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
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
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
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
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
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
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.