Amazing Andhra Adventure: Rediscovering Ganugapati Krishnayya

[The following is adapted from an email my parents sent during their visit to India, and demonstrates a great deal about their ancestors (and mine).]

Dearest family,

Grace and peace to you. We pray that you are all keeping busy and healthy. We made a historic visit to some family sights in Andhra last month and we would like to share that with you through this email. For some of you this is a familiar story and for some it may be new. Our story is part history, part genealogy and most of all it is the story of the wonder-working power of God who touched a boy from a remote village in Andhra and called him to be a child of God.

That young man is Ganugapti Krishnayya, Kamali’s [my mother’s] paternal great-grandfather.

[Update: this post led to my being contacted on 12/1 by a modern-day Krishna Ganugapati, who appears to be the great great grandson of Rev. Ganugapati Krishnayya’s cousin. Small world! Or perhaps just a large family…]

Amazing Andhra Adventure

The weather forecast was dismal, monsoon rains were flooding Andhra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. But the great grand daughter of the Andhra Brahmin convert Ganugapati Krishnayya will not give up her dream of visiting her father’s birthplace. Hence her beloved husband Prabhu [my father] accompanied Kamali on this historic pilgrimage on October 26, 27 in 2005 to the state north of Tamil Nadu called Andhra. A Telugu speaking evangelist Robinson accompanied us on the taxi and we traveled hundreds of miles chasing a dream. By God’s grace the dream came true.

The village of origin: Kolavenu.

Kolavenu is a peaceful village in the heart of the luscious greenery of Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh, 20 kilometers from the bustling city of VijayaWada. There is a beautiful lake in front of the village. The village is surrounded by rice paddy fields, sugar cane plants and palm trees creating a rustic rural setting. The name of this litlle hamlet indicates the prosperous nature of its original inhabitants. Ko for Kodi (Crores), La for Laksha(Lakhs), Ve for Velu (Thousands) and Nu for Noru (Hundreds). Apparently lot of prosperous families (Crorepathies [millionaires]) lived there. Not only did they enjoy prosperity, they were also very generous, hospitable and philanthropic. The guide that took us said when his grandfather and father came to speak in that village, they showered them with gifts it seems.

The Ganugapati clan is well known in that community. They served in the court of the famous Emperor, Krishna Deva Raya. They are Niyogi Brahmins working in the temples as Scribes or Karnams. Some families still live there and hold property while others have moved out of town and country.

On October 26 2005, we saw the first glimpse of the village of Kolavenu at dusk. We fell in love with the quaint village at first sight. We found some village people who knew where the Ganugapatis lived, close to the temple. We saw some of the houses owned by Ganugapatis at present. Across from the ArthaNareeswarar temple in the middle of the town, we were invited into a house by a Brahmin gentleman. He talked about the Ganugapatis and also served some sweets and coffee. We were touched by the hospitality of this kind man to total strangers. I remember the Brahmin relative from Andhra, who came to give Appa the genealogy information, did not eat at our house because we have become Christians and non-vegetarians.
We also went to a local Church almost outside the village. The children gathered around us and sang some songs and Kamali taught them a chorus. After a Thanksgiving prayer they left that little hamlet with joy and sadness. Although the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu and Chennai were deluged with floods and heavy rains, the rain stayed out of our area mercifully. Morning and evening, that was the first day of our pilgrimage.
The miracle at Machilipatnam

We drove to Machilipatnam early the next morning to follow the foot steps of the young Krishnayya from Kolavenu. Great-grandfather Krishnayya’s parents sent him to school in Elluru, a town closeby, and then (probably in the 1850’s) went to Machilipatnam to attend Noble College. He was a bright young man and got the attention of the CMS missionary. Robert Turlington Noble.
*It was a life-changing move on the part of this young man. Rev. Noble the British Missionary held discourses around a round table about sin, salvation and the Savior. God touched this young man’s heart and he submitted to the will of the Almighty, asked for forgiveness of his sins and got the assurance of eternal life by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. He was baptized by Rev. Noble in 1855 and ordained as a Pastor in 1871. Noble College is a thriving college in town today and we saw the grounds and buildings. Sharp Hostel where the round table is supposed to be is now a lab and it was locked. The principal who had the key was not available for us to go and see it. We did see an old table in the girl’s Hostel of the Sharkey Schol. But it was square whereas the Noble table was supposed to be round!

The next stop over in Machilipatnam was St. Andrew’s church where grandfather G. Kantayya (the Rev. G. Krishnayya’s son) worked as pastor. It is a beautiful white CSI Cathedral now and the Bishop worships there. We were warmly welcomed by the elders of the church and they showed us Rev. G. Kantayya’s plaque on the left side in front of the church. The best part of the visit was going through the old church records and finding the signature of my grandfather: “G. Kantayya.” I [Kamali] was overwhelmed with emotion when I touched his hand writing in the time worn pages of the marriage register. I couIdn’t believe that I touched something that my grandfather touched a few decades ago! We also visited St. Mary’s church which was older than St. Andrews. Grandfather Kantayya had worked there as a pastor also. We saw the grave of CMS Missionary Rev. Noble who led our great grandfather Rev. Krishnayya to Christ.
*One of the pastors we met said that his grandfather had talked about living in St. Andrew’s church campus along with the Kantayya children in the parsonage. I imagined my father playing around as a PK (preacher’s kid) with his four siblings. It was sheer magic to be traveling in time and reliving the past.
*Enlightening Elluru

Our final destination in our pilgrimage was the town of Elluru, about 21/2 hours away. Great-grandfather Rev. G. Krishnayya served as pastor of Christ Church in Elluru. He passed on to eternal glory in 1918 after serving the Lord faithfully and honorably. Before we visited the church, we were invited to meet the new pastor of that church. He served us tea and enquired about our visit. When we explained the purpose of our visit, he pulled out a file sent to him by one of his mentors in the U.S., Rev. John Sesham. He was very pleased to know that we are descendants of such an illustrious pastor and took us to his church. We saw the plaque of Rev. G. Krishnayya behind the pulpit. Even after remodeling the church, they had not moved its place in the church. The church is growing and the new pastor is energetic. The work of the Lord continues generation after generation.

It was getting dark and we had one final sight to see. It is the grave site of great-grandfather Krishnayya. The cemetery was just outside town and we found it without much difficulty. But the trouble is to find his grave site in the fading light among hundreds of graves. Prabhu, Robinson and Kamali divided the whole cemetery into three parts and each started looking at the graves. After 15 minutes of looking and not finding the right grave, Prabhu ran into the cemetery gardener. Providentially he happened to be there at that late hour. When asked where old graves going back to 1918 will be in that cemetery, he said “we don’t have those old ones here.” But Prabhu said, the name is Ganugapati Krishnayya. Then the gardener said, “My father has mentioned that name. I think it is here.”

He took us right back to the grave of Rev. G. Krishnayya. Yet another miracle to find an old grave in the darkness of the fading sunlight! He brought water and washed the grave so that we can read the letters on the grave. The Marker read:

BORN 1838
DIED 1918
Some people who were laying flowers on their mother’s grave, generously gave Kamali some flowers so that she can lay it on the grave. Our cup runneth over with joy of mission accomplished. Thanks be to God for letting us fulfill this dream.

John & Esther Prabhakar
October 27, 2005