The Natural HR Theory by Dr IVNS Raju

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It is rare in literature to come across a writer who is everywhere, in every genre. Whatever our personal choices and tastes, these writers occupy a huge space in the literary arena and sit on a high pedestal challenging our beliefs and intellect.

Kavisamrat Viswanatha Satyanarayana is one such writer whose body of writing during the first three quarters of the last century was so huge and phenomenal, that we can hardly come across a writer who was so widely admired, criticised, even condemned; but could never be ignored. While some in contemporary society admired his literary genius others dismissed him as retrograde and as conservative as a stale pickle.

Born in Nandamuru village of erstwhile Madras state, now in Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh, on September 10, 1895 Viswanatha excelled in whatever genre of literature he touched with his creative mind and golden hand. In the initial years of his career he is said to have lived through a period of utter poverty and this lead to his decision to move to a career as teacher and principal which took him to places like Guntur, Karim Nagar and Vijayawada giving him some respite from the struggles of mundane existence. For writers and lovers of literature his Maruti Nagar residence in Vijayawada where he spent his post retirement life and where he breathed his last on October 18, 1976, remained a literary pilgrimage as long as he lived.

Throughout his life - of struggle and strife due to poverty initially and of controversies that surrounded his later day literary life - one thing stands out clearly. If there was one undeniable and enduring force which saw him through his strife and which was his constant companion, it was his supreme confidence in his intellect and genius, perceived by many as intellectual arrogance or brahminical pride. One can see in the dedication of his epic to his Guru Sri Cellapilla Venkata Sastry. The first three lines of the four line poem describe his own attributes, saying none of the greats of literature like Nannayya or Tikkana had the good fortune to have a student like him who is endowed with dhishana, supreme confidence and brahmimayamurthy - brahminical pride incarnate. There was no other writer in the twentieth century who was condemned so vehemently and admired so widely both for his scholarship and creative genius, as well as for his beliefs. There was a period in mid-century when many thought they should condemn Viswanatha loudly in order to survive and get recognition as writers. He was a scholar of literatures of Sanskrit, Telugu, and English and was familiar with the literary traditions of both ancient India and Modern Europe. He was a brilliant writer who constantly experimented with various genres and styles of writing. He lived to a ripe old age, when one could only see the traces of his past glory, often lamenting that the age in which he was born could not understand him and that he should not have been born during the time and period, as the contemporary society considered him a man and a writer of obsolete ideas.

Today one feels that the time has come to evaluate his work with a historical and objective perspective keeping the distance needed for it, intact. The same historical perspective also demands that one can appreciate any writer who writes with authority and sincerity and he can do so only when he chooses to write on issues that are close to his heart and beliefs that form the core of his being. Also a writer is a product of his times and should be examined from the context and the time of his society.

He wrote during pre-independence times and the colonial rule had started changing the society and the ensuing transition created conflicts in the age old spiritual beliefs, apart from ushering in industrial age and introducing English education in India. While he appreciated the aspect of modern civilization that the western way of life had brought in, he resented the loss of essential Indian culture. His writing reflects these dilemmas and conflicts. Had he tried to write what the readers wanted to hear then he could not have written with conviction and could not have convinced any serious reader of his writings and eventually would not have stood the test of time.

That leads us to glimpses of his prolific writing. Starting with an epic Srimad Ramayana Kalpavrikshamu for which he won the prestigious Jnanapeeth award for literature in 1971, he wrote tirelessly, creating short poetry like Andhabikshuvu, Nee Radhachakralu, long poems like Andhra Prasasti, Vengi Kshetramu,lyrical poetry like Kinnerasani Paatalu, historical novels like Kashmira Desapu Kathalu (6), Nepala Rajavamsapu Kathalu like Dindu krinda pokachekka and chitli chitlani Gaajulu (6)Puranavaira Grandhamala series (12), his mega novel Veyi Padagalu and other equally renowned historical and social novels like Maa babu, Cheliyali Katta, Baddanna Senani, Haha Huhu and Ekaveera and the last was made into a successful Telugu film. Backed by sound scholarship and natural genius for writing he lived life on his own terms and was never bogged down by the controversies. He represented all that is sound and strong in the intellectual traditions and at the same time inherited the resultant adverse complexes of superiority which many of his contemporaries abhorred.

