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The Saga of Tarigonda Vengamamba’s Devotion and Devotional Poetics


Vaishnavism remains enriched with the devotional poetics of numerous saint poets. Women saint poets like Andal and Meerabai have received much attention, whereas a more recent 18th century Telugu woman saint poet Tarigonda Vengamamba remains relatively obliqued. This paper would analyse both the devotional life and poetics of Tarigonda Vengamamba, the yogini, who migrated to Thirumala and attained the final merger with Lord Venkateswara. Her deep yogabhakti is phenomenal. Her life is a constant battle against the rigid orthodoxy of her times that continuously undermined women’s devotion and devotional poetics. After analysing her external life, this paper would analyse her poetics that stand a supreme testimony to her yoga bhakti.

It is a crowning glory of her achievement, Mutyala Harathi (Pearl offering) is sung as a lullaby to the Lord every day, before laying the utsava images of the Lord to rest. She is the only woman saint poet to have penned 18 great literary works on Lord Venkateswara.

Tirumala, the Vaishnava punyakshetra needs little introduction to a global audience since the seven hills resonate with Govinda bhakti in their multiple shades and hues. Tirumala is enriched with the devotion of saints like Annamacharya, Hathiramji, the later Malayala swami and the like. Among the constellation of saint poets, Tarigonda Vengamamba (1730-1817) deserves a special mention, since she is the only female saint poet who had lived a life of dedication to Lord Venkateswara, and attained a divine merger with him ultimately. This eighteenth century woman saint poet is a familiar name to the Telugu audience, though lesser known to the Anglophone readers. The purpose of this paper is to not merely introduce her to such an audience, but to primarily explore the contours of her devotion and her devotional poetics which have left a deep mark in the world of Vaishnavism. This paper would be divided into two sections. The first section would explore her biography, while the second part of the paper would analyse her devotional poetry and explore its deep philosophy of yogabhakti, which she assiduously champions.


Vengamamba’s spiritual attainment is a feat indeed since this eighteenth century poet was under constant stress owing to the patriarchal hegemony that undermined women, especially widows. Much before her, India had witnessed a galaxy of women saint poets in the bhakti movement, from the earliest Karaikkal Ammai to the later Akka Mahadevi, Lal Ded etc. But the path was never easy for women, since it was strewn with superstition, patriarchy, power and control, which women assiduously countered, to attain their spiritual altitudes. Vengamamba’s devotion is remarkable, since she was born in the eighteenth century- a period of historical turbulence. The region surrounding Tarigonda, in the Gurramkonda mandal of Chittoor District was in a state of continuous siege. The region was continuously conquered by Kurumbas, Cholas, Ballals, Yadava kings, Gangarajus, Vijayanagara kings, Bahmani kings, Nizam nawabs and the Britishers. By 1640, the Vijayanagara Empire had set, and the region was under the control of Muslim nawabs who controlled the Gurramkonda region. In fact, Gurramkonda was an important fort during the times of Mysore’s Tippu Sultan. In 1713, the Marathas and the Nizams waged constant battles for ownership and control of the area. There were frequent wars between the Sultan and the local kings and Palegars. Under these circumstances, Imam Baig built a strong granite fort with the consent of the nawab near Tarigonda. A treaty was entered between the Nizams and the British for aid, in return of land and governance, in 1804. The colonial powers dominated the region until independence.1 Under these historically volatile circumstances, Vengamamba was born, with orthodox Hinduism within the family, the presence of Islam in the immediate vicinity and the budding European colonial powers. Her expedition into the religious world to reinstate the multiply beleaguered sanatana dharma presents an interesting phenomenon.

