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Gurajada Venkata Apparao (1862-1915) was a poet and writer who earned the title of Mahakavi, due to his great contributions to the Telugu literature. His first Telugu Play –Kanyasulkam (Payment for Bride), is considered as the greatest play in the Telugu language. Apparao was an influential social reformer of his age. He is credited with creating a new style of poetry in the Telugu. He was also called Kavisekhara and Abhyudaya kavitha pithamahudu.
Early Life And Education
Gurajada’s date of birth was considered to be Sept. 21, 1862. He was born at his maternal uncle's home in Rayavaram village near Yelamanchili, Visakhapatnam distt. His parents were Venkata Rama Dasu and Kausalyamma. He had a younger brother by name Syamala Rao. Gurajada's ancestors seem to have moved to Kalinga region from Gurajala village in Krishna Distt. His father worked as a Peshkaar, Revenue Supervisor, and Khiledar in the Vizianagaram Samsthanam.
Till the age of 10, Gurajada had schooling in Chipurupalli. After his father’s death, he lived in relative poverty and maintained himself as a Varalabbayi (Brahmin boys used to have meals – one day at one house). During this period, he has been generously taken care of by the then M.R. College Principal, C. Chandrasekhara Sastri, who provided him free lodging and boarding. He completed his metriculation in 1882 and obtained F.A. in 1884. In 1884, he was employed as a teacher in M.R. High School.
Gurajada lived most of his life in and around Vizianagaram, (then called Kalinga Rajyam). He and his father before him were both employed by the princely this state by the Gajapathi Rajas. Gurajada enjoyed a close relationship with the Rajas.
In 1887, Gurajada spoke at a Congress Party meeting in Vizianagaram. He was simultaneously involved in social work and became a member of the Voluntary Service Corps in Visakhapatnam in 1888. He was elected vice-president of the Ananda Gajapati Debating club in 1889. He taught the F.A. and B.A. classes several subjects including English Grammar, Sanskrit Literature, Translation, Greek and Roman Histories.
Gurajada, along with brother Syamala Rao, had been writing several English poems. His “Sarangadhara”, published in "Indian Leisure Hour" was well received and the editor of the Calcutta based "Rees and Ryot" - Sambhu Chandra Mukherji read it and re-published it in his magazine. He encouraged Gurajada to write in Telugu. He told Gurajada that however talented he might become in English, it is still a foreign tongue and that he would scale greater heights if he chose to compose in Telugu. Gundukurti Venkata Ramanayya, Editor of the "Indian Leisure Hour" encouraged Gurajada greatly in his literary pursuits, during the same period. In 1891, Gurajada was appointed to the post of “Samsthaana Saasana parisodhaka” (Epigraphist) to the Maharaja of Vizianagaram.
In 1897, Maharaja Ananda Gajapati died following a brief illness without leaving a successor. After this, Gurajada was appointed as personal secretary and advisor to the Maharani of Reeva - Appala Kondamamba - sister of Ananda Gajapati.. In 1903, a court case was filed challenging the right of Ananda Gajapati's mother (Alaka Rajeswari) to adopt an heir to the throne of the principality. Gurajada was put in charge of taking care of all the legal proceedings.In 1910, his second patron, Maharani of Reeva died.
Kanyasulkam, Gurajada's celebrated drama was staged for the first time in 1892. It became an instant hit. It was the first Telugu drama expressly written in spoken dialect. Prior to that, there were dramas that employed spoken dialect in a few parts of the drama. Kanyasulkam was the first to achieve two aims - as an accessory to his crusade against social evils and for literary enjoyment. The success of Kanyasulkam encouraged Gurajada seek out others with similar views. He came in contact with several contemporary luminaries, to support spoken dialect as a platform for literary activity. Gurajada's childhood friend and classmate in Chipurupalli, Gidugu Rammurthy, (1863-1940) was the leading one of this school of thought. The highly successful staging of Kanyasulkam gave boost to this movement. Even the opponents of the spoken dialect movement such as Kaseebhatta brahmayya Sastri conceded that the Kanyasulkam has a significant literary merit. The success made Gurajada a sort of celebrity.He also wrote the popular patriotic song “Desamunu Preminchumanna” in 1910.
In 1896, Gurajada started a magazine by name "Prakaashika." In 1897, Kanyasulkam was published by Vavilla Ramaswamy Sastrulu and Sons, Madras and this was dedicated to Maharaja Ananda Gajapati.
While taking rest to convalesce from health problems, he prepared the second edition of Kanyasulkam and published it in 1909. This edition was completely revised and greatly expanded compared to the original version. In 1911, he was appointed to the Board of Studies by Madras University. The same year, Gurajada and his friends started the Andhra Sahitya Parishat to promote the use of spoken dialects.
He was married to Appala Narasamma in 1885. In the mean time, he continued his studies and graduated with B.A. (Philosophy major and Sanskrit minor) in 1886. For some period during 1886, he worked as Head Clerk in the Deputy Collector's office. On Vijayadasami day, 1887, he joined as a Lecturer (Level IV) in M.R. College. His daughter Oleti Lakshmi Narasamma was born in the same year. Around the same time, he was introduced to Maharajah Pusapati Ananda Gajapathi Raju (1850-1897). This prince had a significant role in encouraging the arts and education in this part of the country. Gurajada gradually developed a cordial relationship with the prince. This association led to his involvement with the princely family for a long time. His son Venkata Ramadasu was born in 1890 and his second daughter (third child) Puligedda Kondayyamma in 1902
Gurajada retired in 1913. Madras University honored him by making him a "Fellow." His health started deteriorating slowly and after a few months of illness, Gurajada died in 1915.
"Sree gurajaada appa ravu gari daireelu," Collected dairies of Gurajada published many decades after Gurajada's death. Editor: Burra Seshagiri Rao