UNRAVELING MADANAPALLI

 

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever visited, or even heard of Madanapalli? Who would have thought such a remote and small town would be pulsating with magnificently rich history that has been passing on through the ages? It is home to Asia’s biggest tomato market and is also the birth place of the renowned philosopher, Jiddu Krishnamurthy. It is filled with a curious inter-mingling of history, philosophy, and medicine. From rolling hills, to fields and clear skies, it promises amazingly refreshing and rejuvenating experiences. One has to only visit this town in order to see the perfect sync between history and the present. Let us now unravel this town together.

PLACE, PEOPLE AND CULTURE

Madanapalli is a small town that is situated in Chittoor district, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, in South India. It is around 16km2 with a population of 16.5 lakhs at an elevation of 695m. This town is of great historical significance and it was once a hubbub of philosophy and medicine. Through the years the historical importance and fame that it had has been declining, but the places that once made it renowned are still very much alive, resonating with their tales. One has to only visit these places to relive the rich experiences of the past.

It is primarily an agrarian town, where the main subsistence of the people is agriculture and sericulture. It is surrounded by large fields and barren land, filled with trees. It is situated in a drought prone area hence it is rather dry. The language that is spoken predominantly is ‘Telugu’. There is an intermingling of various religions, like Hindus, Muslims and Christians, but the people are primarily Hindus. Most religious festivals are celebrated here with great jest, especially Diwali-festival of light and Holi-festival of colors. It is a city that is filled with constant bustle of people, pulsating with life.

HOW DID MADANAPALLI GET ITS NAME?

Madanapalli was under the rule of the Vijayanagara Palegars, namely Madanna and Basanna. They were the reagents of the king for this province. Two of the main hills in Madanapalli were named after them and were called, ‘Basanna’ and ‘Madanna’ hills. Now they are called, ‘Madini Konda’ and ‘Basini Konda’. During those times, that is the 10th CE, it was common for places to be named after the hills they were situated under. Hence the town was first named, ‘Madanapuram’, subsequently to, ‘Madanapuram,’ and then lastly to its current name, ‘Madanapalli’. Both these hills can still be seen very clearly from the town.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Through the ages the province of Madanapalli has been under various rulers, from the Vijayanagara kingdom during the 10th CE to Tippu Sultan and then eventually to the British. Gurram Konda was the hill where the main fort was located. Those who controlled this fort controlled the areas around it, including Madanapalli. From a small settlement it has transformed into a major town and is now on the transition into becoming a city. There are various places that are great to visit.

PLACES TO VISIT

  • Basina Konda
  • Sanatorium
  • Jiddu Krishnamurthy’s house
  • Besant Theosophical college
  • Tagore’s cottage in BT college
  • Rishi valley school
  • Neerugattivaari Palli silk saree shops
  • Reading Room
  • Ariveni Handicrafts
  • Tomato Market
  • Hundri-neeva canal
  • Horsley Hills

BASINI KONDA

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‘Basini Konda’ is an important landmark in Madanapalli. There is an interesting story as to how, ‘Basini Konda’ got its name. It was initially called, Pasidi Konda’, meaning, ‘gold’. This was because there was a, ‘gaja donga’ which means, a great thief in Telugu, named Ambodara Giddadu who was so strong with such thick palms that even bullets from a single barrel rifle would rebound. He used to terrorize the area and would caution people a couple of days before he would rob their homes. He mainly stole gold jewelry which he hid in a cave in the hill. Hence the name ‘Pasini’ or ‘gold’ hill. Later Basavanna came and it transformed into ‘Basini Konda’.

This hill is of great significance even at present. It is said that Lord Venkatramana set one foot on the 7 hills in Tamil Nadu and one on Basini Konda. It is primarily a temple dedicated to Lord Venkatramana or Venkateshwara but there are idols of Lord Brahma and Vishnu and goddesses, Lakshmi, Parvati and Saraswati. These structures have been left unfinished and remain relics after the death of the sculptor. The eastern side, also called the, ‘Udayadri’ is where the sun’s rays first falls as it rises and is considered extremely sacred to the people. On top of the hill is where the idols and the shrine are situated. There is also a beautiful natural well that is on top, and the water from the rains gets collected there. It is said to be filled with water throughout the year.

This hill is on the outskirts of Madanapalli and would make for a good trek to the top, if you start early in the morning as the rocks get pretty hot due to the sun. There are steps that have been carved all the way to the top and it was just completed around 10 months ago. From the top you could enjoy a beautiful scenic view of the whole Madanapalli and see the extent to which it stretches. It is a fairly hard trek so plenty of water, a cap for the sun, shoes and some snacks much be carried. You should also keep an eye out for monkeys that are found in this area.

