Role  of  Social  Reformers-  Gurajada  Apparao,  Kandukuri  Veeresalingam,  Raghupati Venkataratnam Naidu, Gidugu Ramamurthy

Role of Social Reformers

Gurajada Apparao

Gurajada Venkata Apparao (1862-1915) was a Telugu poet and writer of Andhra Pradesh, India. He wrote the first Telugu play, Kanyasulkam, which is often considered the greatest play in the Telugu language. Gurajada Apparao was an influential social reformer of his age and was lauded as Mahakavi, meaning “the great poet”.

Sri Gurajada Apparao was a social reformer, poet, writer, philosopher, and a friend. He was born in Rayavaram of Visakhapatnam distt.. He graduated from the Maharaja’s College (MR COLLEGE) of Vizianagaram, the so called VIDYANAGARAM of ANDHRA where he synthesized de novo the greatest of his writings which are superb, unforgettable, and immortal. “Desamante Mattikadoy – Desamante Manushuloy” has had been shacking the hearts of every Telugu soul, whether literate or illiterate.

In 1887, Gurajada spoke at a Congress Party meeting in Vizianagaram. His daughter lakshmee narasamma was born in 1887. He was simultaneously involved in social work and became a member of the Voluntary Service Corps in Visakhapatnam in 1888. He was elected vice-president of the Ananda Gajapati Debating club in 1889. His son Venkata Ramadasu was born in 1890. In 1891 he was promoted to Lecturer (Level III) with a salary of Rs.125. He taught the F.A. and B.A. classes several subjects including English Grammar, Sanskrit Literature, Translation, Greek and Roman Histories. His younger brother Syamala Rao died in 1892 while studying at Madras Law College.

In the previous ten years, Gurajada Appa Rao (along with brother Syamala Rao) had been writing several English poems. His Sarangadhara, published in “Indian Leisure Hour” was well received. The editor of the Culcutta based “Rees and Ryot” Sambhu Chandra Mukherji read it and re-published it in his magazine. He encouraged Gurajada in many ways. While praising Gurajada’s talent, he actually encouraged him to write in Telugu. He told Gurajada that however talented he might become in English, it is still a foreign tongue and that he would scale greater heights if he chose to compose in Telugu. Gurajada too was gradually coming to this conclusion. During this period, it is also said that Gurajada was also in correspondence with a British Journalist and author. Gundukurti Venkata Ramanayya, editor of the “Indian Leisure Hour” encouraged Gurazada greatly during the same period. In 1891, Gurajada was appointed to the post of Epigraphist to the Maharaja of Vizianagaram.

In 1892, Gurajada’s celebrated drama “Kanyasulkam” was staged for the first time. It became an instant hit. It was the first Telugu drama expressly written in spoken dialect. Prior to that, there were dramas that employed spoken dialect in a few parts of the drama. Vedam Venkata raya Sastri wrote a very popular drama “Prataparudreeyam,” where he followed the Sanskrit example in allowing the so-called “lower” characters to use spoken dialect while the so-called “upper” characters used chaste literary dialect. Veeresalimgam Pantulu wrote some dramas, notably “Brahma vivahamu,” with some spoken dialect content. This drama was written more as an accessory to his crusade against social evils than for literary enjoyment. The Kanyasulkam was the first to achieve both the aims. And an unparalleled achievement it was! The success of Kanyasulkam encouraged Gurajada to open up and seek out others with similar views. He came in contact with several contemporary luminaries. The rumbling sounds of movement to support spoken dialect as a platform for literary activity were gathering around that time. Gurajada’s childhood friend and classmate in Chipurupalli, Gidugu Rammurty (1863–1940) was the leading light of this school of thought. The highly successful staging of Kanyasulkam gave this movement a big boost. It conclusively showed that works that have undisputed literary value and are very popular could be composed in spoken dialects. Even the opponents of the spoken dialect movement such as kaseebhatta brahmayya Sastri had to concede that the kanyASulkaM has a significant literary merit. The success made Gurajada a sort of celebrity. He was being sought after for literary events and for reviewing other literary works.

