What comes to your mind when you think of a temple town? Narrow roads, hundreds of people flocking around, hordes of vendors milling on the streets and a centrally located temple complex around which the entire energy and economy of the town is concentrated. If that is what you have in mind, you’re in for a surprise, for Bhadrachalam defies all the stereotypes associated with temples towns. Located on the banks of the Godavari river, Bhadrachalam is remarkably serene, much like Lord Rama, the resident deity of the temple here.

The entrance of the town is through a bridge over the Godavari. The river, culturally significant in the region, is highly revered by locals. The Sitaramachandra Swamy temple is located on the bank of the river. The tranquil ambience around the temple is quite conducive to devotion and induces a spiritual state of mind. The soundtrack to this picture-perfect setting consists of folk songs about Lord Rama and Carnatic keertanas (hymns) of Bhakta Ramdas (see box on p327) that play everywhere – the temple’s loudspeaker, tea stalls, hotels, shacks on the banks of the Godavari and roadside vendors.

History

Bhadrachalam is said to have been part of the Dandakaranya forest, which, according to the Ramayana, Lord Rama, Laxmana and Sita crossed through during their 14-year-long exile. While looking for Sita after her abduction, Rama chanced upon Bhadra – a hillock born of the union of the mythical mountain Meru and the celestial nymph Menaka. When Bhadra reuqested Rama to stay with him, he promised to do so on his return journey after rescuing Sita. When Rama vanquished Ravana in the Lanka war, he hastily flew back to his hometown Ayodhya in a pushpak vimana to save Bharata from self-immolation. Eventually, Rama forgot about his vow, leaving his devotee utterly distraught. Bhadra then underwent strict penance. Pleased with his devotion, Lord Vishnu descended on the earth as Rama, along with Laxmana and Sita. To fulfill Bhadra’s wish, he appeared in front of Gopanna as an archa murthy (idol).

Legend has it that in 17th century CE, Damakka, a tribal woman residing in the areas adjoining the hillock, discovered the idol and informed the local tahsildar under the Qutub Shahi kings, Kancherla Gopanna, about its existence. Gopanna, moved by the sublime beauty of the statue, immediately commissioned the construction of a temple in the area, with the idol as the main deity. For the construction of the shrine, he diverted money from the royal exchequer. Upon discovering the flagrant embezzlement, the last Qutub Shahi king, Abul Hasan Tana Shah imprisoned Kancherla Gopanna in the Golconda Fort. Distressed by the punishment meted out to him, Gopanna sang to Lord Rama in agony and despair. Reacting to his devotee’s plea, Rama appeared in Tana Shah’s dream and returned Gopanna’s dues in Rama madas (gold coins with Rama’s inscriptions on them). Tana Shah then woke up amidst real gold coins and subsequently released Gopanna, who was henceforth known as Bhakta Ramdas for his extreme devotion and submission to the deity, even in the face of adversity.

Sitaramachandra Swamy Temple, Bhadrachalam
Sitaramachandra Swamy Temple, Bhadrachalam

Orientation

The stench of paper pulp from the ITC Paper Boards Limited factory welcomes you to Bhadrachalam. Thankfully, it dies down once you drive ahead and cross the bridge on the Godavari. From the bridge, one can see the temple complex on the other bank of the river. Take the first right turn after crossing the bridge to go to the temple and the Godavari ghat. The tourism departments’s Haritha Hotel is also on this road. The road straight ahead of the bridge is the main road in Bhadrachalam and takes you to the bus stand. Most hotels and restaurants in town are located along this road. The town is quite tiny and can be easily covered on foot.

Things to See & Do

Bhadrachalam and its surrounding areas don’t fail to entice tourists with their natural beauty and divine atmosphere. You can visit the temple, or spend hours sitting at the Godavari ghat observing the fishing boats, the pilgrims and the sunset.

