished families. Later copied in 7 other states.
  • He reserved more university places and expanded primary education for Women.
  • Implemented the Telugu Ganga Project in Rayalaseema, together with support of Sathya Sai Baba, quenched the water thirst in the region.
  • Ended the oppressive Patel-Patwari system of the Nizam era in Telangana
  • After Starring, Directing, and Producing films, also began Screenwriting films. Notably wrote Samrat Ashoka in 1992
  • Adorned the Tankbund with great figures from Telugu History.

What happened to those statues he gave us, today?

Legacy

ntr_josh

The illustrious legacy of NTR remains concrete to most, but nevertheless, controversial to many. A beloved personality, so widely revered by villages and urbanites alike, necessitates historical understanding, objectively.

With any popularly honoured figure, so synonymous with a modern culture, it becomes as important to understand the man beyond the hagiographies and diatribes alike. Political opponents refuse to compliment him and political fanboys…well…commit suicide over him (as one did when he passed away).

Nevertheless, the legacy of NTR to the Telugu land is hard to gainsay. Economically sound or not, his 2 rs/kg rice programme saved thousands upon thousands from starvation. Questions of nepotism aside, he forged a coherent countervailing influence to the corrupt Congress. Snide remarks of parochialism aside, his Telugu atma-gauravam campaign restored self-respect for Telugus at a time when it had reached a low point. Nothing was more emblematic of the sea-change in the Telugu Restoration he initiated in the capital of the Telugus, by enforcing through Law Enforcement, the implementation and protection of Official Telugu signboards in Hyderabad from urdu-language fanatics. Golkonda of the Kakatiya era was the capital of Krishna-Godavari Samskruthi, not the geographically non-native Ganga-jamuni “tehzeeb“.

Above all however, both on screen and off, he reminded Andhras that they were not mere colonised people of the British Raj, but the inheritors of the Empire of Krishna Deva Raya. No man more poignantly and poetically demonstrated the relationship between Art & History, Cinema & Politics. Let us do a retrospective of his roles.

Cinematic

Unlike the self-promoting but culturally barbarous “bollywood” (of modern middle eastern orientation), the Telugu Film Industry has promoted real native Bharatiya Samskruthi in all its glory. This tradition reached its noontide under Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao. While the period that followed his golden years in the Golden Age of Telugu cinema was not altogether free of caste critiques of closed doors, the quality of films in his era did not suffer, as it did in later periods. The films of NTR were High Culture for the Masses. They demonstrated that it was possible to create meaningful and mature films for even illiterate audiences . If we had Gidugu Ramamurthy garu for Literature, we had Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao garu for Cinema. False dichotomies of stilted inaccessible vs crass cruditude were no longer required. The full spectrum from granthikam to mandalikam to janapadam, could be enjoyed, only if presented with taste and aesthetics. This mantle, after a long hiatus, has been taken up again by director S.S.Rajamouli.

These matters not withstanding, having taken a look at the man behind the films, let us take a look at the movie mogul in his films.

Paathaala Bhairavi

It’s of course difficult to pinpoint a single scene, a single movie, or a single set of movies as definitive of the body of work an artiste has contributed to the body saamskruthik, but there are a few standouts not only for cultural purposes but for career purposes as well. The first such movie is the popular Paathala Bhairavi. Arguably the first blockbuster in a long and illustrious career, this was NTR’s first true contribution to the long list of cultural significant films he produced.

A romantic hero, a lover, and a fighter, the character he played was in truth, the Telugu every man. This 1951 hit made waves not only in both Telugu states (unification would be a long 5 years later…) . What was praiseworthy about it was how it was based off the native Burrakatha tradition of Telugudom. But if any one scene truly embodies the subtleties that are often missed in the grandeur of Taraka Rama Rao Senior, it is this.

Maya Bazaar

For all the incipient greatness of Paathaala Bhairavi, it was Maya Bazaar that forever etched NTR in the hearts of Telugus. Appearing in the first of what would eventually be 17 appearances as Lord Krishna, it was this cinematic Rayudu’s most popular role.

The execrable modern attempts to create almost an androgrynous Krishna would be firmly rebuked with a single screening of the “Ranchod” portrayed by Rama Rao. Indeed, NTR’s Kannayya gave us the statesman and strategic thinker, rather than than the traditional young flute-player or philosophic Gita-giver. It was a serious Krishna, that nevertheless, lost none of the provocative charm and coy uplifting inspiration.