One can say his work reflects this persona of the writer as a man of great depth and scholarship, a genius who turned whatever he touched into gold, a supremely confident man with a great courage of convictions and a human being to whom humility was never a virtue, who had shown an impatience towards of all mediocrity and was constantly conscious of his birth, his superior station in life bestowed by his caste, his natural genius and his creative inner self which lead him to lead a life of rigidity, arrogance, uncompromising assertiveness and postures with contemporaries at different periods of life and finally lead him towards an old age filled with resentment, disappointment and distress at being constantly riled. He was as complex a human being as he was a writer. His vision was cosmic, his range and canvas were wide and all compassing, his grasp of Indian cultural psyche with its three fold attributes - its Eternal Dharma, ancient yet constant; its spirituality Himalayan yet vulnerable; and its social fabric, caste ridden and divided, yet a strange unity weaving through its length and breadth by common threads of myths and legends, folklore and art forms Margi as well as Desi which form the core of its culture transcending the barriers of urban rural divide as well as caste hierarchies.

Veyi Padagalu his mega novel was first published in 1935 and was awarded the annual literary prize along with Sri Adivi Bapiraju’s Narayana Rao by Andhra University. He was also later given the title Kalaprapoorna by the University. The books have seen many reprints afterwards and this translation is from 1976 reprint.

Veyi Padagalu, translated as Thousand Hoods, is a mega novel consisting of 1039 pages in the original. In this translation the novel is condensed with appropriate foot notes and introduction. It was translated into Hindi by Sri P.V Narasimha Rao, former Prime Minister of India as Sahasraphan.

This novel is a complex and controversial novel in more sense than one. It is variously described as the last agonizing call of a dying civilization; a commentary on Indian idea of Dharma in relation to religion, rituals, caste equations, man-woman relationships and cultural practices; an interpretation of caste hierarchies; a historical narrative which throws an insight into zamindari system, devadasi traditions; the highs and lows of once thriving dharma and its gradual decline – presented in a symbolic and culturally rich narrative. It defines the relationships that once enriched the lives of people - between man and god, man and man, man and soil, and man and woman. The story was set in pre independence India. It can be the story of any village in Andhra of yester years, though the author calls it Subbannapeta. It is said it closely resembles his own village Nandamuru in Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh.

The author looks at dharma as a cosmic snake that with all its thousand hoods spread across the sky shielding and protecting the world. As dharma declines the hoods too decline and the snake that protected dharma with all its thousand hoods gradually disappears as the old order changes, giving place to new.

It is both a historic necessity and a social imperative for any social order to take birth, rise to its peak and decline and this novel illustrates this in an unmistakable way asserting that it does not die a silent death but protests vehemently before going down. The snake appears to various people in various ways. “The One who bears the earth on his thousand hoods, the One who rules the four purusharthas[1] with his four hoods, the One  who protects the couples with two hoods and the One with a single hood shields the earth as with an umbrella, the one who has the trinity within him, the one holds a trident on his tongue and conch and disc on his hoods, Righteousness Incarnate, the One who protects me from moving away from my traditions, as He did my ancestors- may He be pleased with me! May He protect me forever!”

While Dharma Rao the Brahmin protagonist sees the snake as the protector of his individual dharma to the king, it appears with all its thousand hoods spread wide as he is the protector of Dharma and representative of the ruling class. To the village head the snake is a four headed one. To a couple the cosmic snake appears with two heads as they represent the institution of marriage and to Pasirika he is a one headed snake, as Pasirika embodies the greenness of the fields, a friend and a benefactor of the soil and finally the one who dies of a snake bite when he violates their code of conduct. The village the author chooses as the main character in this novel is thus a structure with four pillars – the zamindar, the temples, the devadasi, and the Ganachari who is the mediator between man and God.

Dharma Rao the protagonist is the spectator, an interpreter and a staunch advocate of this eternal dharma otherwise known as Sanatana dharma. One can see he represents the author’s point of view in this narrative. The four institutions are the pillars on which the dharma thrives and sustains itself. Modern civilization with western influence gradually erodes of the core values of this culture and the village changes. Change is seen as an inevitable aspect in this march of civilization. While some good things do happen this novel depicts the corruption of the core culture and in the end he sees one sole aspect that survives, though briefly fading for a while; it is the institution of marriage. He asserts his belief in this one aspect and the strength of this institution alone would remain as the backbone of Indian sensibility and culture. The dimensions of caste system also change but would never disappear, as we see around us even today, caste playing a major role in our political and social fabric while caste based vote banks play a key role in our democracy and politics.

