Maharajah Ananda Gajapati was a great cultural luminary. A forward-looking prince, he foresaw and paved the way for the advent of democracy and socialist values in a society that had been moving, though slowly, towards the ideals of equality, liberty and fraternity. He was a Rajarshi and a Rajayogi. It was a matter of faith for such noble minds that they were torch-bears and benefactors to the people whose rule had been assigned to them.
Narayana Gajapati (1786-1945) retired to Banaras on a pension of Rs. One Lakh per annum and took his only son Vijayarama Gajapati there. Banaras enjoyed the position of one of the most famous centres of Oriental learning in those days. Students and scholars with aspiration used to flock there to slake their thirst for the knowledge and mastery of the Vedas and the Shastras. Banaras was the holiest of holy centres of pilgrimage and it was a fountain head of learning. Narayana Gajapati caused his son Vijayarama Gajapati to be exposed to the rigours of disciplined and systematic learning. The budding prince responded enthusiastically to this father's call to be a learned aristocrat. On 5th May, 1848 Maharajah Vijayarama Gajapati returned to Vizianagaram. He allowed the British to look after the estate and did not assume actual charge of administration till 1853.
During the four or five years of his stay at Vizianagaram by the side of the British he studied carefully the administrative procedures which the foreigners followed. Thanks to his powers of observation and administrative acumen he grew into a fine administrator. The Gazetteer noted:
“His management was excellent and his public liberality most marked and he became a Member of the Viceroy's Council, was granted in 1864 the personal title of Maharajah and was created K C.S I. In 1876.”
He was the first among the Royal House of Poosapatis to be honoured with the title of Maharajah. A devout lover of learning and a learned man himself, having seen how learning was imparted and received at the great religious centre, he had a mighty vision and a firm commitment to shape Vizianagaram, hitherto only a source of literary patronage into a city of learning. He started providing facilities to scholars and students along the lines in which Banaras was catering to the needs of scholars and students. Learned men who went to that great centre and accomplished scholars trained there began coming to Vizianagaram. The credit of transforming Vizianagaram into a shrine of learning should first go to Maharajah Vijayarama Gajapati.
The British as rulers and administrators had a way of their own to assess men and matters according to their own colonial, expansionistic standards. Vizilanagaram under Vijayarama Gajapati richly deserved to be the headquarters of the District as against Vizagapatnam. But the suggestion to make it district headquarters was set aside. W. Francis recorded:
“In 1862 the Collector strenuously opposed a suggestion that Vizianagaram should be made the headquarters of the District, on the ground that it would be impossible for the Collector to do any work in so frivolous a spot. He said: “It was a scene of endless pastime, a race-course, a pack of hounds, cheetah-haunting, ram-fights, balls, nautches, jousting, junkets of every kind”.
His estimate of Vizianagaram would be painful, to say the least, to all those who lived in this part of our land and those who have intimately known about its cultural brilliance. The place has been the hub of cultural activity and the Royal House of Poosapatis has encouraged, patronised and promoted literature and music and made a tremendous contribution to the cultural tradition and heritage of Andhra Desa. Their service has been unparalleled. The city of Vizianagaram was the busy hive of artistic, poetic, musical and cultural activity; either a kavi sammelan an Avadhanam or a Harikatha either a dance recital or a dramatic performance: a music concert or an exhibition of physical prowess used to take place almost every day round the year as part of the festivities of the season, like “Vinayaka navaratries, “Devinavaratries, village goddess festival. Sankranti and Ugadi. Perhaps it was this kind of exuberant display of artistic enthusiasm both among the learned and the lay which the Collector thought would interfere with the discharge of his duties and obligations to his native employers.
Maharajah Vijayarama Gajapati was a scholar and a patron of learning. He patronised great scholars like Mudumbai Narasimhachary, Manda Kameswara kavi and several others. He it was who realised the great need to spread education among the masses. In 1857, the auspicious year in which the universities of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta were founded, Maharajah Vijayarama Gajapati founded a Middle School in Vizianagaram. An erudite scholar and an enlightened prince that he was, he realised the need for the spread of English education. He wanted to start schools in every Thana under his rule and education was to be made available free of charge. Pupils were fed in the Samsthanam Boarding House, and for those who could not afford the expense of board this was a boon. The Maharajah started nearly a hundred schools in the then Vizianagaram estate extending over the districts of Visakhapatnam, Srikakulam and East Godavari. He founded the Samskruta pathasala in 1852 and appointed learned men as teachers. He inaugurated a tradition and set a trend. It was his vision, his progressive outlook and his ambition which culminated in the blossoming of Vizianagaram as a centre for education and culture in the highest sense of the word.
The Maharajah's benevolence was all-embracing. He gave liberal donations for the laying down of roads and the maintenance of hospitals in a way in which no Zamindar ever did. Impressed by the benevolence of this great personage, the Viceroy John Laurence wrote to him on the 11th of March 1862 that he was being honoured with the personal title of Maharajah for the liberal donation he had made to the maintenance of the civil dispensary at Visakhapatnam. The fountains near Mount Road in Madras and in Hyde Park, London, stand testimony to this great ruler's commitment to public service. He was kind to the traders, artisans and peasants. The Prince of Wales Market was his construction and the Vizianagaram Municipality was of his making. He never forgot the glory of Banaras where he was exposed to learning and excellence of all kinds and he it was who brought to Vizianagaram celebrations of Sri Ram Navami. The naming of localities as Ayodhya, Lanka etc., in Vizianagaram was owing to his desire to emulate the incarnation of God Almighty as Rama. It would scarcely be an exaggeration to say that the Maharajah wanted to take Vizianagaram to the heights of that centre of learning, Banaras. In all these efforts he was ably assisted by his famous minister Penumatsa Jagannadha Raju. This was the background against which Maharajah Ananda Gajapati came to power in 1879 after the demise of his father, Maharajah Vijayarama Gajapati.
Continued to "Noble Scion of a Noble House"