Vacationing in Vikramasimhapuri – II – Patur – Weaving an epic !

For years, we’ve passed by this road along the Penna river countless times.

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Every time we pass by this road, we point to that small shelter on the roadside and exclaim, “that is where Mahakavi Tikkana translated the Mahabharatam !” For us, it is always a matter of pride that the great poet who played a great part in shaping of the Telugu language lived and wrote the epic in our hometown !

Having said that, until last year, we never really stopped by to visit the “Tikkana Mahabharatam rachinchina mandiram” (so says the signboard) or the mandir where Tikkana wrote the Mahabharatam and going a step further, until a few months back, we did not even know that Tikkana lived in a village that was just a stone’s through away from our own native village ! In fact, though the village is very famous for its hand loom sarees, very few people know the heritage that lies hidden there.  Continuing our Telugu heritage series, following our visit to Pothana’s Bammera in Warangal, this time we headed to Tikkana’s Patur.

The making of an epic

The story of how Andhra Mahabharatam came into being is well known, you could read it on the internet but since it is one of our favorite stories on history and Telugu literature, though this post would turn into a 20 marks history answer, here is a retelling of it. The project of translating the Mahabharata into Telugu was initiated in the 11th Century A.D by Nannayya Bhattaraka, considered the first poet of recorded Telugu. Nannayya, who lived in Rajamahendravaram (Rajahmundry) during the reign of the Chalukya king Raja Raja Narendra, translated the first two chapters, Adi and Sabha Parvas. He died while writing the Aranya Parva. None of the poets after him wanted to attempt completing it because of superstitious beliefs.

An entire century later, in the 1200s A.D, Tikkana Somayaji, Prime Minister to Manumasiddhi who ruled Vikramasimhapuri, took up the translation work. He translated 15 chapters of the Mahabharata into Telugu avoiding the Aranya Parva. He began his work from Virata Parva and completed the rest of the epic.

Almost another century passed before Errapragada, the 14th Century poet, under the reign of the Reddy dynasty, decided to break the jinx and translated the untouched portion of the Aranya Parva, thus completing the Andhra Mahabharatam ! While in Nannayya’s time, Telugu had a lot of Sanskrit words in it, Tikkana’s language was closer to the common man’s Telugu. Errapragada mixed both the styles because he essentially fit in the final piece of the puzzle right at the centre !

Thus, together the 3 poets gave the Telugu language its most venerated epic, the Andhra Mahabharatam and are called the “Kavitrayam” (Trinity of Poets).

Funnily, even to this day, there are people who first read the Virata Parva and then begin from the Adi Parva of the Andhra Mahabharatam ! Some, like our late grandmother, would break a coconut as an offering to God after reading the Aranya Parva to ward off any jinxes !! There are people who take their history and literature very seriously !

Poetry in fabric

800 years after Tikkana, Patur is a small village, about 10 kms from Nellore and continues to be in the limelight for heritage of another kind, their hand loom silk and cotton sarees. Today, people know Patur only for the sarees. Almost every household in Patur has something to do with the hand looms, weaving or trading these textiles.

Though, it was visiting Tikkana’s village that lured us to Patur, we were keen to check out the hand looms as well. Reaching Patur, we first enquired about the Siddeswara Temple, believed to have been patronized by Tikkana. We were surprised that people were actually a little matter of fact about Tikkana or his legacy, they told us there was an old temple at the edge of the village in the middle of paddy fields.

Driving through the dusty lanes of the village, we reached the village main road which had rows and rows of shops/houses selling Patur sarees.

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None of us was a shopaholic and we weren’t too keen about actually buying sarees but did visit a few shops just for sume fun. Most Patur sarees are made out of silk but cotton sarees are popular too. The sarees are plain with minimal design, we were told that that was the style of Patur and people could customize the designs according to their choice. We requested one of the shops to show us how the weaving was done.

The hand looms are located in the backyard of houses/shops. We found one weaver busy at work on a pit loom, weaving a green and orange silk saree.