Vengamamba, or Venkamamba (her original name) was born on 20th April, 1730 to Krishnayaryudu and Mangamamba of the Vasishta gothra, in Tarigonda, a small village in the then Chittoor District., around 108 km, to the north west of Tirupati. The etymology of the village Tarigonda, is rather interesting, since it simultaneously means Tari “Kunda”, or the pot in which curd is churned. It later became “Konda”, which gained acceptance, owing to its hilly topography. The story goes that one morning in the village Palegar, Rama Naidu’s wife was churning curd to extract butter. Instantly, the churning stick struck a stone-like object. Surprisingly, she found some light inside the pot. When Ramanaidu searched inside the pot, his hand struck an unusually smooth, glistening black stone. As the news spread, villagers flocked to have a glimpse of the “stone.” A senior villager endowed with knowledge of architecture declared it as a veritable saligrama2 of Lord Lakshmi Narasimha, a swayambu3 idol. Since the lord was found in a curd pot, the Tarigonda temple offers creamy curd and buttermilk as prasadam to this day! That night, Lord Lakshmi Narasimha appeared in the dream of Rama Naidu and narrated that the region was once inhabited by sage Durvasa who devoutly worshipped him. He also instructed Rama Naidu to construct a temple in that village and worship him. The requisite funds were available at Marella gavi– a nearby marshy cavern. Naidu visited the spot and discovered a treasure pot, along with a small temple, where sage Durvasa had performed his penance. Rama Naidu constructed a temple there, and duly consecrated it. The divine consort of Lord Narasimha was goddess Chenchulakshmi. An abaya hasta Anjaneya was also installed as per shastras, in the midst of pandits. Thus Tarigonda emerged as a major punyakshetra, reputed for its presiding deity and satya pramanas.4

In this significant village of Tarigonda was born Vengamamba, to a Brahmin couple Krishnaiah and Mangamamba, after they undertook a pilgrimage to Tirumala and prayed to Lord Venkateswara for a female progeny.5 A year later, they were blessed with a girl child significantly on the day of Nrusimha Jayanti. They named her Venkamamba, (later called Vengamamba), as she was born with the blessings of Lord Venkateswara. She was naturally endowed with a brimming bhakti rasa since childhood, probably a vestige of the yoga sadhana of her previous births. She spread joy to her family members initially, through her chants of Nrusimha and Venkateswara. The Kaanala family was reputed for its scholarship and erudition. Krishnaiah, her father was a Vedantist and scholar par excellence, who rendered religious discourses on Bhagavata, Mahabharata and Ramayana. Her mother Mangamma was also an erudite scholar, endowed with vedantic and puranic acumen, along with a flair for literary creativity. Thus, Vengamamba’s soul had a “fair seed time”, since religion and devotion was a lived experience for her. She aided her parents in puja preparations, wove tulsi garlands, flower garlands, while composing poetic garlands rather extemporaneously, since she grew up listening to her mother’s songs and vrata kathas, and her father’s religious discourses on scriptures like the puranas and the Vedas, which had an indelible stamp on her poetic creativity.