Sitaramachandra Swamy Temple

The temple is located on a small hillock and has four entrances. You have to climb about 50 steps along the hillock to reach the entrance. A gold-plated dhwaja stambha stands right opposite the sanctum. After entering the temple, you will come across the Rushya Mookham Exhibition Centre on your left and the counter selling prasadam on your right. Those who buy special tickets can enter the sanctum from the left side. For the rest of the pilgrims, the queue (which is never very long) is along the front of the sanctum. The deity in the inner sanctorum is swyambhu (self-manifested) with Sita seated in Rama’s lap. To their left, there is the idol of Laxmana in a standing position. The statue of Rama has four hands (charubhuja Rama). Lord Vishnu’s divine conch and discus, which are generally in his left and right hands respectively, are seen interchanged in this particular idol, indicating the hurry in which he descended to grace Bhadra. His other two hands hold a bow and arrow each.

Around the central sanctorum, there are smaller shrines dedicated to Varaha, Hanuman, Venkatesa and Garuda, among others. Opposite the main sanctum, there is a shrine of Goddess Laxmi. Next to it, there is the Rushya Mookham Exhibition Centre (Entry Fee: Rs. 5). The exhibition showcases Rama madas, jewellery that Ramdas made for deities such as the famous chintaku patakam (a necklace studded with rubies), kirithas (crowns), plait decorations, a mutyala haramu (pearl chain) and other such items. There is also a shrine dedicated to Bhadra, behind the sanctorum of the temple. The peak of the hillock on which the temple is situated is enclosed in this area. The visible part of the hillock contains what is supposedly Lord Rama’s foot imprints. There is a nitya kalyana mandapam (wedding hall) in the outer ambulatory passage of the temple, where Sita Rama kalyanam (wedding ceremony of Sita and Rama) is performed regularly.

Timings 4.30am–1.00pm, 3.00pm–9.00pm Special Darshana 150

TIP Beware of people outside the temple offering special darshanas. The direct darshana is mostly hasslefree and even special darshana can be arranged for from within the temple premises itself

Godavari Ghat
Godavari Ghat

Godavari Ghat

Many pilgrims consider it mandatory to take a ritual dip in the Godavari before paying a visit to Lord Rama in the temple as it is believed to be purifying for the soul. The boulevard that runs along the river has pictorial depictions of stories ands scenes from the Ramayana.

Sitarama Kalyanam

In the scorching heat of summer, thousands visit the temple town of Bhadrachalam to witness the grand annual wedding ceremony of Lord Rama and Sita that takes place on Ramanavami (March–April). This is the period in which the temple sees the highest footfall in the year.

The arch of the Sitarama Kalyana mandapam
The arch of the Sitarama Kalyana mandapam

The kalyana mandapam opposite the main temple complex is the venue for this grand event. The Qutub Shahi king, Tana Shah, started the tradition of bringing pearls and silk clothes from Hyderabad to decorate the idols. The Chief Ministers of the state still continue this tradition. One of the wedding ceremonies involves pouring rice grains mixed with pearls on the idols. These grains are considered holy and many devotees carry them home and mix them with the rice used in their family weddings.

Where to Stay

The best accommodation option in Bhadrachalam is Telengana Tourism’s Haritha Hotel (Tel: 08743-231463/ 81; Tariff: 1,250–3,070), opposite the Sub-Collector’s bungalow. The rooms here are clean and airy. Sri Sudharsana Residency (Cell: 09949753458; Tariff: 1,000–4,500) lies opposite the Ramalayam. Hotel Geethanjali Residency (Tel: 232255/ 3332, Cell: 09849125941; Tariff: 990–1,980) near the Bus Stand; Hotel Royal Palace (Cell: 0990- 8468844, 08978164892; Tariff: 1,100–2,200) opposite the temple; and Sri Venkateshwara Hotel (Tel: 233318, Cell: 09705678808; Tariff: 800–2,600) are some other options. All these hotels have restaurants.

The town also has a number of lodges, which are reasonably clean, such as Godavari Lodge (Cell: 09347552450; Tariff: 600–1,200) opposite the RTC Bus Stand on Uday Bhaskar Road; and Sri Rama Sadan (Cell: 07660007671/ 72; Tariff: 300–600) near the temple. The temple itself has a number of guest houses, cottages (Tariff: 400– 1,500) and choultries (Tariff: 60– 600). Contact the Devasthanam (Tel: 232428, Cell: 07660007671; W bhadrachalaram.org) for bookings. The temple also offers prasadam outside the main entrance at a nominal price.

