Hindu Bhakti (Devotional) Stories Index
Bhakta Kshetrayya

Stories of Devotees, Stories from Puranas, Stories from Hindu Mythology, Stories of Bhakthas, Stories of Alwars, Stories of Nayanars, Stories of Hindu Saints, Biographies of Hindu Philosophers, Stories of Hindu Sages, Stories of Hindu Gods and Goddesses,
God lives in the heart of those who install God in their hearts. He raises such people above the others and makes them his messengers on Earth. Kshetrayya was one such chosen few by Muvva Gopala. He was born in 1595 and died in 1660. He had the talent of composing songs in simple style. God changed his life style and the direction of his songs.

Kshetrayya’s original name was Varadayya. It was deduced from the Mudra Varada found in his songs. He was a devotee of Gopala in his village Movva. The legend says the Venu Gopala Temple in Muvva was constructed over night by Devatas. Movva attained its name from Moudaglya Maharshi. Gradually it became Muvva and later Movva. One day, as he was meditating upon God, in the temple God manifested himself before him and proclaimed, ‘Oh, my son! you will attain a name and fame as a great composer of songs. You go on a pilgrimage to all the holy places and visit the royal courts. You spread the message of Divine Grace through holy love.’

When he came back to senses, there was nobody. He was glad he had the grace of Divine presence and ran to his house to convey the news. Mother was grieved to be separated from her son, but the wise father realized that they should not stand in his way. He convinced her that they should fulfil the message imparted to him. So they blessed him wholeheartedly and sent him on his mission.

Varadayya reached Mohanangi’s house. She was a ‘devadasi’. They both grew up together in Movva - played together, went together to the Kuchipudi Kalakshsetra nearby to learn music and dance. Varadayya became a good composer and singer, While Mohanangi became a good dancer. Varadayya composed many Bhakti numbers while Mohanangi trained herself as the temple dancer.

Both of them had many common interests. They loved fine arts and they are staunch devotees of Muvva Gopala. So they spent a greater part of their evening in the temple premises. He sang melodiously his Bhakti songs to which she danced wonderfully. Her steps and her expressions brought a divine look to her face. They were thus lost in their own sweet world.

Varadayya informed Mohanangi that she was leaving Movva to spread the name of God far and wide through his musical numbers. He promised to send word for her from Kanchi.

Varadayya began his journey into the world of musical numbers from that minute. His first halt was at Golconda.
It was 17th Century. Abdulla Kutubsha was ruling over the place. He was a lover of fine arts. Varadayya found an entry into his palace, through some courtiers, who were related to him. Varadayya was surprised at the pomp and show of the Nawab’s court. He sang a few numbers in praise of the Nawab. Nawab was highly pleased and honoured Varadayya.

The royal dancer’s name was Kamala. She fell flat for Varadayya at his handsome features. She tried her level best to make him fall a prey to her but in Vain. Varadayya was beyond temptation for any woman. Even if Helen of Troy stood before aim, he would have cared a foot for her! Varadayya had only one ambition in life - to devote his life and soul in the name of God and to finally merge with Muvva Gopala. So Kamala was not successful.

Varadayya wanted to proceed on his mission. He liked to be with the Nawab for various reasons no doubt, but all the same he wanted to leave on his errand. The Kuchipudi Kalakshetra which laid the seeds of music in him was promoted by the Nawab. Moreover the Nawab had a soft corner for him. The Nawab was shocked at his proposal. He took it for granted he would stay with him forever. Varadayya explained to him his life’s purpose and promised to stay with him again, on his way back.

Next destination was Madurai. The ruler of Madurai then was Tirumala Nayakudu. Many great warriors migrated themselves to South India in the time of Vijayanagar empire and established their provinces there. Varadayya visited all the provinces ruled by Telugu speaking King’s. Madurai was one such Telugu speaking territory.
Tirumala Nayakudu was a cultured man. He was more inclined towards spiritual path and orthodox principles unlike Golconda Nawab. Varadayya sang some songs in praise of this king too.

Romantic poems were ruling the world those days. So Varadayya also composed songs in those lines, but his specialty was - they were not mere romantic songs. Outwardly that is the theme but they have a subtle, inner meaning underlying the surface meaning. It was not love towards the opposite sex, but love for the Supreme Being, the Almighty! It conveyed that our love should be ultimately tuned towards the Almighty. The wiseacres and the devotees were thrilled at the subtle meaning interwoven wonderfully while the common people were delighted at the romantic feeling and at the flowery language. The king and his poets were surprised at his mastery. They developed devotion for him.
Varadayya visited Madurai temple every day as long as he was there. Then he proceeded to Kanchi. Kanchi promotes both Siva and Vishnu cults. It is known as Siva Kanchi and Vishnu Kanchi.

