The apple of its eyes, Kandukuri Veeresalingam Panthulu was a perfect Renaissance man to the last T. He was the product of his age - the age of European influence. This was the time when the orthodox values were fast dwindling and a stage was reached which marked the final decline of the entire outdated system from the Eastern side of India, the clarion call of Raja Rammohan Roy already was heard on the shores of Andhra. Further as a redeeming feature of the situation emerges the fact that the grip of meaningless traditions was steadily declining before the onslaught of emergent indigenous cultural forces like Brahma Samaja.
The most important fact in the historical milieu was the continued humanist tradition brought in mostly by the English education and permeating our literature.
Despite periods of stress and strain and side by side with religious bigotry, orthodoxy and intolerance there flourished a simultaneous convention of free - thinking humanism which shattered the oppressive rituals and stressed the essential equality of all and sometimes soared to heights where religion assumed new dimensions of supreme truth and released itself from bounds of conservatism.
Well, in this context. Perhaps it may be easier to appreciate the options open to the intelligentsia of that period, which did not live by bread alone and hankered after a new vision or aspirations. Already a bit earlier to Veeresalingam, Muddu Narasimha Naidu expressed himself very effectively in favour of giving equality and education to women in his trail - blazing book 'Hitasuchini'.
Veeresalingam expressed his feelings against the prevailing religious superstitions very strongly since his childhood itself. In 1870 Veeresalingam wrote an article in the monthly magazine 'Godavari Vidya Prabodhini' being published by one Barlo from Rajahmundry. He was Municipal Councilor during the period of 1881-1888 and Veeresalingam could celebrate 20 widow marriages. The first widow marriage at Rajahmundry took place on the evening of December 11, 1881 in the presence of District Judge Kesaal, the District Police Superintendent and the District Medical Officer thus expressing the official support to this reform.
By this time the reactionary wing of brahmins met and passed a resolution requesting the Sankaracharya to condemn the act of Veeresalingam. The Sankaracharya exceeded his powers and announced that the marriages celebrated by Veeresalingam were null and void and all those associated with them in any way would be proscribed from Hinduism. By this 'Fatwa' Veeresalingam and his wife Rajya Lakshmi were forever boycotted by the fundamentalists. The reformists unsuccessfully filed a writ petition against the 'Fatwa'. However inspite of such hardship Veeresalingam could celebrate six widow marriages between August, 1883 - January 1884.
IIn 1884 Behramji Malabari brought pressure on the Government to ban the child marriages and encourage widow marriages. Further the famous advocate Subrahmanya Iyer, who later became the Judge of the High Court joined hands with the reformists. Like wise it gained strength from friends and well wishers. Veeresalingm's friends Rangayya Chetti and Krishna Swamy sent some money and Sabhapathi Muralidhar promised to send one hundred rupees for each widow marriage. However after celebrating one more widow marriage on December 13,1885, Veeresalingam came back to Rajahmundry in 1905. On 15th December 1906, Veeresalingam Panthulu established the 'Hitakarini Samaj' with thirty - six well - chosen members and donated all his property to this trust which has been carrying out the cherished ideals and programmes of Panthulu garu in a fitting manner even to this day.
In 1890 Veeresalingam Panthulu established a town hall in Rajahmundry and this was the first ever in entire Coastal belt of Andhra Pradesh. His trust is celebrating the death anniversary of Veeresalingam on May 27 every year conducting a Kavi Sammelanam in the Town Hall. A regular book exhibition is being conducted every year here. The doyen of Telugu Modern Literature Sri Sri commented "this town is verily the pride of your city, in as much as it is associated with the name of one of the greatest persons of this century...".
In 1874 Panthulu garu started a girl's high school at Dowleswaram to encourage women to study equally with men. In the same year Veeresalingam started a monthly magazine called "Viveka Vardhini". At a time when there was no other press in the entire Godavari district than the Government Press, Veeresalingam purchased a press in 1876 and converted "Viveka Vardhini" into a fortnightly. He also published later another magazine "Hasya Sanjivini".
As Women's liberation was always his first and foremost cherished ideal he published a monthly "Sathi hita bodhini" exclusively for women. His journalistic foray was well rounded with the publication of 'satyavadini' a weekly in both Telugu and English. He started a 'Prarthana Samajam' and it is still going strong in the Town Hall. Panthulu garu was interested in theatre too and in 1880 a drama 'Vyavahara Dharma Bodhini' was presented under his supervision. Another drama "Chamatkara Ratnavali" was also staged with his support.
Veeresalingam Panthulu revolutionized the Telugu Literature at least in form if not in content. In fact he took up pen only to complement the social reform work undertaken by him. His sketches and journalistic essays might not have much literary value. But they served one important purpose in literature. A new important form came into Telugu. Inspired by Oliver Goldsmith's novel "Vicar of Wakefield" Veeresalingam wrote the first Telugu novel 'Rajasekhara Charitra'. Thus Rajamahendravaram has the additional credit in literature it was here the Adikavi Nannayya wrote the first ever work in Telugu "Andhra Mahabharatam" and now Veeresalingam wrote the first novel Here at Rajahmundry.
Veeresalingam Panthulu did another creditable first in Telugu Literature. He wrote 'Andhra Kavula Charitram' a sort of a lexicon. Actually this was a work to be undertaken by a number of scholars working for so many years. However such a work was completed by Panthulu garu single handedly in creditable fashion. Earlier to him Gurajada Sreeramamurthy Panthulu started this work in the form of essays. Veeresalingam translated into Telugu Kalidasa's Abhijnana Sakuntalam and thus achieved again another first writing a drama in Telugu. Thus Veeresalingam Panthulu was a true Renaissance man being a social reformer, revolutionary writer, educationalist, journalist, publisher, and many more. Hence he is known as Yugakarta. Rajahmundry is fortunate having given birth to such an illustrious son.