J Hanumath Sastri

Sankarambadi Sundarachari was born on August 10, 1914, at Tirupati into a Vaishnavite family.  His father was Rajagopalachari and his mother Kamalamma. As his father’s employment involved frequent transfers, Sundarachari lived with his grandfather Krishnamachari, who brought him up with indulgence. Sundarachari had his schooling from TTD High School, Tirupati. He did his Intermediate at Besant Theosophical College, Madanapalli. Since boyhood, Sundarachari had been a lover of liberty.  

There is a tradition of shedding the old sacred thread and wearing a new one on the full moon day in the month of Sravana.  Having wandered like a kite in the wind, Sankarachari went home around one o’clock in the afternoon. Angrily, his father expressed his disapproval: "Today is a very sacred day. Not taking care to change the sacred thread, you have come now. Where is the need for this sacred thread for a fellow like you?” Reacting sharply, Sundarachari removed his sacred thread, put it in a dog’s neck and went out and away.  This rebellious spirit had been part and parcel of all his life.

For some time he made a living as a railway porter.  Coming to know about this, his father poured out his agony before his friends. Sundarachari left Tirupati.  He met Kasinathuni Nageswara Rao, the editor of Andhra Patrika in Madras, now Chennai.  For some time Sundarachari worked as a sub-editor in Andhra Patrika. After two years he left the job and joined His Master’s Voice Company in Bangalore. With the encouragement of the famous actor Chittoor Nagaiah, he soon made a mark as a writer and singer.  Sundarachari used to sing melodiously.

Nevertheless he left that job and joined Board High School, Chittoor, as a Secondary Grade Teacher. In 1946, in response to an invitation from a cinema company, he resigned the teacher’s post and wrote script and songs for the film “Dinabandhu”. It was in fact for this cinema that he had written the famous song “Maa Telugu Thalliki Malle Pudenda.” Finding it lengthy, director HM Reddy did not use it in the film. Then Sundarachari wrote script and songs for another film “Bilva Mangala”.  The famous singer Tanguturi Surya Kumari bought the song “Maa Telugu Thalliki Malle Pudanda” for Rs 116.

Unfortunately, Vedammal, with whom he had fallen in love and married, became a psycho.  Abandoning the cinema field, he worked for three years as Junior Inspector of Schools in Puttur Range.  But unable to digest the arrogance of the educational officer, the self-respecting Sundarachari resigned from this job too. He was highly proficient in poetry, music, drawing and acting. Even as a boy of 12 he had penned poems.  The line “Sankarambadi Sundarachari Nenu” in Theta Gita metrical form flowed naturally from his mouth.  Affirming "I will live as a writer of Theta Gita”, he spun out short poems in that meter.  Before long lengthy poems, simple and clear and understandable to all Telugu people, flowed from his pen.  He penned poems addressing students.  Then he composed the poem “Buddhagita” and “Ekalavya”.

Visiting the high schools in Chittoor District, seeking the co-operation of the headmasters and reciting his poems sweetly before the public, he charmed them to buy his poetry books.  Then each copy was half a rupee. In course of time he authored 20 poems like “Sundara Rayaanamu” and “Sundara Bharatham”. Having read Sundarachari’s poems, great poets like Viswanatha Satyanarayana, Rayaprolu Subba Rao, Rallapalli Ananta Krishna Sarma praised and encouraged him.

Honours came galore; 40 educational institutions honoured him with a purse of Rs.116/- at a literary meeting at Hindupur.  In 1968, the Government held a big meeting at Chittoor to highlight and honour him.  In 1970 Andhra Sangham in Delhi poured praise on him.  In the same year Rama Vilas Sabha in Chittoor proclaimed him as the poet of the district, Chittoor Nagaiah as the actor of the district and Subramanyam Pillai as the music maestro of the district.

The First World Telugu Conference was held for six days from April 12, 1975, in a grand manner at Hyderabad. Tanguturi Surya Kumari was invited from London to sing "Maa Telugu Thalliki Malle Pudanda”. Grand hospitality was extended to her.  After singing the song, she left for London.  But no one took note of Sundarachari, the writer of that song. He felt greatly hurt at this neglect.  Coming to know of this omission, Madhuranthakam Raja Ram brought it to the notice of the Education Minister. 

Chief Minister Jalagam Vengal Rao and Education Minister Mandali Venkata Krishna Rao, the organizers of the conference, invited Sundarachari the next day onto the dais and showered great honour on the poet.  The Chief Minister declared Sundarachari as the author of the Telugu National Song “Maa Telugu Thalliki Malle Pudanda”.  The Andhra Pradesh Government sanctioned an honorarium of Rs 250 a month to Sundarachari.    

Some of the incidents in his life are worth recalling. Once He called on the then Vice-President Radhakrishnan who had allowed Chari only ten minutes of time, listened to the recitation for an hour and a half. Dr. Radhakrishnan told Chari that he wanted to get "Buddhagita” printed if  it was translated into English. Sitting up throughout the night, Sundarachari translated the poem into English. Seeing the English version the next day, the Vice-President felt admiration for the writer and got it printed personally. Sundarachari happened to meet Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister.

After preliminaries, Sundarachari recited a poem on the well-being of children. Greatly delighted by the stream of thought, Nehru embraced the poet and handed a cheque for Rs 100 personally signed by him.  President Rajendra Prasad asked Sundarachari how he would like to be honoured. The poet said that a purse of Rs 116 and a shawl would be enough. Sundarachari lived a simple life.  He was not after name and fame.

The last days of Sundarachari were passed in unbearable misery. Mannava Bhaskara Naidu, Lecturer in Telugu, Sri Venkateswara Arts College, Tirupati, gave him food and shelter in his last days. Fully drunk, Sundarachari  used to collapse in the streets. He died in Tirupati on April 8, 1977.  On November 2005, the then Chief Minister, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, unveiled a life-size bronze statue of Sundarachari at Tirupati. Though Sundarachari is not with us, his song “Ma Telugu Thalliki Malle Pudanda” will continue to radiate the glory of Mother Telugu and keep his memory alive.

In 1946, in response to an invitation from a cinema company, he resigned the teacher’s post and wrote script and songs for the film “Dinabandhu”. It was in fact for this cinema that he had written the famous song “Maa Telugu Thalliki Malle Pudanda”

(The writer is a retired  English Lecturer)