Dewan Bahadur Dr. Kilambi Ramanujachari, M.A., B.L., F.M.U. was born in 1852 in an orthodox Sri Vaishnavite family in Pentapadu Agraharam, Tadepallegudem, West Godavari District, now in the State of Andhra Pradesh. When Kilambi Ramanujachari was yet in his mother’s womb, she constantly and ardently prayed to God, as her first two sons Raghavachari and Srinivasachari died early in their infancy. Lord Rama appeared in the anxious mother’s dreams, and asked her why was she was praying to Him constantly. She asked for ‘ayush’ or longevity for the incubating child. Lord Rama assured her of the grant of her wish. Soon thereafter Kilambi Ramanujachari was born and was reverentially also called Ramavataram.
Kilambi Ramanujachari grew up in the family homestead in Pentapadu Agraharam where ancestral agrarian lands provided moderate subsistence. He performed austere penances including the daily recitation of Sri Hayagriva Mantras standing in chest high waters at about 4 a.m. The young boy was extremely precocious in learning and had mastered various texts in Sanskrit and studied the epics Ramayana and Mahabharatam and various literary works including those of Kalidasa. His mastery of the Sanskrit language and the emergence of enormous intellectual powers created an insatiable urge to learn more.
Young Kilambi Ramanujachari learned of the Vizianagaram Rajahs’ interest in and encouragement of education. Vizianagaram was a prosperous samasthanam (kingdom) and was known as ‘Vidyulunagaram’ or the ‘town of intellectuals’. The famous Maharajah’s College in Vizianagaram was one of the earliest institutions of higher learning in the areas now under the State of Andhra Pradesh. Kilambi Ramanujachari planned to go to Vizianagaram to seek audience of the Maharajahs, and solicit their assistance for further education. With great reluctance, the anxious parents gave their sixteen year old son permission for the long journeys ahead.
Kilambi Ramanujachari arrived in Vizianagaram and sought the audience of the Maharajah. H. R. H. Vijayanandagajapathi was on the throne, and his young and illustrious son, ‘Prince Charming’ H. R. H. Anandagajapathi was already well known for his enthusiasm and accomplishments in learning, sports and the martial arts taught to young princes of the time. The Maharajah learnt of the visit of Kilambi Ramanujachari and his desire to meet the Rajahs. Within a few days, the destined meeting of the young boy and the famous Rajahs took place and they were duly impressed with the brilliance of his personality, learning and intellectual powers.
Kilambi Ramanujachari agreed to perform an Ashtavadhanam and the delighted Rajahs ordered its organization at the earliest in the royal palace.
Ashtavadhanam is an intensive and exhausting test of intellectual capabilities and is organized on the following lines:
Eight learned persons or pundits sit circling the candidate Ashtavadhani. The first pundit asks difficult questions in grammar, the second requires elaboration on key passages in literary classics, the third requests poems on specified topics, the fourth asks questions on general knowledge and history, the fifth tests knowledge of music, the sixth demands answers to questions in sciences, the seventh keeps ringing a bell and suddenly asks the candidate to declare how many times he had rung the bell (!) and the eighth pokes the candidate somewhere on his body and asks him to keep count of the number of times he had poked the candidate! This kind of examination would last about 3 hours and the candidate has to successfully satisfy each of the eight pundits continuously during the period. The Ashtavadhani would be completely exhausted and sweating profusely by the end of the test.
Kilambi Ramanujachari came through the Ashtavadhanam with flying colours and the Rajahs were duly impressed with the young boy’s genius. The young Prince, H.R.H. Anandagajapathi asked Kilambi Ramanujachari whether he could perform a Shathavadhanam. Kilambi Ramanujachari readily agreed.
Shathavadhanam was a rarity even in those days, and the Maharajah’s office made elaborate arrangements for it, inviting distinguished guests from far and wide to witness the event:
In a Shathavadhanam, one hundred pundits of Sanskrit sit in lines. The candidate Shathavadhani has to go up to the first pundit who would request the candidate to compose the first line of a quatrain on a specified subject, on completion of which the candidate moves to the second pundit for a similar exercise, and the third, fourth, ...., finally the hundredth, and repeats the cycle for the second line of the respective quatrain for each pundit, and cycles back again for the third and fourth lines of the respective quatrains. Each of the hundred quatrains is examined by the respective pundit for relevance to specified subject, grammar, quality and finally the pundit has to pronounce his verdict that the quatrain has been accepted. When all the quatrains are accepted, the candidate becomes a Shathavadhani.
Kilambi Ramanujachari was declared Shathavadhani and the Rajahs were as well delighted. They decided to sponsor the further studies of Kilambi Ramanujachari at the Madras University.
Accordingy, young Kilambi Ramanujachari arrived in Madras taking the boat from Visakhapatnam, subsisting on coconut water for the many days of the journey to preserve the acharam or orthodox food and personal discipline. He took up residence in Triplicane and after a year’s study he passed the S.S.L.C. Examinations. He joined the Presidency College and passed both the B.A. and M.A. Examinations. He enrolled at the Law College of Madras and passed the B.L. Examinations. He commenced his legal practice under Sir Norton, a British legal luminary practicing at the Madras High Court. Sir Norton was impressed with Kilambi Ramanujachari’s intellectual prowess and was keen to sponsor his brilliant junior to qualify as Barrister-at-Law in England. When Kilambi Ramanujachari wrote to the Maharajah of Vizianagaram about Sir Norton’s proposal, the Maharajah requested Kilambi Ramanujachari to return to Vizianagaram as the Maharajah foresaw important responsibilities for the young double graduate there.
