Free Ebook – Creators of Telugu epic literature

My friends and readers are aware of my love for Telugu literature. Prompted by the ebook carnival hosted by Theblogchatter, I put together a collection of my older blog posts on historical Telugu poets into an ebooklet.

Do please download the ebook Creators of Telugu epic literature. It is also featured in the above Ebook carnival.

 

Telugu Epic poets

Ebook Cover design

 

It is an ongoing work and I hope to cover more Telugu poets and composers in future. Please feel free to leave me suggestions and comments below.

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Of Asuras and alternate readings

First published on Myindmakers in February 2016

A big addict to old Telugu puranic films, I remember this film Bhookailas vividly. It had the story of Ravana Brahma’s attempts to acquire the Atmalingam of Lord Shiva. In the popular lore, Ravana is the antagonist. But this movie had him as the protagonist. I can’t help sharing one of my favorite songs from the film – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7voWulyF2mc

The scholar that he is, Ravana does deserve his share of tales and movies as a protagonist (especially when it is Sr NTR donning the role with Sri Ghantasala singing for him, the combination is deadly! :-)). Coming back to the point of the reverential attitude towards the titans in our Puranic lore.

Asuras fundamentally are not ‘hated’ in the Hindu Puranic lore like the ‘evil’ is despised in the Abrahamic lore. Rather, they stand as examples for the pinnacle of human achievement when it comes to Tapasya. They also exemplify scholarship.  They are ambitious just like many of the Kings revered in the lore (Like Bharata, Sagara and others too have undertaken conquests). They upheld the knowledge of Vedas. The conversation between Hiranyakashipu and Prahlada in Andhra MahaBhagavatam is a proof.

దువనివాఁ డజ్ఞుం డగు
దివిన సదసద్వివేక తురత గలుగుం
దువఁగ వలయును జనులకుఁ
దివించెద నార్యులొద్ధఁ దువుము తండ్రీ!

The one who does not pursue knowledge remains ignorant. The one who studies can acquire the ability and discretion to identify the ‘sat’ and ‘asat’.  To the one born as a human being, the pursuit of knowledge is a must. This is why I shall send you to study under the tutelage of Aryas (the noble scholars). Study well, my son.

Forget the demonic side of Hiranyakashipu, How many among today’s fathers tell their children that the aim of education is to acquire the discretion to deparate truth and untruth?

After the schooling, here is what Hiranyakashipu asks Prahlada

త్సాహ ప్రభుమంత్రశక్తి యుతమే యుద్యోగ? మారూఢ సం
విత్సంపన్నుఁడ వైతివే? చదివితే వేదంబులున్ శాస్త్రముల్?
త్సా రమ్మని చేరఁ జీరి కొడుకున్ వాత్సల్య సంపూర్ణుఁ డై
యుత్సంగాగ్రముఁ జేర్చి దానవవిభుం డుత్కంఠ దీపింపగన్

Filled with eagerness and joy about his son’s education, Hiranyakashipu welcomed Prahlada. Seated the boy on his lap, he asked, “Did your pursuit of Vidya encompass the Kshatra (warriorly) skills and endow you with the requisite  capability? Did you also pursue the path of knowledge? Did you complete the study of Vedas and Shastras?”

In response, Prahlada cites his devotion to Vishnu and we all know the story after that. But one of Prahlada’s noteworthy responses is about what his studies encompassed.

దివించిరి నను గురువులు
దివితి ధర్మార్థ ముఖ్య శాస్త్రంబులు నేఁ
దివినవి గలవు పెక్కులు
దువులలో మర్మ మెల్లఁ దివితిఁ దండ్రీ!

As the teachers taught me, Father, I studied the Shastras like Dharma and Artha and much much more. I studied the various books and also realized the essence of all that I studied.

Those of us looking down upon Asuras will have a lot to learn from the conversation about their passionate pursuit of Vedic knowledge and patronage of scholars who were well versed in these studies. This also counters the half-baked claims about Asuras being a race different from Aryas and that they denounced the Vedic system. Ravana’s compositions perhaps are another example.

