Traffic came to standstill.
Carts and pack animals piled up at Dharanikota. Munneru was in flood and the ferry service across the Krishna had come to a standing halt. With the political storm brewing in Palnad this had been the only safe road left for the caravans from Motupalli to Warangal. Rumors were afloat that a large army of the emperor is on its way south. But the mood of the travelers seemed unaffected by the troubled times. Merchants from far afield, rich middling and poor, had set up camps on the banks of the river, relaxed and enjoying the nature at its best.
‘Make way, make way,’ an aged man with a long staff and jangling bells ran ahead of an improvised litter carrying a dying man. A young woman followed, her clothes disheveled and her cries of distress making it obvious that it’s her husband who was dying. It was also obvious from the short loincloth of the man, and the design of the saree the woman wore, that they were of lowly birth. The crowds pressed to the sides giving way more out of fear of accidental touch than any concern for the dying man.
Sarangadhara watched them disinterestedly with his back to the trunk of a huge neem tree at the entrance to the town. It’s a common sight at the town of Mandaram which housed a Golaki Math known for its healers. The litter bearers dropped the dying man in the shade, their entry barred by baton wielding sentries. The young woman’s cries turned to howls of despair as the sentries pushed her back when she tried to break through their cordon.
‘He’s bitten by a snake, I beg you please let us through,’ the old man fell at their feet.
‘Get up old man,’ a sentry lifted him up, ‘the healers will be here soon, you must wait,’ he said.
‘But sir, it’s a krait that had bitten him, he won’t last long, please let us through,’ he begged again.
‘You must understand, old man, the healing house is in the temple precinct and you are not allowed inside.’
The young woman screamed, ‘Aren’t all men equal in the eyes of God? Will the poison be any slower because my man belongs to a lower caste?’ her anger began to break loose. The old man touched lightly on her shoulder calming her. ‘Please sir, send a word for the master,’ he asked the amicable sentry.
‘Alright,’ he said, ‘go and tell the master,’ he waved at one of the junior members of his unit.
‘Huh, as though the master has no other work and is waiting for her royal highness, here,’ he leered at the young woman before sauntering off. The old man’s hand tightened on her shoulder dominating her anger.
Sarangadhara couldn’t stay unconcerned. He hurried up to the man in the litter and held his wrist to feel the throbbing tube at the base of the thumb. A faint smile appeared on his face. He looked sharply into the old man’s eyes, understanding dawned on him instantaneously, nodded his head slightly turning back.
The old man followed him. ‘Sir, may I know who you are?’
‘Ah huh, I think it’s more fitting that I know who you are, sir,’ Sarangadhara whispered back.
‘Hmm,’ the old man smiled, ‘so you have seen through the charade,’ it was a statement of fact than a question. ‘Now tell me who you are,’ softly spoken though the question carried undeniable authority.
‘I’m a healer,’ he acceded, ‘Sarangadhara son of Damodara from Vengi.’
‘Vaishnavite, eh?’ the old man asked.
‘Yes,’ he said controlling his disdain, ‘and watching the efficiency of your lot, of course you are one of them… and… not an ordinary Shaivaite that too, aren’t I right?’
The old man nodded, ‘all in good time, or at the least until the master healer finds time for a dying patient… now tell me how you think you can improve the efficiency of this place,’ he asked.
‘But how will the partisan views of a Vishnu worshipper help?’ his sarcasm still apparent.
‘Hari or Hara… What’s the difference? Haven’t you read the poet Tikkana? Times are changing sir. Harihara Tatva, his philosophy of unity, must guide us in future. Please tell me, I’m keen to know your views,’ the old man insisted.
The young woman moved close to them as unobtrusively as possible eavesdropping on them as they settled into a soft conversation waiting for the healers… who never seemed to arrive.
