Vavilla Venkateswara Sastrulu:

Scholar-Publisher *




Few publishers are scholars while they select and highlight scholarly works. Distinguished authors languish like a diamond in the dung heap for want of a suitable publisher. If the publisher is a scholar, he can exercise better discrimination. Publishers not owning a press are handicapped. Vavilla family in Andhra Pradesh secured a page in history as a premier publishing house owning a press.


Dravidas well-versed in Vedas, hailing from the region watered by the sacred Kaveri, migrated to Andhra area between thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and initially settled in Puduru of Nellore District, Kakaraparru of West Godavari District, Peruru of East Godavari District and Dimili of old Visakhapatnam District of Andhra Pradesh. They freely mingled and fully identified themselves with the sons of the soil in language, culture, customs, dress, food and manners. Very soon, they became pioneers and trend-setters in every walk of life. They constituted our brain trust.


It is interesting to recall that Avadhanam Papiah, right-hand man of East India Company. Chadalavada Sitarama Sastry, author of “Pedda Bala Siksha”–the only text-book for pial schools, Vedam Venkataraya Sastry, noted Savant, Mahamahopadhyaya Tata Subbaraya Sastry, versatile scholar, Adibhatla Narayana Das, Harikatha exponent, Kavyakantha Vasishta Ganapilti Muni, the seer, Chilakamarti Lakshmi Narasimham, dramatist and humorist, Chellapilla Venkata Sastry, well-known poet, Alladi Krishnaswamy, eminent advocate and jurist, Mamidipudi Venkatarangaiya, educa­tionist, and last but not the least Srirangam Srinivasa Rao, the revolutionary poet, belonged to this community. The list is illustrative and not exhaustive.


Vavilla family, hailing from Nellore District, symbolised the traditions of this community and inaugurated renaissance. Rama­swamy Sastrulu, well-versed in Telugu and Sanskrit, established a press called Hindu Bhasha Sanjeevini as early as in 1869. Later, he started other presses known as “Saraswati Nilayam” and “Adi Saraswati Nilayam,” By the time he passed away in 1891, he published fifty standard works in Telugu and Sanskrit.


His only son Venkateswara Sastrulu, born in 1884, besides being a scholar in Telugu, studied English too. He was catholic in his interests and cosmopolitan in his outlook. He took over the family concern and renamed it as “Vavilla Press”, which played a historic role. It was bracketed with Gita Pracharini Press of Gorakhpur and Choukamba Press of Varanasi. Proof-reading in this press was flawless and perfect. He successfully handled publication of books in Royal, Demy and Crown sizes. He was the first to get the books beautifully bound in calico with title in gilt letters on the cover, which we now choose to call by a fashion­able French name ‘De Lux’ edition.


The Vavilla Press published mostly sacerdotal literature, classics, epics, puranas and commentaries, particularly on “Prasthanatrayam.” What was more, they published Sanskrit books in Telugu script, to enable even laymen to understand and appreciate the lore of Sanskrit. This publishing house can be compared to Macmillan and Longmans of England. By the time Venkateswara Sastrulu passed away, about 900 titles, including anthologies in Telugu, Sanskrit, Tamil and English were published. What was more, every book had a valuable introduction from the pen of a well-known scholar. He helped a number of indigent writers by publishing their works freely.


Though orthodox in his way of life, he was an ardent nationa­list and a devoted disciple of Lokamanya Tilak, believing in responsive co-operation. He was deeply moved by the Vandemataram agitation, consequent on partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon, and published a Telugu translation of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s novel “Anand Math”, in which the patriotic song “Vandemataram” was embedded. He repeatedly rendered financial assistance to S. Satyamurty and Andhra Kesari Prakasam.


He established “Trilinga”–a Telugu Weekly–in 1916 with Akkiraju Umakantam, well-known scholar, as editor, to propagate constructive nationalism and this journal celebrated its Silver Jubilee in 1941 at a colourful function. He also conducted an English journal “Federated India”, first as a weekly and afterwards as a monthly from 1927 with K. Vyasa Rao as Editor. I had the privilege of being a contributor to it in mid-thirties, while.1 was at Patna. It survived to celebrate Silver Jubilee in 1952. He published a Tamil monthly for children called “Balavinodini” with the collaboration of the well-known Tamil poet Subramania Bharati. He enjoyed the privilege of friendship of great editors like G. Subrahmanya Iyer and C. Y Chintamani. A commemora­tive volume was presented to him by his friends and admirers on the eve of his Shastipoorti.


He combined ancient tradition with modern temper donning purely white dhoti, coat, turban and an upper cloth, reminding us of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, He was neck-deep in public life. He was Chairman of the Reception Committee for the Silver Jubilee Session of Andhra Maha Sabha in 1938, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan presiding, and pleaded for formation of Andhra Province with Madras as capital.


He was respected by all the communities and was a member of the Pachchaiappa Trust Board for a quarter of a century. He was Honorary Magistrate for a similar period administering even-handed justice. He was associated with Madras Port Trust, Cosmopolitan Club, Masonic Lodge, Suguna Vilasa Sabha and Andhra Maha Sabha. He was one of the founders of Andhra Chamber of Commerce and was Chairman of Telugu Board of Examiners at Annamalai University. He was also a member of the Film Censor Board. Thus, the positions he held were a legion.


He was a tower of strength to all good causes. He was intimate with S. Srinivasa Iyengar and Alagappa Chettiar.


When he was in trouble, everyone came to his rescue. Soon after prosecution was launched against him for publishing the works of the great poet Srinatha, portions of which were alleged to be obscene, there was uproar and an agitation led by Sir B. N. Sarma, Raja of Pithapuram, Jayanti Ramayya and others. Ultimately, the prosecution had to be withdrawn. He published scholar’s edition of “Vatsayana’s Kama Sutras” for private circulation among adults.


Between: 1931 and 1933, he published eighteen volumes of critical edition of “Mahabharata” in Devanagari script and won the appreciation of the Royal Asiatic Society. His efforts can favourably be compared to those of Bhandarkar Research Institute at Pune. Pandits of Varanasi conferred on him the title of “Sastra Prachara Bhooshana.” He was an accomplished writer and poet in his own right. For his yeoman services to Telugu and Sanskrit, he was invested with the distinction of “Bhashoddharaka.” Andhra University honoured him with the distinction of “Kala­prapoorna” in 1955.


But his domestic life was not happy. There was temperamental incompatibility between him and his affluent wife. They rarely lived together and had no children. He was down with paralysis in 1942 and remained in bed till he passed away in the summer of 1956 at the age of 67. But he left no valid will. The estate of Venkateswara Sastrulu became the subject-matter of a prolonged and futile litigation benefiting none. The activities of the publishing house came to a standstill. This is perhaps the fate of all good institutions. But Venkateswara Sastrulu secured a page in history as a publisher, nationalist and philanthropist.


* The birth centenary of Vavilla Venkateswara Sastrulu is to be celebrated shortly at Madras. Mr. Alladi Venkatesan, Advocate Madras –21, has taken the lead.