I never quite understood the deeper reason/s behind a pilgrimage. Because I do believe that the almighty is omnipresent. Then why do we need to do make exclusive trips to meet Him or Her? We could just seek the divine power around us? I would like to think that I am a not-so-religious person. But it would also be wrong to say that I am a non-believer. I guess that little ounce of belief in me made me accompany my mother and aunts for a trip to Bhadrachalam.
This holy little village (almost a town) sits 182 Km from Vijayawada and is known for the Sree Sita Ramachandra Swamy Temple. For generations, devotees, pilgrims, and even regular visitors (like us) have been thronging to this temple to experience its divine glory.
We decided to leave before dawn so we could reach for the morning puja. With an all women entourage, we had to rent a safe and reliable car in Vijayawada. We reached just after daybreak and the horizon was still a little misty from the morning dew (It was sometime last year after monsoon).
There’s no doubt that the rural landscape of the state makes for a scenic getaway. Neatly settled on the banks of the mighty Godavari River, the holy town of Bhadrachalam reflected more natural beauty than I had imaged. The lush green hills and the rugged terrain gave it a nice mystical touch.
The Ramachandra Swamy Temple sat on a tiny hillock with lovely views of the river. It was close to 5.30 am and the temple had already opened its doors to the devotees. So the first thing we all had to do was freshen up and head for the ‘darshan’. Thankfully, being a weekday, there wasn’t much crowd to overwhelm us.
The temple history
It is said that this temple was built sometime in the 17th century. Locals believe that a devotee named Kancherla Gopanna, also known as Bhakta Ramadasa built the temple in devotion for Lord Rama. He was a tax collector under the rule of Qutub Shah and never sought any permission from the sultan before going ahead with the construction. Also, in the process, he ended up spending tax money from the royal treasury. Discovering such atrocious behavior of his subject, the sultan threw Gopanna in prison for 14 years. But somewhere before his tenure was over, the sultan dreamed of two soldiers asking him to release Gopanna. Realizing that they must have been the gods themselves, the king immediately set him free. To rectify his wrongdoings, the sultan started donating silk clothes and pearls to the temple every year. This practice still continues till date, where the now the state government offers silk clothes and pearls to the gods.
Apparently, Ramadasa dedicated his entire life to building the temple and establishing a place of worship for the god he loved the most. And eventually, for his devotion, he was liberated by Lord Rama and Lakshmana themselves. While the story might have been a work of fiction, according to me, the devotee’s dedication towards the temple construction was clearly visible. It was indeed a beautifully sculpted work on stone with clearly defined gopurams.
Finding god in unobvious places
We finished the darshan followed by a morning aarti and prasadam distribution within an hour. There was also a hot spring about 5 Km from the temple premise which is also considered to be holy. I saw quite a lot of people taking a dip believing in its divine as well as therapeutic powers. From there, we also headed to Parnasala, much to my aunts’ request of wanting to see the place of Rama and Sita’s exile. Stories are that during the ‘vanavasa’ Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana lived here before Sita was abducted. In fact, the spot from where Sita was abducted is also protected as a holy site.
It was still quite early in the morning and we had no plans to returning home before late evening. So we thought of exploring the place a little bit more. There is this place called Koonavaram, about 25 Km from the temple town, known for its scenic location and boat ride on the Godavari. Since we had booked a cab from Vijayawada to Bhadrachalam for the day, we had no trouble hopping from one place to another. We reached Koonavaram within an hour and a half. The boats run from 7 am to 10 am every morning. That is actually the best time to enjoy the surroundings before the sun reaches its peak.
We rented a boat just for the four of us for a peaceful ride. As the boat left the banks and slowly treaded on the water, it felt like another world. As far as my sight went around me, it was pure, clean, exclusively nature. No buildings, no vehicles, no shrieking cars or busy people. Even the boatmen were quietly steering, absorbing the surroundings. It seemed as if time had stopped. The only ever sound that caught my attention was the gurgling river and the early morning bird calls. Perhaps that is what divinity felt like. Didn’t I say that God is omnipresent?