By Parveen Chopra December 2001 With a long history, rich cultural and spiritual heritage, the Indian State of Andhra Pradesh is poised to enter a new era, where all-rounded development for all has been envisioned by its Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu Mohammmed Quli, who founded Hyderabad in 1591, decreed that it should be a replica of heaven and unparalleled in the world. The poet-king proclaimed his secular creed in a couplet: Kufra reet kya hor Islam reetHer ik reet mein hai ishq ka raz(What is the heathen’s way; which the Muslim’s? The basis of every creed is love.) The history of the race of the Andhras, believed to be Aryans who migrated here from beyond the Vindhyas, dates back to the pre-Christian era. Andhras are mentioned in the Aithareya Brahmana. And their recorded history goes back to the Mauryan period. The earliest of dynasties to have ruled over the Telugus was the Satavahana dynasty, also called the Salivahanas. Among the other notable rulers were the Kakatiyas in the 13th century AD. Literature, temple art and the fine arts reached their pinnacle during the rule of the Kakatiyas, who brought most Telugu speaking areas under their control. Following their decline in the 14th century, the Vijayanagar Empire was founded. Agriculture, commerce and the arts flourished in the Vijayanagar empire, which lasted till the 16th century. Later, the Telugus had their heyday under the Golconda kings. This was the Qutub Shahi dynasty under whose rule the bright feature was the achievement of the Hindu-Muslim unity. Telugu officials had a prominent place in the court. The Golconda kings patronized the culture of the Telugu-speaking people. They even encouraged the study of the Vedas. Indeed, even under later Muslim rulers, the Asif Jahi Nizams, freedom of religion here was exemplary. This and the state’s geographical location-where south and north India converge-have given rise to its much-vaunted composite culture. The political stability in the region also gave impetus to the growth of art and culture. Says Narender Luther, 68, former chief secretary of the state: ‘Andhra Pradesh is a microcosm of India. The composite culture of the state stems from a willingness to accept whatever’s good.’ Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu is writing a new chapter in the history of the state. He is harnessing the most modern technology to improve the quality of people’s lives. At the same time, spirituality is being encouraged to promote happiness and contentment. The second cannot, of course, bypass the first. Renunciatory tendencies in the past have brought India to a pass where, to use a Hindi saying, maya mili naa Ram (we found neither God nor wealth). SPIRITUALLY ECLECTIC ‘Spirituality has always been part of the life of people here,’ says Phani Kumar, Commissioner, Directorate of Information and Public Relations in the government of Andhra Pradesh. This, he says, has two aspects. One, the state has a good representation of all major national spiritual movements. The Arya Samaj, Bramho Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission, Ramachandra Mission, Swaminarayans and Brahma Kumaris-all have a base here. The people of Andhra have accepted all. ‘Two, you take any place of pilgrimage in the country, be it Sai Baba’s temple at Shirdi or the temple of Ayyappa Swami in Sabarimala, Kerala, the biggest contingent of visitors there will invariably be from Andhra Pradesh. You will find notices written everywhere in Telugu also,’ he says. Jiddu Krishnamurti, one of the greatest thinkers and philosophers of modern times, was from Madanapalli in Chittoor district. He founded the big residential Rishi Valley School, also in Chittoor district. Sathya Sai Baba, who is based in Puttaparthi, is a major spiritual force of a different kind. Sadguru Sivananda, based in Vijayanagar, is another well-known spiritual teacher. People of Andhra accept any kind of spiritual initiative taken by anyone anywhere, says Phani Kumar. ‘This feeling of inclusiveness and acceptance goes beyond religious barriers as well. One of the most famous dargahs in Andhra, of Kale Shah Mastaan Ali in Nellore, attracts more Hindu visitors than Muslims, and their names would be Mastaan Iyer, Mastaan Reddy, and so on.’ It seems that when Mohammed Tughlak came to the south, many Sufi saints came with him. Sufism remains a living tradition in the state, with many active centers. Among the many Muslim religious landmarks is the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad. Its name is derived from the Grand Mosque in Mecca on which it is patterned. It is one of the biggest mosques in the country and can seat 10,000 worshippers at a time. One of the largest churches in the country, with a seating capacity of 5,000, is Medak, 60 km from Hyderabd. Noted for its Gothic architecture, it has a majestic tower and three huge stained-glass windows that tell Biblical tales pictorially. It was consecrated in 1924. The Buddhist influence in Andhra gained ground during the reign of Emperor Ashoka. The dhamma( the path)was preached here, as it was in all corners of Ashoka’s sprawling kingdom. Thereafter, Buddhism in the state received another boost with the presence of the great scholar Nagarjuna. Nagarjuna is credited with founding the Mahayana branch of Buddhism. The philosophy Nagarjuna popularised is known as Madhyamika, or the Middle Path, and marked the turning point for Buddhism in terms of its imminent absorption into Hinduism. Andhra Pradesh became a Buddhist stronghold due to the active patronization by the wealthy classes of the Godavari-Krishna delta. The largest number of Buddhist chaityas, viharas and stupas has been unearthed in Andhra Pradesh, and not Bihar, as is commonly believed. Some major sites in the area where Buddhist relics have been excavated are Nagarjunakonda, Anupu, Dhulikatta, Aduru, Bhattiprolu and Bavikonda, among others. At Nagajurnakonda, the main stupa contains sacred relics of the Buddha and there is also a partly ruined monolithic Buddha statue at the museum there. Incidentally, Mahastupa, the largest Buddhist stupa in the country, is at Amravati, one of the four main centers of Buddhist learning in India. TEMPLES GALORE Though the neighboring Tamil Nadu is better known for its temple towns like Madurai, Andhra Pradesh has many towns with major temple complexes. Situated atop the seven hills of Tirumala in the Eastern Ghats, lies the heavenly abode of Lord Venkateswara (Balaji for north Indians). With a number of temples situated in its vicinity, like the ones in Srisailam and in Ahobilam, Sri Venkateswara temple is arguably the most popular and visited religious site in the world. It is where, according to mythology, Lord Vishnu is believed to have manifested spontaneously (swayam vyakta sthala). The word ‘Venkateswara‘ has its roots in Vem-kat—one who cuts or washes away sins, and that is what the Lord is believed to do by the millions of devotees seeking his refuge. With some Shaiv elements also apparent in the idol, the deity has been worshipped with equal fervor by Vashnavites and Shaivates through ages and has been patronized by the Pallavas, the Cholas, the Pandyas and later rulers with the same reverence. Though its origin is shrouded in veils of mystery, the present system of worship and management was laid in the 12th century by Sri Ramanujacharya. Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), the organization which looks after the management of the temple complex, is considered the best of its kind in the country. Of course, an organization managing a temple that draws millions of visitors and has an annual revenue collection of over Rs 300 crore, and gold reserves sufficient to crush the bullion market, has to be that way. Another temple not very far from Tirupati but far less popular (because of vastu reasons, says B.N. Reddy, parliamentarian and vastu expert), is Sri Kalahasti, situated on the banks of river Swarnamukhi. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva in the form of Vayu Linga. The name ‘Sri Kalahasti’ is derived from the legend depicting a spider (sri), a snake (kala) and an elephant (hasti) as the ancient worshippers of the idol. Mantralayam in Kurnool district is another popular pilgrimage center, dedicated to Sri Raghavendra Swami, a great proponent of the Madhava school of Dwaita Vedanta, which propounds that God is independent of his creation. He excelled in many fields such as logic, music, yoga, dharma shastra and all the 64 arts. Considered an avatar of Prahlada, he chose his Brindavan Manchaale (meaning the saint’s dwelling place, which got Sanskritized as Mantralayam later) on the bank of the Tungabadhra, in 1671 AD. This spot is where Prahlada had supposedly performed his yajna in krita yuga. His nephew, Narayanacharya, wrote Raghavendra Vijaya, which gives a full account of the life of this great saint. Thousands of devotees flock to have darshan of their revered saint, whom they believe to be present there even today, to get their desires fulfilled. By now, over 300 temples devoted to the saint have come up in cities like Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai. Lepakshi, known for its rich fine art in stone carving and architectural beauty, is situated in the Ananthapur district. Famous for the Veerabhadhra temple, with magnificent hanging pillars and carvings of the Vasthupurusha, Lepakshi has become synonymous with the monolithic sculpture of Nandi (Shiva’s vehicle). CULTURAL CONTRIBUTION One of the major classical dance forms of India, Kuchipudi, takes its name from a village in the Krishna district of Andhra. It was developed by Swami Siddhendra Yogi who incorporated a repertoire of religious themes in the dance form. Says Phani Kumar: ‘It focuses on creating rasa in an individual. How do you change his mood to anger, or fear? Kuchipudi focuses on this aspect, and epitomizes the power of dance.
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