Dokka Seethamma: The Hindu Saint Who Dedicated Her Life To Feeding The Poor
Have you heard that the way to divinity is via the altruistic feeding of the hungry and underprivileged? India’s Dokka Seethamma (1841–1909) lived out this credo for decades through ‘anna daanam‘ (feeding the poor).
Inspiring anecdotes about the legendary philanthropist’s life are told in reverence in India.
Dokka Seethamma was born in Mandapaka, East Godavari District, to a well-to-do Brahmin family. Her father, Bhavani Sankar, was known as “Buvanna Sastry” because he fed the needy. Seethamma inherited this great trait from her father and faithfully followed in his footsteps until her death. Her devoted husband, Dokka Venkata Joganna, unwavering support also enabled her to continue her charitable activities even after his death.
The British government recognised Seethamma’s charitable work. King Edward VII invited her, along with other Indian guests, to his anniversary celebration. He ordered the Madras chief secretary to honourably transport her to Delhi, but Seethamma graciously rejected it. She said that she was not volunteering her services for publicity. As a result, the Madras chief secretary presented King Edward with a photograph of her. The King enlarged the picture and placed it on the chair where she was to sit during the festivities.
When Dokka Seethamma reached old age, she gave away all her possessions to the poor and needy and set out for Varanasi in a hired bullock cart. An excellent tale demonstrates Seethamma’s commitment to feeding people. She had given away all of her goods when she learned that a family was on their way to ask for meals. She swiftly turned around and made a meal with begged ingredients.
In 2000, Seethamma statue was revealed, and an aqueduct named after her was built on Vynateya, a tributary of the river Godavari. Dokka Seethamma was also honoured with the title of Apara Annapurna, a reincarnation of the Goddess Annapurna (the Goddess of food).