Satiated after a Andhra thali lunch at the Hotel MGM Grand, Srikalahasti, our next stop was the town of Venkatgiri. This is a town in the Tirupati District of Andhra Pradesh.
History of Venkatgiri: Venkatagiri was originally known as Kalimilli till the 17th century and was ruled by Gobburi Palaiyakkarars (or Polygars as the British called them) under the Vijaynagar Empire. They were defeated by Recherla Venkatadri Naidu, Nayak of Madurantakam and the nephew of Raja of Velugodu, another vassal under Venkatapathi Raya II of Aravidu Dynasty of Vijayanagar. The village was renamed as Venkatagiri. Venkatapati Raya’s reign for three decades saw the revival of strength and prosperity to the empire, as he kept the Deccan sultans of Golconda and Bijapur in control. In 1588 he instigated a war with the Golkonda and Bijapur Sultanates and captured some of the territories lost earlier by his predecessor. A more detailed history is given alongside the Venkatagiri Fort below.
Weaving at Venkatagiri first originated over 300 years ago in the 1700s, and was patronized by the Velugoti dynasty of Nellore and also by the Bobbili and Pithapuram dynasties. In those days, they were mostly woven for queens, and other royalty. In the early days, the hand-woven saree was made of pure cotton with elaborate zari work and often with gold and silver borders and this was suitable for the region’s hot and humid weather conditions. Gradually, the use of silk threads and fine 100 count cotton started being used.
The Kasipeta Handloom Weavers Cooperative Production and Sale Society of Venkatagiri applied for the GI tag in 2009 and achieved the status in 2011-12. The outstanding workmanship of the weavers has been recognized and the saree had become the 18th Indian saree to be awarded Geographical Indication from the registrar of Intellectual Property Rights. More recently, Venkatagiri Sarees has also incorporated the jamdani design from Bengal/ Bangladesh. Venkatagiri sarees have earned global acclaim for being fine, soft, light, and regal looking.
There are now about 3,000 looms and the local workers weave around 50,000 sarees per month in Venkatagiri town, mainly using pit looms. Two major communities Padmasali and Devanga are engaged in weaving profession in the area.
We had the privilege to visit the celebrated weaver and Sant Kabir awardee Shri Gowrabathini Ramaniah at his home. And were we stunned to see his amazing collection of sarees and wall hangings! Giving you a sample of what we saw. Let me know in the comments how you feel about this.
Venkatgiri Palace: A not so oft visited place by visitors is the Venkatgiri Palace. Constructed in the 17th century, Venkatagiri Fort is a spacious palace, and follows the South Indian style of architecture. The front part of the fort is called Indra Mahal. This fort was once the ruling throne of the Recherla rulers. Recherla Nayakas were an Andhra dynasty that wrested power from the Musnuri Nayakas and became the dominant power in the Telangana region during the late 14th century and early 15th century. They were based at Rachakonda, southeast of Golconda, the border with the Bahmani sultanate during this period, and built a second base at Devarakonda.
According to the Gazetteer of Nellore district, the origin of zamindari here is traced to one Chavvi Reddi, a cultivator of Anumagallu Village in Telengana. It is said that he discovered a hidden treasure of Rupees 9 lakhs, while ploughing his field. With this wealth, the lucky farmer got access to the Court of the King of Warangal, and his descendants flourished for 18 generations!! About the year 1600 A. D, one of the members of the family (Venkatadri Naidu), was enlisted by the Warangal Raja (Sri Krishna Devaraya’s representative), to subdue Gobburi Jaggaraju who was holding onto the fort. Gobburi Jaggaraju was the father-in-law of the Chandragiri king Venkatapathiraju, and he ruled the Venkatagiri kingdom under the name Kalimili. Gobburi Jaggaraju was defeated by Sri Krishnadevaraya’s representative and Velugodu ruler Venkatadrinaidu.
Having accomplished that, this descendant member of the family of the Chavvi Reddi family took over the fort, and established the Velugoti dynasty at Venkatgiri and since then this has been the headquarters of the family. He renamed Kalimili with the Vaishnava name ‘Venkatagiri’. The Velugoti dynasty worshipped Poleramma, the local goddess and there is an annual procession or Jatra celebration too, which happens on a grand scale even today and attracts a lot of celebrities in the state. As is the custom, the Venkatagiri dynasty offers silk garments to the goddess.
After the end of Indian Freedom struggle in 1947, Venkatagiri became a part of India Republic and Kingdom was dissolved. The Velugoti Family still commands a great respect and influence in the region. At present there is 31st generation of Velugoti dynasty .
The structure today still looks quite grand, but parts are in need of renovation. It houses old artifacts and pictures that have come down the generations. We met the current owner, who was extremely hospitable and we had a good look at the Venkatagiri Palace/ fort.
Thus ended the trip to Venkatagiri and the first day of the trail ‘Pearls Across Pennar’. Stay tuned for Day 2. For automatic notifications, do follow the blog. I would also love to hear from you. The Part 1 of Day 1 can be found here.
Pictures Courtesy: A. S. Diwakar (Chennai)
September 8th, 2022