Veeresalingam Panthulu – The Great Reformer and Poet
Veeresalingam awakened Telugu people out of their suffocating medieval orthodox customs and superstitions. He was not only a reformer, but also a literary activist. His literary activities were varied. He was the first to write a Telugu novel, Telugu drama, books on natural sciences, history in Telugu and Telugu prose for women. He was considered the father of renaissance in Andhra. Veeresalingam was influenced by the ideals of ‘Brahma Samaj’ founded by the great social reformers of Bengal. Raja Ram Mohan Roy,Keshav Chandrasen and Iswar Chandra Vidya Sagar, who did much work for women’s emancipation. Veeresalingam was the pioneer of social reform in Andhra Pradesh apart from his remarkable contributions to Telugu literature and for the cause of education.
Veeresalingam was born into a Brahmin family on 16 April 1848 at Rajamundry. His father was Subbarayudu and mother was Purnamma. He lost his father at the age of four. In spite of poverty, his mother sent him to the Government District School. He finished Matriculation in 1869 and worked as a teacher in Korangi Town. Later he worked in Rajamundry City as a Senior Telugu Pundit. Kandukuri Veeresalingam was married to Bapamma Rajyalakshmi in 1861. He was 13 years at the time of marriage and his wife was only 8 years of age at that time. However, she grew up to play a significant role in his life. She stood by him all the time supporting his progressive ideas, extending support even in days of difficulties and social oppression.
He was a reformist writer. His initial writings were in classical style of Prabandhas. He wrote several Satakas( 100 poems), such as Gopala Satakamu, Markandeya Satakamu etc. Later he became interested in erotic literature. His sensual writings include Suddhandhra Niroshtya Nirvachananaishadhamu, Rasikajana Ranjanamu, Suddhandrottara Ramayanamu, Suddharndhra Bharata Sangrahamu etc. His Abhagyopakhyanamu is a humorous satire on the Andhra society. His novel Rajasekhara Charitram was the first Telugu novel.
Veeresalingam was one of the greatest personalities and earliest reformers in India to demand for radical changes in Telugu Indian society. He had a keen insight, great courage and dynamic energy. He fought against untruth and championed the cause of progress with vigor. He considered literature as a source of fighting against social evils and hence instituted revolutionary activities in his writing. He fought for education of women and remarriage of widows. He started Vivekavardhini, a monthly journal to point out and criticize the defects in the society. He also maintained several other journals like Chintamani, Sateehitabodha, Satyasamvardhani, Satyavadi etc. and helped develop the Telugu literature and reforming the society.
He established in 1874 a girls school at Dhavaleswaram to encourage women’s education. In 1884, he established another school for girls at Innispeta in Rajamundry. He also established an organization called Hitakarini Society and donated all his property for the social welfare activities to improve the society and support various organizations set up by him. He ridiculed the opponents of women’s education in many satires, lampoons and drama like “Brahma Vivaham.” Through his writings he criticized early marriages, Kanyasulkam (price of bride) and marriages of old men with young girls.
Veeresalingam developed contacts with influential British officials and other eminent citizens of Madras. He began to give seminars to convince the orthodox leaders that re-marriage of widows was not prohibited by Dharma Sastra (Scriptural Law). In these seminars he used to quote verses from scriptures to prove his point. The orthodox leaders took up the challenge and arranged special meetings and debates to counter Veeresalingam’s arguments. The opponents of remarriage failed to prove their point and resorted to physical violence against Veeresalingam. He didn’t back down and fearlessly established a Remarriage Association and sent his students nook and corner of the Andhra Pradesh to find young men willing to marry widows. He arranged the first widow remarriage on December 11, 1881. Because of these reformist activities, Veeresalingam became famous even abroad. The Government, in appreciation of his work, conferred on him the title of “Rao Bahadur” in 1893. Later he established a Widow Home Prarthana Samaj.
He also fought against the system of concubines called nauch system. Keeping concubines was regarded as a status symbol. Most of these concubines were from Devadasi tribe/caste. Usually in the houses of these Davadasis, the corrupt officials made illegal deals and bribes. So, it became a common practice to use these concubines to get favors from the officials. Veeresalingam attacked this sexual corruption in the society. Honest men who refused to accept bribes were counted as stupids and imbeciles. Veeresalingam declared a crusade against this heinous crime and brought to light misdeeds of officials.
Kandukuri Veeresalingam served as one of the members of the first Indian National Congress (INC) meeting in 1885. He died on May 27, 1919 at the age of 71. It is our duty to carry forward the legacy and philosophy of a great social reformer and educationist Sri Kandukuri Veeresalingam.
“Thana Dehamu, Thana Gehamu
Thana Kalamu, Thana Dhanambu
Viniyoginchina Ghanudee Veeresalinga Kavi”
- Acharya Sri Chilakamarthi Lakshmi Narasimha Kavi