Spotted deer at the Kinnerasani Wildlife Sanctuary
Spotted deer at the Kinnerasani Wildlife Sanctuary

Where to Eat

Haritha Hotel offers delicious south Indian fare at their restaurant. Other good restaurants include Athidhi, Kakatiya, Ratan and Geethanjali that serve south Indian as well as north Indian cuisine. There are many eateries close to the temple and the bus station that offer south Indian thalis and snacks like idli, vada, dosa and puri.

AROUND BHADRACHALAM

Parnasala (35km)

Probably because of its simple storyline and universal moral values, people across every region of this country want to make the Hindu epic Ramayana their own. Madhya Pradesh has Chitrakoot, Maharashtra has Panchavati and Telangana has Parnasala, all of which are supposedly parts of the mythical Dandakaranya forest where Rama stayed during his 14-year-long exile.

The drive from Bhadrachalam to Parnasala is one of the most refreshing and scenic in the region. Along the route, you can see small villages, sprawling green paddy, mirchi and cotton fields, numerous palm trees and houses built of bamboo. Once you reach Parnasala, the Godavari flows on your right side in all its glory. On your left is the temple, which houses the model of a small hut where Rama supposedly lived with Sita and Laxmana. There are also dioramas depicting scenes from the Ramayana on all four sides of the hut – Sita spotting the golden deer and asking Rama for it, Laxmana leaving Sita to go find Rama when the latter doesn’t return, Ravana arriving in the form of a sanyasi (ascetic) and asking Sita for alms and Ravana abducting Sita. Another model of a hut adjacent to this one has dioramas from various scenes of the Ramayana that follow Ravana’s abduction of Sita.

A kilometer away from this temple is the Seethammavaari Naaracheerala Ghattu where Sita went to dry her clothes. Legend has it that she used to take a bath at the nearby Godavari, after which she came here. The ghattu (rock), nestled in vegetation, is not visible from outside. One corner of the rock has impressions of Rama’s feet. Here, prayers are offered every day.

Entry ₹50

Kinnerasani Widlife

Sanctuary (41km)

The Kinnerasani Wildlife Sanctuary in Khammam District is more popular for its deer park rather than for wildlife spotting. However, that is no reason to strike this destination off your itinerary because the reserve is also home to the vast, placid Kinnerasani Dam. The reservoir has several small islands in its midst and is best explored by a boat ride. The dam has 12 floodgates, and provides water for irrigation in the surrounding regions. The wildlife sanctuary is laid out around the lake. Spanning an area of 635sq km, the sanctuary contains animals such as spotted deer, Sambar, wild boar, sloth bear, wild dogs, jackal, panther and tiger; birds such as pea fowl, quail, partridge, teal, spoonbill and jungle fowl; and reptiles such as viper, cobra, python and krait.

Route from Bhadrachalam On the Bhadrachalam-Suryapet Road, turn right at the Ambedkar Circle near Palvancha.

Khammam Fort (116km)

This ancient fort is on Stambhadri Hill in Khammam town, the headquarters of Khammam District. The massive fortification was originally built in the 10th century CE by the rulers of the Kakatiya dynasty. Parts of the monument were renovated and reconstructed by many emperors of the Musunuri Nayak, Velma, Qutub Shahi and Asaf Jahi dynasties that ruled the region later. Both Hindu and Islamic influences can be seen in the architectural style of the citadel. There are about 15 cannons in the fort, some of which date back to the 18th century. The fort, which has suffered extensive damage over the centuries, is set to be restored and made more accessible and tourist-friendly.

Saurabh Chatterjee
Visitors enjoying a boat ride on the River Godavari
Visitors enjoying a boat ride on the River Godavari

River Godavari: A Lifeline

“As the Godavari joyously dances, Mother Earth transforms into an emerald with paddy fields breathing to life; the elegant river adorns the brown land like a sky-blue silk sari. The river goddess washes away miseries; this river that conjoins with Sabari, lays the flowery path to Rama’s story.” These words written by Telugu lyricist and poet Veturi Sundararammurthy succinctly encapsulate the beauty of the Godavari and the significance it holds for the people of the region.