This novel can be examined broadly on two significant parameters. There are aspects which are of universal relevance. The author’s Utopian idea of dharma which is known as Sanathana Dharma is the first significant link that helps the reader to appreciate and critically understand this novel. What then is this Sanathana Dharma? In Indian aesthetics as well as philosophical thinking this Sanathana Dharma is interpreted variously in a rich and multifaceted manner by many modern thinkers. Dharma is regarded as righteous living – one’s chosen way of life based on the tenets of his profession station in life, jati and swabhava, individual nature. It is not to be confused with religion. A.K Ramanujam calls it context sensitive and all pervading. Sanathana Dharma refers to the core value in this dharma and is constant and perpetual; it never dies and should never die. In a sense it is also wrong to see Sanathana Dharma as ancient dharma or something that prevailed in Vedic or pre-Vedic times. It is, for Viswanatha, the essence Indian spirit which is eternal and universal. Has it ever existed on Indian soil is a question one cannot find an easy answer to as this Sanathana Dharma appears in innumerable texts, in literary texts as well philosophic discourses.

In this novel it is a very critical aspect of the author’s imagination and as long as it thrives the story revolving round this Universal dharma thrives. It is the cosmic snake that rules, protects, directs, blesses, admonishes and surrounds the lives and beliefs of the people of the village. The story starts with the appearance of this snake which appears to the king in his dream and bites him at one thousand places in is body for the first time and how it is communicated to the people through the Ganachari as the voice who can interpret message of the God. The snake is thus a constant underlying presence in the entire novel.

Zamindar is the representative of this Dharma in the village. When the kings starting with Verama[B1]  Naidu to Krishnama Naidu followed the path of justice righteousness and generosity helping the people, promoting desi and margi traditions in arts and literature, building temples to great Gods Nageswara, Subramanyeswara, and Venugopala the village thrives and people lead contented lives. Krishnama Naidu’s son Ranga Rao comes under the influence of Western culture, never organises or participates in temple festivals, shows disregard to the practices of the fort, causes the death of a royal elephant by his ignorance and indifference during the time of his coronation itself, and disregards the respect and affection shown to him by his wife and mother dismissing them as superstitious women and becomes a victim of a snake biting him in his dream at thousand places, admonishing him.

His son Harappa Naidu tries to revive the past glory but the author’s unmistakable message is that it is not possible to take the clock back. He lives for a short period of time, fulfills certain responsibilities fundamental to his rajadharma like performing the last rites of his mother and grandmother wherein he becomes eligible to perform the kalyanam celebrations of Lord Venugopala which in turn leads to the ultimate release of Girika, last in the line of Devadasis. Historically, the zamindari system in its positive light under the benevolent ruler thrives and dies once the British take over and the zamindars become slaves of the foreign power literally and figuratively. They start imposing taxes with scant concern for the famines and floods that people face as they, in turn had to pay to the British to survive.

Devadasi in this novel, is the last in the village’s rural tradition maintained as a cultural institution. This is particular to the southern states and the writer depicts how the institution dies due to gradual decline and corruption that sets in. At a number of places in the novel like when he was discussing Devadasi with his newly married wife Arundhati, Dharma Rao explains that she is not a common prostitute. The author makes a clear distinction between Girika, who is devoted to her Lord Venugopala and she is a woman exclusively devoted to her art and with a single minded dedication learns and prepares herself to become the consort of Lord Venugopala right from a very early age, and a common prostitute. It is no longer possible to keep this tradition alive and the author effectively portrays the positive heights the art has reached under the patronage of the right Guru and devoted disciple to the art, to her God and to her guru, her half brother. But as with everything else in history this institution also needed to go as these women could no longer survive solely on their art. It goes down in a spectacular and splendid manner as her devotion culminates in her art ennobling her being, and she merges in the spirit of her God forever asserting the aesthetic grandeur of her art and posits it directly in opposition to the supposed stigma of her caste.

Another representative of God in the novel is Ganachari. The novel opens with an open challenge thrown by a youth in the village regarding her supernatural powers. The fact that she is Ganachari, is itself a belief rarely seen and understood in today’s India. The kapu whose cow feeds the snake pledges that his daughter would be dedicated to the service of the Lord and she being the only child to her father becomes an interpreter of the Lord, a Ganachari. Successive men in the kapu’s family were blessed with with a single girl for generations and the current one is again the last Ganachari. The generation after, does not have girl children. And with her again as the novel evolves, the nature of the Ganachari changes, she leaves her home protesting against the onslaught of modern civilization and while she starts living in the temple she refuses to eat the food prepared by her brother’s wife and Dharma Rao arranges food to be sent from his house, her hair gets tangles, people lose faith in her powers and she herself dies in a village fire and with her the Ganachari as a belief dies.