But barring the exceptions like Prahlada, the Asuras drifted. Many of them who acquired powers of invincibility, lacked the discretion of using those powers. Some of them gave into temptations that made them lose discretion. Most of them asked for their destruction by violently stopping the offering of the havis by the Rishis to Suras (or Adityas headed by Indra). In a way, they interfered with the religious freedom of the Rishis, sometimes resorting to violence and even rape. (Wasn’t the whole scholarship and the power of Tapasya coming to a zilch here?).

This formidable combination of merit of Tapasya and antagonizing attitude often united the world against the Asuras and required the Supreme forces to manifest in order to eliminate them. To their credit, each of the Asuras has been instrumental in adding a deity to our Hindu pantheon. Tarakasura forced the reunion of Shiva with Shakti resulting in the birth of Kumara. Ravana forced Vishnu to manifest as an ordinary human being and the devas as Vanaras. Hiranyakashipu’s merit went ahead making Vishnu alter the manifestation to become Nara-Hari. Each of them disrupted the universal balance causing the universal forces to synthesize a counterbalancing force. The scholar Bhagavandas in his work, Krishna, A study in the theory of Avatars calls the disrupting forces as Prati-Narayanas who cause the manifestation of Narayana.

Those sympathizing with Asuras would be doing a great disservice, not to others but to themselves by ignoring this repeated lesson from the history. Revere their knowledge and celebrate their contribution like the Shiva tandava stotra of Ravana is sung today in almost all the Shiva temples and in popular media. Also, revere the valuable lessons that they left us (they did so at a high cost and we better respect that).

The patrons of ‘alternate readings’ better keep that in mind before propagating baseless theories about Rama being an invader and Devi Durga being a prostitute. Apart from being useless, such ill-intentioned theories only serve to cause animosity and don’t really add value to any knowledge system. There is no such thing as blasphemy in the Hindu eco system. Only point to note is that this universe can very well do this job of repeating the lesson with ease when the spirit of harmonious coexistence is threatened. As someone quoted, “Nothing in this world can do the job of repeating itself as history does.”

उत्तिष्ठत जाग्रत प्राप्य वरान्निबोधत। क्षुरस्य धारा निशिता दुरत्यया दुर्गं पथस्तत्कवयो वदन्ति ॥ – कठोपनिषत् १।३।१४

My first novel Abhaya, live on Kindle Store

It is a memorable moment when your first novel goes live. Abhaya and the world she lived in were in my thoughts constantly all through in the last five years and it gave me a surge of mixed feelings when I let the book go out into the market. It was a feeling akin to seeing your child go to school on her own!

Front-Nov25

Sangeeta Bahadur, author of Kaal Trilogy had some gracious words to share about Abhaya :

“An excitingly different take on one of the myriad legends celebrating the light vs darkness matrix that defines Diwali. The sparkling narration adds new facets to the compelling tale of the killing of the demon, Narakasur”

Reviews are pouring in as the book is gathering its initial traction. I am happy with my decision to go indie with publishing it on Kindle. A pleasant surprise that Kindle threw on the very second day was by listing it as the second best selling among the fantasy novels on Kindle Store!

Abhaya Sales rank

Hope you all find the book as exciting as some of the initial readers are finding it. Here is the brief :

An assertive and idealistic Princess Abhaya meets the enigmatic Krishna Vaasudeva. A bereaved Dhatri, hounded by her own family is saved by Lord Bhauma. When subverted religion becomes a tool in the hands of power thirsty and strikes Bharatavarsha, the land of Aryas, Abhaya finds herself face to face with the impending doom.

“Can we combat the fear with faith? Can we keep our faith undeterred when the last traces of hope melt away? Can we receive blame and adulation, accept them and yet not give in to them?”