Though Vengamamba initially sang within her domestic confines, her surging devotion sought a wider space and hence she sang devotional verses in the streets too. Her stories and songs on Nrusimha and Lord Venkateswara enthralled the audience, but it paved way for malicious gossip also, since her devotion was misinterpreted as an aberration and madness6. While a worried Krishnaiah constricted her external movements, Mangamamba involved her daughter in domestic chores. These external shackles hardly curtailed her brimming devotion, since she continued to sing while engaging in mundane activities.7 Her parents decided to get her married, as marriage was perceived to be an antidote to her “madness”. When Vengamamba argued that Lord Venkateswara was her consort, her parents considered it a mere childish babble of an eight year old! She was married in her eighth year to the young, feeble minded Injetti Venkatachalapathi of Srivatsa gothra from Naraguntapalem, a neighbouring hamlet. Venkatachalapathi agreed to marry her, owing to her family’s erudition. Growing up, she intelligently debated with her father on numerous religious topics. On attaining youthfulness, she refused to consummate her marriage arguing that she herself had no right on her body, since all belonged to her divine consort. On her nuptial night, she pleaded with her husband to perceive her as a bride of Lord Venkateswara alone. To Venkatachalapati, she appeared like Chowdamamba, his family deity! Hence, chanting the name of his Kula devatha, he left the room. Soon, he passed away in a state of abandonment and grief. While the villagers blamed her for his condition, her parents realized her deep devotion. It is rather revolutionary that Vengamamba refused to give up feminine adornments like bangle, bindi and flowers, since she considered herself as the eternally auspicious bride of Lord Venkateswara. When a barber was once summoned to shave her hair, she meditated in a padmasana near a pond, but she appeared as a fierce goddess to him, and hence he refused to remove her hair. Once, she was found to be missing from her home. An assiduous search revealed that she was meditating near the Abahyahasta Anjeneya shrine in the Nrusimha temple of her village. The irked priest, Krishnamacharyulu, on witnessing a widow in a state of deep meditation, pulled her with her hair and threw her out of the temple. Her irate eyes opened in pain. On seeing the power in her eyes, the priest fainted, only to reconcile shortly and beg her pardon. He later became one of her ardent disciples. But the villagers’ scheming nature continued, as they complained to the pontiff of the Pushpagiri Sankara mutt of the “deviant” nature of this widowed Brahmin lass. The pontiff visited Tarigonda, and on a particular day, she was summoned before an assembly of “learned” audience at the Nrusimha temple. Vengamamba visited the pontiff with a coconut in her hand. A curtain was drawn between the pontiff and Vengamamba, as the former considered it inappropriate to view a widow with unconventional habits. The pontiff asked if it was right on the part of a Brahmin widow to retain marks of feminine adornments, despite her widowed status. Vengamamba answered that her consort was the eternal Lord Venkateswara. She further asserted that it was a greater offence to allow another man to touch her, since she was the bride of the Lord. She also asks him if the hair will not re-grow, and hence she permits her hair to be removed only if he assured that the hair will not re-grow. Infuriated, the pontiff questions her if she did not have the courtesy to offer obeisance to the seat in which he sat. Vengamamba asked the pontiff to move aside, and fervently prayed to Lord Nrusimha. Immediately, the seat burst to flames. Struck with both astonishment and fear, he accepted Vengamamba as a woman endowed with special powers. Vengamamba silently went inside the temple and meditated on Lord Nrusimha, offering a Nrusimha Satakam.

Convinced of their daughter’s intellectual thirst, the couple sent her to Roopavatara Subramanya Sastri alias Subramanya Yogi for her higher education at Varimalla, towards the west of Madanapalli. Trained in Yoga Vidya, he was convinced of her spiritual calibre, and imbued in her the brahma vidyopadesa, (the knowledge of the Absolute, Ultimate reality). He also taught her the Pancha Dasi Mantra, Narasimha Mantra and Yogabhyasa. His instillation of Yogabhyasa had a greater impact on her meditative mind, since she later emerged as a great yogini, who could meditate for great lengths of time. Her contribution to yoga bhakti as a woman is remarkable. Later, when the guru was convinced Vengamamba could attain self-knowledge, he sent her back to her parents. She wandered to the nearby places like Rayachoti, offered prayers to Veerabhadra and Bhadrakali. At Anatapuri, she offered prayers to the Gangamma deity there. She also composed a Saiva text, Siva Natakam thus fusing Saivism and Vaishnavism. She composed her Rajayoga Saramrutamu in the dwipada metre in 900 couplets and Balakrishna Natakam, her last work at Tarigonda. On receiving a divine commandment from Nrusimha to depart from Tarigonda, she remains unsure of her destination, when an image of Tirumala floats across her mind. Hence she commences her Tirumala yatra, a turning point in her devotional sojourn!