SANATORIUM

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The Sanatorium is situated on the Madanapalli-Tirupathi highway, around 8 km away from Madanapalli. The town is also called, ‘Arogyavaram’, and it is a hospital for Tuberculosis. This is one of the reason that made Madanapalli well known. The Sanatorium was started in 1915 for Tuberculosis patients. This location was selected as it was far away from the cities, hence the air was pollution free and clean, which was important for the patients. It was considered the best hospital for TB worldwide and people for all over came to be treated here as it was the most renowned place. Mr. Hearts was the first doctor here and soon many others followed. Through the years its fame fell as more and more hospitals came up, and it became much easier to cure TB. The hospital campus has open wards for fresh air and it’s surrounded by small cottages. The hospital is still functioning but the buildings around remain as relics, without having been used for many years.

ANNIE BESANT AND JIDDU KRISHNAMURTHY

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There have been various personalities historically that have made Madanapalli well-known, around the world. Few of these people are Annie Besant, Rabindranath Tagore and Jiddu Krishnamurthy. The story starts with the ‘Theosophical Society’ which was set up by Annie Besant in 1915 in Madanapalli. This was around the same time that the Sanatorium was started. This organization was founded in 1975, for the purpose of advancing theosophy. Mrs. Besant chose Madanapalli as the location because of its good climate, as it was far away from the cities. It has become a college over the years and is now called the ‘Besant Theosophical College’. It was considered one of the best colleges in south India but it has lost its prominence over the years. Many people still visit the college to relive the past events and understand them. It is open on all days except for Sunday which is a holiday.

Rabindranath Tagore visited Madanapalli in 1918 and translated the Indian national anthem, ‘Jana Gana Mana’ during his stay in the Besant Theosophical College. Annie Besant met Tagore in the Bangalore Art Gallery during its inauguration and she proceeded to invite him to the college. He succumbed to a violent fever during his stay and so Mr. Hearts from Sanatorium advised him to stay on for a couple of days. Hence, he used the time and the favorable climate to translate the, ‘Morning Song of India’ from Bengali to English. It was set to tune by Margaret Cousins, who was the wife of Mr. Cousins, the principle of Theosophical College. Tagore’s cottage can still be seen in the Theosophical College.

Jiddu Krishnamurthy is a renowned philosopher, speaker and writer, who was born in Madanapalli in 1895. The Theosophical Society believed in a ‘world teacher’ who was meant to lead them and Krishnamurthy was selected to be this teacher. He gave up this title and went on to found various schools around the world, like Rishi Valley, in Madanapalli, Valley in Bangalore, The School in Chennai, Sahyadri in Poona, Rajghat in Benares, Oak Grove in California, and Brockwood Park in the UK. He travelled around the world, conducting dialogue sessions with various people and talking to those interested about his ideas.

Krishnamurthy’s house is still in Madanapalli, House No.7/69, Ragavendhra Rao Street. It has been made into a study center and a library and is open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. it is open for everyone who is interested in seeing Krishnamurthy’s house, reading his books and generally learning about him. There is always one librarian and a guide who is present at all times.

Krishnamurthy was born in the room on the left, right after the entrance, which was exclusively reserved for women. Women were meant to stay there every month during their menstrual cycle and childbirth. Krishnamurthy only spent the first 3 years of his life in this house because his father got transferred to Kadiri, a town around 80 km away. During his adolescence Krishnamurthy was on the seashore in Madras near the Theosophical Society headquarters and Leadbeater who was a part of the society saw an aura around him. He immediately notified Mrs. Besant who then decided to adopt him and groom him to become the ‘world teacher’. Hence began his journey into philosophy which took him all over the world.

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Rishi Valley School, founded by Krishnamurthy in 1962, is near Madanapalli and is a place to visit for anyone interested in Krishnamurthy or education. It is filled with visitors all the time and can be contacted through the email address on the website www.rishivalley.org. Rooms for stay will also be provided for. It follows the ICSE board but they have a different approach towards education, aiming for a holistic education. The campus is a sprawling 300 acre campus filled with trees and surrounded by hills. It is a beautiful place for trekking and rock climbing.

ENTERTAINMENT

MOVIE CULTURE

Madanapalli is a small town but is filled with cinema theaters. It has eight theaters spread across the towns and these are always filled with locals looking for some fun. It is a nice place to meet and socialize with the locals. The show timings are at 9, 11, 2, 6 and 9. Most of the movies are in Telugu, which is the native language.

TREKKING

It is also a great place for trekking and rock climbing as Madanapalli is surrounded by lots of hills and is a popular activity for visitors. The best time for this is early mornings because after the sun comes out the rocks get extremely heated up rapidly. A cap, plenty of water are a must.

SHOPPING AND SILK SAREES

Madanapalli has a very popular shopping culture and is filled with various kinds of shops. The most popular street for shopping is called the ‘Reading Room’ street and it is just filled with rows and rows of shops, mainly clothes and utensils. You can find just about anything here for very reasonable prices and is the perfect place for shopping enthusiasts.

