On the occasion of the 2 day observance by the AP Government of the 100th Anniversary of his Punya Tithi, our next great Andhra Personality is Gurajada Appa Rao.
A scholar, a poet, and a social conscience, his impact on the Telugu people, and their language of aspiration, is celebrated to this day. But to understand his work, one must first understand the man.
Gurajada Venkata Appa Rao was born on September 21, 1862 as a premature child to Venkata Rama Das and Kausalyamma in Rayavaram village of Visakhapatnam district. His father was a peshkar, a lower rank revenue official in the service of the Vizianagaram Estate. The Gurajada family came from the village of Gurazada, in Krishna district. His birth, a full two months earlier than the normal gestation period, would result in his slight stature and astonishingly low weight well into his adult life (73lbs). Even in the best of health, he was only around 80lbs. Nevertheless, despite this, he was a dynamic boy, and a groundbreaking intellectual.
His early years were spent in Gulivindaada and Chipurupalli. Highly imaginative, he would sketch caricatures of his teachers and do impressions of their behaviour. He would forge a life-long friendship with Gidugu Venkata Ramamurti, who would later become his greatest champion. Unlike his younger brother, Syamala Rao, who was considered more precocious and studious, Appa Rao was very ebullient and would often engage in adventures not only on the streets but in the fields and gardens. He would interact with various sadhus and lambadis. In the process, he absorbed their folks songs and ballads, which would undoubtedly influence his later life and work. Inspired by the open-air dramas (veedhinaatakam) and shadow plays (tolubommulaata), he would put on his own shows, and accordingly, begin a life long love affair with drama that would culminate in his most famous work: Kanyasulkam.
His father eventually brought him to Vizianagaram, which would lead to two great introductions. The first was C.Chandrasekhara Sastri, the principal of the Maharaja’s College, who would spark Gurajada’s life long love of learning, interest in humanism, and mastery of Sanskrit and English. The second was Pusapati, Ananda Gajapati Raju, the Maharaja of Vizianagaram. Though the first held his greatest attention, the latter would go onto become his patron and esteemed friend.
After completing his Matriculation Examination, he began writing poetry. His first was in English, ‘Ode to a Cuckoo’. Though it received some praise, it did not make his name. The next was also in English, but titled Sarangadhara. With that he received his first major literary recognition and publication. Nevertheless, teaching would prove to be his great passion, and there would be a two decade long gap before he ventured back into literature.
After completing his F.A.Examination with less than stellar results, he became a lowly clerk. Though he married into a wealthy family, his father-in-law was not interested in fructifying his side ambition of becoming a lawyer. Finally, he became a lecturer at the Maharaja’s College, at the Maharaja’s own invitation. His wife, Appala Narasamma, was a very religious, but very driven, woman and took over the duties of running the household, leaving Appa Rao free to pursue his twin passions of Lecturing and Literature. A daughter and son followed in 1887 and 1890. But the passing of his younger brother and in-laws in quick succession would scar him in the following years. Nevertheless, his close friendship and admiration for Ananda Gajapati, would inspire him to expand his mind and skill at the arts. He would aid the former in his task to restore the mere zamindari status of the Gajapatis to the original kingdom status in the minds of the British, so as to be considered a princely state. This endeavour, however, would not come to fruition. However, loyal friend that he was, Gurajada would ensure that Ananda Gajapati’s adopted successor, Viziaramaraju, would attain the Estate.
The publication of Neelagiri Paatalu in 1907 would mark the return of Gurajada to Telugu literature. This was followed by Kondabhattiyam (his lost play), and finally Kanyasulkam–his magnum opus.
He passed away on November 30, 1915, in Vizianagaram. In a letter to an associate he wrote the following:
“My cause is the people’s cause…They are so hopelessly wedded to the old, highly artificial literary dialect. I want young men like you to create a tradition of good writing in polite spoken speech.” [1,77]
‘Desamante matti kadoi, Desamante manushuloi’ 
Though he is perhaps known for his immortal line above about how it is people not soil that make a nation, yet another line of his has significance even today: Manavalu otti vedavaloi, a famous dialogue by Girisam from Kanyasulkam. Indeed, this was seen not only in his own time, where he worked for women’s rights, but is seen in our post-modern era, where people say one thing and do another, making and breaking commitments as if they were nothing. In a way, that is his greatest achievement: forcing us to shine the spotlight on ourselves He was an advocate of social and religious reform. If Veeresalingam did that with rage and fire, Gurajada did it with wit and jest.