Travelling on foot and crossing through forests, wild animals etc., she receives instructions from Lord Venkateswara who beckons her to reach Tirumala. On reaching the seven hills, she felt a divine thrill run through her, and hence she composed a short poem on Tirumala. On her first seva in the hill, she pleads with the lord to allow her to stay permanently on the hill. At dawn, Lord Venkateswara appeared in her dream, asking her to seek the permission of his consort Alamelumanga to stay on Thirumala forever. She visits Lord Venkateswara’s shrine during the Suprabhatha seva, and fervently sings a song, seeking the permission of Alamelumanga to stay there, which she duly receives.

May I stay here? Mother!

Do you take care of me ? Alamelumanga !

I don’t know why, but thy lord told me

To beg permission of thee and stay here:

Accept me with kind of compassion : I come

To stay desirous of soul’s liberation.

I can’t across countries roam;

I can’t with dualists argue much;

I can ‘t adore the kings of kingdoms:

I can’t amass wealth for giving alms.

I can’t my body tire; hardships

I can’t bear; what can I do?

I can’t stand among assemblies of men;

Here I shall stay doing thy marvellous will.

Shall I reach for the prop Seshachala’s Lord

Who is but Narasimha of Tarigonda?

Kindly speak out: I meditate upon

Thee, the ultimate heaven of all.

(Madhusudana Rao 136)

Subsequently, the goddess instructs Atmaramdasji, the head of the Hathiramji mutt in his dream, to patronise Tarigonda Vengamamba with food and shelter. He helps her to construct a small cottage towards the northeast corner of the pond there, towards the east of Mada street.8 The later heads of the mutt who patronized her are Hari Ramdas, Janaki Ramdas and Govardhana Ramadas. It was Janaki Ramadas who first discovered that Vengamamba worshipped Lord Venkateswara in the night and performed harathi. Embracing a frugal lifestyle, she spent a large quantum of time meditating and weaving the tulsi garlands.9 At Tirumala, she prayed to Lord Hayagriva for knowledge, to compose devout verses. She composed poetic works like Vishnu Parijatamu, Pandava Tirthamu and Rama Parinayamu. Later, the Tallapakka Annamacharya family donated a small house for her in the Mada street, where she created a Tulsi garden,10 and honed her knowledge of the Annamacharya Keethans. Vengamamba’s devotion remained under seige at Tirumala too, since the priests were jealous of a widow’s constant presence in the temple, her popularity in rendering religious discourses, and her performance of the harathi. The priest then banned her entry into the temple. Vengamamba lived an exiled life within her cottage, continuing to pray. During the ensuing Brahmotsavams the Lord’s chariot refused to move beyond her cottage. All efforts were of no avail. One of the priests understood that it could be because of the banishment of Vengamamba from the temple. Hence, he pleads with her to offer a harathi to the Lord in his procession. When Vengamamba performed the harathi, the chariot moved. Wonderstruck, the priests then asked her to come to the temple and perform her harati. But jealousies continued unabated. Her neighbour Abaram Venkatarama Dikshitulu, regularly hurled leftover banana leaves from which food was eaten, on her Tulsi grove. Vengamamba washed the Tulsi before converting it to a garland. Once the banana leaves were hurled upon her when she was in a deep state of meditation. An angered Vengamamba cursed the death of his progeny. That night, all the family members died of a strange pain, thus causing great grief to the lone surviving member, who pleaded for her forgiveness. She then forgives him stating that only one person of his family member would live hereafter, a fact which continues to this day.

