When it comes to the history of Telugu people and their culture, Guntur always has a special significance. The Telugu script that is commonly in use traces back to a small village here called Bhattiprolu, located in the Krishna delta region. The village is famous for a series of Buddhist stupas one of which has an urn containing relics of the Buddha. The script on the Urn, in Mauryan Brahmi, gave rise later to the Telugu script as we know it, and is often called the Bhattiprolu alphabet.
The original Vedic name, for Guntur was Garthapuri, which in due course got corrupted to Guntlapuri, and the name as we know now. The other explanation is that Guntur gets it’s name from the words Gunta(pond) and Kunta(1/3rd of acre), which in due course of time, became Guntur. The 2nd oldest evidence of Paleolithic settlements have been found in Guntur at Karampudi, Nagarjunakonda. It is the birthplace of the Andhra race as per the Mahabharata, when many tribes like the Telagas, Nagas, Mandaris came together. An ancient inscription at Mydavolu near Guntur city, dating to 3 AD, claims Dhanyakataka( now Dharanikota near Amaravati) as Andhra Padha. It also claims that the Satavahanas, Ikshavaku, Vishnukundinas who ruled over here belonged to the Andhra race. The Ikshawaku ruler Yasodharadu, ruled from Pratipalapura(now Bhattiprolu). Megasthenes describes that the Andhra had around 30 strong forts in his Indica, primarily at Bhattiprolu, Amaravathi, Chebrolu, Chinnaganjam.
Guntur district reached it’s glory under the Satavahanas who ruled here around 225AD, with the capital at Dharanikota, one of the greatest rulers Gautamiputra Satkarni, launched his campaigns from here. Under Gautamiputra Satkarni, the Satavahana empire extended from Malwa in the North to Tamil Nadu, Mysore in the South. After the Satavahanas, the region passed under many rulers the Ikshwakus, Vishnukundins, Pallavas, Anandagotras, Vengi Chalukyas, Velanati Cholas, Kakatiyas and the Vijayanagara rulers . The epic battle of Palnadu, was fought around 1180 AD, known as the Andhra Kurukshetra, which led to the decline of many smaller kingdoms. During the Muslim rule, Prolaya Vema Reddy, led the revolt against their hegemony, winning back many territories, and his succesor Anapotha Reddy, set up capital at Kondavidu, now famous for it’s fort.
From the lush green paddy fields of the Krishna delta, to the rocky landscape of the Palnadu region. From the beaches of Bapatla to the towering waterfalls of Ethipothala. From the Buddhist remains at Nagarjunakonda, Bhattiprolu to the Hindu temples of Amaravati, Kotappakonda, Guntur district, is a cultural and natural treasure trove. It is a place famous for it’s fiery hot chillis and it’s spicy cuisine, that can leave you panting.
Helium was discovered in Guntur by Pierre Jansen in 1868, during a solar eclipse, and the Vundavalli caves here are worth a visit. In the modern times, Guntur city began to develop during the 18th century onwards, under the Vasireddy zamindars. The Guntur muncipality was set up in 1866, and it developed into one of the leading urban centers in Andhra Pradesh. One of the earliest educational institutes was set up by the Lutheran mission in 1886, which is now famous as Andhra Christian College. The Sanskrit college, set up by some leading intellectuals in 1884, is now famous as Hindu College. During the freedom struggle, Guntur district was one of the hubs of the movement. The Palnadu Satyagraha by Duggirala Gopalakrishnayya, the Chirala non cooperation movement in 1921-22 were memorable episodes. Andhra Kesari Prakasam Pantulu, Konda Venkatappaiah, Acharaya N.G.Ranga were some of the famous freedom fighters from here. In later years Guntur has seen many luminaries from the business, movie world too, being the hub of the chilli and tobacco trade, the district was famous for it’s entreprenurial culture. Tenali in it’s hey days was known as the Andhra Paris, due to the large number of writers, actors, artistes who hailed from this town.
