Thursday, July 21, 2011

Iconoclast in India

Tripuraneni Ramamamba-Chalamaiah couple gave birth to  Ramaswami  on 15 th Jan 1887 in Angalur village, (Krishna district, Andhra , India ).  Ramaswamy  had his primary education in his native village and continued his middle school in Gudivada , a nearby town. Then he joined in 4th form in Bandar (now called Machilipatam) the head quarters of Krishna district and cultural, literary center. RT was interested to learn Sanskrit language but the traditional Brahmin scholars refused to give him instruction since it was taboo for non-Brahmins to learn the holy Hindu language! The rebel in Ramaswamy had risen  with that.
But Ramaswamy  was adamant and learnt the Sanskrit language under the guidance of Asuri Kantaiah (district registrar).

Just as M.K.Gandhi married Kasturibai at the age of 11, just so Ramaswamy   married Nagamamba (daughter of Atluri Nagamma- Amaraiah) at the age of 11. In those days child marriages were not yet prohibited and legal acts were not yet enacted.
Ramaswamy  passed matriculation examination in 1910, at the age of 23. He wanted to study F.A  which was equivalent to intermediate. (F.A is (father) Fellow of arts) But he could not get through since he was engaged in sports and poetry writing. He went to Mumbai (called Bombay ) to study law but did not continue.
 During his school and intermediate studies Ramaswamy  had already produced literary pieces. One such writing was RANA PRATAP, a play about a ruler who inspired him. But the British rulers banned that script before it was printed. The other two writings of RT were KAREMPUDI KADANAM ( WAR IN KAREMPUDI), KONDAVEETI PATANAM ( fall of Kondaveedu kingdom). In 1912 he wrote KURUKSHETRA SANGRAMAM (battle at Kurukshetra near Delhi ). All this literary adventure was done during early education days. He also wrote poems entitled:  NAADU-NEDU ( Then and now) in which one poem was about Kamma caste to which he belonged. Later he discarded the caste prejudice and emerged as a secularist.

Law in Dublin , Ireland

Just at the beginning of first world war, Ramaswamy  went to Dublin , Ireland via England to study law. He started from India on September 18, 1914 and reached the destination by 23 November. While studying law he  continued his interest in literary writings and contributed articles to KRISHNA PATRIKA edited by Mutnuru Krishnarao in Bandar. His correspondence from Ireland indicated that  he had no belief in supernatural powers, superstitions and demons. He returned from Ireland after completing his law course by 1917 and reached India on 11 November 1917. During his stay in Ireland Ramaswamy  wrote one revolutionary play entitled; SAMBUKA VADHA ( Killing of Sambuka).

He practiced law in Bandar courts from 1917 onwards and  also actively participated in the non-Brahmin movement in Andhra. He attended couple of conferences and was an invited as speaker.
After  practicing law for four years in Bandar, Ramaswamy  was offered editorship of a journal RAITU. Pamulapati Krishnaiah and Jagarlamudi Kuppuswami choudary wished to establish that magazine. Ramaswamy  accepted the offer and moved to Tenali. But the magazine  never took off. However, Ramaswamy  remained in Tenali and  engaged in  practicing law .   He was also active in politics.  When major towns and cities were authorized by the British to have limited local rule , he became chairman of Tenali municipality. He served in that capacity for over a dozen years,  from 1925 to 1938.
A public debate was arranged in Kollur village, in Guntur district between Pushpagiri Sankara Peetham and social justice movement leaders. Ramaswamy  presided over it in 1924 which had become the eye opener to all the sane thinkers in Andhra.

During his tenure as chairman of the Tenali Municipality he abolished the sacrifice of animals in temples in Tenali.

He established Sutasram Ashram ( originally Sambukasramam) which has become  center  for poets, artists, and social reformers .

His first wife gave birth to the famous writer Tripuraneni Gopichand and Sarojini. She died on 15 Jan 1920. Then he married again, but  had no children. She also died and then he married third one who gave birth to the famous writer Gokulchand and Choudarani.

He was very active in social reform as well as in literary activities during the days when he was the municipal chairman of Tenali. In 1929 he  was honored in Gudivada, and taken in procession on an  elephant where he was given the title KAVIRAJU (king among poets) by Andhra Mahasabha, a literary forum.  Bezwada Ramachandra Reddi from Nellore presided over the function.  Along with Challapalli Zamindar  several other literary personalities and social activists attended the function .


