GENDER DISPARITIES IN THE PLAY KANYASULKAM:
SOCIO-ECONOMIC AND CULTURAL ASPECTS
Lecturer in English
Dr.V.S.Krishna,Govt Degree College
Mail: [email protected]
Gurajada Venkata Appa Rao is acknowledged as a pioneer of modernism in Telugu Literature. ‘Kanyasulkam‘ (1892), is a social play by Gurajada Appa Rao . His prose play written in the Visakhapatnam dialect, still remains popular. Kanyasulkam is roughly translated as “Bride Price”, which was common among the priestly Brahmins in Telugu-speaking areas of southern India , society that existed in late eighteenth and beginning of nineteenth century, related to particular group of people.
Gurajada wrote this play to raise awareness about what he felt was a scandalous state of affairs in society. His English preface to the first edition states:
“Such a scandalous state of things is a disgrace to society, and literature cannot have a higher function than to show up such practices and give currency to a high standard of moral ideas. Until reading habits prevail among masses, one must look only to the stage to exert such healthy influence.”
Gurajada’s mission was to reach out to the masses, so he broke the tradition and wrote in the vibrant and colorful spoken( dialect) language of the day.
‘Kanyasulkam’ has become a great play even though it was composed hundred years back. His presentation is humorous; at the same time he makes us realize the consequences of the follies and vices, which the situation makes us understand, what we call Indirect Satire. Kanyasulkam deals with so many topics, the topics which need reform because of their innocence, like corruption, language reform, selling girls, bride price, widow remarriages, nautch question, greedy people, etc,. All most all these topics are dealt with humorous effect.
Gurajada Apparao Pantulu , who pleaded for social reform, has written the play to castigate the evils of child marriage with old men and to encourage widow re-marriages. The characters in the drama were drawn from the realities of life. The author had in his mind some of his contemporaries whose traits of character helped him portray the main characters of his drama’.The creation of immortal characters like Girisam, Venkatesam, Karataka Sastri and Madhuravani invest the play with halo or permanence.
The play mirrors many gender inequalities that existed in the society. The society followed traditional beliefs because of the traditional methods of education influenced by customs & traditions and Vedic literature, which has strong roots in the society and neglecting the wide range of understanding the things with reason. Women were deprived of education and meant for household work and to look after the family. Men were allowed to get English education. they have a fascination for English education because it is the only means to provide good jobs in the government. Some of the speeches of Agnihotravadhanlu’s wife, Venkamma’s zeal for English education are humourous.
The marriage brings a complete change in the lives of an individual. Child marriage is still practiced in cultures where marriages are arranged for economic and social reasons. It originated in poverty and Secondly, with the notion that heirs are necessary to perform religious rites after their death. Just to have a male heir, old men are more attracted to purchase brides. These child marriages lead the women to early widowhood. Gurajada shows how young widows are made in the words of Girisam :
Girisam: …Listen. The truth is, when the boarding house woman was a mere toddler, it was decided to marry her off to a ripe old man. And even as he was tying the knot, or a ingmoment later, that old man had croaked in the pandal itself. The dilemma was, whether she was married or not…. The purohit took a bribe from them and gave the evidence that the sacred thread was not tied. So the case was lost, but after that no one married her again(p.81)
Gurajada Appa Rao satirically picturises the pathetic condition that prevailed in those days. It shows how people used to give their kids in marraige to an old person who is going to die soon. So the child marriages, done in those days end in a tragic note. The entire lives of the young girls are so pathetic.
Wealth and Self gains with greed is one of the reasons for getting their child married to an old man. After sometime she returns to her parents house as a widow along with the property of her husband. Appa Rao condemns, how the society justifies its mistakes by saying that no one would take care of the girl, if she becomes a widow and if bride’s parents don’t take money (bride price).Girisam says to Venkatasam:
Girisam: – Lubdhavadhanlu is an old man and an affluent one too. In another two or three years he will kick the bucket. Your sister will then become a rich widow.(p.35)
Girisam: – If those old people die, the innocent children become widows. Is it their fault? Or is it the fault of those fools….and yet give their young girls in marriage to old people out of avarice? (p.75)
Here Gurajada through the character Girisam, analyses the problem of the widows and finds fault with the persons who, for the sake of money spoil the life of their innocent children. It was not the mistake of innocent kids getting married and becoming widows, but the mistake of the fools who do so.
Women are bought under the respectable name of marriage. Child marriage is not for enjoyment. She would slave for him as an unpaid servant doing all the household work. Gurajada believes that in the name of marriage; they get nothing but sorrow. Gurajada opposes child marriage because the girls would be bonded laborers. In the words of Girisam to Buchamma:
Girisam: – Do you think my brother is looking for happiness in this marriage? Not in the least. He will not give your sister any more happiness than what your husband gave you. In the same way my brother is buying your sister to be a slave, under the respectable name of marriage. He hopes she would slave for him as an unpaid servant doing all the household chores…(p.133).