The Godavari, one of the longest rivers in the country, is also known as Dakshina Ganga (Ganga of south India). Although the river and its tributaries flow through Maharashtra, Chattisgarh, Odisha, Karnataka as well as Madhya Pradesh, it is not celebrated as much as it is in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Every 12 years, the Pushkaram fair is held in towns and temples along its banks.

With 79 per cent of the river’s catchment in the state, Godavari is the main lifeline of Telangana. The river, which enters the state from Maharashtra, makes every land it touches, fertile. Before entering Andhra Pradesh, the river flows through Bhadrachalam. It is from here onwards that the Godavari assumes a spiritual dimension and becomes even more integral to people’s lives and culture. At Bhadrachalam, there is a slight turn in the course of the river near the temple, which seems as if the Godavari were bowing to show reverence to Lord Rama.

When a river provides for crops, supplies fish, drinking water and mythological stories and still manages to look so awe-inspiring, it is only expected that it would feature in every other song and poem. The Godavari has inspired artists for centuries; and once you sit by its banks at Bhadrachalam, you will know why.

Bhakta Ramdas: The Unyielding Devotee

Pain inspires art, they say. For some the art is poetry, for some it is painting and for Kancherla Gopanna, a devotee of Lord Rama, it was Carnatic music. He is a vaggeyakara, the one who not only composes the music, but also writes the lyrics. Upon discovering the statues of Sita, Rama and Laxmana on the Bhadradri, Gopanna, who was the tehsildar of Palvancha Taluk under the Qutub Shahi dynasty in the 17th century, built a temple for Lord Rama there. For the construction of the structure, he used money from the royal exchequer. This infuriated the king Abul Hasan Tana Shah who imprisoned Gopanna in a jail in the Golconda Fort, which one can still see there. Tana Shah declared that Gopanna wouldn’t be released until the funds siphoned from the treasury were returned. During his imprisonment, Gopanna composed many Carnatic keerthanas that praise the deity for his mysterious ways in helping his devotees. Most of these songs had the spirit of complete surrender to the lord. Gopanna, who was later conferred the name of Bhakta Ramdas, also wrote Dasaradhi Satakamu, a collection of 108 verses dedicated to Lord Rama.

Moved by Ramdas’ exemplary devotion, Rama and Laxmana appeared in Tana Shah’s dream and told him that they would pay back all the money in the form of gold coins called Rama madas. The ruler initially dismissed it as a mere dream, but upon waking up, he discovered the coins. He acknowledged the divine intervention and released Ramdas. Not just that, he also returned all the gold to the Bhadrachalam temple.

FAST FACTS

When to go October–March is the best time to visit

Tourist Offices

Central Reservations Office

Department of Tourism

Telangana Tourism

NSF Shakar Bhawan

Opp Police Control Room

Basheer Bagh, Hyderabad

Tel: 040-2980140, 66745986

Cell: 09848540371

W teleganatourism.gov.in

Haritha Hotel

Opposite Sub-Collector’s Bungalow Bhadrachalam

Tel: 08743-231463/ 81

STD code 08743

District Nalgonda

Location Eastern Telangana, close to the East Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh

Distance 309km SE of Hyderabad

 

GETTING THERE

Air Nearest airport: Rajahmundry Airport (220km/ 3hrs) is served by Jet Airways and Spice Jet, connecting the city with Hyderabad, New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai. Taxi costs 3,500–4,000 up to Bhadrachalam. Hyderabad airport (326km/ 6hrs) is another option. Taxi costs approximately 4,500

Rail Bhadrachalam Road (Kothagudem; 40km/ 1hr). Secunderabad-Manuguru Superfast and Kakatiya Fast Passenger connect the station to Hyderabad. Taxi to Bhadrachalam costs about 1,500; autos 500. Khammam railway station (120km/ 3hrs) has better rail connectivity. Taxi costs about 2,000

Road Drive down from Hyderabad along NH9 upto Suryapet and turn onto the Suryapet–Bhadrachalam Road via Khammam and Kothagudem

Bus TSRTC operates frequent buses from Hyderabad and other places like Kothagudem, Khammam, Warangal, Basar, Karimnagar, Rajahmundry, Guntur, Vijaywada and Visakhapatnam to this temple town