“How are you going to Bhadrachalam?” I was asked.
“Train up to Khammam and from there by car,” I replied. “Arrangements have been made to pick us up from Khammam station.”
“It’s quite a distance isn’t it? From Khammam I mean?”
“It’s about two and a half hours by car from Khammam,” I said, recalling what my colleague Ramachandramurthy, who hails from Kothagudem (which is known as Bhadrachalam Road) had said.
“Are you going by the Charminar Express?”
“Oh no! I’m going by the Grand Trunk Express. Charminar departs a full hour before GT Express from Chennai Central and also when returning it arrives at Khammam almost one and a half hours behind the GT Express. So I’ve booked myself by the GT Express both ways. Time saving you see…”
“What about Gayathri Venkataraghavan?”
“She’s been booked both ways by the Charminar. We will meet at Bhadrachalam.”
Clearly the subconscious mind was working full time. The GT Express, running on schedule was proceeding rapidly through the dead of night on the Vijayawada – Warangal section. I was automatically awakened around 02:45 AM and realized that it was more than half hour before the train would arrive at Khammam. Being wide awake by now, I decided to get down from the upper berth and get ready to detrain.
GT Express dropped me off at Khammam station around 3:40 AM, around 20 minutes behind schedule. Despite the hour, I was surprised to see a good number of people waiting to board the train on platform number 2. The second thing that took me by surprise was the weather which was quite chilly and made me wish I had brought something warmer. One of the volunteers, Shri Mohan Kumar from Sri Chakra Cements, Hyderabad, met me on the platform and directed me to a very comfortable tempo traveler stationed outside the station.
As I climbed the steps of the foot-over-bridge to exit the station, the following announcement blared over the loudspeaker:
“Dayachesi vinandi; train nyamber okati rendu aaru okati aaru nyu delhi ninchi Chennai vellavalasina G.T. Express podduna aiyudunara gantalaku vacchenu.”
I froze in my tracks. In dismay I said to Mohan Kumar who was walking alongside, “I say, did I really hear that right?”
“I’m afraid so sir”, he acknowledged.
And to my increasing apprehension he added sympathetically, “a good number of artists who performed yesterday are still waiting in the station for the G.T.Express since last night.”
“But don’t worry sir,” he said with a deliberate effort to alleviate my growing anxiety, “*your* train this evening I’m sure will run to time,” which of course, didn’t give me *any* confidence at all.
Oh well, I sighed, and continued to the station’s exit. I however grimly resolved that if the GT Express got “indefinitely delayed” (I was told that was how it was announced the previous evening), I would jolly well buy a general ticket and board the Charminar Express and leave the rest to God (read TTR). The train from Hyderabad I didn’t think would fall a victim to the vagaries of the February weather like fog and so on unlike the long-distance trains running from New Delhi whose journeys are a direct quotient of the intensity of fog.
We emerged from the station out onto the parking area and I was directed into a stationed tempo traveler. It was warm and cozy inside the vehicle and I blissfully went off to sleep for the next two and half hours or so. I remember us stopping for some time at Kothagudem but it was only when we reached the guest house at Bhadrachalam that I fully regained consciousness – so to speak.
We were shown to our rooms whose piping hot water in the bathroom tap provided the much needed succor after the relative chill of the journey.
Breakfast consisted of steaming hot pongal, vada, sambhar and coconut chutney with coffee in the company of celebrities like the Malladi Brothers, Gayathri Venkataraghavan and renowned vidwans and vidushis from both Andhra and Tamizh Nadu that included Dr. R.S.Jayalakshmi, Dr. K. Seshulata, P.Suryakumari, Sharada Subramanian, the Chaitanya Brothers, Venu Madhav, M. Satyanarayana Sarma and several others…
Breakfast completed, Malladi Ravikumar took us to the temple – it was just a couple of minutes’ walk from the guest house and we had our first glimpse of the Lord Sree Sita Ramachandra Swamy Temple.
The temple was not very crowded and we crossed the hall where the concerts for the day had just commenced. We were taken straight to the sanctum sanctorum after paying obeisance to Bhakta Ramadas’ shrine as soon as we entered the temple. The temple per se radiated an old world charm, as it is with most temples in South India.
At the sanctum sanctorum we were made to sit down and we feasted our eyes on the beautifully decorated deities. After we got up to receive the prasadam, there followed perhaps one of the best portions of the day where the Malladi Brothers, Gayathri Venkataraghvan and yours truly all sang various kritis individually and together. The list was:
1. The brothers began with Tyagaraja’s Ramanannubrova in Harikambhoji which all of us rendered together.
2. Gayathri Venkataraghavan was requested to sing next and she rendered Kothanda Rama in Bilahari (Bhadrachala Ramadas).
3. Lakshanamulugala (Tyagaraja) – by the Malladi Brothers
4. Maakelaravichaaramu (Tyagaraja) – by me
5. Talli Tandrulu (Balahamsa – Tyagaraja) – Malladi Brothers sang this on my request
6. The brothers then wonderfully rendered Muthuswami Dikshitar’s Narayanagaula masterpiece – Sri Raamam Ravikulaabdhi Somam
7. Gayathri beautifully sang Maamavapattabhirama with her voice ringing out as sonorous as it could be.
8. Finally we all rendered Tyagaraja’s evocative Giripainelakonna in Sahana and came away from the temple with the hearts full with time best spent in the temple.
A word about Giripainelakonna: Dr. Raghavan, in his superbly detailed Introductory Thesis to The Spiritual Heritage of Tyagaraja, has said that this was one of the two of Tyagaraja’s last kritis.
