As we open our newspapers every morning, we find so many reports of prominent people getting into trouble owing to graft or other charges related to corruption. In this context, recalling the story of a great devotee and music composer Gopanna, more popularly known as Ramadas, should be of interest.
Gopanna was born around 1635 in Andhra Pradesh as the son of Kancherla Gopadas, a Niyogi Vaishnavite Brahmin. He was an intelligent student and completed traditional learning successfully. He was also trained in music. His mother’s brothers were the famous Akkanna and Maadhanna, great scholars and political tacticians. They were the trusted ministers of Abul Hasan Tanashah, king of Golconda. On their advice, Gopanna was given a government job as Tashildar of Bhadrachalam. Soon, he won fame for his honesty and devotion to duty and the king.
One day, while on his rounds, Gopanna noticed a dilapidated thatched temple with the idols of Ram, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman. Its condition moved Gopanna so much that he started building with his own funds a grand temple for Ram. Soon, all his money was spent. Wondering how to complete the temple, he found that enough money was available in the government treasury which he could use and reimburse later with donations.
Being an honest officer is no easy matter in any age and Gopanna earned a number of jealous enemies. Some of them went to Abul Hasan and told him that Gopanna was illegally using government money for temple construction. According to some accounts, six lakh varahas of the treasury funds were used.
Gopanna was arrested and taken to the king’s court in Golconda. He explained that he had never intended to misuse government money and that he would reimburse it with donations after completing the temple. The king was not impressed and told Gopanna that he would be sent to jail for 12 years. If the money was not returned by then, he would be hanged.
In the Golconda jail, Gopanna, considered a sangita sahitya nipuna (master-composer), spent time composing beautiful songs dedicated to Lord Ram. In some of these songs, he has given details of the amounts spent on various temple items. He has said that he got Sitamma (mother goddess) a necklace made of gold flakes looking like tamarind leaves. The cost was 10,000 varahas . For Lakshman, he got made a pair of kadiyas , worn on the arms, at a cost of 10,000 varahas . Most of these items of jewellery are still preserved in the Bhadrachalam temple.
As days rolled by, there was no sign of Lord Ram coming to Gopanna’s rescue. Gopanna sometimes got angry and in one of his compositions, where he gives the details of the jewels made, he asks Ram: “Did you give the money for all these or did your father-in-law give the money? I spent it on my own. Why are you not protecting me?”
Until the last day of the 12-year deadline was reached there was no sign of help coming. The next morning the hangman was to do the job. But a miracle happened overnight, according to popular belief. Ram and Lakshman suddenly appeared in the bedroom of Abul Hasan and woke him up from his sleep. Seeing the two effulgent figures standing before him, the king exclaimed: “Who are you, how did you manage to get into my bedroom?” Ram said he and his brother had brought the money owed by Gopanna and after verifying it he should order the release of Gopanna immediately. The king did so and thus ended his incarceration.
Some scholars dismiss the story of Ram and Lakshman paying up the money. They also say that Gopanna was actually imprisoned by his jealous enemies and that Abul Hasan held a fair and impartial enquiry, found Gopanna innocent and sent him back to Bhadrachalam with due honours.
For those who do not give credence to the appearance of Lord Ram, devout people point to the story of Lt.Col. Pierce, the British Collector of Chingleput in Tamil Nadu, who officially recorded seeing the divine brothers and that is available in the Madras Gazetteer of the 18th Century.
The account is as follows: The irrigation tank of Madurantakam often gave way in heavy rains but the people of the place said their prayers to Ram, the presiding deity of the local temple. He always answered them and protected the tank bund from bursting. Pierce said if that were true and if God protected the tank bund that day, he would donate for temple renovation. That night, Pierce was standing some distance away from the bund and anxiously watching if it would break in the heavy rain. He suddenly noticed two effulgent figures carrying bows and arrows walking up and down. That night, no damage happened to the bund. The next day, Pierce kept his word. A plaque in the divine mother’s shrine speaks of the British Collector’s donation.
Now for lessons: Ram is praised for all that is right and ethical. In this case, he did not interfere with the king’s justice sentencing Ramadas for misusing government money. In fact, Ram paid due regard to Abul Hasan and his orders. Ramadas had to spend the stipulated 12 years in jail. But when the hangman’s noose tightened, Ram came to his devotee’s rescue. That is proof enough that Ram does not tolerate wrong means even to attain right goals, even if the victim was his sincere devotee. But once the penalty had been paid, the Lord came to his rescue.
Another noteworthy point is that it is not necessary to build a temple to worship Ram. Everyone’s heart itself is a grand temple for the divine couple and worshipping Him there is adequate. But if a devotee is eager to build a temple in brick and mortar, he can certainly do so provided the means are clean.
(The writer, a former
News Editor of The Hindu, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
In Ramadas' case, Lord Ram did not interfere with the king’s justice sentencing him for misusing government money. But once he underwent the punishment, the Lord saved him.