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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Mandapeta Seethamma who fed the poor

                             “Aham Vaishvanaro Bhutva Praninam Dehamasritaha

Pranapaana Samayuktaha Pachamyannam Chaturvidham”


A beautiful verse from the preaching of Lord Krishna – ‘Bhagavat Gita’  signifying the importance food to the entire humanity as well to the living creatures across the globe.  According to our  Sanatana Dharma,  feeding a hungry living being is a great act than even rituals.  Feeding hungry -  Annadanam is Mahadanam or the greatest donation and is a part of our tradition.

Thirumala Devasthanam leads by example in vary many ways especially in charity.  The annadana sheme (free meals to devotees) is administered so well there.  It is Matrusri Tarigonda Vengamamba, the great saint poetess who pioneered the concept in 18th Century itself. On  the divine instructions of Goddess Padamavathi Devi, the then In-charge of Hathiramji Mutt, Mahant Sri Atmaramdasji offered a small thatched hut in the present Rambhageecha gardens to Vengamamba. The Saint Poetess used to perform penance under a tamarind tree present opposite her hut. During every Nrisimha Jayanthi (which usually falls in the month of May) she used to serve scores of pilgrims who visit Tirumala during this period in the premises of her residence for ten days. Seeing her charitable activity devotees  gave her “Dana Patras” (donations) between 1785 AD and 1812 AD with which she carried out her Annaprasada Vitarana till her last breath. Since then she became popular with the title “Matrusri” since she took care of the visiting pilgrims as a mother. Following her legacy, TTD has begun Annadana scheme in 1985. 

A few hundred miles away, as one travels towards Vizag from Vijayawada, lies a small station known as Dwarapudi (after Godavari / Rajahmundry) – nearer lies the small town of Mandapeta.  Mandapeta, also called as Mandavyapuram is a rich place known for rice mills and fertile lands. 

At Kakinada, the Dist HQ of East Godavari – in Oct 2018, Deputy Chief Minister, Nimmakayala China Rajappa,  stated that the Govt was making all efforts to make Kakinada smart city a tourist hub by making use of its tourist potential.  He was inaugurating   Vivekananda Park  renovated at a cost of `8.18 crore.  He said,  Kakinada was called second Madras for its city planning and for the efforts being made to develop NTR Beach, Gandhinagar Park and the Vivekananda Park and provide tourist amenities.  This is no post on the Minister nor on the amenities but on a statue installed at the Park.   Kakinada too has many statues installed at Boat Club and elsewhere.

Participating as the chief guest, noted spiritual speaker, Abhinava Vivekananda Chaganti Koteswara Rao, said that the installation of the statue of Dokka Seethamma in the park was  ideal, as she had fought for the poor and her social reform works were commendable.  Dokka Seethamma (1841–1909) was a woman from the neighbouring Mandapeta  who gained recognition by spending much of her life serving food for poor people and travellers.

Seethamma was born in Oct 1841 in the village of Mandapeta, in Andhra Pradesh.  She lost her mother during her childhood. Dokka Joganna, a rich farmer, married her, and this allowed her to offer food to the poor, which she did for more than 40 years, much of it after her husband's death. At the end of her life, she gave away her possessions and hired a bullock cart driver to take her to Varanasi to die in accordance with her Hindu beliefs, but turned back and hastily cooked a meal with begged ingredients after hearing a family in the next room at the pilgrims' inn talking of being on their way to ask her for food.

Wikipedia reports that the British government recognized her charity, and King Edward VII invited her to the celebration of his anniversary along with other guests from India. He ordered the chief secretary of Madras to bring her to Delhi with honor, but Seethamma politely declined the invitation, saying that she was not providing her services for publicity. The Madras chief secretary instead gave King Edward a photograph of her, which he then enlarged to place on the chair where she was to sit during the celebration.

Seethamma was honored as a Hindu saint and called Apara Annapurna, a reincarnation of the goddess Annapurna. An aqueduct over the Vynateya river was named for her in 2000 and is marked with a bust depicting her.  A statue of hers now adorns the Vivekananda park in Kakinada.

The word ‘Circar’ – noun would mean a District or part of a Province. This is a common word to old timers as there was the ‘Northern Circar’  - which was a former division of British India's Madras Presidency, which consisted of a narrow slip of territory lying along the western side of the Bay of Bengal in the present-day states of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. These Northern Circars were five in number, Chicacole (Srikakulam), Rajahmundry, Ellore (Eluru), Kondapalli and Guntur.  The train Circar Express connects Chennai to Kakinada,    the HQ of East Godavari Dist and is known as Fertilizer city due to the presence of big Fertilizer units of NFCL, GFCL etc.,  It also has names of ‘Pensioner’s paradise’ and old timers were happy in calling it ‘Second Madras’.  Kakinada in fact is a planned, neat peaceful city.  There are several edible oil refineries and the Port has become busy now a days.

Details apart – the benevolent act of Dokka Seethamma is so inspirational that we should have honoured her much bigger and should have been a lesson in motivation for everyone ! ~ if we have not ever heard of her exploits – it is an obvious pointer to deficiency in the system and the fact that our priorities had been elsewhere ! 

With regards – S. Sampathkumar


1 comment:

  1. Heard about vengamma but not this much.நம் நாட்டில் இப்படி பட்டவர்கள் உதித்து வாழ்ந்தபடியால்தான் தர்மம் அழியாமல் உள்ளது