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Vemana – Life Story – Basic Teachings

Saint-poet Vemana, or Vemanna, enriched Telugu literature with his poems which are loaded with morals, aphorisms, maxims, dicta, satires, adages and precepts expressed in simple, chaste, and crisp language embellished with similes and metaphors. It is believed that Vemana lived during the 17th century. There is no opinion regarding birth year of the poet. He hailed from Kadapa or Kurnool districts of Andhra Pradesh.

Vemana – Life Story – Basic Teachings

Vemana Life Story

Vemana belonged to a poor agricultural family; he lost his mother in childhood and was brought up by his stepmother who treated him harshly. He did not have any formal education. He led a wayward life initially but was expected to improve after marriage. But his experience both as a farmer and as the head of a family made him bitter and he left his family and wandered from place to place.

Vemana was not a great scholar but he knew stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. He knew the language of common people and their problems. About 3000 verses are attributed to him; there are many contradictory statements in these. It may be that some are later additions; it is also possible that he changed his views about society in the course of his life.

Basic Teachings Of Vemana

The mortal earnestness of his basic ideas is remarkable. He declared that Vedas are not divine origin and that they are not infallible guides for a good life. Puranas are much worse according to him. Idol worship and belief in priests and their rituals, pilgrimages to sacred rivers and temples are utterly foolish, he claimed. Truth and non-violence are the fundamental ideals for a happy life. He claimed that God is not outside man but inside him. One must try to look inwards to find the truth.

Vemana denounced the caste system and untouchability. Work is the highest form of worship according to him. He asks the rich to be liberal to the poor. In extreme cases, he even advocates plundering the rich to help the poor.

Vemana believed that the world itself was an illusion and that we cannot get happiness until we get away from that illusion. He believed in the path of knowledge, as opposed to temple worship and yogic practices. He did not believe in the efficacy of rituals involving bloodshed.

Vemana is considered “the prince” of Shataka writers (collection of a hundred verses is called shataka). He wrote hundreds of verses of ethical and didactic value in a desi meter (local meter) called ataveladi, which are popular among the Telugu people. The poems are written in direct and simple style, and are very popular even now.

C.P. Brown (1778 – 1884) guided Telugu scholars to edit and publish Vemana’s Shatakam in 1829 AD with his own translation into English. It is considered an excellent contribution to Telugu literature.

Vemana was essentially a reformist — philosopher poet, always on the move. He is called a 'Yogi'. He disliked evils and superstitions of all forms in the society and derided them in his poems, while suggesting remedies.

Source –

  • A comparative study of Kabir and Vemana as social reformers (1992) Dr Y.V.S.S.N Murthy – Pragati Prakasan Chennai.
  • Vemana (1969) V.R Narla – Sahitya Akademi New Delhi
  • Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume XI page 293 – Rupa IHRF