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LEAVES FROM HISTORY

Tale of two libraries

R. UMA MAHESHWARI

The Gowthami Grandhalayam and Swatantra Samarayodhula Bhavanam in Rajahmundry are links to a fascinating past.

We used to take books home only for women members who found it awkward or difficult to come to the library.

Photos: S. Uma Maheshwari

Carefully preserved: The copper plate charters.

One was set up in 1898 and the other in 2004. One was established in the context of the freedom movement and the other started to preserve its memoirs. Both were started by individuals, as private libraries. One still continues to be private. One has collections spanning 15th to 20th centuries and the other concerns itself essentially with the late 19th and 20th century works related to the Indian independence movement.

Both the Sri Gowthami Regional Library (popularly called Gowthami Grandhalayam) and the Swatantra Samarayodhula Bhavanam (or India Independence Centre) are located in Rajahmundry, on the banks of Godavari.

History comes alive in many ways and at many levels whether through the well-preserved 1771 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Col. Mackenzie (Telugu) manuscripts at the Gowthami Grandhalayam, or the 100 volumes of Gandhi’s words, and writings on revolutionary Alluri Sitaramaraju at the IIC.

Early days

The Sri Gowthami Regional Library was started by poet and social reformer Nalam Krishna Rao as Gowthami Grandhalayam in 1898. Initially named Sri Veeresalingam library, since it was backed by the nationalist Kandukuri Veeresalingam Pantulu, it was housed in Nalam Choultry in Innispeta with a very small collection. Around the same time Addanki Satyanarayana established the Vasuraya Library. Gradually, the two merged and were jointly registered in 1920 under the Societies Registration Act. With the increase in collections the library moved to the Town Hall in Rajahmundry. Later land was bought at Lakshmivarapupeta and a rich landlord Kanchumarti Seetaramachandra Rao constructed a building in memory of his daughter Babayamma (one of the first women to complete matriculation in Rajahmundry) who died young. The Babayamma Hall, served as the library building until the 1970s and still exists, behind the new building.

With a good collection of both Telugu and English classics, including old editions of Shakespeare, the library was first managed by a committee elected by select lifetime members; in 1979, the government took over.

Prasada Rao, the assistant librarian for the more than 25 years, recounts, “In the ‘committee days’ my salary was Rs. 30 amonth. Salaries were dependent on the subscription and membership. We used to take books home only for women members who found it awkward or difficult to come to the library. Even furniture was donated by patrons, not just books and periodicals. There were no photocopying facilities and eminent writers such as Bani Gopala Reddi and Arudra would religiously take down notes. After the government took over we got better facilities for photocopying and conservation. At least 20 per cent of old manuscripts were microfilmed in 1991 …We now have 16 computers with scanners, printers and internet facilities. Installation of e-grandhalaya software is underway. But we are badly under-staffed…”

For Prasada Rao “the respect that readers bestowed” meant he never moved to another profession despite monetary hassles. “Of course today with the status of a regional library I moved virtually from economic distress to economic stability!”

Bharata Swatantra Samarangana Parishodhana Kendram (India Independence Centre) was inaugurated on April 14, 2004. Librarian Jammi Rama Rao says that Y.S. Narasimha Rao, the founder of the Andhra Kesari Yuvajana Samiti (a socio-cultural organisation set up in 1962), conceptualised it. “It was aimed at serving research scholars working on the freedom movement. Recently we began collecting articles used by the freedom fighters of this region. At the moment we have around 350 books related to the freedom movement, including life history of freedom fighters, writings of freedom fighters, and so on.”

Interesting vignettes

On the first floor are some interesting photographs capturing moments of freedom movement in and around Rajahmundry. A rare photograph shows Jawaharlal Nehru celebrating his birthday at the home of Baru Raja Rao in Rajahmundry. Seated with him are Nyayapati Subba Rao Pantulu, one of the founders of The Hindu (and the first Municipal Chairman of Rajahmundry), Raja Rao, Durgabai Deshmukh and others.

On the glass shelves you can see Gandhian Vavirala Gopalakrishnaiah’s modest khadi bag (woven in Pithapuram), spectacles and watch; the hand charkhas used by Tejomurtula Venkatasuryanarayana (of Korukonda) and Baru Govinda Rao (Rajahmundry). There is also one of Subhas Chandra Bose seated with Devata Sriramamurthy, in Rajahmundry. An added attraction is the Gandhi Park where stand sculpted figures of 12 women freedom fighters from Rajahmundry and surrounding areas.



Stylus from Gowthami library and the rare photo of Nehru at Rajahmundry.

Today Gowthami library has a stock of 82,000 books, and around 400 old manuscripts. Copper plate charters of the 13-14th centuries are also preserved in this library. So is an ancient silver coated ghantam (stylus) on palm-leaf manuscripts.

With a lifetime membership fee of Rs. 150 the total membership of this library stands at 4,500. Readers come mainly from East and West Godavari. The library has all the volumes of magazines such as Chintamani, Vivekavardhini, Andhra Mahila, Gruha Lakshmi, etc

V.S. Suryanarayanamurthy, who took over as chief librarian recently, says, “We badly need staff. We have computers without operators. I wish to try and make the present generation of students access this library and its facilities.”

Libraries such as these are links to the fascinating past of Rajahmundry. Even if you weren’t treading on that path, you still end up intrigued enough to start a new journey based on what you hear here.

In my case, it led to meeting with the family of late Padala Veerabhadra Rao, Communist freedom fighter from Rajahmundry who has written one of the most comprehensive and authentic biographies (in Telugu) on Alluri Sitaramaraju.

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