Srimati Dokka Seethamma exemplified the Hindu philosophy of annadaan and made it her mission to feed hungry travelers as well as the poor. She was a philanthropist who was believed to be an incarnation of Maa Annapoorna in some of the villages in Andhra Pradesh where people continue to worship her to this day as a Hindu saint (Apara Annapoorna). She was a devout Hindu and a bhakt of Bhagwan Shiva and Maa Shakti. She regularly visited temples and performed puja, Abhishek, and offered flowers to the holy Shivlinga.
Seethamma was born in 1841 into a well-to-do Brahmin family in the East Godavari District’s Mandapaka (Mandapeta) to Narasamma and Anupindi Bhavani Shankar. Seethamma inherited the noble trait of annadaan from her father who had earned the nickname Buvvanna Sastry for feeding the poor. She unswervingly tread on the path shown by her father after having lost her mother at a young age.
Seethamma got married to Dokka Venkata Joganna, a rich farmer, whose unflinching support further helped her continue to do her charity work even after his demise. She carried out this service of feeding the hungry for more than four decades till she breathed her last in 1909. She herself cooked and served food to people who accepted it as a divine prasad. Anyone who was hungry could knock on her door at any time of the day or night and she would prepare and serve them food without hesitation. It is also said that many of those who consumed food cooked by her were relieved of health issues.
She served the people in the true spirit of charity turning down the invite to attend the royal function celebrating his anniversary by King Edward VII as she wanted to focus on her service to people. The king had even ordered the Chief Secretary of then Madras to bring Seethamma to Delhi but when she declined the invitation, saying she wasn’t providing her services for publicity, the secretary gave Seethamma’s photograph to King Edward that was enlarged and placed on the chair designated for her.
When she turned old, she donated all her wealth to the poor and needy and headed to Varanasi in a hired bullock cart. There’s an interesting anecdote that shows Seethamma’s dedication to feeding people. Having given away all her possessions, she cooked a meal with begged ingredients after she came to know that a family was on their way to ask for food.
Former Lok Sabha Speaker GMC Bala Yogi got an opportunity to view the portrait of Dokka Seethamma with the caption ‘the most charitable woman of South India’ in the royal palace during his visit to London. On his return to Bharat, he enquired about her heirs in 1999 at Amalapuram. Subsequently, her statue was unveiled and an aqueduct was named after her on Vynateya, a tributary to the Godavari.
The East Godavari District Numismatic and Philatelic Association issued a special postal cover in honor of Srimati Dokka Seethamma.
Such dedicated souls rooted in Dharma, unfortunately, find no place in Bharat’s school curriculum. It is high time the works of the likes of Seethamma are taught in schools so as to inspire future generations and imbibe the spirit of service in them along with Dharmic values.
(Featured Image Source: Wikipedia)