He wrote VIVAHA VIDHI (marriage CEREMONY) EXPLAINING THE IMPORTANCE OF  MARRIAGE in Telugu during 1929. It used to be in Sanskrit  before.That revolutionized the community and several persons came forward to get married taking  oath  in Telugu which is an eye opener. The orthodox  who were using Sanskrit  which is greek and Latin to bride and bridegroom  were furious and called it blasphemy. Hitherto only Brahmins served as marriage priests where as Ramaswamy`s new approach     called  for social revolution enthused several  persons  from all castes to perform marriage using Telugu language  for marriage oaths.
During this period Arya Samaj, which considered all puranas and Vedic claims as  mere myths,   became widely recognized in Tenali region and Ramaswamy  also came under its influence.

Ramaswamy  contributed major writings entitled KHOONI (ASSASINATION). Sutapuranam,(Poetry in 4 parts); Kuppuswamy satakam, dhoorta maanava ( poems)

Towards the end of his life Ramaswamy  wrote a  revolutionary book reinterpreting the sacred Hindu text BHAGAVADGITA.
One notable feature of his plays and writings is to have a   lengthy preface which reminds us  of Bernard Shaw prefaces.

During early 1940 a meeting was arranged between M .N.Roy and Tripuraneni Ramaswamy in Tenali. They met and discussed their views on social reform,  concepts of secular humanism  in the presence of Tripuraneni Gopichand and Avula Gopalakrishna Murthy. But Ramaswamy did not survive long enough to follow it up since he died in 1943.
Similarly Ramaswamy in Andhra  and Ramaswami Periyar, leader of the Dravidian movement, simultaneously conducted social renaissance moments with mutual influence.
Ramaswamy   attended the  conferences organized by the movement in Tanjore, Ongole and other places.
Andhra at that time was in Madras state. Hence there were close contacts between Andhras and Tamils on cultural, political matters. A movement  to empower the non-brahmin caste members who were denied access to education for several centuries was very actively supported.  Justice party, a political party dominated by non-brahmins unlike the congress party which was supported by the traditional educated classes, ruled Madras state from 1922 to 1937. All those factors impacted on molding the views of Ramaswamy  on social reform and secular politics.
Ramaswamy  died at the age of 55 on 16 Jan 1943. By that time his impact was considerable in Andhra area.

THE WRITINGS that shook Telugu people

The first major impact of Ramaswamy  commenced with his stage play SAMBUKA VADHA(assassination of Rishi Sambuka ) that he
wrote between 1914-17.  The play which depicted assassination of a mythical sage whose actions defied the caste system and the classification of some people as untouchables, was enacted on stage.
The play roused the interest of the suppressed classes in the Hindu society.

The lengthy introduction to the play by Ramaswamy  is a logical analysis of the Hindu myths and the self aggrandizing views of the higher classes. He exposed the attitude of Brahmins towards non Brahmins in his lengthy preface.
Sambuka was a non Brahmin seer who went on penance for attaining a place in heaven. Non Brahmins were not supposed to do meditative penance(Tapas) to attain Moksha. If they do, the children in the kingdom would die. That was a popular myth. Hence non Brahmins were prohibited from Tapas. When Sambuka had undertaken Tapas , Seer Narada provoked the king and Vasista seer encouraged King Rama to kill Sambuka. Vasista quoted Smriti sayings about this and asked King Rama to kill Sambuka. Rama obeyed his Guru Vasista and cut the head of seer Sambuka with his sword.
Sacrificing humans was in vogue among Hindus during Ramayana period to propitiate gods.

Reactionary  writers like Viswanatha Satyanarayana, who staunchly supported the existing hierarchical caste system,  and his followers published plays, novels and other articles critical of Ramaswamy . They vigorously campaigned against the views of Ramaswamy as false and contrary to age tested traditions. However Ramaswamy  rebutted all their criticisms and published several articles with cogent arguments exposing the irrelevant and unsubstantiated statements of his critics.

Seer Vasista welcomed Seer Valmiki with tender cow meat. Killing calf was in vogue in Ashrams which Vasista followed. In those days Saivites were vegetarians and hence vaishnavas  depicted them as demons. In his detailed preface Ramaswamy  explained all the cunning things of Arya  seers in whose grip the kings were puppets .

 Ramaswamy   expressed his views  on the probable time when  Ramayana might have taken place.  He opined that it might have occurred around 2370 B.C but not 8 lakhs 60 thousand years  ago as mentioned under division of Yugas.

Ramaswamy   opined that Sugriva abetted Rama  to kill his brother Vali?  Ramaswamy  said that Rama is younger than Sita but that was not uncommon in those days.
Ramaswamy   accepted the  Aryan invasion theory proposed by western trained Indologists. According to him,,  following invasion of India , Aryans took the defeated people as slaves (dasya) and thus the so called sudra caste was created. Prior to Aryan invasion he assumed that there were only three divisions –Brahmins, kshtriyas and vaisyas.   