Grieved at the insults hurled upon her devotion, she wandered across Tirumala, in search of a sanctuary to perform penance, until the Lord showed her the Tumburukona,11 12 kms away from the temple. The serene and green landscape was filled with wildlife. She performed a strong penance in the cave there for many years, so much so that the cave itself has attained sanctity to this date as Tarigondamma Guha. The Tirumala priests assumed that Vengamamba no longer existed there. Vengamamba visited Lord Venkateswara every night at His inner sanctum to offer the tulsi garland and the pearl harathi.12 The temple priests wondered as to how the flower garlands were discarded every night and tulsi garlands adorned to the Lord, along with the remnants of the harathi. One night, the Mahant, Janakiramdas ji observed the process through a peephole, when he saw Vengamamba appearing through the cave, offering tulsi and wild fruits to the Lord. Her veneration reminds us of Sabari who offered wild fruits to Lord Rama. Subsequently, Lord Venkateswara himself visited Vengamamba every night to accept her garlands and harati, an event described in her Chenchu Natakam 13, written in the yakshagana 14, mode. Meanwhile, Chandrasekar, a leprosy-stricken outcast comes to her, wandering in the forest. She cures him on the condition that he should not disclose her existence to the masses at Tirumala. On being cured, he tells others of the presence of Tarigonda Vengamamba at Tumburukona. People flocked around her to hear her discourses and songs. With ripening age, she attained mahasamadhi by shedding her energy in the year 1836 with the contentment of having had a sahsrapurnima dasa (witnessing a thousand full moons). She voluntarily entered the eighteen stepped pit, singing a song for each step. She also ordered her disciple Murrasahib, a Muslim, to propagate her devotion to posterity.


As a yogini, poet and saint, her introduction into the world of devotional creativity is remarkable. On her return from the tutelage of Subramanya Sastry, she was once in a state of yogic trance in the Nrusimha temple. On gazing at the sky, she visualized some alphabets descending upon her. Perplexed, she narrated the incident to her guru who was overwhelmed at her being bestowed the transcendental knowledge of creativity. He elucidated that they were in fact Saraswati aksharas that beckoned her to the world of devotional creativity! She describes this experience later in the first two stanzas of her poem Venkatachala Mahatyam. Her first poetic composition was the Nrusimha Satakam in 103 stanzas, with the refrain “Tarigonda Nrusimha Daya Payonidhi” (“Tarigonda Nrusimha, the Ocean of Compassion”) towards the end of each stanza. The satakam form of poetry in Telugu has its etymological origin from the Sanskrit term sata (hundred). It is a well-known genre to Telugu poetry, both ancient and modern. The features of this genre include:

  • The total number of poems should basically contain 100 verses. The number may slightly exceed.
  • It should be composed by a single poet in a uniform metre.
  • Each satakam has a makutam (crown), which runs as a refrain throughout the poem. The makutam in Vengamamba’s satakam, is Tarigonda Nrusimha Dayapayonidhi (Tarigonda Nrusimha, the Ocean of Compassion). It comprises 103 stanzas, of which 65 are in the Utpalamala metre and 38 are in the Champakamala (Hanumanthu 32).

Telugu literature abounds in satakams like Gona Vema Reddy’s Vemana Satakam, Baddena Bhupaludu’s Sumati Satakam, Nrusimha Kavi’s Krishna Satakam, Dhurjati’s Kalahastheeswara Sathakam, Kancherla Gopinarya’s Daasarathi Satakam and the like. (Hanumanthu 32). Though many scholars like Krishnamurthy and Hanumanthu refer her as not being formally educated, it is undeniable that her immediate family environment which consisted of an erudite father and poetically endowed mother made an impact on her creativity, along with the later tutelage of Subramanya Sastry. She had excelled in numerous forms of Telugu poetry like the Satakam, the Dwipada metre and the Yakshagana mode. S.V. Joga Rao’s Andhra Yakshagana Vangmaya Charitra (History of Andhra Yakshagana Literature), 1961, contends that there were no women who wrote the Yakshagana with such skill as Vengamamba, not even men (Tharu and Lalitha124).