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It always baffles us how they manage to set the design string by string and then weave the sarees, mind you some of the patterns are very complicated and how they manage it with such accuracy seems like a miracle ! The weaver told us it took about 1-2 days to weave a saree.

Outside, we met a few ladies preparing the ground work for weaving the saree.

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Their work involved arranging silk threads according to the saree pallu design, an extremely laborious effort. These women were attaching each fine thread from the black bundle to the threads of the purple bundle, using ash as a binding agent. This was going to be a black saree with a purple pallu. Imagine tying thousands of each and every thread of the thousands that go into becoming a saree and these women were not even looking down at their work, their hands seem to be working on their own ! You could only bow down to these people’s immense talent and handwork !

It was a humbling experience and even non-shopaholics like us couldn’t resist buying a saree or two as our tribute to their talent. Poetry continues to be created at Patur, this time in fabric !

Tikkana’s legacy

Lost in the wonder of hand loom textiles, we had almost forgotten the main purpose of our visit to Patur until we decided it was getting late and we had to head home. A few people directed us to the Siddeswara Temple. Located in the middle of paddy fields, the temple is accessible through the pathway across the fields.

Tikkana is believed to have been a patron of this temple. The temple has obviously been renovated but it is still in a bad shape.

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Hardly anybody seemed to be visiting except the caretakers and the descendants of Tikkana, who we were told live in the city and visit the temple during festivals. It seems they also have possession of the writing equipment that belonged to Tikkana.

We had read about the Tulasi Kootam that Tikkana had worshipped, when we asked the locals, they pointed to a thick overgrowth and told us that was where Tikkana’s house was believed to have been located. The Tulasi Kootam is now hidden behind the maze of bushes. We wanted to venture closer but we were warned to stay away because the plot was infested with snakes. We had to satisfy ourselves with this long shot of the piece of land that was once Tikkana’s house !

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We had this experience before when we visited Bammera, yet, standing there at Patur, you get this overwhelming feeling of pride about your heritage, your language and that is why history is important, to let you know the greatness that was once part of your land and that is still there for you to emulate !

Two days later, while traveling to Nellore, we made it a point to stop at the Tikkana mandiram on the banks of the Penna river. The mandir, a small room is in a pitiful state, totally neglected, covered in dry leaves and trash. The opening lines of Tikkana’s work, an invocation to Lord Siva has been painted on one of the walls.

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The mandir is locked to prevent miscreants from entering and misusing the premises. We peeked in through the windows and where Tikkana must have once placed his sacred palm leaves, today, you will find sacks of cement !

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“Tikkayya kalumulo teeyandhanalu” (The sweetness from Tikkana’s pen), so goes the state song of Andhra Pradesh, Tikkana’s pen weaved a sweet magic in this very room !

The Penna river flows beside the mandir, what a sight it must have been for Tikkana to sit in that mandir and view the Penna during the days of its glory, the river may have inspired many a literary idea !

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We remembered a lesson from our Telugu textbook way back in the late 1980s, titled “Kavitrayam”, that was our first brush with the founding fathers of Telugu literature. We were brought up to idolize them and they were our literary heroes. Visiting these places was like coming face to face with them, what would we do if we met them? Imagine their plight when they realize that the generations that came centuries after them cannot speak a single sentence in Telugu without using a foreign word !

Telangana region gave us the Bhagavatham, while Andhra Mahabharatam took shape in Andhra Pradesh, together they are two invaluable gems of Telugu literature, goes to prove the words of a famous Telugu song “Vachindanna, Vachadanna, varala Telugu okatenanna” (Whatever the dialect and culture, Telugu is one). Irrespective of the political scenario, people would do well to remember this !

Info tidbits

– Patur is accessible from Nellore by road, it is around 30 minutes drive from the city on the Kovur route.

– Patur sarees can be purchased directly from the shops in the village. All shops seemed to have a good collection. Most of the prices are wholesale rates, you could bargain a bit too !

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