It was in 2006 when Lakshmi Prabhala, then an IT employee commented on a blog posted by Sadhana Ramchander that led to an unexpected friendship. Lakshmi recalls, “It was a post on Bathukamma, about which not much was known then. I asked her if I could tag along with her on her future visits and that’s how we became acquainted with each other.” The association became professional with the release of their book on Hyderabad (Hyd and Seek) in 2015. The duo have recently finished their second book, Orugallu to Warangal: Journeys across Time, which pays an ode to the city and captures succinctly, its rich history, architecture, customs and festivals.
While Sadhana was born and educated in Warangal, Lakshmi took only one prior trip to the city. Sadhana says, “I’ve lived there for 18 years but at that age you want to see the world. You don’t want to see the world around you. On our school excursions, we went to Ramappa Temple or the Pakhal lake. This book is a discovery even for someone who grew up there.”
The twosome made around 12 trips over the past three years to document the city and the labour of their love is a rich layered book, with spell binding photographs and a thorough documentation of the city and its rich heritage. The idea to document Warangal, Sadhana says came from tourist booklets found in cities abroad. “When you travel, even small cities have dedicated books which present them so beautifully. In India, we are bursting at the seams with history and information but lack the skill to package it well.” she smiles. Lakshmi adds, “Telangana is still a new state and there is a lot of curiosity about it. This is our contribution to India’s youngest state. The fact that there is no book on Warangal added to the interest.”
The duo worked intermittently on the project, juggling it with their professions (Lakshmi is a popular photographer/writer in the city while Sadhana has been running her own publishing support service for 25 years now) writing and shooting pictures for the book. Both the writers are full of stories of Warangal and their travels. Lakshmi says, “The thrill of discovery was exhilarating. The Devuni Gutta temple near Warangal was a miniature Angkor Wat Temple with carvings from the 6th century. I was astounded when I saw it. There were some similarities with Hyderabad too — the landscapes, the rocks and lakes.” Sadhana says that these places were off the track which made their journeys exciting, “Pandavula Guttalu, was a great discovery. In fact, it came to light only in 2006-07 and is full of rocks, caves and pre-historic paintings. The Lakhnavaram forests were full of Naxals, so a lot of these places didn’t see any visitors for decades. Even my relatives and friends who grew up in Warangal were stunned at our finds.”
The book details many visual and performing arts which are still a part of day to day life in the villages surrounding Warangal. From Perini Tandavam (a Kakatiyan era temple dance form), Mandhechu Kathalu (storytelling) to Oggudolu (an energetic folk worship form), the book captures the images and the stories of these art forms succinctly. Lakshmi exclaims, “I got to see so many different facets of the city. For example, I never knew Chindu Yakshagaanam was prevalent in Telangana as I had only read about it being performed in Karnataka. It’s a unique system in which one community depends on the other. Artistes who are patronised by a particular community perform for the entire night for a week for them. It was a surreal experience – away from the technological marvels of the 21st century.”
Climbing hills with strangers, travelling endlessly and taking innumerable notes/images were a part and parcel of their journey. For Sadhana whose mother, Jaya Rao wrote a chapter (Warangal: Then and Now), it was a homecoming of sorts. She adds, “My 83-year old mother was excited about her journeys. She is Warangal’s first woman lawyer and went to the city as a young bride. So, she would add her recollections of the places and was overjoyed when we found new things.” Like in any collaboration, the duo had their share of disagreements. They went through 15 covers and finally decided on a collage as they felt no one picture could capture the essence of the book . Dexterous weaving in the different facets of a city, this book easily juggles Warangal’s past with its present, its arts with its architecture and its festivals with its folklore making it a compendium of sorts, of one of Telangana’s oldest cities.