She is an exponent of the Dwipada metre. The Telugu Dwipada metre is a couplet, similar to the Anunoup metre in Sanskrit, the Kural in Tamil and the Shadpati verse in Kannada. As a desi form, it was an apt poetic metre which could be used to communicate her lofty yogic philosophy to the masses. Vengamamba composed four poems in this metre: Rajayoga Saramu, Bhagavata Tritya Kandamu, Vasishta Ramanamu and Rama Parinayamu.  Basically any devotional text is also a literary text, “since it is written in a code that requires a community of speakers for decoding” (Mishra 82). The bhakti poet continuously strives to present the unpresentable. A novel metamorphosis takes place since the bhakta/poet “.. seeks to energize the idea of God with the language of emotion…and then personalize it” (Mishra 102). In the process of poetic creation, there is a linguistic and emotional bond established which enables the bhakta to transcend the boundaries of religion into a state of a wider religiosity that enables the bhakta to share (“bhaj”) with the other human and non human entities. Hence, the world of Vengamamba is all encompassing, since she fondly describes the flora and fauna of Seshachala hills, its animals, birds, etc.

Rajyoga Saramu consists of 900 couplets, the first section comprising 200 couplets, second section 180 and the third section, the largest one comprising 480 couplets. The narrative concerns the story of the primordial creation of the human race on earth. The text has for its source, the Tritiya Skanda of the Bhagavata Purana. It narrates the birth of Kapila, the only son of saint Kardhama and his wife Devahuti who had nine daughters.15 On growing up, Kapila also sets out to do penance like his father, when his mother Devahuti objects out of maternal love. Kapila instructs his mother on the essence of embryology, the nature of one’s astral self and the creation of the universe. The text deals with the liberation of the human soul and the ultimate renunciation as an integral step towards the attainment of Raja Yoga. The text is also called Rajayoga Amruta Saramu, as it encapsulates the highest form of yoga.

Her Sri Bhagavatamu is an important re-narration of all the 12 skandas, of which only six palm leaf manuscripts are available to posterity. Her attempt at rewriting the Bhagvatham is noteworthy indeed, since the only other writer of the Bhagavatham in Telugu was the great Pothana of the 15th century. The first skanda deals with the stories of Narayana and his incarnations, the reasons behind Veda Vyasa’s narration of Bhagavata stories, Arjuna’s curse of Ashwadhama, and the eradication of Parikshit’s curse by Sukha Maharishi. The second skanda specifically deals with the bhakti marga and the liberation of the soul, as narrated by Sukha Maharishi to Parikshit, along with the Narayana Leelas. The third skanda deals with pilgrimage of Vidhura, his friendship with Krishna and the emergence of the Varaha avatar, the conversations between Sage Kapila and Devahuti. The fourth skanda deals with the Daksha yagna, the stories of Dhruva and King Pridhvi and the like. The fifth skanda deals with the history of Priyavrata, the incarnation of the Vrushaba, and Suka’s detailing to Parikshit of the nature of earth and hell. The sixth skanda deals with the penance of Daksha to Hari, the creation of the human beings by Daksha and the like. (Krishnamurthy (a) 212) This is indeed a major contribution of Vengamamba to Telugu devotional poetics. Tharu and Lalitha mention how the social reformer Veereshalingam Panthulu praised Vengamamba for her religious themes, while denouncing Muddupalani for her eroticism. (Tharu and Lalitha 124).

Sri Venkatachala Mahatyam (The Greatness of Venkatachala) is her magnum opus in which she poetically revels in describing he sublimity of the Seshachala hills, the story of Lord Venkateswara’s appearance in the Tirumala hills, his marriages etc. The story of Lord Venkatachala in the Seshachala hills has been narrated earlier in Sanskrit too in Varahapuranam, Bhavishyottara Puranam, Padma Puranam and the like, a fact acknowledged by the poet (Krishnamurthy 262). It has 157 sections, divided into 12,000 slokas. The Sanskrit Venkatachala Mahatyam was engraved in Tirumala in the year 1491 by Pasindi Venkata Thuraivar (Krishnamurthy 256).  Significantly, Vengamamba begins by expressing her salutations to great poets like Valmiki, Vyasa, Annamacharya, Nannayya, Thikkanna Somajyaji, and other ancient poets, a poetic feature akin to great literary epics. Her humility is evident when she states in verse 22 that she had no formal education, nor was she trained under Acharyas to be an exponent in Telugu Chandas (prosody), but that she has been composing verses only as per the blessings of Lord Nrusimha. The first section of the poem begins with her equating Tirumala with the other swayambu images of Vishnu like Kanchipuram and Sri Rangam. The flora and fauna of Tirumala as described in her verse is a treat to both devotees and nature lovers, as the gopuras, ponds, the elephants, temple cows, parrots, peacocks, swans, fruits, and the abundant Tulsi leaves find an abundant description. The text is verily an ecosophy since Vengamamba perceives the entire landscape of the Seshachala hills as a divine manifestation which she catalogues in a series of names. Rightly is named as a Telugu Meera.

