Mahakavi Dasu Sriramulu was in his teens when he wrote a yakshaganam and a satakam; he learnt English alphabet in his twenties, soon cleared his law...

Mahakavi Dasu Sriramulu was in his teens when he wrote a yakshaganam and a satakam; he learnt English alphabet in his twenties, soon cleared his law examination and rose to become leader of the bar. Undeterred by the pressures of a busy legal practice, he took up a challenge to complete a literary work in one week and delivered it. If these achievements were not remarkable enough, he embraced the role of a social reformer. He was a contemporary of Kandukuri Veeresalingam panthulu, and himself an untiring campaigner against corruption. He authored a treatise on music and dance and was an authority on theological and astrological matters and avadhanam. That was Mahakavi Dasu Sriramulu (1846-1908) who strode the literary and cultural terrain like a colossus in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Srirama panthulu is mainly remembered for his magnum opus, Devi Bhagavatham in Telugu. The famous poetic twins,Tirupati Venkata Kavulu, were the first of the four scholars to translate Devi Bhagavatham and Sriramulu the last. But it was Sriramulu who published it first and Chellapilla Venkata Sastry, one of the twins, wrote the foreword heaping high praise on the author. Devi Bhagavatham overshadowed many other outstanding works of comparable merit of Srirama kavi such as Telugunaadu, Suryasatakamu, Kruthulu, Padamulu, Javalilu and 'Abhinaya Darpanamu, a treatise on dance. Born into a rich Brahmin family in Kurada in Krishna district on April 8, 1846, Sriramulu demonstrated insatiable thirst for learning from childhood. He composed songs and wrote Somalingeswara Satakam when he was only 12 years and Satrajiti Vilasamu, a yakshaganam, at 14. His talents were further honed in the company of scholars at Akiripally where he added Sanskrit grammar and avadhanam to his literary inventory. He opened schools and taught in Kowtharam and Dokiparru villages even while preparing for law examination. When Sriramulu moved to Machilipatnam to set up legal practice, Dokiparru elders bore him round the village in a bedecked palanquin. Sriramulu shifted his legal practice to Eluru where a sub-court had just been set up. He had the distinction of filing the first suits in this court. Most of his clients were patrons of arts and letters. They admired Sriramulu not only for his legal acumen, but also for literary eminence. The Thotlavalluru zamindar was a close friend. Even as a busy lawyer, he composed a number of krithis, padams and javalis, addressed to Sri Venugopalaswamy, the presiding deity of Thotlavalluru. These javalis became an inseparable part of the repertoire of the devadasis of his time. His javalis are popular to this day with leading dancers like Swapna Sundari. Tirupati Venkata kavulu, Adibhatla Narayanadasu, Vavilala Vasudeva Sastry, Kandukuri Veeresalingam and a host of others enjoyed his hospitality.
Telugunaadu and Chakkatladanda, done in pure Telugu, are among his popular works. Telugunaadu is a reconnaisance, replete with humour, of the habits and customs of different sects of Brahmins, This work remained half-done because he could not cover other castes. It was likened to the Veedhinaatakam of Srinadha. A staunch reformer, Sriramulu started a journal Analpa jalpita kalpavalli to condemn tonsure of widowed women. He was not an armchair reformist or rationalist. He had the courage to defy tradition and send his only daughter, Saradamba, to give music concerts. Orthodox relatives who attended his son's marriage at Guntur in 1897 were annoyed to find some Europeans at the dinner table. Sriramulu, a perfect socialite and host, stood his ground. He ignored most of the meaningless social injunctions prescribed in the name of tradition and custom.
This is the story of a
literary icon Mahakavi Dasu Sriramulu (1846-1908) who strode the literary and cultural terrain like a A colossus in the latter half of the nineteenth century When firebrand Congress leader Bipin Chandra Pal visited Bezawada in 1905, he found local leaders reluctant to preside over his meetings for fear of incurring the wrath of the British. Sriramulu came forward to chair the meeting. A fearless lawyer, Sriramulu would not stand arrogance, be it of a judge or a police official. He filed a detailed compliant with the Presidency authority in Madras levelling charges of corruption against Swaminatha Iyer, a judge in EluruA sub-court, in 1893. Iyer was sacked. Another judge and a police official tasted the same fate. Sriramulu never allowed official misbehaviour to pass unchallenged. Shattered by the death of 19-year old Saradamba, his only daughter, Srirama kavi began writing his magnum opus, Devi Bhagavatham, in 1900 and completed the 6000-poem treatise in six months. After two editions, it ran out ofA print and a third edition was published a year ago. Dasu Sriramulu passed away on May 16, 1908. Acknowledging his versatility, Chellapilla Venkata Sastry called him Abhinava Srinadha. There could be great poets, great pundits, men with great wealth, but it is very rare to find a soul as blessed as Sriramulu even among millions ('kotikokkaraina chekuruta arudu'), he said in his tribute. Great scholars like Viswanatha Satyanarayana memorised Sriramulu's poems from Devi Bhagavatham and Telugunaadu in their younger days. Dasu Sriramulu � Jeevitha Charitra, recently published by the Telugu Akademi, is my humble tribute to my great grandfather and a multi-splendoured genius. (The writer is former Chief of Bureau, The Hindu, Hyderabad) Email:,
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