These are Ekamreswara temple and Kamakshi Devi temple in Siva Kanchi. There is an age old mango tree in Ekamreswara temple. The legend goes that Kamakshi meditated upon Siva, seated under the tree. The specialty of the tree is - the mangoes on this tree have four different tastes on four different branches. They stand for the four Vedas.
Vishnu Kanchi is known for Varadaraja Swami Temple. Lakshmi Devi is a few yards away from her Lord Varadayya felt his life purpose was fulfilled when he had the Darsan of Varadaraja Swami. Next to Muvva Gopala, Varadaraja Swami stole his heart.

Varadayya’s Bhakti reached its peak in Kanchi. He pictured himself as the lady love, in love with the Lord. He was lost in meditation against one pillar or the other for hours together.

Once when he was thus lost in prayer, the temple priest locked the doors and left. Neither the priest noticed him nor Varadayya knew he was locked inside. Towards dawn Varadayya came to his senses. He saw Goddess Lakshmi going back to her Sanctum Santorum, from that of her Lord. Her hair was unplaited, the chains in her neck got entangled, her beautiful eyes revealed sleeplessness; she was walking very slowly accompanied by her maids on either side.

What a feast to the eyes! What a rare opportunity! Poetry is nothing but spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. A poet like Varadayya, who interwove Bhakti and devotion, could not get a better opportunity than this to compose a poem with such a theme. He described the above mentioned scene in his song.

‘Maguva tana Kelikaamandiram Vedalen
Vagakada, Maa Kanchi Varada, Tellavaare Nanuchu

The priest, when he opened the temple in the morning, was surprised to see Varadayya locked inside. What a blessed soul he was.

He stayed in Kanchi for a month. He received an invitation from the head of Tanjore - Vijaya Raghava. In fact, Varadayya visited the king of Tanjore before he visited Madura. Surprisingly the king was hostile with him and questioned the reason for his coming. Varadayya instead of being offended, composed a song on him, but left immediately.

The king later heard of his name and fame and sent an invitation to his Varadayya did not take him insult to heart so revisited him. Raghunadha Vijaya Raghavulu had a taste for fine arts and was great poet himself. (He donated an ‘Agrahar’ named Achyutapuram to the Kuchipudi Dancers). These nayakas belonged to Vijayanagar Empire and they settled down in the South. Many artists too came down to South India after the downfall of Krishnadeva Raya. Raghunadha Nayaka donated ‘Achyutapuram’ to the Kuchipudi dancers.

Raghunadha Nayaka paved the way for Telugu drama. He constructed a theatre for dramas and turned Tanjore into a fine arts place. There was a famous ‘Lakshmi Bhavanam’ in Tanjore. It was Vignan Mandir. Versatile writers - men or women were highly honoured there. Among the women Madhuravani, Ramabhadramba, Krishnaji, Rangajamma were famous. They received special honours from the king.

Vijaya Raghava succeeded the throne after his father Raghunadha Nayaka. He became more popular than his father in his love for literature or for his own poems. He composed nearly 40 Kavyas, more than the number of Kavyas composed by others. The writer Rangajamma was his concubine. She composed a ‘Prabhanda’ called Mannarudasa Vilasam (Vijaya Raghava was fondly called Mannarudas) in praise of his romantic gestures. She also composed Usha parinayam. She was attracted towards Varadayya but other poets in the King’s court grew jealous of him. They were waiting for an opportune moment to defame him.

They approached the king when he was in a good mood and pin pointed two, three mistakes in his poetry. First he addressed the king in singular you, which lacked respect. Secondly his words were not high sounding. They were lowly and sometimes conveyed obscene meaning too !

Varadayya answered all their attacks ‘I respect Vijaya Raghava as a king, but love him as a friend. I treated him as a friend in my poetry. In fact I address God also that way. Such an addressing denotes my pure love for them. Regarding my style - my poems are prose poems Classical poetry is different from this category. This is meant for dance drama. It should be closer to the spoken language. I believe in simple language. Regarding the obscene language describing romance -my romance is not limited to physical urge but is extended to eternal bliss. ‘He in return gave them a half written poem to complete it and left on his pilgrimage.

