Sri Bhadrachalam on the banks of the Godavari River
Bhadrachalam, the abode of Lord Sri Rama had derived the name from “bhadra” (auspicious) and “achalam” (hill). Sri Bhadra, the son of Mount Meru and Menaka had done penance for having darshan of Lord Ramachandra. Bhadrachalam, situated on the northern bank of holy river Godavari and is famous for the Vaikunta Rama temple. This pilgrimage spot is situated in Andhra Pradesh’s Khammam district. The sacred Dandakaranya forest where Lord Ramachandra spent the early portion of His exile prior to Sita devi’s kidnapping is located close to Bhadrachalam, making this area one of Puranic significance.
Sri Sita Ramachandra Swamy with Sri Lakshmana, Bhadrachalam
At Bhadrachalam, Sri Ramachandra’s deity is in a very unique posture. The Lord reveals his full four-armed form in the temple, holding a bow and arrow in His lower hands and conch shell and discus in His upper hands. Sri Ramachandra is seen seated with Sri Sitadevi sitting on His left thigh. Standing next to Him is Sri Lakshmana with bow and arrow, affectionately guarding the Divine Couple. All three have their right hands in abhaya mudra, but interestingly, both Sri Rama and Sri Lakshmana grasp an arrow in the same mudra (between the ring finger and thumb). Another interesting aspect of the Lord’s form is that the Lord holds His divine weapons – Panchajanya and Sudarshana- in reverse. Here, in Bhadrachalam, the Lord holds the conch shell in His right and discus in left hand. It is believed that the Lord holds Panchajanya in His right hand in order to sound it, and announce His arrival to Saint Sri Bhadra who was in the midst of doing penance.
During the 17th century, Pokala Dhammakka, a descendant of Sabari from the Ramayana was living near to the present Bhadrachalam. She was an ardent devotee of Sri Ramachandra. The presence of Vaikunta Rama and other deities in the middle of the jungle was revealed to this pious woman in a dream. She then spotted the site indicated in the dream, cleared the jungle and offered puja to the deities. With the help of local villagers she constructed a small temple for the deities. The present temple at Bhadrachalam was constructed by Bhakta Ramdas, and its construction is in itself an epic.
Sri Bhakta Ramadasa
Sri Kancharla Gopanna popularly known as Bhakta Ramadasa or Bhadrachala Ramadasa was born in 1620 AD in the village of Nelakondapalli. As per the last verse of his Dasarathi Satakam, his name was Gopanna the son of Linganna Mantri, belonging to Atreya Gotram. The Mantri surname is because of the fact that their ancestors were ministers of the king at the time. Born to Linganna Murthy and Kamamba, Gopanna was brought up as pious and devoted gentleman. He had developed good taste for music and was an ardent devotee of Lord Rama. As a good singer he devoted his talents in singing in praise of Lord Rama. Many of his cousins and nephews were working in the administration of the royal treasury. His nephew Akkanna who was in the court of then Sultan Taani Shah of Golconda (Abdul Hasan Tana Shah the Nawab of the Qutub Shahi dynasty) had Goppanna appointed as the Tahsildar of Bhadrachalam.
Sri Vaikunta Rama Swamy with Sri Sitadevi and Sri Lakshmana
As a Rama bhakta, Sri Goppanna conducted the collection of taxes for the royal treasury while also devoting time for spreading the glories of Sri Rama Nama. During his course of duty he visited the temple of Lord Vaikunta Rama at Bhadrachalam. He was overwhelmed at the sight of Lord Vaikunta Rama. The temple was not in good shape and Goppanna felt strongly inspired about its renovation and reconstruction. He made an appeal to the people of the region to raise funds to this effect. As an agriculture dependent society, the villagers told him to use the tax collected with a promise to replenish the fund after the harvest. With this in mind, Goppanna spent the tax money towards the construction of the temple.
After completion of the construction, his misfortune began. Sultan Taani Shah of Golconda came to know of what Goppanna had done in Bhadrachalam, and he dismissed Goppanna from service for misappropriation of royal funds. Furthermore, the Sultan sentenced him for twelve years in imprisonment. Goppanna was kept in the prison at Golkonda and tortured relentlessly by the Sultan. During these twelve long years, Goppanna sought refuge in singing to Lord Rama to get away from the miseries he had to undergo. The out pour from his anguished heart is now popularly known as ‘Dasaradhi Sathakam’. His songs are a reflection of the bittersweet agony of his situation, and the ecstasy of his devotion to the Lord which took the form of ‘kirtanas’.
Sri Sita Devi, Bhadrachalam
On hearing His bhakta’s anguish, Sri Rama and Sri Lakshmana went to the Sultan’s palace, woke up the Sultan, and paid the money due to the royal treasury on Goppanna’s behalf. The Sultan was perplexed to see the two effulgent youth, and in Their presence, the Sultan signed Gopanna’s release papers. Unaware about the repayment of the money, Goppanna awoke to find the signed release papers at his bedside. The mohars (the form of currency present at the time) repaid by the Lord were brought in front of the Sultan in the morning. The gold mohars had the Pattabhishekam scene on one side and the picture of another Rama Bhaktha, Anjaneya on the other side. The golden coins paid by Sri Rama are known as Ram Tanka coins. They can be seen even today at Sri Sita Ramachandra Swamy Vaari Devasthanam at Bhadrachalam.
Ram Tanka coins
The Sultan realized that he had made a grave mistake by imprisoning Goppanna, and that the two youth were none other than Lords Rama and Lakshmana. He gave all the mohars back to Goppanna, and requested him to continue his work in Bhadrachalam. Goppanna the Ramadasa spent the rest of his life and composed moving poems that inspired Saint Thyagaraja later. Ramadasa attained the lotus feet of Sri Sita Ramachandra Swamy at the age of 68.
Recently a movie about the life of Sri Bhakta Ramadasa was made in Telegu. Below is a clip of the song which shows the beauty of his prayers to the Lord, which were shaped by his intense suffering in prison. The movie increased awareness about the sacredness of the Bhadrachalam temple, and the illustrious life of Sri Bhakta Ramadasa.