Kilambi Ramanujachari returned to Vizianagaram, and was appointed as Vice-Principal of the Maharajah’s College on a salary of Rs. 500/- p.m. Kilambi Ramanujachari also attended the Royal Court and provided extensive legal counsel to the Maharajah. H.R.H. Anandagajapathi had ascended the Royal Throne. Young in years, and deeply interested in learning, poetry and fine arts, the young Maharajah found the company of Kilambi Ramanujachari invigorating and enlightening.
Within the next two years, Kilambi Ramanujachari was promoted as Principal of the Maharajah’s College on a salary of Rs. 1,000/- p.m. – a princely sum in those days! Under his able guidance, the College became a famous and revered institution of learning and was sought after by students from far and wide. His contributions to the field of education became well known. He served as a member of the Senate of Madras University. He founded the Sanskrit and Music Colleges in Vizianagaram and guided the establishment of the Sanskrit College in Madras. He encouraged many indigent students by personally paying their college fees.
When Kilambi Ramanujachari was about 30 years of age, and had begun construction of his large 2 acre house [named “Parkside Villa”] with a first floor [‘medah’ – a rarity in that part of the country in those days], he decided to marry. He met Alivellama, a girl of 11 years and he tested her by offering her a banana and observing how she ate it. If she had licked the peel also before throwing it away, she might have been judged as not generous! Generosity indeed was the golden quality Alivellamma demonstrated amply throughout her married life with Kilambi Ramanujachari whom she bore nine children. Daily about 100 persons including family members, guests and poor visitors were fed sumptuously at Kilambi Ramanujachari’s house.
Among Kilambi Ramanujachari’s children, the eldest, Prof. Rangachari, a brilliant mathematician, taught at the Calcutta University along with Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee. Later he returned to Vizianagaram to teach at the Maharajah’s College. His salary never reached home, being always given away the very day he received it, to students who needed to pay college registration or examination fees! He was a scholar of the Pali language. He authored a text on South Indian temples. The second son of Kilambi Ramanujachari was a brilliant advocate practicing at Visakhapatnam, but died prematurely at the age of 40. The third son Srinivasachari who qualified as a doctor, died at a young age of 28. The last son, Raghavachari who was born to Kilambi Ramanujachari when he was 62 yeas old, was a business manager and the father of the author of this article. Kilambi Ramanujachari also had five daughters who were well accomplished and the fourth, Alaka Rajeshwari was a talented veena player. One of Kilambi Ramanujachari’s grandchildren, Dr. Kilambi Ramavatharam achieved international renown as a physicist.
The twenty-fifth anniversary of his service as the Principal of the Maharajah’s College was celebrated with great enthusiasm. A muslin scroll with the following citation was presented to him:
RAO BAHADUR K. RAMANUJACHARI GARU
M.A., B.L., F.M.U.
Principal, Maharaja’s College,
On this happy occasion of the Celebration of the Silver Jubilee of your Principalship, we, the past and present Students and the Staff of the Maharajah’s College, rejoice to present to you this humble address congratulating you on this rare privilege you have enjoyed of presiding over this College for over a quarter of a century in a manner that has placed beyond doubt the capacity of Indians to hold such places of honour and responsibility.
The combination, in you, of eastern and western cultures, of a genuine love for the past and a keen sense of the large needs and the rich promise of the present, of character and culture, firmness and sympathy, has eminently fitted you to guide the education of successive generations of Indian youths.
Permit us to assure you, your example of severe simplicity, almost verging on austerity, has served as a lone star on a dark night to many a young man in steering clear of the shoals and sirens of life.
We believe that, at the present juncture in the evolution of progressive thought in our country, your learning of indigenous and foreign literatures and your experience as a Sanskrit Scholar who has received the broadening influences of western culture is bound to help the pupils of this College to form for themselves ideals that advance the best interests of our Country, and in so far as such training for our youths is worth more than book learning, we pray that Providence grant you life and energy to be a guide to us in the years to come.
We beg to remain,
Your loving students and sincere admirers,
The past and present students and the staff of the
MAHARAJA’S COLLEGE, VIZIANAGARAM.
15th February, 1913. “
Kilambi Ramanujachari was awarded the title of Dewan Bahadur by the British Government on June 3rd, 1918. He was conferred with the Doctorate in Literature by the Madras University and on that occasion, the students of the Maharajah’s College removed the horses of his carriage and drew it themselves through the streets of Vizianagaram in a spontaneous display of reverence and affection.
The Maharajah of Mysore [the richest kingdom in South India] had requested Kilambi Ramanujachari to become the Dewan of his Kingdom, but Kilambi Ramanujachari could never think of such an eventuality and remained ever loyal to his patrons, the Maharajahs of Vizianagaram. When the title of Mahamahopadyaya was to be conferred on him for his accomplishments in the Sanskrit language, he recommended in all humility that this award be given to other contemporaries to encourage them.
The Maharajah of Vizianagaram bestowed on Kilambi Ramanujachari large tracts of land and villages in recognition of his invaluable services to the Royal Kingdom of Vizianagaram, as well as to the country as a whole. Kilambi Ramanujachari declined to accept many of these gifts.
The Vamsavriksham or family-tree of the Kilambis shows that they were living in regions now part of the present State of Andhra Pradesh, over the last five hundred years, migrating from a village near Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu. They trace their origin directly to one Kilambi Asan, a devout disciple and contemporary of Sri Ramanuja, the famous Hindu philosopher-saint of South India.
This article was written by my father, V. Dilip Kumar.
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