One would make juxtaposition with the much later, and nationally-recognised Nitish Bharadwaj, but my Telugu credentials would stand impeached, so NTR it is…

Missamma

Arguably one of his most sensitive roles, it also showed that, in contrast to the decidedly modern “eve-teasing” and general street harassment of women courtesy Bollywood, lotharios of a different era had a more genteel and courteous approach to women, even when being playful.

In contrast to this era of narcissism and solipsism as strategy for social success, NTR’s character here showed how restrained charm, and manly sensitiveness, along with boyish playfulness, go a longer way for would-be Kamadeva’s even in our era. Indeed, his character found himself the object of affection of not only Missamma herself, but Jamuna’s character as well!

This scene nevertheless captures his unique ability to project a confident yet approachable and self-aware masculinity on screen. It was not loud and brash, but cultured and self-mastered.

Narthanasala

narthanasala

Last but not least, it was this movie, more than any other, that showed us NTR the acting professional, rather than merely NTR the star. His full depth and range was seen in this production. His turn in the role of Brihannala (Arjuna’s identity during the Pandavas’ agyatavasam) was genre-defining. This was all the more so given the fact that he learned dance from none other than the eminence grise of Kuchipudi himself, Sri Vempati Chinna Satyam garu.

Of course, there are many, many more movies that could be pored over, and indeed, will be. Nevertheless, here are a few other standouts.

Other Notable Filmography

Bhookailas

Tenali Rama Krishna

Mahamantri Timmarasu

Srinadha Kavi Sarvabhouma

Sampoorna Ramayanam

Gundamma Katha

Sri Venkateshwara Mahatmyam

Bobbili Puli

Full Filmography

Political

With three terms as Chief Ministers Rama Rao garu had as long-lasting a legacy in politics as he did in films. Each time he would be voted out of office, he would return to power with landslide victories. Indeed, in his final days, he had hoped to do the same, but Destiny decided otherwise.

From breaking the oppressive Patel-Patwari system of the Nizam to giving a firm rebuke to the Gandhi dynasty and its Congi cronies, NTR is synonymous with one thing: Self-Respect. But his was not a crass “self-respect” that singled out a single caste or a set of “settlers” for slander, it was a self-respect that brought people together rather than divide them up. Did he cater to his base?—sure, like any sharp politician does. The question is, did his actions and policies benefit the state as a whole?

True Atma-gauram lies not in “licking the ones who kick and kicking the ones who lick”, but giving a black eye to those who push you around and protecting those who can’t protect themselves. That is the difference between a poodle and a purusha. The ethos of Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao reminded us precisely of that Nara-tattvam and that Telugu Atma-Gauravam and that Andhra Abhimanam. One can be a good local citizen, a good state citizen, a good national citizen, and a good cultural denizen. NTR represented all four.

He firmly stood up to the presiding national leader who over-stepped his bounds, to show Telugus could not be pushed around. It did not matter what the caste was of T.Anjaiah whom Rajiv Gandhi insulted, what mattered was his mother tongue. The only jati that mattered here was the Andhra jati.

He crushed the fundamentalists from Old City Hyderabad, and helped reassert the place of Golkonda as an old capital of the Telugus. This is true atma-gauram. This ended the communal riots during Ganesh Nimmajan.  And yet from the days of NTR and CBN (who finally tamed them), here is the state of the new state today.

He, significantly, chaired the National Front, a left-leaning alliance, that served as a counterweight to Congress. At the height of his popularity, NTR was thus deemed Prime Ministerial material, and had luck ultimately favoured, he may have succeeded—such were the shadows he cast in those days. Nevertheless, the opportunity did not fructify, and instead, true to his legacy, he promoted the candidacy of the first South Indian and first Telugu Prime Minister, Sri Pamulaparthi Venkata Narasimha Rao garu. Though the relations between PVNR and NTR would ebb-and-flow, there was a common bond of Teluguthanam, that, whatever their differences, united them. Rama Rao garu even refused to field an opponent against the future PM, for the Lok Sabha seat.

As such, perhaps the most telling description of all came from his sometimes political rival, and a man he himself nevertheless supported.