In 1896, Gurajada tried to establish a magazine by name “prakASika.” In 1897, kanyASulkaM was published (by Vavilla Ramaswamy Sastrulu and Sons, Madras) and was dedicated to Maharaja Ananda Gajapati. In the same year, the prince died following a brief illness without leaving a successor. After this, Gurajada was appointed as personal secretary and advisor to the Maharani of Reeva (Appala Kondamamba – sister of Anada Gajapati). Gurajada had his second daughter (third child) PuligeDDa Kondayyamma in 1902. In 1903, a court case was filed challenging the right of Ananda Gajapati’s mother (to adopt an heir to the throne of the principality. Gurajada was put in charge of taking care of all the legal proceedings. The case dragged on for many years and ended in an out of court settlement in 1913.

Kandukuri Veeresalingam

In a way, Kandukuri Veeresalingam was the ‘Raja Ram Mohan Roy’ of Andhra Pradesh. He was a social reformer, activist, writer, “the quintessential Renaissance man”. “For all the efforts made in bringing our social reformism, he was popularly known as “Gadya Tikkana” by his well-wishers and followers.”  He had many firsts to his credit. “The first person to conduct a widow remarriage in Andhra Pradesh, the first to start a co-educational school here. And as a writer, the first Telugu novelist, the first autobiography in Telugu, the first to write a history on Telugu poets and the first Telugu writer to translate scientific books”.

This legendary scholar was born on April 16, 1848 in an orthodox Brahmin family in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh. Unfortunately, his father, Subbarayudu passed away when he was just four years old; therefore he was brought up by his paternal uncle, Venkataratnam.

In spite of poverty and many hardships, Veeresalingam’s mother managed to send him to a government district school where his exceptional aptitude and gentle behaviour were first noticed. He was awarded the title of the best student in the school.  “At the age of 5 he joined a local school, where he soon learnt the Bala Ramayana, Sumathi Satakam, Krishna Satakam in due course of time. A brilliant student, he joined the Government High School in Rajahmundry, in English medium, when he was 12, and that is where he studied English literature, as well as the works of Keshav Chandra Sen, that influenced him tremendously.”

Belonging to a traditional family, he was married at a very young age. At the time of marriage, his wife Bapamma Rajyalakshmi was only 8 and he 13. Though, they got married in childhood, they loved each other and their marriage was peaceful and happy one. In other words, they were the perfect match. In the later part of his life Rajyalakshmi supported her husband’s renaissance movement in Andhra. “With his peddanana, who was his guardian passing away in 1867, it fell upon Veeresalingam to run the household now. He tried for a Government job, but when the officers said that he needed to bribe if he wanted one, he refused to take it up.” Finally after finishing his matriculation in 1869, he joined as a teacher in Korangi village. He taught for two years, was a brilliant teacher and “then moved to Dhavaleswaram near Rajahmundry, as the headmaster of an English medium school.” Lastly, he also tried to awaken them on the social evils in Telugu society.

Veeresalingam Pantulu was deeply influenced by reformists like Keshav Chandra Sen. He had enormous respect for the ideas and activities of ‘Brahma Samaj’.Veeresalingam soon opened a girl’s school at Dhavaleswaram as he genuinely felt the need for encouraging women’s education. Next was a widow’s home. He started the first theist high school, the Hithakarini School at Rajahmundry in 1908. In the same he donated his wealth and property to Rajahmundry Widow’s home and school.  Since Pantulu’s main focus was social reform so after quitting his job in 1876 he started a monthly magazine in Telegu called Vivekavardhini.

As soon as it gained popularity, Kandukuri Veeresalingam established a printing press at Rajahmundry itself. Through the publication, Veeresalingam raised voice against bribery, superstitious beliefs and child marriage which were prevalent in society then. The magazine also included several articles on empowering women. Apart from women related issues, he fearlessly exposed rampant corruption amongst government officials.

