RAJAHMUNDRY – THE GATEWAY TO TRADITIONS AND HISTORY
Kandukuri Veeresalingam Pantulu of Rajahmundry
I am a native of Rajahmundry of East Godavari District, Andhra Pradesh, India by way of my family connections. I had lived only a small part of my life in my hometown. Within those few years, Rajahmundry very graciously connected me to the nation that we know as India. On one hand, I was introduced to the traditions of River Worship and Idol Worship, I got acquainted with the ideas of ‘AHIMSA'(non-injury), and at the same time I was also introduced to India’s history of foreign occupation, the pain imposed by the Muslim invaders, the struggle for Independence from the British Rule and equally important is the social awakening of the people. During the 19th century, India saw the rise of nationalism and simultaneously there was a wish to reform the society. The natives of Rajahmundry received inspiration from a variety of sources. Ms. Annie Besant who became the President of the Theosophical Society in 1907 had visited Rajahmundry twice and established a place of worship known as ‘Divya Gjyan Samaj’ in a residential sub-division of Rajahmundry which is still known as ‘ALCOT GARDENS'( named after Theosophist Henry Steel Olcott). Bipin Chandra Pal(1858-1932), the leader of ‘VANDE MATARAM’ nationalist movement had visited Rajahmundry in April 1907. Alluri Sita Ramaraju(1898-1924) was inspired by the patriotic zeal of the revolutionaries in Bengal and waged a brief war against the British winning the hearts of the natives of Rajahmundry.
KANDUKURI VEERESALINGAM PANTULU GARU :
He was born into a poor Brahmin family at Rajahmundry in 1848. About one hundred years later when I had arrived in Innis Peta subdivision of Rajahmundry, the first time I had known this great man was during a visit to the municipal park on the Main Road, just a short walking distance from my grandparents’ house. There is a very imposing statue and people spoke about him with pride and admiration. My eldest brother, Hari was a student at the Veeresalingam Theistic High School in Innis Peta. During the academic year 1952-53, I studied in 3rd grade at ‘SHADE GIRLS HIGH SCHOOL’ located near ‘KAMBALA CHERUVU'( Lake Kambala) while my family resided in Danavai Peta subdivision of Rajahmundry. I and my older brother Pratap used to walk to the school and the easiest way to reach the school was a private road which traverses the Veeresalingam Gardens. The subdivisions of Danavai Peta and the Danavai Pond and Prakasam Nagar are located on the southern side of the Gardens and Gandhi Nagar is located along the northern perimeter of the Gardens. The school is at a short distance from the north-west entrance to the Gardens. Apart from the tombs of Veeresalingam and his wife Rajya Lakshmi, the Gardens had a venue to conduct marriage functions and there was a Home for Widows. On our way to the school, we used to enter the Widow’s Home and a classmate of ours by name Sai Baba would join us in the walk to the school. On our return trip, the three of us used to reach the Home and after leaving Sai Baba, myself and my brother would resume our walk to our residence in Danavai Peta. There were several occasions when we would wait at the Home while Sai Baba’s mother would be breastfeeding him. During that school year, it was my daily experience and I knew that my friend and his mother derived their support from this great benefactor known as Veeresalingam.
As my family lived on the outer fringes of Veeresalingam Gardens during the most part of my later school years at Danavai Peta Municipal High School, walking across the Gardens and playing cricket in the evening in the open areas of the Garden became a part of my daily routine. The Gardens had several flowering plants and fruit-bearing trees and to celebrate the festival of Ganesh we used to gather from the Gardens several flowers, leaves, and fruits which are required for the worship. At the same time, I also knew about ‘HITHAKARANI SAMAJ’. Veeresalingam donated all his lifetime earnings and had established this trust in 1907. Addepalli Vivekananda Devi, a social worker, and educationist lived in Danavaipeta and I had seen her several times and I was aware that she was continuing the relentless effort started by Veeresalingam to empower women and for the uplifting of women. In 1968, she had successfully established Srimati. Kandukuri Rajya Lakshmi College for Women near the Lake is known as ‘DANAVAI GUNTA’. My sister had attended this College.
Veeresalingam was influenced by the ideals of ‘BRAHMO SAMAJ‘ founded by the great social reformers of Bengal. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Keshub Chunder Sen, and Iswar Chandra Vidya Sagar did much work for women’s emancipation and Veeresalingam was the pioneer of social reform in Andhra Pradesh apart from his remarkable contributions to Telugu literature and for the cause of education.
During the course of life, moments slip away and fortunately, they are laid into account. If there are no memories, there is no life worth speaking about.
Dr. R. Rudra Narasimham, B.Sc., M.B.B.S.,
Kurnool Medical College, Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, India,