Pasirika is the son born to Manga, Rameswara Sastry’s wife from a low caste. When he was born the village perceives him as a freak child, green in colour, thin like a stick, he used to crawl into the fields and the backyard garden of his house to eat grass. He is the symbol of the agricultural abundance of India. When the cultivatable fields get reduced and are taken over by dry lands Pasirika’s survival becomes difficult. He is a symbol of the soil and friend and companion of the creatures of the earth, plays with snakes, runs in competition looking at the birds in the sky and in the end he who becomes the personification for the earth falls for the modern civilization and his friendship with Reddy leads to the death of snakes. The snakes refuse to play with him and in the end Pasirika dies pleading to be taken back into the earth’s fold, bitten by a snake.

The Sanathana Dharma the poet imagines as the core of the Indian spirituality is one broad parameter that explains the symbolic overtones of the creative genius of Viswanatha in this novel. While the author’s imagination soars high growing upward like his thousand-hooded snake, it is at the same time deeply rooted in the immediate reality of contemporary society. Thus, the second broad aspect of this analysis is the contemporaneity of the narrative.

Veyi Padagalu is perceived by many then and now as an autobiographical novel. Most of the literary personalities of the time figure in this novel as characters. Viswanatha himself asserts in his SrimadKalpavrikasha Ramayanamu there is no aesthetic beauty sans the world. The later day literary critic, Prof Prasadaraya Kulapati, asserts in his analysis that the fort in the novel is modelled on the forts of Challapalli and Thotlavalluru in Krishna district. The temples of Lord Venugopala in Nandamuru, Lord Visweswara and Subramanya in Mopidevi all combine to shape Viswanatha’s Subbannapeta. The zamindar Krishnama Naidu combined in himself the characteristics of Dharma Apparao and his successor Rangayya Apparao, zamindars of Nuzividu, both of whom were known for their courage and generosity respectively and patronized art and literature.

Dharma Rao’s father and the Diwan of Krishnama Naidu is none other than the author’s father Shobhanadri. Except the four marriages, all other traits were in him and he was in many ways Viswanatha’s inspiration. The other friends of Viswanatha like Nayani Subba Rao, Kodali Anjaneyulu, Kollipara Surayya Chaudary and Agashtyaraju Raghava Rao figure as Kiriti, Raghava Rao, Suryapati, and Kumara Swamy respectively.[2] The editor of a known journal Krishna Patrika Mutnuru Krishna Rao appears as Kesava Rao in the narrative. Viswanathabrings in a well known Vaidya into the narrative to provoke debates on ayurvedic and allopathicsystems of medicine. The Chennapragada family, described as the renowned practitioners of ayurveda system, happens to be of the translator’s family Dr. Chennaragada Subba Rao. This translator’s grandfather was a practitioner well revered during this period in towns like Ramachandrapuram, Bheemavaram, and Rajamundry in East Godavari district and was a contemporary and close associate of Viswanatha Satyanarayana. Only once the novel outlives its times these personalities portrayed here live on lending the narrative depth and authenticity.[B2]  As the narrative spreads over three generations this technique will help the novelist to sustain the grip on his narrative as he needed to people his world with diverse and multifaceted natures.

The next aspect of contemporary society which pervades the entire text as well as the society is depictions of caste in this novel. In fact there is no time in India’s history when caste has not a played a major role in all its multi-faceted dimensions. It might have changed its colours with changing times. It is as old as India’s known history. It is older than the Manusmrithi where the already existing caste structure was codified for the first time.


In today’s India we see everyday how parents chase hunt and kill their own children in the name of honour if they choose to marry outside their caste. We have every five years general elections and the battles of one up-man-ship are fought in manipulating castes and building vote banks. It is the only country in the world where different castes fight to be recognized and listed, says the Supreme Court of India, as backward communities. The agitations that this country has seen for and against reservations are a commentary on the political system which has always used caste as tool for political gains. While all this establishes the impossibility of wishing away caste; Viswanatha, a staunch supporter of chaturvarna[3] system, four tiered caste structure, defends it in his life and work. He illustrates this structure in the characters of Dharma Rao, Krishnama Naidu and Harappa Naidu, Ramachandra Raju and Naganna Setty and working class like Mangamma and symbolic Pasirika all representing the four castes.

