In the year 1620, a young baby boy was born to Linganna Mantri and Kamamba in Nelakondapalli village of Khammam dist Taluk (Warangal Division of erstwhile Hyderabad State). The couple were affluent Telugu Niyogi Brahmins and were quite happy with this blessing of a child. They named him Gopanna.
Gopanna grew up to be a happy child and when he reached the right age he got married to a beautiful young girl called Kamala as per his parents wishes and traditions. Soon with the help of his uncles Madanna and Akkanna who were administrators in the rule of Qutub Shahi Sultan Abul Hassan Tana Shah, Gopanna soon got a job as a Tehsildar of Palvancha Taluk. He immediately went with his now pregnant wife Kamala and settled down in Palavancha and began to discharge his duties with a lot of sincerity and compassion. The people of Palavancha began to rever and respect their new Tehsildar who was very benevolent and compassionate. In time a son was born whom the couple lovingly named Raghuraman.
Time passed and Gopanna came to develop a deep abiding love for Sri Rama, the Prince of Ayodhya and the Incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He began to compose and sing many songs or krithis.
Once there was a jatra or a festival fair at Bhadrachalam and all the people of Palavancha were going to it. Gopanna decided to attend the jatra with his wife and son. He had heard that Bhadrachalam was a very holy place – even the great Pothanna had a vision of Rama here and was asked to write the Ramayana in Telugu. There were many sacred places around it where it was believed that events of Ramayana had taken place.
When he went there he saw the beautiful idols of Vykuntha Rama, Lakshmana and Sita under a thatched roof. He also saw a pious old lady Pokala Dhamakka, an ardent devotee of Rama, who was protecting the deities and ensuring that they are given the naivedyam daily. She told him that she belonged to a small village of Bhadrireddypalem, close to Bhadrachalam. One night Sri Rama came in her dream and told her that he was being prayed to by all the rishis and saints in Bhadradri hills. He ordered that she get him out of hiding and keep him safe till the time a devotee comes to build him a temple. Dhamakka went in search of the idols on the hill and found them inside an anthill. Not knowing how to get them out, she carried water from the nearby Godavari water and poured pots and pots of water till the anthill fell away revealing the beautiful idols of her dear lord. She made a small platform with the earth around and stood the idols on it. Then she constructed a thatched roof with leaves and sticks to protect them from the elements.
Sitting at her feet and listening to Dhamakka’s story of devotion, Gopanna was moved to
tears. He looked at the old temple on the Bhadradri hill and how dilapitated it was. He couldn’t leave the Lord sitting there exposed to the rain and sun. Then and there he decided to move to Bhadradri and personally construct the temple for his dear Lord Rama.
Constructing a temple requires huge wealth which Gopanna didnt have. He went to the people of his Tehsil Palavancha and they responded spontaneously giving whatever they could like gold necklaces, bangles, rings, gold coins, etc, to rebuild this grand temple of Rama. Even though huge amounts of money was collected, Gopanna still ran short. He sat worried wondering how to raise more money when the people of his tehsil came to him with a solution – "Why don’t you take the permission of the Tana Shah to use the taxes that you have collected from us. Once our crops are harvested, we shall make do the difference." Gopanna’s heart immediately lightened and he immediately sent a letter to Tana Shah seeking his permission to use the collected taxes as a temporary respite. He waited anxiously for Tana Shah’s reply. But it did not come. Getting anxious, Gopanna decided to go ahead with his idea since the entire project was getting delayed.
He thus finished constructing the grand temple for his Rama. But just ass the temple was completed he faced a dilemma. Where could he get a Sudarshana Chakra to be fixed on top of the temple, he wondered. That night as he lay agitating this problem in his mind, he dozed off to sleep. His dear Rama came in his sleep and asked him to go bathe in the river. Gopanna woke up at dawn with Rama’s voice ringing in his ear. He went straight to the Godavari and bathed in it with his mind focussing on his dear Rama. And there he found the Sudarshana Chakra in the river! He took it joyously to the temple abd had it installed. Now the temple was complete and from then on the daily poojas for the beautiful idols of Sita sametha Sri Rama Lakshmana were conducted with great fabn fare and devotion.
Life went on and in all this time Gopanna composed and sang many keerthanas in the praise of his Lord. So pleased was Rama with the physical and musical service being done by this devotee of his that he named Gopanna as Ramadasu. And that is how he came to be known in the region from then on.
In the meanwhile, back at Golconda from where Tana Shah ruled, Gopanna’s letter seeking permission fell into the wrong hands of those who were jealous of his growing popularity. Hence Tana Shah never got the letter. Moreover, he was told that Gopanna had used up all the taxes collected to construct this temple for Rama without permission. Tana Shah was enraged and had Gopanna arrested and summoned to his court.