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Sericulture has been one of the main occupations in Madanapalli. It got prominence around 30 years ago as agriculture was on the decline due to water shortage. There is an area called Neerugattuvaari palli where silks sarees are extremely well known. People from all over the country come here to buy these sarees and these sarees are supplied to a lot of places, including Kanchi and Dharmavaram. These sarees are all made form handloom spinning and weaving. The silk supply if local and also from Siddalagatta from Kolar district. Over the years the demand and popularity of these fine silk sarees has been increasing.

There are around 50 shops in just one street and all of them have good sales as they have regular customers. The labor for this industry comes from the weaving castes-Thoghata and Saali- who live in the same area. The availability of labor has been on the decline as the next generation is moving out to do jobs in cities. This along with the advent of power looms has been having an adverse impact on the hand loom weavers but as of now the demand is still good. The quality of these sarees is extremely fine. These shops are open every day and anyone is welcome. It is a must visit place for all the women who have a love of sarees and shopping. As you walk along the streets you can see the shops filled with various colors and the handloom machines with people weaving the cloth.

There is a shop called Ariveni Handicrafts which is a small scale industry on the Hyderabad road. It sells various pottery items, like earthen kitchenware which are made largely by the women entrepreneurs from the villages around. It provides employment to a lot of women.

TOMATO MARKET

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The Tomato market in Madanapalli is Asia’s largest single tomato market! It started around 45 years ago as a small enterprise and soon expanded. In Madanapalli and the surrounding areas around 15000 hectares of land is covered under tomatoes. There is a daily market and as you enter you can see the whole area piled up with red tomatoes. All the surrounding areas bring their produce to be sold in this market. About 5 metric tons per day is brought here. From here they are distributed to various states. It provides direct and indirect employment to a number of people. The peak season for the market is from January to June.

Madanapalli is most famous for the fruit Custard Apple, which is a local fruit that comes during the months of August, September and October. This is a must have fruit.

HUNDRI-NEEVA CANAL

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The Hundri-neva canal project is the longest river linking project in Rayalaseema, and is meant to provide farmers with water for irrigation as well as provide people with a reliable drinking water supply, as this is a drought-prone area. This canal passes through Madanapalli, and is a hope for all the people, especially the famers. The water is pumped up 4 km to reach Madanapalli, and will be completed in about a month. As of now the water supply for the town comes largely through 12 storage tanks constructed a few 100 years ago and from bore wells. The labor for constructing this canal come from Bihar, Orissa and Jharkhand and they have their small houses made right next to the canal.

PLACES TO STAY AND EAT

There are a lot of hotels around Madanapalli and they can either be booked online or directly upon reaching. Few of the well-known hotels are Sri Krishna Residency, Chaithanya Residency, and Ganesh Hotel. They provide both food and lodging. Hotels can be booked online on this website https://www.yatra.com/hotels/hotels-in-madanapalle. There are various super markets around Madanapalli for food and provisions. The main ones are ‘More’ on the Hyderabad road and ‘Srinivasa’ on the Tirupati road.

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Horsley Hills, a hill resort is another favorite spot for entertainment and stay both for tourists as well as locals. It was named after George Horsley, a British collector who built his home there. It is about 9 miles from Madanapalli and at a higher altitude, hence the climate is much cooler and more pleasant, which is why many people choose to come here for vacations. There are various activities that are conducted there like rock and tree climbing, there are games for children, a swimming pool and cottages. The highest point in Andhra Pradesh is on this hill and the view from there is spectacular.

WHEN TO VISIT

The perfect time to visit Madanapalli is during the months of October, November, December, January and February as the temperature is low during these months. During all the other months the temperature is extremely hot to venture outside. Hence the best time for sightseeing and experiencing Madanapalli is during the above months. The weather conditions can be looked at on this website http://www.accuweather.com/en/in/madanapalle/186797/weather-forecast/186797

HOW TO GET THERE AND TRANSPORT

Madanapalli is well connected to the major cities in India. The primary modes of transport are busses, cars, trains and autos. The closest airports are in Tirupati, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai. From Tirupati it’s a 100 km to Madanapalli. From the airport a taxi can be hired or a bus can be taken till Madanapalli. There are regular carpooling services that are available on the website https://www.blablacar.in/ride-sharing/to-madanapalle/. The bus service provided by the state government is also very efficient and can be seen on a regular basis going to and fro the major cities. Private bus companies are on the rise now and they can be booked online. The Dharmavaram-Chittoor railway line runs through Madanapalli. The station is about 13 km from the main center of Madanapalli and one can take a bus or local transport to reach the town from outside the railway station. There are regular train services from Hyderabad.

In the town autos are the major means of transportation. Buses and private taxis can also be hired.

BEWARE OF!

There are some things that you should be cautious about as a visitor as you are not very familiar with the place. It is always good to hire a guide who knows the area well. Things to be cautious about are:

  • The hot climate – have plenty of water
  • Mosquitoes – get mosquito repellants
  • Pickpockets – be aware of your surroundings and keep a close eye on your belongings

Map of Madanapalli

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If you are planning a trip and would like more information, please connect with me at –  mcvennela@gmail.com

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