The book is available exclusively on Kindle Store . Do please check out and let me know your honest reviews. Looking forward for the rich learning that would follow this immensely fulfilling journey.

 

The Oneness of Hari-Hara in Telugu Bhagavatam

First published on Myind Makers in October 2015

Harihara-abheda or Harihara-advaita, the non-duality of Shiva and Vishnu was an intellectual movement in the Telugu literary sphere led by Tikkanna Somayaji (13th Century CE), one of the poet-trinity who composed Andhra Mahabharatamu. Though the concept of the oneness of Hari and Hara did exist in the older scriptures, the contemporary conditions warranted its revival as a movement. I have blogged about what led Tikkanna Somayaji to found the movement here. This article will dwell upon how the movement influenced Bammera Pothanamatya, the composer of Andhra Mahabhagavatamu. 

Pothana, is a 14th Century poet who hailed from the village Bammera (in the current day Warangal district of Telangana). He had the distinction of being a Sahaja Kavi, the one who got to imbibe the skill of poetry by his own nature. He is credited to have composed the Bhagavata in Telugu.  This Andhra Mahabhagavatamu is a work of epic proportions containing over 9000 poems and prose, largely following the content of the Sanskrit version. Can a text that is assumed to be proclaiming the supremacy of Lord Vishnu, provide the concept of oneness of these two prime deities Shiva and Vishnu? The composer of Sanskrit Bhagavatam would not have faced this intrigue as the Puranic age provided a platform to each of the faiths to proclaim supremacy of different deities and yet co-exist harmoniously. The early medieval India and the later medieval India, sadly had lost the harmony of the Puranic age. After a deep introspection, one can realize that it is the power mongering feudal elements carrying the religion badge that caused this unrest (and not the other way round, as some historians would want us to believe).

 

Bammera Pothana provided an interesting example of this concept of unity. His was a family that adhered to Veera Shaiva religion. But his chosen deity or Ishta Daiva was Sri Rama to whom he dedicated the Andhra Mahabhagavatamu. Sri V Sambasiva Rao, in the preface of his venture digitizing the text, says that Andhra Mahabhagavatamu is the first regional version of the Bhagavata.

The very second poem of this text is a soul filled adulation to Lord Shiva.

వాలిన భక్తి మ్రొక్కెద నవారిత తాండవ కేళికిన్, దయా
శాలికి, శూలికిన్, శిఖరిజా ముఖ పద్మ మయూఖ మాలికిన్,
బాల శశాంక మౌళికిఁ, గపాలికి, మన్మథ గర్వ పర్వతో
న్మూలికి, నారదాది మునిముఖ్య మనస్సరసీరుహాలికిన్

 I bow down with utmost devotion, to the one who delights in uninterrupted Tandava, the one with compassion, the one wielding the trident, the one who is the ‘Sun’ that makes the ‘lotus’, that is the face of Parvati bloom, the one who wears the crescent on his head, the one with a garland of skulls, the one who uprooted the pride of Manmatha and the one who resides in the minds of Munis headed by Narada.

Wasn’t Narada counted among the foremost devotees of Vishnu? But Pothana chooses to mention him in a poem on Shiva. May be that is the true devotion which would enable one to see the oneness. Narada was capable of that and so was Pothana! But the usage is worth noticing and contemplating on. Going to the poetical extremes of this unity, he also says

చేతులారంగ శివునిఁ బూజింపఁడేని,
నోరు నొవ్వంగ హరికీర్తి నుడువఁడేని,
దయయు సత్యంబు లోనుగాఁ దలఁపఁడేనిఁ, 
గలుగ నేటికిఁ దల్లుల కడుపుఁ జేటు.

The one who does not worship Shiva and praise Hari or does not imbibe the qualities of compassion and truthfulness, should such people be born at all, just to remain as a curse of their mothers’ wombs?

