The Konaseema Page
The Godavari, flowing eastwards from its origin in Trimbukeshwar, near Nashik, Maharashtra enters the state of Andhra Pradesh just past the city of Bhadrachalam in the newly bifurcated, neighboring state of Telangana. It then does a wide loop southwards, through narrow and scenic gorges around the Papikonda Wildlife Sanctuary and forms the boundary between the West and East Godavari districts. Past the city of Rajahmundry, the great river divides into several streams, seven of which, known together as the Saptha Godavari, define the Konaseema or Godavari delta area of Andhra Pradesh.
This is fertile territory and its rich history results in another kind of fecundity in our hyper-linkable times. Here are a few reading resources proffered by the internet.
Konaseema in History
Konaseema was a part of the kingdoms of the Shatavahanas, feudatories of the Mauryas, in Ashokan times. The daughter of the Mauryan king, Ashoka (and twin sister of his son Mahinda), Sanghamitra, is understood to have constructed in Adurru, on the right bank of the Vainateya Godavari, in Konaseema, one of the great Stupas containing relics of Gautama Buddha during her lifetime (3rd to 2nd century BCE). Excavations in 1953 and subsequently have revealed remains of the main stupa and many other viharas in a 2 acre area on the edge of the currently inhabited village and just west of the river embankment.
Konaseema finds mention in Pliny the Elder's, "Natural History" (Naturalis Historia) written in about 77 CE. It describes an 'island in the Ganges' (inaccurate as that may be) called Modogalinga, believed to refer to the Kalinga and Telangana regions. After the rule of the Shatavahanas, Konaseema came to be governed by the Ikshvakus followed by the Eastern Chalukyas (related to the Chalukyas of Badami, in Karnataka and descendents of Pulakesi II) between the 7th century & 11th centuries CE. The region was visited, during this period, by Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese Buddhist sramana who conducted his epic travels in India between 630 CE and 645 CE, covering a wide swathe of the subcontinent from Jalalabad (then, Adinapur) in central Afghanistan to Kanchipuram in the south, which was then under the Pallavas. Following the Eastern Chalukyas (also known as the Vengi rulers) the region came under the Kakatiyas (of Warangal) and the Reddy Dynasty before it became a Vijayangara dominion. It then transferred to the Qutub Shahis, then the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb and eventually to the English through a treaty between Robert Clive and the late Mughal ruler, Shah Alam II. The English and French sparred over it, as over other territories, but other than Yanam, it was the English that took over the "Northern Circars", as they called the region, by 1768, administering it until 1947. Yanam (along with Pondicherry, Karaikal and Mahe) became de facto part of the Republic of India after some post independence scuffling, in 1954, but a formal treaty of transfer/cession (entered into in 1956) was ratified by the French parliament only in 1963.
The Jarring Present in Konaseema
Today, Konaseema's natural beauty, and bounty, is severely challenged by 21st century India, its laissez faire approach to life and society and the dominant "development imagination" of the Government and power elite.
As you travel through the region, the elaborate system of irrigation canals that form a grid through habitations and paddy fields and were ingeniously designed to run right past houses and through villages that have burgeoned into towns, is now choking with plastic trash and perhaps sewage. Despite the beauty and abundance of the Godavari delta, conditions of life in the towns are grimy and unappealing. Like anywhere else in India the trade off is between physical quality of life and access to disposable income. Meanwhile, the state Government is in overdrive peddling promises of industrial utopia, bullet trains, multi-lane coastal highways and 'information technology', to improve lives.
When we visit Vakalpudi beach just north of Kakinada, the second largest city in Konaseema, and an important port and chemical manufacturing center, the AP Government is organizing a 'Beach Festival' to promote the 'beauty and tourism potential' of the region and jump start 'development'. It is an already-hot January mid-morning. Enormous plastic flexes of prominent politicians have been erected on temporary wooden frames in front of a large makeshift auditorium erected on the beach. Plastercast apsaras and potted plastic plants adorn the red, jute carpet that leads into this space. Hundreds will be trucked in to attend the 'festival', listen to the speech making, applaud and 'enjoy' the state sponsored entertainment. Policemen line the road from the Kakinada lighthouse that runs further north until Uppada, right along water's edge. One of the policemen is delighted to learn we have been traveling in Konaseema and extols the beauty of the land.
The beach behind the 'festival' tent is being severely eroded by the sea and is littered with polystyrene food plates, plastic chips packets and disposable bottles, even as tens of push carts, on their tiny wheels, are being heaved, with great effort, over the sand by their hard working north Indian micro-entrepreneurs in preparation for the families and 'festival' visitors who will, they hope, transact with them for ice cream, chat, snacks and knick-knacks later in the day. They will all, of course, contribute their trash to the beach or toss it into the waves - and watch the dross being washed back on shore.
Of the 13 districts of newly defined Andhra Pradesh (after the creation of the state of Telangana), the West and East Godavari districts are the most densely populated, after the state capital region of Krishna district. Accounting for 10 million of AP's population of close to 50 million (2011 census) this is agriculturally, politically and industrially an important region. Investors, power brokers, land developers and politicians are jostling for profits and returns here. We can't avoid a sense of foreboding that, as is the norm in unregulated, modern India, the pursuit of profits here will only end up enriching the very few and further degrade the quality of life and environment for the many.
As we stand and take in the mediocre sight of an eroding and littered beach, a political jamboree about to be unleashed, and dark silhouettes of the chemical factories of Kakinada, the trajectory the region is on appears terribly insipid.