16 July 2007

Meet Balagopala Bhaskara Raju: Artist, Performer, and Worker for Meher Baba

Actor, singer, painter, teacher of drawing and dance — Mr. Bhaskara Raju Balagopala of Tadepalligudem in the state of Andhra Pradesh is a man of many talents. But perhaps the most wonderful thing I learned about him is this: When Avatar Meher Baba asked him, “Can you do my work?,” he said: “Yes.”
I spoke to Bhaskara Raju in October 2002 when he came to Meher Center in Myrtle Beach with his wife, Govindamma, and their son Meher Isaa and his wife, Hymavathy, and children, Gautam Merwan and Shruthi. Meher Isaa filled me in on his father’s story. Bhaskara Raju first learned about Baba from Dr. Naidu, whose daughter was one of his dance students. Initially he was not very interested in Baba and tossed out the pamphlets given to him by Dr. Naidu. But eventually he met Baba, and from that moment he dedicated his brush to painting only portraits of Meher Baba until retirement from teaching, when he asked Baba’s permission to take some painting commissions in order to continue to support the family. (Click here to see two portraits of Meher Baba by Bhaskara Raju.)
Bhaskara Raju was the leader of a performance group that specialized in Burra Katha, a folk tradition of Andhra Pradesh in which storytelling is conveyed through song, music, and dance. Three players dressed as a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Christian participated in the performance, which took about four hours. One player would narrate Meher Baba’s life story, another sang Baba songs to keep the audience interested in the story, while the third played the comic role of an innocent who asks “stupid” questions (“Why doesn’t he talk?”) in order to elicit answers to questions the audience would naturally have about Baba. In addition, two other persons would accompany the entire performance on harmonium and tabla. In this way, Bhaskara Raju’s group spread Meher Baba’s name and message over 300 times in villages of Andhra Pradesh. Their first performance before Baba himself was in 1955 in Lower Meherabad. Subsequent performances for Baba took place in Guruprasad at Pune.
A notable instance took place on May 18, 1959 in Guruprasad. Afterward, Meelan (a professional photographer in Pune) took a photograph of Baba with the group (shown above; you can click on it to make it larger), made up of Bhaskara Raju, Parepalli Satyam, Kondapalli Venkatacharya, B. Sathyanarayana Raju (on harmonium), and his father, Ramabhadra Raju. Baba remarked, "This is a unique photograph. People will appreciate it after my physical end and flock around you in recognition of your services for my universal cause." Bhaskara Raju subsequently had copies of the photo made up for sharing with others.
An interesting consideration is that Meher Baba did not know the Telegu language of Andhra Pradesh. But, as Bhaskara Raju pointed out, does Baba need any translator in order to receive communications from the heart? During one of Baba’s tours of Andhra, Baba asked Bhaskara Raju to sing a prayer-song. He began to sing one called “Namo Meher Baba,” and after a short time Baba interrupted and asked who had written the song. “My elder brother,” he replied. Baba gestured, “Very good! It has touched my heart,” and he asked him to go back and sing it again from the beginning. When the song was finished, Baba asked the mandali and others to note down the words, which they did, writing the Telegu sounds in the alphabet of their own language. Today, Baba lovers all over India — and even abroad — open their programs with this Telegu prayer-song that Baba enjoyed so much.
Baba once asked Bhaskara Raju, “Do you understand God Speaks?” He said yes. Baba replied, “OK, rewrite it!” Although Bhaskara Raju had no idea how to carry out this surprising order, an idea came to him while staring at a wall, resulting in four charts that he drew to help explain God Speaks. When he showed them to Baba, Baba was pleased and then asked him to make one more chart, demonstrating “I am the God of Gods.” This he did and presented his work to Baba. Because it was made in response to Baba’s order, Bhaskara Raju did not save a copy of this chart, considering it as belonging to Baba, and he simply forgot what he had drawn.
Bhaskara Raju’s wife, Govindamma, has her own Baba stories. Baba told her, “In this life he is your husband. He is my man, so please take care of him.” She received her own special darshan on February 26, 1954. Baba’s birthday was celebrated in their hometown that year. Govindamma was just wondering if she would get any chance to meet Baba directly when he called for her (by making a gesture indicating the eyeglasses worn by Bhaskara Raju and then the “bangles” gesture meaning “woman”). She does not remember the last few steps she took rushing into Baba’s arms, where she fell, weeping.
It was a pleasure to meet this family, and I’m happy I got a chance to share these few stories and the special photo of Baba that Bhaskara Raju gave me. Meher Isaa reports (July 2007) that his father and others are working on a plan to present a Burra Katha performance at Meherabad soon.
Meher Isaa provides the following caption for the photo at the top:
Standing (left to right): (1) Bhaskara Raju Balagopala, the main storyteller, who covered Baba life story blended with Baba's messages. (2) Venkatacharyulu, who provided comedy and innocent questions to keep the audience entertained whiule eliciting details from the storyteller. (3) Sathyam Parepalli, with a string instrument on his shoulder to maintain his musical pitch. He inserted Baba songs into the story from time to time with his magical voice and dancelike movements to keepup the spirit of audience.
Sitting (left to right): (1) Sathyanarayana Raju Balagopala, who accompanied the singer on harmonium. (2) Ramabhadra Raju Balagopala, author of the “Namo Meher Baba” song, also author of Burra Katha and many more Baba songs. Ramabhadra Raju is the elder brother of Bhaskara Raju and father of Sathyanarayana Raju.
Sitting in chair: Needs no introduction, none but you, me, and all other together.


Jay said...

NIce story...thanks Kendra!

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Baba lovers like this have so much to teach people like me.

Prasadaz said...

Glad to know

All quotes of Meher Baba © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust unless otherwise indicated. Writings by Kendra are © Kendra Crossen Burroughs unless otherwise noted.