If the whole purpose of devotion is to imbibe compassion, then what is the use of a religion that shuns compassion? One can remember the verse of Bhagavad Geeta where Lord Krishna says that those devotees are dear to him who sees every creature in this universe with Maitri and Karuna. We encounter another heart-warming example in the 10th Skanda of the epic, where Lord Krishna is described as a toddler. The Sanskrit Bhagavatam in the same juncture, describes Shiva’s visit to have the Darshan of the delightful toddler god. Pothana, however departs from the episode and presents a poem visualizing the oneness between the two deities.

నువున నంటిన రణీపరాగంబుపూసిన నెఱిభూతి పూఁ గాఁగ;
ముందల వెలుగొందు ముక్తాలలామంబుతొగలసంగడికాని తునుక గాఁగ;
ఫాలభాగంబుపైఁ రగు కావిరిబొట్టుకాముని గెల్చిన న్ను గాఁగఁ;
గంఠమాలికలోని ననీల రత్నంబుమనీయ మగు మెడప్పు గాఁగ;

హారవల్లు లురగహారవల్లులు గాఁగ;
బాలలీలఁ బ్రౌఢబాలకుండు
శివుని పగిది నొప్పె శివునికిఁ దనకును
వేఱులేమిఁ దెలుప వెలయునట్లు.

The mud smeared on the child (Krishna) was, but the cover of ash of Shiva. The string of pearls which kept his lustrous curls in place was, but the crescent that adorned Shiva’s head. The mark of musk on Krishna’s forehead was, but the very third eye that won over Kama. The sapphire studded neck jewel of Krishna was, but the serpents that adorned Shiva. Thus the all-knowing child in his games manifested as the very Shiva himself, to proclaim that the Hari and Hara are one and the same!

I shall have to end the article with an admission that I haven’t yet read the full text of unabridged Bhagavatam in Telugu. My knowledge of the few verses is the legacy given to me by my parents and grandparents whose post dinner routine included a light minded recitation of poems that made a mark in my mind.  

References: Those interested to read the full text in Telugu can refer to this site –http://telugubhagavatam.org/

Gajendra Moksham – When the God rushed to the rescue

This is in continuation to the last Sunday’s post on Gajendra’s Prayer

The best part of the episode of Gajendra in my view is not the prayer itself, but the response to the prayer by Lord Vishnu. At that time as Pothanamatya describes in a descriptive poem about what Lord Vishnu was immersed in,

అల వైకుంఠపురంబులో నగరిలో నా మూల సౌధంబు దా
పల మందారవనాంతరామృత సరః ప్రాంతేందు కాంతోపలో
త్పల పర్యంక రమావినోది యగు నాపన్నప్రసన్నుండు వి
హ్వల నాగేంద్రము పాహిపాహి యనఁ గుయ్యాలించి సంరంభియై

Vishnu was delighting in the company of Rama (Lakshmi) in the gardens of the principal mansion of the city of Vaikuntha, beside a lake of nectar on a bed of flowers. This was when he heard the pleas of Gajendra. Pothanamatya uses the adjective Apanna-prasanna (The one who can delight those in distress) and ends the poem indicating his sense of urgency with the word Samrambhi (One filled with extreme eagerness)

His response to the prayer is filled with an urgency to save the one calling out to him. Here, Pothanamatya unleashes his narrative best, slightly departing from Vyasa’s narrative in the Samskrita Bhagavatam.

సిరికిం జెప్పఁడు; శంఖ చక్ర యుగముం జేదోయి సంధింపఁ; డే
పరివారంబునుఁ జీరఁ” డభ్రగపతిం బన్నింపఁ” డాకర్ణికాం
తర ధమ్మిల్లముఁ జక్క నొత్తఁడు; వివాదప్రోత్థితశ్రీకుచో
పరిచేలాంచలమైన వీడఁడు గజప్రాణావనోత్సాహియై.

In his eagerness to save the elephant, He does not stop to tell Sri (Lakshmi, about Gajendra’s plight) He does not even take up his Shankha and Chakra, He does not call out to his retinue, nor does he summon his vehicle, Garuda, He does not even stop to set right his hair which had fallen over his ears He does not even leave the garment of Lakshmi which he had caught in the middle of a romantic interaction, thus forcing her to follow him.