Amaravati the new capital of Andhra Pradesh, has a history dating back to 2nd Century BC. Like most other parts in Guntur, it passed between various dynasties, during the Satavahana period it was their capital at Dhanyakatam, now it is basically the village of Dharanikota and the town of Amaravathi. Located on the banks of the Krishna river, Amaravathi is a place that is considered holy for both Hindus and Buddhists.
Amaravathi is believed to have got it’s name from the Amareshwara temple,where the Shivalinga is believed to have been installed by Lord Indra himself. It forms one of the Pancharamas, 5 Shiva temples in Andhra Pradesh. As per legend, Tarakasura one of Lord Shiva’s devotees, prayed to him, and got the Shivalinga, that would protect him from any weapon. When Shiva’s son Kumaraswamy attacked Taraka, the Shiva Linga around his neck, protected him. Even when Kumaraswamy used the Shakti Ayudha, Taraka’s body split into pieces but was again rejoined due to the power of Shiva Linga. That was when Lord Vishnu suggested Kumaraswamy, that he needed to break the Shiva Linga which Tarakasura was wearing, and only then he could kill him. Kumaraswamy did as instructed, and the Shivalinga broke into 5 pieces, and fell on earth. Lord Surya immediately fixed them to prevent the pieces from re uniting, and Kumaraswamy was able to kill Taraka. The 5 places were the Shivalinga fell were called as the Pancharamas- 5 places of rest. Amaravati, was one of them, the others were Draksharama, Kumararama(at Samalkota) in East Godavari district, Ksheerarama( at Palakollu), Somarama( at Bhimavaram) both in West Godavari district.
The Amaralingeswara Swamy temple here, has one of the tallest Shiva Lingas, covering two stories, to date, priests mount on to a pedestal platform here to do the Pujas. Lord Shiva here is worshipped as Amaralingeswara Swamy, while his consort is Bala Chamundika. While the temple does exist from the time of Vijayanagara empire, it was Vasireddy Venkatadri Naidu, a local chieftain of Dharanikota, who expanded and renovated the temple in 1796. It is believed he did this as a form of penance,for massacring Chenchus during the course of one of his military campaigns. Vasireddy Venkatadri Naidu, expanded the temple, engaged archakas, and provided them with land and livelihood.
Amaravathi is also famous as a center of Buddhism, one of the 17 holy Buddhist sites in Andhra Pradesh, that contain relics of the Buddha. The Buddhist stupa here built during Ashoka’s time around 200 BCE is carved with panels, telling the story of Lord Buddha. With a height of 27 meter and circumference of 50 m, the stupa is covered with some rich sculpture detailing life of Lord Buddha, Jataka tales, and is famous for their richness.
Most of the original sculptures of the Amaravati Stupa though are now at the Madras Museum, and some in the local museum here.
One famous spot worth visiting in Amaravati is the Dhyana Buddha, a huge statue of Buddha on the banks of the Krishna river.
In 2006 there was a Kalachakra Mahapravachan conducted at Amaravati by the Dalai Lama, which had monks from Thailand, Indonesia, Japan and Singapore.
Adi Shankara visited Amaravati and set up the Sri Chakra here at the Amaralingeswara Temple. Sankaramanchi Satyam, wrote the Amaravathi Kathalu, a collection of short stories based on his life here. Karunasari Jandhyala Papayya Sastri wrote the Pushpavilapam(Agony of the Flower) , one of the most popular Telugu poems, while Sankarambadi Sundarachari described the beauties of Amaravati in his song Maa Telugu Talliki Mallepoodanda( Jasmine Garland to Our Telugu Mother). Dr. Vavilala Subbarao who wrote the dictionary for a tribal language called Gabada hailed from Amaravati, as well as the author of the Panchanga Malladi Chandrashekara Shastri. Many well known Telugu movies like Saptapadi, Devalayam, Pellidu Pillalu, were shot in Amravati. With so much history and culture, a place where Hinduism meets Buddhism, Amaravathi is poised to become one of the great capitals in India.