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Moving Notes : Wither sacred monuments?

Moving Notes : Wither sacred monuments?
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Gazing at the dark waters of Penna, I asked Perugu Ramakrishna, a noted poet and a native of Nellore, who affectionately guided me there. 'I know that...

Gazing at the dark waters of Penna, I asked Perugu Ramakrishna, a noted poet and a native of Nellore, who affectionately guided me there. "I know that the poet Thikkana hailed from Nellore. Is there anything bearing his memory here?" He simply smiled and asked me to follow him. The old, shabby and small dwelling in a pit gave way to numerous thoughts

note1India is a strange country in which every village has a mythical background called sthalapurana as well as a historical background. Usually it would be such a long history that the person from the very neighborhood might not know it. I managed to visit the ancient Ranganadhaswami temple in Nellore only a few weeks back though it is only 140 km away from Tirupati where I have been living for the last four decades.

The temple is situated on the banks of the river Penna which flows from the east to the west as a natural boundary of the town on the south. The moment one enters the temple through the Rajagopura, one will mistake it for the temple of Srivilliputtur or a part of the temple complex of Srirangam. But the sanctum sanctorum with a flooring of modern granite plates and the walls awfully glittering with enamel paints lost its ancestral grandeur as Swami Ranganadha the main deity appears as if sleeping on a cot in a cheap hotel room.

The river Penna embracing the fleet of steps paved from the western gopura appears as black as Yamuna. It is a strange intermittent river that rises in the Nandi hills of Karnataka, then comes to Andhra Pradesh, flows through the districts of Ananthapur and Kadapa and then reaches Nellore before emptying into the ocean. It is obvious that the river had abundant water in the ancient period in the absence of human interference. The number of temples on its banks in all the three districts is a proof to it.

Gazing at the dark waters of Penna I asked Perugu Ramakrishna, a noted poet and a native of Nellore, who affectionately guided me there. "I know that the poet Thikkana hailed from Nellore. Is there anything bearing his memory here?" He simply smiled and asked me to follow him. We came out of the temple, turned left, came on to the bank of the river again and walked on a bumpy mud road for around ten minutes. After crossing an old and narrow bridge, Ramakrishna said, "Here it is... Here it is..."

There I saw an old, shabby and small dwelling in a pit. After getting down in to its precincts through a rusted grill-gate we saw a picture painted on an uneven wall. On the dark green background, it was written that the picture is that of Kavibrahma Thikkana who wrote 15 parvas of 'Srimad Mahabharatham' in Telugu.

Then I realised that the small dwelling which appeared to be an old house with a roof made of the flakes of stone was in fact an old mantapa. The people who constructed walls surrounding it and transformed it into a house with a good intention to protect it from vandalism couldn't realise that they were trespassing into the ancestral heritage. To my luck, I found an irregular window-cum-ventilator in the wall of that mantapa and I peeped through it. The shabby walls and the cement flooring didn't suit the stone mantapa.

The park beside the mantapa was named after Thikkana whose work was acclaimed by one and all. But the small park was full of weeds and the PWD department had been using it as a dump yard. It was a gutter filled with butts of cigarettes, empty alcohol bottles, crushed plastic bags and torn newspaper bits. The river on the back of the park had become drainage as well as a graveyard for the town. I reclined to the wall of the mantapa and closed my eyes to imagine how it would have been at the time of the inimitable poet, Thikkana.

It was an early morning, just before the dawn. Thikkana might have gone to the river, had his bath, returned to his mantapa, finished his pooja, sat on a mat and took the palm leaves to continue the writing of 'Mahabharatha'. The pure river would have been flowing smoothly and reverberating mellifluously as a Jalatharangini. Morning breezes would be swaying soothingly. The song of the koyal and the chirping of the birds would have created the perfect ambiance of a hermitage and the poet's composition would have progressed steadily.

Where was the 'Mahabharatha' and where was Thikkana? Though Hasthinapuri was Delhi, how far was it comparatively during those days? Thikkana would have never seen it and we have sufficient historical evidence to say that he visited Warangal and Guntur. He wouldn't have had even a glance of the river Yamuna, a live-river on the banks of which the 'Mahabharatha' took place. Thikkana's divine touch transformed the Sanskrit Mahabharatha into an out and out Telugu classic. It was not merely a translation as it is a marvelous trans-creation.

He learnt the characters of the classic, the nature of the Telugus and got them reared in the imaginary landscapes of Telugu region. He infused the spirit of the classic into the blood of the people of Telugu in such a way that we can't visualise our life without Mahabharatha. His influence is more predominant in the erstwhile old North Arcot, a neighbouring district where it is related as a harikatha and performed as a folk drama for 18 days in the name of Bharathayajna. Both the performing arts use the padyams of Thikkana profusely. Who would have taught a person born and brought up there and a person who helped the king of the region in the discharging of the diplomatic duties the alchemy of poetry, extraordinary imagination and relentless concentration? Where lays that magic in the waters of the river Penna?

The memory of the river brought me back to the present. What happened to that river? Where was that serenity? What happened to the memories of that unique poet? The temple of Siddeswara whom Thikkana worshipped in Patur, his native village 10 km away from Nellore, is in dilapidated state. The well, the waters of which Thikkana used to bathe has caved in. It is reported in the newspapers that the sheath of his Ghantam on which the pictures of Lord Vigneswara and Saraswathi were engraved on either side was preserved by the decedents of Thikkana.

It was also reported that a rosary chain and a coral used by Thikkana were still worshipped by a woman descendent living in Nellore. It is told that Thikkana built a temple of Hariharanatha adjacent to the present Ranghanadha temple and its remains were there till a few years back. The famous cultural association of Nellore, 'Varthamanasamajam' conducted birth anniversary festivals of Thikkana and later of the great trinity of Telugu poets from 1900 till the seventies which include Nannaya and Errapraggada. It seems like they too have lost their initial euphoria.

Thikkana was the first poet of Telugu literature who proclaimed that he wrote only to bring happiness to his people. It is only because of the lack of good translations that the people of other languages couldn't realize his greatness. It is not at all an exaggeration to say that he is as great as and even greater than such masters of literature like Shakespeare, Dante and Homer. We should feel proud of having such a great poet in our literature. But is the way to preserve the sacred memories of Thikkana?

Where are those throngs of snow showered yesterday?.

thikkanna mandapam

(The writer, son of renowned litterateur Madhurantakam Rajaram, is a well-known author)

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