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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Short story – Behind every successful woman is a…

The car halted for the fifteenth time barely covering a kilometre in the last forty minutes. At five in the evening, this was not unusual on the Road #1, Banjara Hills. Rukmini sighed stretching against her seat, glancing at her husband on the wheel. If there was an award for showing patience in Hyderabad traffic, Vasu would have been a permanent recipient. She smiled and lay a hand over his, perched on the hand gear. No amount of traffic would ruin her mood today. Winning the gold medal at the state level Kuchipudi solo competition had been a dream she had nurtured for years. The age limit for the participation was 25 and three months down the line, she would cross the age limit. This had been Rukmini’s last chance at the competition and to her delight and that of her family’s she had done it.

Bhaamane…. Satyabhaamane… The phone rang. Rukmini answered it reminding herself to change the ring tone. It was her mother’s favourite song and the very song to which she had performed in the finale of the competitions and won the award. But now, she did yearn for a break from the monotony as the song had totally occupied her life in the last couple of months.

“Amma!” Rukmini chirped. “Yes, we are on the way to Ravindra Bharati Auditorium for the prize distribution.”

“Wish I were there Ammulu.” Her mother’s voice sounded forlorn. “Aren’t they streaming it on any Youtube Channel?”

“One month in the US and you have developed way too high expectations.” Rukmini chuckled. “I’ll try and get a recording Amma. How is Vishva doing? Katya is due in the next month no?”

The conversation continued about her sister in law who was expecting. Meanwhile, the traffic on the road showed no mercy. Rukmini felt thankful to Vasu for insisting that they start early enough so that the delay does not make them late for the event. She was about to hang up when her mother suddenly asked. “Rukku, did you share the news with Radha?”

“I put it up on Facebook no, Amma. She liked and commented on that.”

“You should have asked her to come to the function today.”

“How will Radha come with her baby Amma?” Rukmini retorted and immediately bit her lip hoping that the conversation would not go towards her having children now.

“At least tell her to restart dancing. I still remember how nicely you both used to dance…” the voice trailed away for a moment before her mother muttered a hasty goodbye citing a domestic excuse and hung up.

“Radha was your dance buddy in Vijayawada right?” Vasu asked.

“Hmmmm” Rukmini nodded. The traffic only seemed to worsen as they made their way towards the Dwaraka Circle. Ravindra Bharati was a couple of kilometres away from there. A facebook message popped up.

“Wow, think of the…” Rukmini exclaimed. Devil wasn’t the word she preferred to use for Radha. “Look what I found…” The message said followed by a couple of attachments. “Vasu! look at this! Radha sent me now!” Rukmini thrust the phone before him. Vasu’s smile became more pronounced seeing the picture. “You both were like 15-16 years old? That Krishna’s costume suited you.”

“Fourteen. In Std 9.” Rukmini replied looking lost in the memory. I remember as I behaved like a sore loser after this performance.

Vasu had an amused look and hauled his brows. “What did you do?”

“Well, typical adolescent jealousy. Radha’s mudras, poses and transition between varying rhythms, everything had finesse. She was a natural. You know, Amma was almost like her fan. And I was a bit tired of the constant comparison. This was one performance where I snapped.”

“Were you both performing Madhura Nagarilo?”

Rukmini nodded. Her glance hovered aimlessly fighting the sharp surge of embarrassment. “She played the role of Radha and there was this viewer who commented that the Radha commanded the stage so well that the Krishna seemed totally redundant. I snapped. Swore to my mother that as long as Radha dances, I am not even going to wear anklets, leave along dancing.”

Vasu’s surprise was palpable. So was some relief realizing that the girl he married seemed a far less fierce version of what she used to be. “And Amma listened to you?”

“Come on! It is Amma and her dream of seeing me become an accomplished dancer. She won eventually.”

“So Radha stopped dancing?” Vasu’s gaze showed that he fervently hoped that the turn of events was not as melodramatic as he feared.

“Friendship is stronger than jealousy, boss. We patched up soon after.”Rukmini laughed. But after that, we shifted to Hyderabad. The Senior Secondary School pressure gave me the welcome break from dance. But thanks to Amma’s ceaseless efforts, I rediscovered my passion for dancing, free of competitive pressures. So here I am.

Sadly, fate had different plans for Radha. Guess she achieved a pinnacle too early in life. Her arangetram at the age of nineteen ironically was her last major public performance.”

“What? Why?”

“Conservative family.” Rukmini sighed heavily with a slight shrug. Her parents did not realize the value of her talent. They married her to some US-returned guy when she was barely twenty-two and marriage sealed any possible opportunity of her return to dance.”

Either words failed him or the dense traffic commanded the bulk of his attention, Vasu remained quiet. Rukmini swallowed admitting to herself. Had Radha too taken part in this competition, she would never have won this prize.

bhamakalapam

(Picture Credit : Bhamakalapam from Kuchipudi Vaibhavam blog)

Sensing that they could not afford to feel sad just before Rukmini was to have her proud moments, Vasu reached out to the music player. Their car had a storage of discs full of old Telugu movie songs. Vasu was a huge fan of the yesteryear singer Ghantasala. Rukmini more or less shared his tastes. He blindly selected a disc and thrust it into the player.