“giripai nelakonna rAmuni
guri tappaka kaNTi
* * *
nimpucu mATalADa valenani
kaluvarinca kani padi pUTalapai
kAcedananu tyAgarAja vinutuni (giri)
“Unerringly I have seen Sri Rama, who is installed on the hill…
He promised to give me salvation in five days. My body was thrilled, tears of joy rolled down my cheeks and I merely mumbled unable to give expression to my thought”.
Dr. Raghavan concludes saying, “The scene depicted by Tyagaraja in this kriti refers to Rama getting on top off the Suvela mountain, after crossing the sea, and resting there for a time before the war actually began, a scene of special significance obviously to the school of Rama-worshippers.”
For us that day, it really seemed that Rama on Suvela mountain was analogous to Shri Seetha Rama on the Bhadrachalam hill. So for me personally, giripai nelakonna rAmuni guri tappaka kaNTi!”
In my homage concert, I included songs that were taught to us by none other than maestro M. Balamuralikrishna, who at the invitation of my revered Guru Shri T.R.Subramanyam, had spent close to ten days in New Delhi in the year 1991 and taught several compositions of Annamacharya and Bhadrachala Ramadas that he popularized. My homage list on Feb 04, 2014 consisted of mainly these songs:
- Dinamesudinamu – Kapi
- Etupodivo raama – Anandabhairavi
- Sitaramaswami – Mayamalavagaula
- Edanunnaado – Natakurinji
Gayathri Venkataraghavan, whose concert took place immediately after mine, took the large rasika gathering by storm with her mellifluous, weighty and deeply involved renditions. Her list was:
- Ennagaanu raama bhajana – Pantuvarali
- Kothandarama – Bilahari
- Paalayamaam – Mukhari
- Ammanannu brovave – Saveri
- Saranagata rakshana – Yamunakalyani
The last item was undoubtedly the pièce de résistance with an extremely attractive short sketch of an alapana followed by the delectable kriti. Small wonder that after her concert, Gayathri was completed swamped by the rasikas present, with requests for photographs and more.
Detailed vote of thanks for all the concerts was given by music connoisseur and patron Shri N. Krishna Mohan, Chairman of the Sri Chakra Group of Companies (Cement).
Lunch was the quintessential Andhra fare that I simply LOVE! With an unusual “panasa koora” – vegetable made from jackfruit, *extremely* kaaram mango pickle (not avakkai but equally hot), a small dab of which made me gasp, tingle and desperately crave more. Malladi Ravikumar told me during lunch that the ‘panasa koora’ happens to be a Godavari belt specialty. Special it certainly was – I found it YUM, to say the least!
S. Somasekar, a very good friend of mine from Khammam, is a fourth or a fifth generation lawyer in his family. He traces his ancestors back to almost five hundred years. He arrived from Khammam post-lunch and took me around the small town of Bhadrachalam. This first part of this mini-tour consisted of the Godavari river bank. Though with not much water, the river nevertheless presented a majestic sight. Godavari is one of the lucky rivers in India to escape industrial pollution so far since the river, for most of its course runs through heavily forested areas in Maharashtra and Andhra and hopefully these are protected environmentally. Hence although in the summer months, the water levels do recede, the Godavari doesn’t really quite run completely dry as is the sad fate with the once majestic Kaveri in South India.
Somasekhar took me next to visit Amba Satram that contains a temple dedicated to goddess Bala Tripura Sundari along with a consecrated Sri Chakram. A visit to the Lakshmi Narasimhaswamy Temple completed the tour and we returned by way of a very interesting walk back to the Seetha Rama Temple through the streets and lanes of old Bhadrachalam town.
“The GT Express from New Delhi is running one hour behind schedule”, I was told.
“Oh,” I said. “Well, that’s fine – at least it’s not “indefinitely delayed” like yesterday’s train!”
The full two and half hour car journey from Bhadrachalam to Khammam along with Gayathri Venkatraghavan, her father and Somasekhar garu consisted of highly involved discussions on music interspersed with the latter acquainting us with some local temple lore as well. The time simply flew and before long we were getting down in one of the main streets of Khammam where we stocked up on Bunder Laddoo, the local murukku and some very differently made jalebis in the Andhra variety.
Although running late, the GT Express and the Charminar Express were practically tailing one another as they arrived at Khammam in quick succession. Seeing off Gayathri and her father in the Charminar, I asked Dr. R.S.Jayalakshmi if she required any help in getting her veena on board the GT Express – I had discovered we were to travel in the same train on the return journey to Chennai. The veena veteran replied with a smile that her student entourage would take care of that. Seeing the entourage of students and their families, I knew she wouldn’t have much difficulty in boarding the train. I bade her and her students goodbye as the GT Express finally rumbled into Khammam at 2315 hours almost two hours behind schedule.
The two hour delay thankfully didn’t descend into further delay and we reached Chennai Central around 08:15 AM the next morning, with the GT Express having overtaken the Charminar somewhere along the way.
The whole visit was excellently supervised and coordinated by the husband-wife team of Vijayakumar and his wife Lalita. They personally took interest to ensure that all the visiting musicians had all their needs well-looked after including the transport to and from Bhadrachalam. Visiting a celebrated temple in exalted company, interacting closely with other musicians, listening to delectable half-hour concerts, gorging on yummy spicy traditional Andhra cuisine, having deep and involved discussions on Sandhyavandanam and Maha Periyavaa with Ramani Mama (Gayathri’s father) and getting a glimpse of the majestic Godavari, the Bhadrachalam trip was truly a trip to cherish.
Maybe next year…