Kandukuri Veeresalingam

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Kandukuri Veeresalingam (also known as Kandukuri Veeresalingham Pantulu), (16 April 1848 - 27 May 1919) was a social reformer of Andhra Pradesh. He was born in an orthodox Andhra family. He is widely considered as the man who first brought about a renaissance in Telugu people and Telugu literature. He was influenced by the ideals of Brahmo Samaj particularly those of Keshub Chunder Sen. He got involved in the cause of social reforms. In 1876 he started a Telugu journal and wrote the first prose for women. He encouraged education for women, and started a school in Dowlaiswaram in 1874. He started a social organisation called Hitakarini (Benefactor).


[edit] Early life

Son of Subbarayudu and Punnamma, he was born on 16 April 1848 at Rajahmundry (now in Andhra Pradesh). When he was six months old, he suffered an attack of small pox, a killer disease in those days but he survived. His father died when he was four years old and he was adopted and brought up by his paternal uncle, Venkatatatnam, as his own son.

After a basic grounding in the Indian classics, he joined an English school and attracted attention as a keen scholar with an analytical mind. He was unanimously elected as the best student of the school and was exceptional in his behaviour. He mastered both English and Sanskrit.

His first job was that of a teacher in Koranki village. After serving as a teacher and later as the head master for two year at Koranki, he moved on to Davaleswaram as head master in an English medium school.

In 1861, he was married to Bapamma Rajyalakshmi. He was then 13 and she was only eight years old. When she grew up, she played an important role in his life, sharing his progressive ideas and extending support to him in his difficult days.

He was influenced by the Brahmo Samaj leader, Atmuri Lakshmi Narasimha. The ideas of Raja Rammohun Roy, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar and Keshub Chunder Sen had a powerful impact on him. David Kopf says, “The new social conscience and consciousness of Unitarianism was in Rammohun almost entirely directed to the miserable state of Hindu women. He found them uneducated and illiterate, deprived of property rights, married before puberty, imprisoned in purdah, and murdered at widowhood by a barbaric custom of immolation known as sati. One has only to read Rammohun’s works on social reform to realize that most of it deals with one aspect or another of man’s inhumanity towards women in Bengal. The conclusion is that only by freeing women and by treating them as human beings could Indian society free itself from social stagnation.”

[edit] Women’s emancipation

Kandukuri Veeraselingam Pantulu expressed the opinion, “The denigration of women has ruined our society,” and dedicated his entire life to the cause of uplift of women in his society. He started a magazine named Vivekavardhini(Knowledge Improver) at Davaleswaram, in which he wrote about women’s uplift, criticised superstitious beliefs among people and rampant corruption among officials. Initially he used to get it printed at Chennai but when the magazine picked up in popularity, he set his own press at Rajahmundry. He launched Satihitabobhini, a special magazine for women. Through it, he enlightened women about their rights.

He organised the Rajahmundry Social Reform Association in 1878. Initially, it concentrated on the anti-nautch movement to discourage the hire of nautch girls for celebration, but later concentrated on widow remarriage.

He organised the first widow remarriage in the area on 11 December 1881. Pyda Ramakrishnayya of Kakinada extended financial support for it. However, both of them faced severe opposition from society. He succeeded in bringing about a change in the mindset of his people and gradually more and more people accepted widow remarriage. His progressive thoughts brought in severe criticism and opposition but he continued unabated. He fought to abolish child marriages and Kanyasulkam (a kind of dowry given by the groom to the bride's parents).

In 1881, his contemporary social and religious reformer, Kolkata-based Sivanath Sastri met him at Rajahmundry, during one of his missionary visits. About his meeting, Sivanath Sastri writes, “The next day I went by boat to Rajahmundry, and shall gratefully remember the love and affection of Veerasalingam and the hospitality of his wife. Veerasalingam’s wife is a remarkable person. On one hand, she is strong willed, powerful and dutiful. On the other, she is soft hearted and dedicated to the well being of others. It is because Veerasalingam got a wife like her that he was able to carry on with his work in spite of social oppression.”

[edit] Brahmo Samaj

In the History of the Brahmo Samaj, Sivanath Sastri writes Kandukuri Veeraselingam Pantulu, “He constructed the first Brahmo Mandir in the Andhra country at Rajahmundry in 1887, he constructed a Widows’ Home, a two storied building and a similar one for the Social Reform Association at Madras; he started the first theistic high school, the Hithakarini School at Rajahmundry in 1908; during the same year he willed away all his property for the benefit of Rajahmundry Widows’ Home and the school, and placed them under the management of an association, the Hithakarini Samaj. The movement spread from Rajahmundry to Coconada (presently Kakinara), Parlakimedi, Palakole, Narsapur, Vijaywada and Tenali.”

He is also credited with the setting up of Brahmo Samaj at Bangalore.

[edit] Literature

He wrote about 100 books between 1869 and 1919. His Satyavathi Charitam was the first social novel in Telugu. He wrote Rajasekhara Charitamu inspired by Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefied. To him literature was an instrument to fight social evils. He was a poet of considerable renown.

He was also one of the members of the first Indian National Congress meeting held in 1885.

He died on 27 May 1919. A statue of his has been installed on Beach Road.

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