The eighth section of Venkatachala Mahatyam is a significant explication, Ashtanga Yoga Saramu (The Essence of the Eight Yogas). In a dialogue between Adi Varahaswami and Bhudevi, the latter asks the Lord to expound on some great yoga practices, which the Lord catalogues as follows: Yamam (self control), Niyama (Principle), Asana (posture), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (focused concentration), Dhyana (meditate) and Samadhi (stillness of the mind). (see Hanumanthu 38) Vengamamba preaches these principles as essential for the Rajayoga marga for individuals to attain enlightenment.

As a yogini and a practitioner of Yoga bhakti, Vengamamba’s path towards attainment of the requisite gnana was littered with thorns. As a woman and as a widow, the gateways of knowledge and compassion were closed for her. Subject to physical, psychological, gendered and epistemic violence, the unceasing spirit of devotion imparted the spiritual strength to tread the yogic path unfazed! Her constant state of yoga bhakti, especially as a widowed woman, was a subject of belittlement. Her poetic creations remain different from some women saints of her near contemporaneous time, in not displaying the Viraha in bodily vocabulary, as it is not her form of bhakti. The gendered space in the world of devotion was both inimical and hegemonic to female devotion. But her continuous engagement with the divine tattva in the yogic medium, best known to her, transforms the saga of her devotion into a yogic sadhana. Vengamamba’s life continues to be occasionally re-written too, mostly in the Telugu language. They include a novel by Inturi Venkateswara Rao from Chennai, another novel by Dr. Muktevi Bharati from Hyderabad, and Parmayogini Vengaamba by Dr. N. Anantalakshmi, Hyderabad, and a play on Matrusi Vengamamba by Dr. Rasani, a Telugu writer. Further, Dr. Rasani has also written a play called Chenchita which dramatizes the life of the Chenchu woman about whom Vengamamba had written a play. Also, there is a Telugu film, on her life, with Meena as its heroine. TTD has also attempted to telecast her life in a series, which was later stalled. A few youtube videos, most notably by Nanduri Srinivas are just a few available references on the saint poet. Although the TTD has a project on her name, and the dining hall at Tirumala has been established in her memory, much more needs to be done to venerate the phenomenal saint. Her brindavanam needs an upliftment. Similarly, the Tumburu cave and the Vengamamba well are hardly known even to the local denizens of Tirumala. Much needs to be done to establish the legacy of this astonishing woman saint poet, who lived just a couple of centuries ago! It is said that she had also penned a Tamil poem, which is currently unavailable.

Finally, no discussion on Vengamamba would ever be complete without a discussion of her mellifluous composition entitled Mutyala Harathi (Pearl Offering) to the Lord, as it is the final song with which Lord Venkateswara is laid to rest during the Ekantha Seva, every night. It is almost an idiomatic phrase in Telugu, when one refers to “Annamayya Laali, Vengamamba Harathi”, since the image of Bhoga Narayana is finally laid to rest with Annamayya’s Laali (a lullaby to the Lord) and the harathi of Vengamamba, during which a camphor flame offering is bestowed with a song, before the curtains are drawn for the day!

