Kandukuri Veeresalingam Pantulu

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Social Reform India, Widow remarriage, Kandukuri Veeresalingam, Women Education India, History Andhra Pradesh,

Bengal Renaissance, the huge socio-cultural and religious reform movement during the nineteenth and early twentieth century had great impact on the reform movements in other parts of India.

Brahmo leaders like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Keshav Chandra Sen’s mission was carried further in a revolutionary manner by learned scholars and versatile intellectuals like 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”. 

 

Early life of Kandukuri Veeresalingam

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.

 

Social Activism

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.

 

Another magazine called "Satihitabobhini" was launched which mainly wrote about the condition of women in Indian society. 

 

Veeresalingam focused on bringing about positive changes in Telugu society.

 

Campaign for widow remarriage and girl’s education

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.” 

 

Veeresalingam’s reformist activities were appreciated far and wide. The British government recognised his achievements by conferring the title of "Rao Bahadur" in 1893.  

 

Veeresalingam’s role in eradicating social injustice against women

In 19th century, women had hardly any position in the society due to the eroding social values; therefore Veeresalingam Pantulu created awareness about the importance of women’s education. He created a sensation throughout Andhra by advocating remarriage of young widows through his writings and speeches. He spoke against child marriage, evils of caste and devdasi system.

 

He inspired people to think rationally and freely, to love equality and freedom. Moreover, he understood the problems faced by the underprivileged women and felt the need to serve them.

 

Being a very courageous social reformer, Veeresalingam Pantulu never succumbed to the pressures from society. He gave a further push to the movement against the prevailing social evils through his writings and speeches. He worked persistently towards uplifting the status of the women.

 

Veeresalingam Pantulu lived his whole life with determination to eradicate social injustice against women; he truly made an ever-lasting impact on Telugu society. In a sense, Veeresalingam laid the foundation of modern Andhra society with the remarkable reforms he brought in the late 18th and early19th century India.

 

On May 27, 1919 Kandukuri Veerasalingam left the world, physically, but his legacy would live on forever.vertical. The tribute by Arudra, the famous Telegu writer reads,

 

"For a man who was physically weak, Pantulu garu had an iron will and determination who strengthened the nation as well as Telugu language. No title is appropriate for such a luminous personality, he is the Brahma of Modern Andhra- Arudra, famous writer.

 

Sources

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