తనవెంటన్ సిరి; లచ్చివెంట నవరోధవ్రాతమున్; దాని వె
న్కనుఁ బక్షీంద్రుఁడు; వాని పొంతను ధనుఃకౌమోదకీ శంఖ చ
క్రనికాయంబును; నారదుండు; ధ్వజినీకాంతుండు రా వచ్చి రొ
య్యన వైకుంఠపురంబునం గలుగువా రాబాలగోపాలమున్.

This alarming way of his leaving Vaikuntha leaves everyone unsettled and they all follow him with Lakshmi only speculating what could have caused her spouse to leave in the middle of their union, as she hurried along with him. The women folk attending to her follow the couple. Garuda hurries to his side and his weapons, the Shankha, the chakra and the Gada follow him to be available at his invocation. Behind them Narada and Vishvaksena followed. An unprecedented spectacle of an exodus of the whole Vaikuntha with none of them knowing about the reason!

Thus the Supreme Lord makes every cosmic being follow him only to find that the cause of all the disturbance were an elephant and a crocodile!

One can’t help admiring the style of Pothanamatya for striving to show how the Supreme Lord is deserving of the prayers of Gajendra and not the other way round! In literary magnitude, Vishnu’s response, his rushing to the Trikuta Lake and his act of saving Gajendra took almost equal number of verses as the prayer of Gajendra itself! The heartening highlight of the episode of Gajendra is the God’s eagerness matching with that of his devotee, thus hinting the inseparable relationship between both.

The literary lovers of Telugu can also observe that the chandassu used by Potanamatya for these poems is called Mattebhamu (literally translating to an ‘intoxicated elephant’), suiting the context beautifully. This was pointed out by @Vamsee9002 in one of our #Kavitvamu twitter chats.

Gajendra Moksham as an episode made its presence felt in popular folklore and in the lives of philosophers and reformers.

As an anecdote goes, a humorous conversation is believed to have happened between the Mughal emperor, Akbar and his favourite minister Birbal regarding this episode of Bhagavata. Akbar laughed at the urgency shown by Vishnu saying the God could have easily sent one of his guard, servants or his weapons to kill the reptile. Akbar found it laughable that the Supreme Lord rushes in such a (almost embarrassing) manner to save a mere elephant from a mere crocodile.

Birbal responded after a while by throwing a heavy stone into the Yamuna and spreading the scare that the emperor’s only son had fallen into the river. A distraught Akbar is believed to have rushed and jumped into the river to save his child from Yamuna’s currents. After he was pulled to safety, Birbal puts the emperor’s question back to him that Akbar could have ordered any of his guards who were better swimmers. Akbar then is said to have realized the intensity of compassion and love Lord Vishnu bore towards his devotees as something similar to that of a caring parent and not that of a powerful ruler.

It is also widely believed that Bharat Ratna. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya chanted Gajendra Moksham as he was immersed in the challenging project of building the famed Benares Hindu University.

My introduction to Gajendra moksham began as a bed time tale from my grandparents and my interest increased by my parents reading out the verses of Bhagavatam. One can’t help appreciating the magnetic effect Bhakti can have whether or not one chooses to tread the path.

I had earlier written about Pothana here.

For the full Telugu version of Vishnu’s arrival, please refer here.

My last post had also got an interesting suggestion from a friend about studying the social and cultural fabric that influenced this 13th Century version of Bhagavatam. A bit of pondering led me to a new discovery. Shall write more about it as time permits.

Gajendra Moksham – The roller-coaster ride of Bhakti in the Supreme

Gajendra Moksham or “Liberation of the King of elephants” is an episode in the Eighth Chapter of Bhagavata Purana believed to be composed by Vyasa and narrated by Shuka to Parikshit. The story revolves around the struggle of Gajendra, the elephant against a crocodile in a lake at the foot of Trikuta range. My reference for the current post however is Andhra Maha Bhagavatam by Bammera Pothana, a close translation of Vyasa’s Srimad Bhagavatam.