Both as a man and a writer what distinguished Gurazada was his sense of humour 
He is also praised for his desabhakti. In fact, many today prefer his Desamunna Preminchumanna to any other patriotic song. Though a scholar of English, and a teacher of Greek and Roman history (and later published historian of ‘History of Kalinga’), his Western education provided merely a veneer to the deep Indian concerns that he had. This is apparent in his works of literature.
Telugu Poetry took an innovative turn with the compositions of Gurajada Appa Rao. His anthology of poems, Muthyaala Saraalu (Garland of Pearls), produced not only a new type of poetry, but a new metre as well (fittingly called Muthyaala Saram). Its nationalistic sentiment exhorted the elite and masses alike and showed that Andhras were second to none in their passion for the Motherland. Other works of the great writer include Puthadi Bomma Purnamma and Lavanya Raju Kala (which featured in the Muthyaala anthology). He used his incomplete play Bilhaniyam as a response to his critics of Spoken Telugu as literary medium. He is credited a true story-teller for introducing the short story into the Andhra Bhasha.
But it is Kanyasulkam that defines the man today. It was one of the first Andhra compositions that served as modern social commentary. He almost prophetically wrote:
The modern woman will rewrite human history.
- Neelagiri Paatalu: Songs of the Blue Hills
- Mutyaala Saraalu
- Kondubhattiyam (lost, partial draft available)
- Vyasa Chandrika
- Bilhaniyam (incomplete)
- Puthadi Bomma Purnamma (song)
- History of Kalinga
- The Minute of Dissent to the Report of the Telugu Composition Subcommittee, 1914
- Introduction to Sri Ramavijaya
- Introduction to Harischandra
The legacy of Gurajada cannot be minimised. Despite coming from the elite, he himself fought for the dignity of the spoken language of the masses, and recognised the need to communicate not in an anglicised idiom, but our own native idiom.
Of all the modern Telugu writers, he is the most prized, the most discussed, and the most emulated. Every scrap left by him is being collected, collated, edited and published. 
Though his advocacy to remove Sanskrit elements from Telugu should be critiqued, his point about imposing archaic grammar structures from old medieval Telugu has resonance. Sanskrit has undoubtedly enriched Telugu, but that does not mean we should try to turn it into it. As he himself noted:
“The Telugu literary dialect contains many obsolete grammatical forms, an inconveniently large mass of obsolete words and arbitrary verbal contractions and expansions, necessitated by a system of versification based on alliteration and qualities. A license, which no doubt, has its own advantages of introducing Sanskrit words to any extent has been but too eagerly availed of by poets who brought glossaries into requisition revelled in fantastic compound-formation, and made the Telugu literary dialect double dead.” [1,71]
He rightly critiqued the pedants, and as a scholar of Sanskrit, had the basis for which to do so. It is best to appreciate both for their distinctness: Telugu as undoubtedly a language of sweetness, culture, and politeness, and Samskritam as the deva bhasha, the refined language of the elites, of civilization, and the devas themselves.
He was in love with man as man; he loved man irrespective of the fact whether he was educated or illiterate, cultured or boorish, moral or immoral. 
Despite his discordant criticism of Advaita Vedanta, in which place he preferred a humanistic love that ignored the importance of philosophy in guiding that feeling, his love for the masses cannot be denied. From Kanyasulkam to Mutyaala Saraalu, he was both a social conscience and a literary innovator of great skill. Not only did he popularise the use of Spoken Telugu in poetry (kavya) and prose (gadya), but he invented a matra chandassu (a new classical metre as well). His close association and unstinting loyalty to the Gajapati Royal family of Vizianagaram was and is refreshing in a modern and post-modern era defined by opportunistic careerists. Indeed, it was only after he successfully represented the case of their Estate that he returned to literature and left his lofty legacy.
A playwright, a poet, a clerk, a lawyer, a lecturer, an historian, and a social conscience, he defined modern literature as the land of the Trilingas knows it today. For all these reasons, Gurajada Appa Rao remains one of our Great Telugu Literary Personalities.
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- Narla, V.R., Makers of Indian Literature: Gurazada. Sahitya Akademi: Delhi, 1979