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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 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