The reason behind the child marriage is not enjoyment but it is to
get an unpaid slavery to do the housework. This is an ironic statement; the verbal irony lies in stating that the marriage gives happiness is nothing but sorrow.
Gurajada points out the prostitution as a evil prevalent in the society.In the early period in some places of Andhra, prostitutes are called as ‘Devadasis’ (nautch girls). They developed into an exclusive caste of their own. They live by prostitution and do dancing . They are good performers. To maintain a prostitute has became a status symbol in those days. Gurajada showed a soft corner at Madhuravani in the last part of the play, he ridicules the then society by looking at it as a folly. . Girisam and Ramappapanthulu are visitors of Madhuravani.
Girisam: -1 am dreadfully in love with her (Buchamma). Ever since I’ve seen her, town loves and dancing girls have begun to repulse me. Their rough speeches, perverted meanings, cunning ways, damn it, isn’t everything in sincere? (p.62).
It is a direct satire on the evil practices of a particular group of people who in the name of tradition mislead the society.
Apart from the traditional and orthodox reasons, certain economic conditions too played a major part in hesitating widows for remarriages.Some orthodox sections take care by shaving their widow daughter’s heads to make them look ugly from the marriage point of view. A strong feeling existed in the then society among a group of people. They believe that widow marriages are against the sacred texts. By not allowing them to marry they want to retain their social rank. Widows are treated as maidservants at their parents’ home. That was the miserable condition of widows at that time. To eradicate such type of evil practices Gurajada condemns the follies and vices through his satires. This can be understood from the following examples.
Girisam: – –So, there is an unfortunate beautiful young widow in your house. What a pity! My heart melts. If 1 were her father, I would have arranged widow marriage for this girl …. (p.27)
Girisam: … A long lecture can be given on that subject. There is an evil custom in our country. When a man’s wife dies he will re marry; but when a woman’s husband dies, she can’t marry again, however young and beautiful she may be. Do you agree this is unfair?
Venkatesam: Definitely unfair.(p.66)
Gurajada in the play refers to the parasara smriti and Vedas to eradicate such type of evil practices and show that widows should marry. Girisam in the play quotes Naladmnayanti’s re marriage and tries to convince Butchamma that it is not a sin. The ultimate aim of Gurajada is to convince the hesitating widows for re marriage.
The superstitions seem to have a purpose of attracting favourable influences and warding off un-favourable ones. The names given to these influences are good luck and bad luck. Superstition became a useful term for the description of religious ideas. Ignorance of people has resulted in the belief of superstition. Bad omens like people come across a widow, snake or cat and a sanyasi etc., before leaving the house are considered as omens. Good omens are like, hearing
the temple bell ring, seeing a married women, flowers etc,. Women are forced to lead a secluded life in houses where as widower enjoys full liberty in the society. These were the beliefs people had at that time.
Gurajada Appa Rao endeavored to combat these social evils through his writings. Kanyasulkam remains a masterpiece in the difficult realm of satire.
The reforming zeal followed a general recognition of the existing evils and abuses in society and religion. Some were lured by the western ideas, and other by general changes in the belief, customs and practices of the Hindus as a whole.
1.Kanyasulkam by Gurajada Apparao translated by C.Vijayasree and T.Vijaya Kumar Maruti Publications ,2016. .
2.Interview with “Sasyasri” Cheepuripalli of Vizianagaram District on 19-9-1996.
3.Kanyasulkam Satajayanthi Utsavam special issue, 1892-1992.
Vizianagaram. Vipla Computer Services, Hyderabad 30th November,
- p. 159.
- K.Venkataramayya’s article “Viswanatakarangamu-Gurajada” in
Prajasahiti, September 1993, p. 9.
5. Gurazada’s dedication letter of Kanyasulkam to Maharaja Ananda Gajapathi. Gurajada Rachanulu Kanyasulkam, (Telugu) 1909 Edition,
- Eswara Rao, Visalandhra, Hyderabad, 1986, p. IX.
- Gurazada’s Preface to the first edition of Kanyasulkam. Editor C.
Eswara Rao, Gurajada Rachanalu-Kanyasulkam, 1909 edition
(Madras, 1986), Visalandhra, pp. XX.
7.Personal Interview with Gurazada Apparao, the grandson of Gurazada
dated 24-11-1994, Vizianagaram.
8.Gurazada’s Preface to the second edition of Kanyasulkam, Gurajada
Rachanalu Kanyasulkam. 1909, Edition, p. XII.
9.Gurazada’s Kanyasulkam, Editor C. Eswara Rao, Visalandhra
Publishing House (Madras), 1986, pp. 216-219.