‘Firstly, you must separate the healing house from the temple,’ he began, giving shape to his ideas about creating a city entirely dedicated to Ayurveda, the science of health. ‘There should be distinct wings earmarked to fever healing and the maternity needs of women, a quarantine ward and an emergency treatment annex. You need pharmacists and a herbarium, artisans who can make surgical instruments and vessels and pots for processing medicines… and, most importantly an institution to teach the science of medicine.’ He continued on and on with the old man and the young woman keenly listening… until the master healer arrived.
With one look at the litter he sneered, ‘take it away, if it is snakebite, the fellow must be dead by now.’
‘No… You are,’ the old man rose to his full height. A dozen odd strong men from among the onlookers rushed in to form a protective phalanx around the old man and the young woman. ‘I, Visvanatha Shiva, by the powers vested in me by the Emperor Ganapati Deva of Andhra Desa, hereby sentence you and all your staff to exile in the lands beyond the ocean,’ he thundered.
Ignoring the healer, who had just lost his job, cringing at his feet, he signed for Sarangadhara to join him. The dying man in the litter, at least until then, surprised everyone by jumping out and standing behind the young woman with a sword drawn to protect her as she strode regally into the temple with the entourage following.
‘Shivadeviah is at Dharanikota.’
The word spread like wild fire drawing thousands of people from the neighboring villages, and towns as far as Gunteru and Bezwada. When the great teacher emerged the crowds gathered near the tree had a much larger surprise thrown at them. The princes of the local chiefdoms, Kota Betha, Malyala Chounda, Recherla Prasadaditya and Gona Gannaya came out with their swords drawn… and in their midst was the most radiant of them all… the Yuva Maharaja Kakati Rudradeva. A spontaneous cheer burst out from the crowd as the recognition dawned on them.
A slight wave from Rudrama brought the crowd to pin drop silence, keener than ever to listen to their Empress.
‘This morning, I had been witness to the inequality and indifference to which my people are subjected to,’ Rudrama spoke, her voice sagely. It was she who had earlier come disguised as a low caste young woman trying to save her husband bitten by snake. ‘I am here to set it right…’ she declared, ‘the villages Velagapudi and Mandaram and the islands to the north along with all their revenues are hereby gifted to the Golaki Math, for the purpose of building a topmost city dedicated to public health in the country. And, I decree in the name of the Emperor that every man or woman in need be treated equally irrespective of caste or creed under its roofs’
‘And… We are fortunate to have the greatest scholar of Ayurveda of our times, Acharya Sarangadhara, among us, under whose aegis the city will be built.’
Jaya ho Sakalandhra Sarvabhauma Jaya
Jaya ho Ashtama Chakravarti Jaya
Jaya ho Kakati Rudra Deva Maharaja Jaya
The environs of Amaravati reverberated with the praises of the greatest queen the world had ever had.
The earliest inscriptional evidence of institutional healthcare, probably anywhere in the world, occurs at Amaravati. It is a pillar edict proclaimed by the Empress Rudrama Devi in the year 1261 AD. Known as Malkapuram Inscription, it still stands at a village called Mandadam at the core of Amaravati Capital Region.
Malkapuram Inscription: It states that two villages and an island are gifted by the queen to Golaki Math to set up a public health city. The area is divided into four distinct sectors to house a maternity home, a fever hospital, a pharmacy and a college of Ayurveda. Further, a township is established for the resident doctors, surgeons, pharmacists and, the makers of surgical instruments, measures and pots necessary for medicinal preparations. A herbarium was established on an island on the river. The queen also declares unambiguously that patients of all castes must be given aid freely at this facility.
Sarangadhara: One of the top three exponents of Indian medicine noted along with Charaka and Vagbhatta. He belonged to 13th century. His treatise is considered as the best practical guide to the practitioners of medicine in a simplified format, incorporating the earlier systems of Magadha (Charaka), and West Coast (Vagbhatta) along with the surgical practices of Susruta and such ancient medical systems of Siddha Nagarjuna and others. Many specific references to the weights and measures prevalent in Andhra and the local plant life prove beyond doubt that he hailed from the Andhra Coast.