When I first heard of Ponaka Kanakamma I couldn’t believe what I’ve heard. How is it possible for someone born and brought up in Nellore not to know about such a great lady who is possibly the first women freedom fighter from Nellore. I asked people of my age if they knew about her, none of them knew. I asked my father and a few of his age, most of them vaguely heard of her. It was only after I met an 80 year old man who met Kanakamma few times in his life, that I am writing about her. My guilt is subsided, now that I at least know someone who knew Kanakamma first hand.
Ponaka Kanakamma was born to Marupooru Konda Reddy and Kaamamma in Minagallu village in Nellore, on 10-June-1892. She hailed from a very rich landlord community. In 1913, she started ‘Sujana Ranjani Samajam’ in Potlapudi village, near Nellore. She worked for the upliftment of Harijans and poor. She became a devoted disciple of Mahatma Gandhi.
On 7-April-1921 Gandhiji inaugurated the ‘Pinakini Satyagraha Ashram‘ in Pallipadu village. Chaturuvedula Krishnaiah, Digumarti Hanumantu Rao and others founded the Ashram and Kanakamma donated 13 acres of land to establish the Ashram. She participated in the non-cooperation movement and Salt Satyagraha. She was imprisoned twice at Rayavellore. She hosted Bipin Chandra Pal during his visit to Nellore in 1907.
In 1923, she founded Sri Kasturidevi Vidyalayam, a school for girls in Nellore, as a part of Gandhiji’s constructive programme. Gandhiji laid the foundation stone for the permanent building in 1929. This sprawling Kasturidevi Vidyalam campus is about 23 acres. She was a member of AICC, and was also served as the vice-president of Andhra Congress committee.
She became a devotee of Ramana Maharshi and Ramayogi of Annareddy palem, after the death of her only daughater, M.Venkatasubbamma who was a writer and social worker. She founded the Jamin Ryot, a Telugu weekly at Nellore in support of Zameendari Raitu movement in Nellore district. She lost her property fighting for the causes she espoused.
She established an industrial training centre for under-privileged women. During her life, many eminent freedom fighters and poets visited her at Potlapudi. She received ‘Grulakshmi Swarnakankana’ sanmanam . In connection with the silver jubilee celebrations of Madras Mahila Sabha organisation, Smt. Durga Bhai Deshmukh honoured Kanakamma with a silver plank.
Ponaka Kanakamma died in Nellore, on 15-September-1963. In 2011, her auto-biography in Telugu by name “Kanakapushyaragam” was released by Dr.K.Purushotham.
Ponaka Kanakamma’s story will make any Nellore citizen proud and will continue to inspire future generations. I plan to visit Sri Kasturidevi Vidyalayam as my own little homage to her. I still have no idea as to how to make her known to the current and future generations.
Wikipedia article on Ponaka Kanakamma
– Nellore Lover