(great eye opener)

Ramaswamy  wrote his magnum opus poetry entitled Sutapuranam in four parts. He adopted traditional literary style but the theme is novel and revolutionary. In his elaborate preface Ramaswamy  wrote  that the division of four yugas is nothing but concoction and falsehood.Puranas are   highly partial towards  hierarchical caste system. The nasty description of women in puranas was no way helpful for their upliftment,  according to him.
In Sutapurana  Ramaswamy  adopted social innovations and condemned people who worship  statues and decorate them with gold and expensive clothes while poor people suffer for want of basic needs. He  emphatically stressed   the need to tell truth.

He put all his doubts before seer Suta for answers. They are:

How can seven seas be poured with both hands?
Where are wings to mountains?
How is it possible for hills to give birth to humans?
How can mutual contradictory aspects in Puranas could be reconciled?
Why learning of  Sanskrit language is prohibited to sudras?
Is it true that learning Sanskrit will take sudras to hell?
The sons of Sagar made seven holes in earth and the water emerged out of those holes that became seven oceans.Can it be true?
How can river Ganges come from sky?
Why did Indra spoil the penance of people in all places?
How is it that people were tortured on the basis of Manu smriti(Code_
Suta  says that heaven is full of sex which is not a place   for decent persons.Then he questioned the propriety of prohibiting sudras from learning sastras.
When they create 10 heads to one person, how is it that they fail to provide 20 hands?
He opined that Srikrishna induced  Pandavas to fight against Kauravas in immoral way and got them defeated.


Viswanatha  Satyanarayana published a play entitled Venaraju  in which he depicted the king as   cruel and immoral . To counter this and tell the story in proper order Ramaswamy  wrote with more authentic basis a play called Khooni ( Murder)
In that play Brahmins plotted to kill Venaraju  with the pretext that he canvassed Charvaka`s atheistic, hedonistic philosophy. What the puranas described as sinners, were actually good people  with philanthrophic outlook  and kindness.


(Great parody and critique)

Ramaswamy  published his last work under the title Bhagavad Gita. It is a  parody. He took the theme from War of Palnad area in Guntur district. He compared  war of Palnad  to Kurukshetra battle. Brahmanaidu as Krishna, Balachandrudu as Arjuna.Through out he maintained satire and criticized original Gita. Brahmanaidu says that  he was born as Krishna in Dwapara Yuga , created tensions between Kauravas and Pandavas so that they annihilate each other. Thus Brahmanaidu claims that he established Dharma.He gave this lecture to Balachandradu as moral teaching. According to Brahmanaidu all persons are one in creation and there are no specific morals to specific people. He denied that the four varnas are created by him. He claims that originally he created only three kinds of persons where as  Sudras were added later out of evil design. Then panchamas were added who are called fifth grade persons.Brahmanaidu says that there is no moral in the division of humans which is  deception only. He pleaded that people should know the truth through scientific method and questioning. He also claims that he emerged for the welfare of Telugu people. At every stage Ramaswamy  criticized Bhagavad Gita of Vyasa which encouraged caste divisions in the name of divinity and Karma.

SATAKAS( 100 poems)

Ramaswamy  published poems entitled  Sutaasram Geetaalu,In the poems : Are the Telugu people cowards?, Telugu Jodulu, Telugu Nayakulu, Pratapa Rudriyam, Sarangadhara, Naadu-Nedu, etc.Here he emphasized the need to tell truth and avoid falsehoods as written by Vedam Venkataraya Sastri .

Ramaswamy  officiated innumerable weddings where the bride and bridegroom take oath in Telugu.Thus he made the couple to understand what they are promising to each other and to the society. This has brought revolution in the field of Weddings. He also taught them to observe simplicity and avoid pomp, huge expenditure and torturous in marriage procedures.Several persons came forward to perform weddings in similar method where caste and creed was cut across. Ramaswami said that any adult person can officiate the weddings and need not confine to one caste .  
After the death of Ramaswamy  his literature became  popular.
His classical literary style may be difficult to follow to the present generation . Recently late Mr Ramakrishna of Mangalagiri put his Sutapuranam into chaste popular Telugu in two volumes.
Visalandhra publishers republished the writings of Ramaswamy.
Several writers  like Gorrepati Venkatasubbaiah, Kotha Satyanarayana published the biography of Ramaswamy. Mr Kilaru Surendra did ph.D on the works and life of Ramaswamy.
It is time to spread the message of Tripuraneni Ramaswamy so that future generations would march towards humanistic society.

Innaiah Narisetti
( the writer lives in USA.He is the author of several books in Telugu and English, translated eminent writers like Paul Kurtz, M.N.Roy, A .B .Shah, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, V R Narla, Sibnarayan ray, V B Karnik, Agehananda Bharati etc.His latest book: Foreced into faith was brought out by Prometheus books in USA.He can be contacted at:

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