The prime minister, Narasimha Rao, described him as “a man of many parts – a learned and deeply religious person, a very fine and powerful actor who swayed millions of people, a forceful orator and above all, a man of the masses.”[4]

But for all of Telugudom, NTR was more than just “a very fine and powerful actor“, but a reel and real-life superstar who not only defined Andhra Cinema, but became synonymous with the Divine Stories it once told. To this day, he set a cultural standard that Telugu film is only again beginning to rediscover in both depth and grandeur. The statues still being constructed of him, confirm this story.

While his administration was not free of caste-conflict, notably two key episodes standing out (Vangaveeti Ranga and the Violence at Karamchedu), to blame NTR directly would be as unfair as blaming PVNR for the Babri Riots. Politics is complicated, and whatever role caste plays in it today, it only emphasises the need for us to focus more on Rajdharma than just Rajniti. Political leaders are also products of their time, and such matters are better left for historians to research more deeply.

For the purposes of Andhra Cultural Portal, however, the cultural contribution of this man is what stands out the most.

Cultural

ntr_movies_list

The cultural impact of Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao cannot be minimised. This is for the simple fact that he was the thespian who brought High Culture to the Masses. Rather than looking down upon the mamidi manishi, and churning out mindless drivel for box office collections, he told us stories that defined the genre: Maya Bazaar, Missamma, Paathaala Bhairavi, Narthanasala, Bhookailas, the list goes on and on for films that not only gave us entertaining stories, but that lifted our spirits and intellects.

Even religion was dealt with a tasteful manner, not with the blaring of instruments, but with the touching of the soul. It was this deft weaving of the nava rasa and dhvani that gave never-ending resonance to his political message. Populist though he was, there was a dharma to his dharna.

Many may of course point to various corruption charges. But even the great PVNR was not immune to these allegations, and politics in India has in recent centuries, truly been a grimy business. What’s more, as one can see with a certain political party in the State of Delhi, and even outside the country, more often than not, accusers often have grimier hands that the accused.

Others of course bring focus to NTR’s second wife and her political involvement in his waning days, others may point out to gossip of numerous love affairs. But men of power have always had powerful appetites, and have been hurt by them in the process. Whether the rumours of the silent coup on the inside are as true as the overt rebellion from his family on the outside, is a matter for historians to resolve. But if one criticism can be made of NTR, it’s that he, like other politicians from Bhishma to L.K.Advani, should make succession plans and retire at the right age.

Along with this cultural legacy, was a familial one. Family matters aside, his name carries on today with not only his sons, but his Grandson and namesake NTR junior, and even the son of first Chief Minister of new Telangana state. Such is the stamp of “Taraka Rama Rao”, literally.

And to return to matters full circle, while one should aspire to the legacy of Ram, the question ultimately is what good was done for the people, state, and  culture.

NTR’s achievements, both political and cultural speak for themselves. Above all, however, the measure of a man is not whether he alternates between tyrant and sycophant. A real leader doesn’t beat up on the weak while slinking away before the strong. He stands up to the strong and defends the weak, as he did during Indira Gandhis regime. That is true self-respect. Ahankar and Ego take pride in flattery, braggadocio, and bullying. Real leaders show us the real meaning of atma-gauram. Not complaining about settlers who are your language brothers, but recognising the perils posed by persian-language promoting videshi colonists. Not emotionally combusting at slights and provocations, or last minute last stands, but harnessing man power and organising people power for the common good, consistently. That is real atma-gauram.

It was NTR who showed how to be a good regional leader and a good national leader. It was NTR who showed the real meaning of class: aristrocracy not of distant royalty, but of an accessible and courteous and cultured gentry. To neither take for granted our state and mother tongue, but to also not neglect the national interest. It was NTR who reminded Telugus of Self-Respect.

It was NTR who showed us the power of unity and the importance of Telugu Thanam.

Johar Anna garu.

References:

  1. http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-telugu-desam-party-turns-29-nt-rama-rao-remembered-1364859
  2. http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/mp/2002/12/09/stories/2002120901160200.htm
  3. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/telugu/movies/news/NTR-is-the-greatest-Indian-actor/articleshow/18860418.cms
  4. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-n-t-rama-rao-1324748.html
  5. http://www.nytimes.com/1996/01/19/world/n-t-rama-rao-72-is-dead-star-status-infused-his-politics.html?_r=0
  6. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/article309419.ece
  7. http://www.thehindu.com/2004/03/09/stories/2004030913280300.htm
  8. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/Cabinet-recommends-rice-sambar-for-mid-day-meal/articleshow/23508751.cms?referral=PM
  9. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0004417/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1