In 1878, the ‘Rajahmundry Social Reform Association’ was founded that emphasized on widow remarriage. People opposing widow remarriage failed to prove their point and resorted to physical violence against Veeresalingam. But, he did not relent. In fact he asked his followers to visit different parts of the Andhra Pradesh and find young men who were willing to tie the knot with widows. After tremendous efforts Veeresalingam was successful in arranging the first widow remarriage in 1881. During his lifetime he got forty widows remarried.

In his seminars, he used verses (shlokas) from ancient scriptures to convince people that re-marriage of widows was not forbidden by Hindu dharma. “Veeresalingam, spoke of the importance accorded to women’s education in Ancient and Medieval India, citing the examples of Raja Bhoja and Sri Krishna Deva Raya, whose courts had many prominent women poets and scholars. He claimed that India declined only when it began to treat the women like slaves, and did not educate them.”

Raghupati Venkataratnam Naidu

Dewan Bahadur Sir Raghupathi Venkataratnam Naidu (1 October 1862 – 26 May 1939) was an Indian social reformer who hailed from Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh in India. His father Appayya Nayadu worked as a subedar in Madras Army. Their forefathers served as commanders in Madras Army and East Indian Company Army since its inception i.e. late 17th Century. He was a disciple of Veeresalingam, and has been described as “the most powerful orator of his day”.

Raghupathi Venkataratnam Naidu was born on 1 October 1862 in Machilipatnam in a famous Telaga Naidu family. As his father, Raghupathi Appayyanaidu worked as Subedar in the army, he lived in Chandrapur. This helped him gain knowledge of Hindi, Urdu, Persian languages. He continued his education in Nizam high school in Hyderabad when his father was transferred there. He later graduated from Madras Christian College. He continued further education to complete M.A. and L.T.

Gidugu Ramamurthy

Gidugu Venkata Ramamurthy’s (1863-1940) contribution to Telugu language specifically Vaaduka Bhasha (Colloquial language) is immense. He was instrumental in deciphering the Granthika Bhasha (classical Telugu infused heavily with Sanskrit) used in text books and literature and simplifying it, such that it could be made available to the masses. In the process he managed to bring to the forefront the beauty and lucidity of the colloquial language. In short he was the revolutionary behind the usage of simple Telugu language in Andhra Pradesh. He was linguist and spoke many languages fluently and in fact researched in several languages. A historian, social reformer and a rationalist he worked tirelessly, with dedication to his cause coupled with good intent. Literature that was solely restricted to the intellectuals and scholars of the era finally could be accessed by the masses, nothing short of a reformation in the history of the Telugu language. In order to honour his contribution to the Telugu language,  his birthday on the 29th of August is celebrated as the “Telugu Bhasha Dinotsavam” or “Telugu Language Day”.

Gidugu Ramamurthy was born in the village called Parvatalapeta, close to Sri Mukhalingam, in the Srikakulam district by the Vamsadhara River on the border of Orissa. His father Veeraraju was a revenue inspector and passed away when Ramamurthy was just 12 and spent his younger years with his mother Venkamma. He studied privately and cleared his matriculation while staying in his sister’s house and thereafter started his life as a teacher in Gajapati Maharaja School, Parlakimidi, in a career that spanned for 55 years.

Gidugu also rendered his services to the tribals, especially the Savaras, in Parlakimidi area of Srikakulam districts agency areas and tirelessly worked for the development of tribal languages. He gave Savara language a simple script and prepared lexicons that anybody could learn in a matter of days. His research for Savara language required him to travel to the tribal areas infested with Malaria and hence needed to be treated with quinine which rendered him deaf. This shows his commitment to a given cause and the dedication to solve it. These qualities in Gidugu have led people to call “Pidugu” in Telugu, which means a thunderbolt. Telugu people today owe immense gratitude to this great man, who was the son of the soil of Srikakulam. Gidugu died on the 22nd of January 1940 at the age of 77 in Srikakulam, leaving the great contribution of colloquial Telugu for all the future speakers of the language.


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