End Notes

  1. See History of Chitttoor Madras District manuals-compiled by Arthur F. Cox., Superintendent, Government press, Madras, 1895.
  2. Saligram-a particular variety of stone, that is worshipped by the Vaishnavas, collected usually from the riverbed of the Kandaki river in Nepal. “…it’s spirals [are]… typical of Vishnu. It is ammonite…. And is valued more or less highly according to the number of its spirals and perforation.”(Dowson 375)
  3. Swayambu: A self-formed idol
  4. Tarigonda Nrusimha swami temple is also reputed for its promises. If a person was suspected of telling lies, he/she would be ordained to swear in the presence of the presiding deity, since it is believed that a liar would be duly punished. A similar practice exists in the Kanipaka Varasiddhi Vinayaka temple of Chittoor dt.
  5. It is significant, that the couple prayed for female progeny in an age when patriarchy reigned and women were not revered as is evident through the social ostracisms faced by Vengamamba herself.
  6. Women steeped in bhakti were often perceived as being far removed from sanity. Women saint poets like Meera, Akkamahadevi etc. faced similar ostracisms.
  7. Women saint poets often express their discomfort and unhappiness in domestic chores as it is an impediment on their devotion – the Therigetha, the Janabai, Vithobai etc. have expressed their desire to escape mundane domesticity Vengamamba does not express her displeasure, but continues to venerate the Lord in the midst of the imposed chores.
  8. Her cottage existed till 1985 and was later removed owing to expansionist activities.
  9. The tulsi plant/garland is an important leaf used in Vishnu worship. Like Andal of the 6th century who continuously wove both tulsi and poetic garlands for Ranganatha, her divine consort, Vengamamba wove tulsi and poetic garlands for Lord Venkateswara.
  10. Vengamamba’s well: When Vengamamba dug a well to water the Tulsi garden, there appeared huge impenetrable rocks which was difficult to break down. Vengamamba meditated there, after which the rocks were smashed and water gushed out! It is located behind Srinivasa’s gaja sala in Tirumala. Since there are statues of Nagas there, it isalso called Naga Theertha.
  11. Thumburu Kona- named after Tumburu, the son of sage Kashyapa and his wife Pradha.
  12. Vengamamba’s visit to the inner sanctum of the temple to offer harathi to Lord Venkateswara has two versions. While some contend that she entered the sanctum through the cave which connected her directly to the temple, another version states that she had engaged in an astral travel every night to offer the harati.
  13. Chenchulakshmi Natakam: This is a creative dramatic effort by Tarigonda Vendamamba wherein she describes Vishnu’s association with the Chenchu tribes. In this play, Telugu Chenchita, the younger daughter of a Chenchu chief, Sikinayak has an encounter with Lord Venkateswara. The play is important for its description of the Chenchu way of life, their proximity to nature, their marriage customs etc. The play is also significant for Vengamamba’s use of humour, when she describes her husband’s appearance to the dwarapalakas a playful banter.
  14. Yakshagana: A dance drama of South India popular in the sixteenth century. It included hundreds of plays in Telugu and Kannada language. The narratives are drawn primarily from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and the Bhagavata Purana. Historically, Thanjavur, Madurai and Mysuru were the Yakshagana It uses sound, colour, and masks. The yakshagana was an important medium in Vaishnava bhakti movement, where puranic stories were narrated to the multitudes. The ensemble includes song, music, colourful costumes, cymbals, harmonium, drums. It has certain similarities with Kathakali of Kerala, and Terukoothu or street drama of Tamilnadu. It is heavily influenced by the Vaishnava bhakti movement. (see
  15. Vengamamba has altered the text to suit her vision. In the original Bhagavata Purana, Kardhama goes to penance immediately after his marriage, where towards the end, Lord Vishnu appears before him saying that he would be born to him after nine daughters. But in Vengamamba’s retelling of the story, Kardhama embarks on a penance after having nine daughters, in search of a male heir.


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