Kancherla Gopanna popularly known as Bhakta Ramadasu or Bhadrachala Ramadasu was a 17th-century Indian devotee of Rama and a composer of Carnatic music. He is one of the famous vaggeyakaras in the Telugu language. Other famous vaggeyakaras in Telugu include Tyagaraja, Annamayya, Kshetrayya, and Shyama Sastri. He lived in the village of Nelakondapalli near Bhadrachalam, Telangana during the 17th century and is renowned for constructing a famous temple for Rama at Bhadrachalam. His devotional lyrics to Rama are famous in South Indian classical music as Ramadaasu Keertanalu. Even the doyen of South Indian classical music Saint Thyagaraja learned and later improved the style now considered standard krithi form of music composition. He also wrote Dasarathi Shatakamu with a ‘makuTamu’ ‘Dasaradhee Karuna payonidhi’, a collection of nearly 108 poems dedicated to the son of Dasaratha (Lord Rama).
Early life of Bhakta Ramadasu:
Legend has that Kancherla Gopanna(Goparaju) renowned as Bhakta Ramadasu was born in an affluent Telugu Niyogi Brahmin family to Linganna Mantri and Kamamba in Nelakondapalli village of Khammam dist Taluk (Warangal Division of erstwhile Hyderabad State) of northern Telangana (Deccan region). He was the nephew of Madanna of the Madanna and Akkanna brothers who were ministers at the court of Tana Shah of the Qutb Shahi Dynasty in Golconda. Gopanna was later hired as the Tehsildar of Palvancha Taluk by Tana Shah.
Career Ramadasu was appointed as the tahsildar (revenue collector) of ‘Palvoncha Paragana’ by Akkanna, his uncle and the administrative head in the court of Qutub Shahi Sultan Abul Hassan Tana Shah. The legend goes that he discharged his official duties earnestly and collected revenues due to the Sultan – while continuing his unswerving service to Lord Rama by chanting his name and feeding the poor.
Bhakta Ramadasu Reconstruction of Temple:
Sri Ramanavami Kalyanam utsava at Bhadrachalam Temple, in Telangana
Legendary stories inform that once he visited Bhadrachalam for a Jatara (fair) and was disturbed by the dilapidated state of the temple there. Bhadrachalam was significant to devotees of Rama for many reasons. Lord Rama is said to have stayed near the Parnasala there with Sita and Lakshmana during his exile and also to have visited Shabari near Badrachalam (although it is believed that Shabari used to live near Kishkindha, the kingdom of Vanaras in Ramayana which is believed to be near Hampi ). Pothana is believed to have been given direction by Rama to translate the Bhagavata Purana into Telugu here. In spite of its significance, the temple was utterly neglected. So, Ramadasu started to raise funds for the renovation and reconstruction of the temple. After he emptied his coffers and could raise no more money, the villagers appealed to him to spend his revenue collections for the reconstruction and promised to repay the amount after harvesting crops. As such, Ramadas finished the reconstruction of the temple with six hundred thousand rupees collected from land revenues – without the permission of the Abul Hasan Qutb Shah.
As the temple was nearing completion, he was perplexed one night about fixing the Sudarshana Chakra at the crest of the main temple. On the same night, it is believed that he saw Rama in his dream and asked him to have a holy dip in the Godavari River. When Gopanna did so the next day, it is believed that he found the holy Sudarshana Chakra in the river very easily.
Bhadrachala Ramadasu Imprisoned:
The story continues that soon after the reconstruction though, his miseries started. He was dismissed from his job for misusing Sultan Abul Hasan Qutb Shah’s revenues and was imprisoned in the Golconda Fort (near Hyderabad) with orders that he be released only after the exchequer was received all the taxes in full. Ramadas implores Rama through many emotional songs that were popularized from the stanzas of ‘Dasaradhi Sathakam ‘ and ‘Keertanas’ of Bhakta Ramadasa. They praise the Lord for all his mysterious ways in popularizing his devotees and Ramadasu regularly sings the Lord. The songs ended in a state of total and unconditional surrender to the will of the Almighty.
Legend Common Belief:
The legend and common belief goes that after eleven to twelve years of imprisonment, Lord Rama decided that his devotee’s suffering had reached its pre-ordained ending (because of a certain transgression his soul had committed in a previous birth. Lord Rama and Lakshmana, disguised as two young warriors, entered the bed-chambers of Sultan Tana Shah in the middle of the night. They presented themselves as Ramoji and Lakshmoji and gave the Sultan six lakh gold coins imprinted with Lord Rama’s own seal, as compensation for the spent six lakhs of silver coins.
The Sultan was bewildered at the presence of these charming but strange youngsters in his inner quarters at late night irrespective of tight security. They demanded and obtained on the spot a written receipt for the money. The receipt was shown to the jailer who released Gopanna that very same night. The next day, both Gopanna and the Sultan realized what had happened. Gopanna did not care much for his release but was inconsolable at his not having seen his Lord even with all his devotion, while the Sultan was visited by the Lord. The Lord then appeared to Gopanna in a dream and explained to him the real reason for his actions and promised him salvation at the end of his natural life. The Sultan, in his previous birth, was a devout follower of Lord Shiva and had promised to perform Rudra abhishekam to Lord Shiva for 365 days after which he was convinced that Lord Shiva would appear before him. So the Sultan began performing the abhisekam but erroneously did it for 364 days thinking that he had completed 365 days. On the 365th day, enraged that the Lord did not appear, he broke the lingam into several pieces, upon which the Lord appeared and made the Sultan realize his mistake.
As punishment, the Lord said that the Sultan, in his next birth, will be born as a non-follower; but, as a reward for his having performed puja for 364 days, Lord Rama himself will appear before him.
The Sultan was thus convinced that what had happened was a miracle of Lord Sri Rama. He returned the entire money to the Bhadrachalam Temple. Since then, it has been the royal custom of the Hyderabad State to send gifts to the temple on the occasion of Sree Rama Navami celebrations every year.
Ramadasu continued his devotion towards Lord Sri Rama and one day a chariot appeared before his home to take him to Vaikunta. Excitedly, he told his wife that he was leaving and asked her to accompany him. His wife, used to Ramadasu’s daily dreams of going to Vaikunta, did not take his request seriously and told him that she will accompany him later. Ramadasu ascended the chariot and amidst chantings from the crowd left for Vaikunta. Hearing the commotion, his wife came out of the house only to see that her husband had already left. Wailing at her mistake and questioning as to what to do without her husband, a voice emanating from a nearby murti of Lord Sri Rama proclaimed that Ramadasu had attained salvation which is why he had departed for Vaikunta. The same voice also said that she still needed to do service before she too would be united with the Lord.