Varadayya sent word to Mohanangi, as promised, when he was in Kanchi, but unfortunately he left for Tanjore as she reached there. She was very much disappointed, but the temple priest consoled her and provided her all the amenities there. He said Varadayya would return any minute.

In the meanwhile, she gave a dance performance to the songs of Varadayya. The people were thrilled at the visual impact of the songs they heard. She was in turn thrilled at the name Varadayya won there and at the song he composed to the beautiful scene he witnessed.

Unable to wait for long, she left for Tanjore with her brother, but ill fate seemed to rule over her. Varadayya had already left for Rameswaram from there. She gathered news that the royal poets were against him, but that Rangajamma had a soft corner for him. She met her personally and both of them liked each other at the first meeting itself. Rangajamma made her stay with her.

Varadayya, on the other hand, reached Sri Rangam. It is a big temple with seven Prakaras. The vast temple filled with peaceful and holy atmosphere looked like Vaikuntam (it is also called Bhuloka Vaikuntam even today). He had the Darsan of the Lord in a reclining pose. He composed poems in praise of the Lord.

Then he proceeded to Rameswaram. It is said that Sri Rama had installed the Siva Linga there. The temple is famous for its pillars. He stayed there for a month and composed a few poems there. He felt nostalgic towards Muvva and wanted to go back via Tanjore and Golconda.

Back in Tanjore, Mohanangi was unable to bear her separation with Varadayya. Six months rolled by, with no news of him. Finally Rangajamma brought a piece of good news. Some pilgrims from Rameswaram brought the message that Varadayya would land there within a week. In that happy mood, Rangajamma asked her to come to the court and dance in tune to the songs composed by Varadayya. She would be best suited to depict the lady love’s moods waiting for her lover. Rangajamma decked her with royal robes and jewellery. Her beauty doubled up with the make up. Vijaya Raghava, who heard about her from Rangajamma showed interest in witnessing her dance.

She had not danced for long and never in a King’s court So she initially, fumbled but being an expert dancer, recovered herself and was engrossed in her dance. The king, Rangajamma the courtiers, the common men all disappeared before her. She imagined herself waiting for her lover. So she lived in her feelings. The spectators were transformed into a beautiful scene. At such a time, Varadayya appeared on the scene and Mohanangi’s joy knew no bounds. She stopped her dance and stood transfixed to the ground. Varadayya approached her. Tears of joy rolled down her cheeks.

Then Varadayya looked enquiringly at the king and the royal poets regarding his half completed poem. The eldest poet accepted defeat on behalf of all other poets. Rangajamma couldn’t help them! The gist of the poem was the heroine in it was a love lorn lady, eagerly waiting for the arrival of her lover. She saw other ladies with their lovers and felt very sad. What was her next reaction? Anybody in such a situation would either get angry at her lover or would be a prey to a sexual urge! If she is a meek woman would resign humbly to the circumstances. But the royal poets dared not complete it in any of these lines since they are anybody’s guess! Varadayya would not have asked for a normal reply! So they did not want to give a typical answer and become a laughing stock.

Then Varadayya completed it thus -
‘Rama! , Rama!, Ee., menito nika vani
Momu chudavalena, modati ponde chalu

This is another typical example of his style of poems. Had they been a little clever, they could have guessed it. We have already seen that his theme is not belittled to physical love. It is beyond that. It leads to spiritual love. The same situation here. She began with a physical love for Gopala like any other Gopika, but she was above them. So, though initially she was disappointed, she rose above her feelings and consoled herself that her one lovemaking with Gopala is a life time achievement. She thus developed platonic love for the God.

The king and the courtiers were stunned at the graceful conclusion. Vijaya Raghava in his drama, ‘Vijaya Raghava Chandrika Viharam’ imitated the style of Varadayya. It gives one an impression that this was written by Varadayya.
Varadayya and Mohanangi took leave of the king and left for Muvva. They halted for sometime at Kanchi. Mohanangi danced, when Varadayya sang his wonderful song, which described the goddess going back to her Mandir one early morning. Mohanangi ‘danced’ is a simple word. She grasped the essence of the meaning and lived in it. She imagined herself in such a situation.

Varadayya felt he was witnessing the scene once again. The spectators praised the duo. They honoured Varadayya with the name ‘Kshetrayya’.