Dharma Rao’s father Ramaswara Sastry, moreover, married four women from all these castes hoping to give birth to the best of every caste in the next generation. While Dharma Rao was a scholar Brahmin, Ramachandra Raju was the son of Rangajamma the lady Sastry married in one of his many trips. He also married Hymavati who gives birth to Sreedharam who turns to business and leaves Subbannapeta at a very early age. Manga’s son Pasirika was closest to Dharma Rao in the family next to his mother. Viswanatha’s creation of these multiple marriages in this novel is highly controversial and appears to be a strange way of affirming the caste system. Dharma Rao embraces the children of his father from different castes with genuine love and affection. He saves Pasirika when he was trapped by a European, Devadasi and her mother alongwith Manga stand by Rangajamma when she falls sick. Krishnama Naidu and Harappa Naidu were benevolent rulers who never abused or exploited the attendants in the fort. But all of them were caste conscious though they have never practiced discriminations – this is the kind of balanced society he aspired to create in this novel.

Similarly, his marriage to the junior Arundhati is also a very twisted way of affirming the faith in the institution of marriage. Viswanatha dedicates this novel to his wife who died few years ago supposed to have dictated the whole novel in 29 days. [B3] “You are the bright light that reflects on my life and manifests itself as poetry. O, Muse of my life as sacred as Arundhati, the rishi’s wife, the rays of that light still surround me long after you are gone.”  In the plot, one of the last two hoods of the cosmic snake appear to be fading and declining suggesting the decline of the institution. In order to establish that it cannot die as it forms the core, junior Arundhati was created so that the institution can be kept alive. Again it is a very strange way of defending something the author strongly believes. After all one can believe in the marriage and be committed to it even after the death of a partner. Death of a spouse cannot be interpreted as the end of marriage as in any marriage one or the other has to die first. Though not very convincing from today’s perspective, in those days it was not uncommon for a man to marry when his wife dies; from this perspective the author makes his point persuasively enough in the larger context of the narrative.

The parts of the novel which are not directly related to the main theme are deleted in the translation to bring readability and grip to the narrative. The cultural contexts that are particular to the age and the debates that raged during those days regarding viability of zamindari system, introduction of English education and the devadasi tradition and its heights are not elaborately described but the retained to the extent they are relevant to the narrative. The discussions on contemporary theatre, comparisons to older literary works like Prabhavati Pradhyumnam and Kalapurnodayam and English plays and the related critical issues the author tries to raise, are also omitted to a large extent. His elaborate descriptions of moonlight, spring, and other natural landscape descriptions do not find place to a large extent. The main purpose of this translation is to reach out to a generation who would otherwise not read it, non-Telugu speaking Telugus and the diaspora. A novel of thousand thirty nine pages is thus condensed and edited to bring a grip and readability to the novel[B4] . I am hopeful this labour of love will find its readers who can appreciate this effort. If one looks for word to word to translation, one will be disappointed.

As earlier pointed out, a novel is a product of its times and the aspects of universality and depictions of comtemporaneity one finds in this largely symbolic novel make it one of the best novels of early twentieth century. One may or may not agree with what the author says especially on aspects like caste system but one cannot fail to admire the strength of his conviction and his manner of conveying it. The reader is definitely carried into a different world which no longer exists and does so willingly, suspending belief.


Syamala Kallury




10, April, 2014



[1] Purusharthas are the four goals one is advised to cultivate in life by scriptures - dharma (righteousness), artha (wealth), kama (desire), and moksha (Release). They prescribe a code of conduct for men and women to follow. Chapter 6

[2]Prof. Prasadaraya Kulapati Veyi Padagalu by Viswanatha a review published in Sata Vasanta Sahiti Manjeeraalu edited by Prayaga Vedavati and Nagasuri Venu GopalVijayawada: Andhra Pradesh Granthalaya Sangham 2002

[3] Chaturvarna dharmas as they are called a caste structure that existed in India since ancient times. The society is divided, depending on the nature of work they do, into four major castes, namely Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras. God is supposed to reside in the forehead of Brahmins ministers and learned people, in the chest of the kshatriyas warriors who protect, in the knees of vaisyas who are the traders and in the feet of shudras suggesting the working class. While it is impossible for anyone to stand erect without the feet as they are the producers who feed and maintain and work for society, it is interpreted that they are the lowest of the low. And all the inequalities that follow.

 [B1]Confirm name.

 [B2]Pl. rephrase.

 [B3]Something missing

 [B4]Condensed…bring it to readers of this time and age


+2 #1 Afterword for 'Veyi Padagalu' Partha 2014-07-05 09:13
It is very sad to know that the heirs of Sri Viswanatha objected the publication of your translation. I concur with your observations on legitimacy of translations.

The authors and/or their heirs should not use Copyright act against translations. This is for a simple reason that no translator would ever hide the details of original work.

Legal heirs of Sri Viswanatha should rethink about their decision as their decision is curtailing freedom of expression which, in this case, is a worthy and selfless translation efforts put up by the translator.

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