When Gopanna pleaded that he had sent the letter and that he would surely pay up once the harvest was done, Tana Shah didnt believe that Gopanna had sent him any letter. He asked Gopanna, "You took the 6 lakh varahas of taxes to build this temple for this Rama. Do you at least feel any remorse for doing this wrong?" Gopanna smiled and replied, "Everything that is there is this world belongs to my Rama. I have only used his wealth to reconstruct his temple. Why should I feel any remorse?" The answer angered Tana Shah so much that he had him locked up in the Golconda fort. He gave an order that Gopanna was to be released only after he paid up the 6 lakh varahas and promised never to worship Rama or sing any krithis in his praise. He ensured that Gopanna was tortured and kept in constant pain. He wanted that Gopanna’s faith in Rama should break and he should accept that what he did was wrong since that wealth belonged to the regime of Tana Shah.
Gopanna was whipped with leather belts and steel balls with spikes. As if that pain was not enough, they applied chilli powder to his wounds so that the pain was increased manifold. He was either starved or given rotten food and dirty water. He relentlessly sang innumerable keerthanas expressing grief, anger, pleading with Rama to save him. He chanted and wrote Ramas name on the walls of the dungeon. He suffered at the hands of his tormentors for 12 long years in the dungeon of Golconda fort. Yet Gopanna’s faith in his Rama and Sita only got stronger.
Then one late night as Tana Shah rested in his inner apartments in his palace, he was woken up by two young boys. They said, "We are Ramoji Lakshmoji. Here are more than 6 lakh varahas. Give us a receipt for it and release Gopanna immediately." Saying so, the beautiful boys with a strange effulgence threw a bag of gold coins that was more than the debt to be paid. They took the receipt, gave it to the Jailer of Golconda Fort and had Gopanna released. However, when Gopanna came out they were nowhere to be seen. Not knowing who had paid off his debt, Gopanna went to Tana Shah to find out the answer to this tantalising question. He found Tana Shah still contemplating on who the two boys were who had come into his inner chambers despite the tight security. He could not take his mind of their mesmerising beauty and radiance. Seeing Gopanna, he narrated the events of the night. In a flash, Gopanna understood that it was his dear Rama and Lakshmana who came to pay for his release. He was completely grief stricken that he had missed having a darshan of the Lord while Tana Shah a non believer had seen andd heard him at close quarters. What mystery was this? Gopanna was inconsolable at the lost opportunity and overcome with emotion that his Lord had come just to release him.
He picked up one of the coins touched by his Rama himself- and to his utter surprise he found that it had the unique mudra or insignia of Rama himself !! Astounded, Tana Shah realised that it was indeed Rama and Lakshmana who had come that night!! They really did exist! From then on Tana Shah became a devout believer and gave away all the gold mohurs that Rama had given to release Gopanna, to the Bhadrachalam temple. Even today, 2 of these coins are kept at the Bhadrachalam temple. After this year, every year on Rama Navami day, Tana Shah would send pearls and expensive gifts to the Lord – a practise continued till this day by the present day government.
Desolate in his grief, Gopanna asked his Rama again and again why he was denied the darshan of his Lord when he was so close. He became so miserable that he decided to end his life. Then Sri Rama came in his dream and explained – In his previous birth as a young man Gopanna had imprisoned a Ramachilaka – a parrot that recited the name of Rama. The parrot was miserable and afraid locked in the cage. He would laugh every time the parrot chanted the name of Rama. He kept it caged and enjoyed its predicament for 12 days after which he relented and set the parrot free. Since he had tortured and frightened a living being that was defenceless, that too one that kept chanting Rama’s name, for 12 days, in this birth he had to suffer pain and torture for 12 years while Tana Shah made fun of his keerthanas. Rama then went on to give Ramadasu his darshan along with Devi Sita and Lakshmana. He blessed Ramadasu that at the end of this life he would attain moksham and reach Vaikuntam
Gopanna went back to Bhadrachalam and spent time taking care of his Rama and Sita and discharging his duties in managing the temple till at the age of 60 he died and attained moksham. The ardent devotee who was impatient to be with his dear Lord was finally taken by Rama who was even much more anxious to have his child near him. Gopanna became eternal as Ramadasu and even today his haunting keerthanas plead, cajole, scold, love, question agitate and so much more with Rama. He lives even today in the hills of Bhadradri, the abode of his dear Rama Sita and Lakshmana singing his beautiful keerthanas.