Then they reached Golconda. Varadayya’s name and fame reached Kutubsha’s ears. He was eagerly waiting to see him. He offered a royal poet’s post but Varadayya gently rejected, explaining his desire.

There was a great poet called Tulsi Murthy in the Nawab’s court. He had talent but he had no confidence over himself. The Nawab said one day, ‘why don’t you compose poems like Kshetrayya extempore?’ Tulsi Murthy, as usual, expressed his inability. He said he stood nowhere before Kshetrayya. The latter had the blessings of Muvva Gopala.
Then the Nawab wanted to provoke Tulsi Murthy indirectly. He challenged Kshetrayya to compose 1500 songs within 40 days. He pleaded, ‘I know you are second to none, but still I am raising this challenge, so that it could be an eye-opener to some of my royal poets.’

Kshetrayya took it in the right spirit, and agreed to take up the challenge in the name of Muvva Gopala. Murthy was offended. Instead of trying to compose poem, as the Nawab hoped, he was scheming of ways and means to block Kshetrayya’s way. He had no personal grudge against Kshetrayya, but was angry with him for disturbing his peaceful life. Enemy’s enemy is our friend. He hit upon a plan. He conspired with the royal dancer Kamala, who was waiting for a chance to take revenge on Kshetrayya. She called Kshetrayya, sweetly to her palace, asking him to forgive her. Kshetrayya knew only universal love. So he could not guess the venomous feeling beyond the sweetness.

He went to her house, as promised. She was all sweet and honey to him and served him a drink which contained love potion in it. Kshetrayya took it innocently. Within no time, he could make out some difference in himself. He wanted to get away, but his body was not co-operating with him. Kamala was looking coquettishly at him, but he could not drive her far! Kamala was glad her plan had worked out. She was rest assured he would fall a prey to her and so she wanted to dodge him for sometime, as a sweet revenge. So, with all courteous manners, she sent him back home.

Varadayya came back home in a dazed look. Mohanangi saw the change in him, but thought he was worried about his challenge. So she consoled him, but Varadayya, stood up and his feet automatically took him to Kamala’s house. Suspicious of his strange behaviour, Mohanangi followed him. She was shocked to see. Varadayya enjoying the dance of Kamala. She dragged him home angrily and begged him to narrate what happened. She could guess what happened and immediately made him take an antidote to the love potion. They gathered that it was the scheming of Kamala and Murthy but they did not utter a single word against them. He was regularly going to the court.

The last day of the challenge had come but till then Varadayya had not penned a single poem. Mohanangi began to pray incessantly. Kshetrayya was lost in meditation. Suddenly there was a glow on his face. He felt as if he got message from Muvva Gopala. He began writing. He wrote the whole night. By dawn, the prescribed number was completed.
Kshetrayya came to his senses early in the morning. He was wonderstruck at the number of poems. He wondered whether he had written them or God himself. He woke up Mohanangi and her joy knew no bounds. People were shocked and Murthy and Kamala held the heads down in shame.

Kshetrayya wanted to visit some more Kshetras enroute. This time, he was not keen on visiting any king. They sent Mohanangi’s brother back to Muvva and they visited Bhadrachalam, Sri Giri and Tirupathi. Climbing up the seven hills those days was a hazardous task, but they reached on top of the seven hills. It is treated as the abode of God. He was delighted to have Darsan of God. He learnt all the stories related to God. They stayed there for a month.

All told, Kshetrayya visited 20 Kshetras wherever he went; he praised lord Krishna, since he saw Krishna in any deity.
Finally he reached Muvva. He left the place ten years ago. He was not very old, but he looked aged enough. So Mohanangi felt it was high time, they came back.

They came back on Krishnastami day. Kshetrayya and Mohanangi went straight to the temple. As was their custom, Kshetrayya sang and Mohanangi danced in tune with it. People flocked in large number to witness the spectacular scene. To them, these two looked like Radha Krishna engrossed in their platonic love.

Even they were engrossed in their music and dance, Kshetrayya felt a holy touch and his Atma joined Paramathma. Mohanangi knew next second; he attained Moksha and shed tears of joy. She fell down to the physical body of Kshetrayya and was lost to the earthly world.

Varadayya as assigned by the God, went round all the Kshetras, spread the universal love of God, and in return won the name of Kshetrayya. Kshetrayya Padaalu are popular even today. Once his life’s purpose was fulfilled he joined Paramathma.

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