BY Ravi Valluri
The year was 2004. It was the first day of November when I alighted from a train at Guntakal in the Rayalseema area of the undivided Andhra Pradesh to take charge as the Senior Divisional Operations Manager at Guntakal Division.
Guntakal is a bijou town known primarily for its railway establishment. The Divisional headquarters provides preeminent connectivity from Chennai towards Mumbai, Howrah and Bengaluru.
The region is endued with high-priced minerals and metals like dolomite, bauxite, quartz, limestone, and iron ore. There are important cement factories that dot the landscape. My brief in operations was to enhance iron ore exports to China (the country was building stadia across its landscape) by ensuring efficient loading from a host of terminals spanning from Bellary to Guntakal West. Apart from mineral deposits, there is the Rayalseema Thermal Power Plant at Muddanur that generates power to illuminate the area; Temples of Modern India, to quote Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru.
Rayalseema is an arid and sun-baked region by day and as the sun sinks into the western skies, an unexpected chill sets in and a cool breeze wafts across the desiccated landscape. I distinctly recall that potable water was in short supply and the railway establishment imported cans of water from Nandaluru, another nanoscopic almost vest-pocket size town in the region.
I hurriedly freshened up and reached my new office. However my personal secretary had other ideas. He declared in a rather supplicant manner, “Saar you have to pay obeisance to Lord Hanuman who had wrecked havoc over the diabolical and demonic Ravana.” Thus pell-mell we made our way to the Sri Nettikanti Anjaneya Swami Temple, the famous Lord Hanuman temple in Kasapuram, barely 4kilometres from the railway station.
Little did I know that our religious sojourn would not terminate there. In quick succession I was chaperoned to the Buggasangala Sivalayam, Jambudweepachakra at Konakondla, Sri Venkateswara Temple and eventually to the Sri Guntakallappa Temple (the presiding deity of Guntakal). I well nigh wondered whether such a delay would be viewed in proper spirit by my new boss.
However the effervescent Divisional Railway Manager, Mr. Carmelius parried my doubts. Waving his hands affectionately, he mentioned that he too had undertaken a parikrama of these holy shrines upon joining the coveted post. Later I realised, it was almost an unwritten ukase for all railwaymen joining Guntakal Division. Officers of all faiths, castes and creeds undertake this peregrination to ward off the baleful eye. I was quintessentially impressed with the plurality and facileness of the denizens of Guntakal.
The Rayalseema is a geographic entity in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India. It includes the southern districts of Chittoor, Kadapa and Kurnool Anantapur, and an area of 67,526 km2.
Although Rayalseema is a piffling region compared to the rest of Telugu-speaking areas, its contribution to Telugu, Kannada, Tamil, and Urdu arts, culture and literature is unparalleled.
The well-known suzerain of the Rayalseema region was Sri Krishnadevaraya. It was also the original home of the Eastern Chalukyas, who gradually expanded their sway over Karnataka under pressure from the Chola kings.
During the British era, the Nizam of Hyderabad ceded this area to the British, and the area came to be known as the “Ceded Districts”. Around the time of the freedom movement, the area was renamed as Rayalseema; an amalgamation of the words ‘Rayala’ (from the title ‘Raya’ or ‘Rayalu’ used by the Vijayanagara kings) and ‘seema’, which was an administrative unit of the Vijayanagara Empire.
Rayalseema is larger than several states in India and borders Tamil Nadu to the south, Karnataka to the west and Telangana to the north.
The region contributes 52 assembly segments to Andhra Pradesh state legislature and 8 parliamentary constituencies. These Telugu-speaking districts were part of the Madras Presidency until 1953, when Telugu-speaking districts of the Presidency were carved out to form Andhra State. From 1953 to 1956, the region was part of Andhra State.
In 1956, the Telangana region too was merged with Andhra State to form Andhra Pradesh State. Earlier, Bellary district too was part of Rayalseema. With the formation of states based on languages, Bellary was joined to Karnataka though the city continues to have large numbers of Kannada and Telugu speaking people.
It would be singular to mention that signs and symbols play a role in all the world’s religions as objects on which thoughts and prayers can be focussed. Spiritual and religious symbols point a way through the numinous world of religious belief, acting as badges of faith, teaching tools and aids on the pilgrimage towards appreciating complex philosophies.
The landscape of Rayalseema is dotted with a humungous number of temples and pilgrimage spots which provide sanctuary to the faithful. The most prominent is the Lord Venkateswara Temple, the Lord of Seven Hills at Tirumala. There are several others too. Important among these is the Sri Bhramaramba Mallikarjana Swami temple at Srisailam, the only temple in India revered as a Jyotirlinga and Shaktipeeth. The fabled Khadiri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Temple at Kadri and Tallapaka the birthplace of the legendary Annamayacharya are significant spots.
In modern times the devout make a beeline to the Raghavendra Swami Mutt at Mantralayam on the banks of Tungabhadra River. Raghavendra Swami is believed to be in a state of live samadhi over here. At Puttaparthi is Prashanti Nillayam, where Bhagwan Satya Sai Baba lived and cast his mortal self. The abode of Jiddu Krishnamurthy, erudite scholar and philosopher is located at Madanapalle near Horsley Hills.
The region of Rayalseema is replete with history, historical places, ancient historical sites like the Belum caves and an array of temples. It is a must visit area for agnostics, theists and atheists alike.
“Your daily life is your temple and your religion. When you enter into it take with you all,” wrote Khalil Gibran. The inhabitants of Rayalseema adhere to this principle in letter and spirit.