The crocodile tries to drag the elephant king into deeper waters when Gajendra is engrossed in playful bathing along with his consorts. The detail with which Pothana (assumedly Vyasa too) describe the environment of Trikuta and the lake which subsequently turns into a battle field is noteworthy. The episode is believed to symbolize the struggle of a human between materialistic indulgence and spiritual pursuit. The battle between the two as the author describes goes on for a thousand years in which the crocodile gains over the elephant. Gajendra, at the end of his wit, will and strength turns to pray to the Supreme spirit.

The prayer of Gajendra has many interesting aspects to observe, mainly its tone which transits from a philosophical and scholarly beginning to a pleading tone at the end. The prayer begins with Gajendra invoking the Supreme Spirit who is the reason behind the emergence, sustenance and collapse of the universe himself being beyond the cycle of birth and death and the one who is the cause of his own existence.

Gajendra then compares the Supreme Lord to that of an actor who plays different roles and is yet unaffected by the nature of those roles. The Supreme spirit while described to be having many forms is still beyond the physical constraints of those forms. The Supreme spirit is also extolled as the one whose level of purity is unattainable by any thought, word and deed. He is beyond the Gunas, names, forms, actions, creation and deluge.

The next part of the prayer tends to elaborate more on the compassion of the Supreme Lord (Gajendra needs that more than anything!) with attributes like Dayasindhu (Sea of compassion), Soumya (gentleness personified), Dukhanta Kriti (One adept at ending miseries) and still balances with attributes related to detachment, knowledge and being beyond sensory constraints.

The prayer then goes on to elucidate the various kinds of people who are favoured by the supreme spirit. Gajendra describes them as being free of materialistic desire and as seeking the truth and as those who have surrendered themselves to the Supreme Spirit. The Supreme Spirit though described largely with male characteristics is then acknowledged as someone who is beyond the three genders (Male, Female and Transgender).

The Human psyche that doubts its own faith is acknowledged by Pothana (Assumedly by Vyasa) in this turn of the prayer. Here Gajendra who is now tired of extolling even doubts the existence of the Supreme spirits. The loose translations of those doubtful prayers are given below.

He who is described as present in those who pray for his grace and the great Yogis, in all directions and everywhere, does he exist at all?

Why doesn’t he come to my rescue, the one who is famed to protect the oppressed from the hands of oppressors, why doesn’t he listen to me? He being the one who protects his refugees without qualifying their merits and demerits, why does he heed my call of distress?

To a keen reader, the increasing desperation in each verse becomes evident in this second half of the prayer. Before the prayer, Gajendra is described as the one who is the lord of the most exalted species of elephants (Bhadra Gajas) and as someone who supported the sustenance of multiple trees by his constant watering and as the one who sported with tens of thousands of female elephants. (Quite some reasons to feel arrogant and egoistic, right?) He is the King who cannot be seen as rescued by any lesser being than the Supreme spirit himself! The distress of Gajendra towards the end can melt even the agnostic readers where he says his strength, every ounce of it is spent, his courage is exhausted, his vitality is slipping fast and he is near fainting as his body is collapsing. At this stage of helplessness, Gajendra says he knows nobody but the Supreme Spirit and only that spirit can protect him.

The swing of tone between extreme surrender and doubt intensifies when Gajendra again says he is now doubtful of that compassionate being who can listen to every being in the universe, who can move even among the inaccessible spaces, who is a witness to every event and who rushes to help those seeking refuge. One can observe the striking similarity with one’s own experiences where one’s faith passed through a similar roller coaster ride.

In the next Post, I shall write about the response of Vishnu to this call and it is more exciting!

For a verse by verse reference of Gajendra’s prayer in Telugu, refer here