The trials and tribulations of Godavari delta

Oil paintings made by two brothers narrate the tales of famine, Dowleswaram anicut and Sir Arthur Cotton

Published - August 26, 2020 11:08 pm IST - DOWLESWARAM (EAST GODAVARI)

A slice of history:  Ganta Raja Gopal showing the paintings at the photo gallery of the  Sir Arthur Cotton Museum at Dowleswaram in East Godavari district.

A slice of history: Ganta Raja Gopal showing the paintings at the photo gallery of the Sir Arthur Cotton Museum at Dowleswaram in East Godavari district.

The Godavari delta has, of course, earned the sobriquet of the rice bowl of Andhra Pradesh. But, many are oblivious to the series of tribulations it has endured during the journey of becoming the backbone of the State’s agrarian economy.

The famine that ravaged the delta in 1830s and how the vision of Sir Arthur Thomas Cotton, a British general and irrigation engineer, to build an anicut at Dowleswaram, which not only solved the woes of the perennial flood but also made the delta a prosperous agricultural zone, is quite a history.

Saga of resilience

The oil paintings in the museum built in the honour Sir Arthur Thomas Cotton at Dowleswaram in East Godavari district tell the stories. And the credit goes two painter brothers from Dowleswaram– Ganta Rama Rao and Ganta Raja Gopal—who vividly depicted on the canvass the saga of endurance and resilience by taking inspiration from the written history.

In 1987, the Irrigation Department planned to set up a photo gallery at the museum on the history of the anicut and the role of Sir Arthur Cotton in building it. In May that year, the museum was inaugurated.

The construction of the anicut began in April 1847 and the Dowleswaram anicut was ready by March 1852, suggests ‘Delta Silpi- Arthur Cotton’ written by Gummaluru Satyanarayana.

Anicut in the making

Twenty-two and odd oil paintings take the visitors to the period of Godavari famine when babies were sold in the streets, hunger and deprivation ruled the roost and migration was the order of the day. They narrate the stories of how the Dowleswaram anicut was built—Sir Arthur Cotton surveying the Godavari, workers carrying machinery and material, and more.

“We made these paintings based on the written history and the records of the Irrigation Department. I assisted my brother Ganta Rama Rao all through. He died a few years ago,” Mr. Raja Gopal (62) told The Hindu .

As three paintings made by Rama Rao in late 1980s got damaged and Mr. Raja Gopal was assigned by the Irrigation Department to recreate them. Pagadala Madana Gopal, a senior officer of the Irrigation Department, launched the project.

“Having acquaintance with the project, the officials asked me early this year to recreate the damaged paintings that depicted work at the site of anicut, digging up wells and Lady Cotton teaching children of the workers. I have completed them,” says Mr. Raja Gopal.

Mr. Raja Gopal, a matriculate by academic standard, is now working as a painter in the Irrigation Department and he is on a two-year extension of service.

“Creating this visual gallery is quite memorable for our family. I am eager to paint more about the history of Godavari irrigation system and Sir Arthur Cotton,” adds Mr. Raja Gopal.

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