Kaaru lo, Shikaarukelle Paala buggala pasiditaana

Bugga meeda gulaabi rangu ela vacheno cheppagalavaa

(O maiden enjoying the ride in your car,

can you say from where the rosy blush on your cheeks came?)

With an audible gasp, Vasu reached out to stop the song. Rukmini held his hand. “Let it play,” she chuckled. He gave in with a shrug. They had almost reached the venue. The song played on.

Ninnu minchina kannelandaru mandutendalo maadipothe

vaari buggala nikku neeku vachchi cherenu telusuko

(As the girls more deserving than you, suffer in the scorching sun,

the pink due on their cheeks found its way onto yours)


Rukmini held the mic close facing the audience, her other hand clutching to the prized trophy of the bronze Nataraja mounted on a wooden stand that bore her name with the title “Natya Mayuri.”

The screen behind her flashed selected scenes of her final round performance. She had indeed trained hard to give her best sequence of the complex jatis for the lines.

Bhaamane padiyaaru vela komalulandarilo, lalana, cheliya, maguva, sakhiya, Raamaro,

Gopaala devuni Premanu dochina Satya bhaamane Satya bhaamane

(I am that Bhama, who out of the sixteen thousand beautiful damsels,

managed to steal the heart of Gopala Deva, Mind you, I am Satyabhama).

The Video that carried the final sequence of Jatis earned a resounding rounding applause. The sound of claps tapered off as Rukmini cleared her throat to give a thank you speech. “Behind every successful woman,…. she paused and smiled before pointing her hand towards Vasu sitting in the first row, who for a moment became the centre of attention as the applause grew louder. Had he not taken care of the mundane chores in the last couple of months, believe me, I would not have been able to do that.

“Behind every successful woman, is a strong mother who believes in the potential of her child early in life. You all might not have believed. I had given up on dance, let alone giving performances, about a decade back and it was Amma who inspired and goaded me to test my limits and reach where I have come today.

“Behind every successful woman, are those scores of women who did not get the opportunity to be themselves. I remember a dear friend of mine who excelled me in every Kuchipudi performance we gave as children. Who knows if she had participated in these competitions, I might not have stood a chance. But…” Rukmini’s voice trailed and the audience waited for her to complete. Being the dancer she was, her expressions tended to be pronounced. Even more so as the feeling erupted from her heart. The scorn was palpable when she concluded. “Behind every successful Rukmini, there are those narrow-minded and conservative families which stopped their Radhas from having their due.”

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/

Andhra Mahabharatamu Part 3 : How The Epic Reached Completion

Last of my three post series on Andhra Mahabharatamu on https://pittagoda.wordpress.com/

Pittagoda

This is the last post in my three-piece series about Andhra Mahabharatamu and the three poets who contributed to this epic project that spanned almost to 3 centuries. The first two posts were on the contributions of Adikavi Nannayya and Tikkanna Somayaji.

With Tikkanna Somayaji’s marathon contribution, the Andhreekarana of Mahabharata was almost complete, except for the second half of the Aranya Parva left incomplete by Adi Kavi Nannayya.  Some scholars opine that a superstition was the reason that Tikkanna stayed away from this part. Others opine that the difference between the styles of both, made him put off writing the remnant chapter. For all we know, it might be the lack of inspiration! Knowing the reformer and the political mind Tikkanna is, it is highly unlikely that he would have given in to a superstition and left out the small part. About fifty years after Tikkanna, the remaining half…

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Andhra Mahabharatamu Part 2: How It Was Resumed After 200 Years

The second post of my three post series about Andhra Mahabharatamu on https://pittagoda.wordpress.com/ . Plan to do the concluding post in the next week

Pittagoda

This is in continuation to my last post on Andhra Mahabharatamu. This post will dwell on Kavibrahma Tikkanna Somayaji, who continued the Andhreekarana of Mahabharata, which was left incomplete with the death of Adikavi Nannayya.

Tikkanna Somayaji

Tikkana Picture source: Internet

Tikkanna Somayaji lived in the thirteenth century CE during the Kakatiya period. The socio-political conditions in which Nannayya and Tikkanna lived were totally different. Nannayya’s aim was to give an intellectual response, rooted in Vedic philosophy, to the Jain supremacist arguments put up by earlier poets.  However, Tikkana’s inspiration sprung from the divisions in society arising due to extremist elements of different faiths.

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Andhra Mahabharatamu Part 1: How It Laid The Foundation For Telugu Literature

My first post on a three part series of how Andhra Mahabharatamu came into existence. This also marks my debut on this wonderful Blog Portal https://pittagoda.wordpress.com/

Pittagoda

(Read Part 2 of this series here.)

Whenever the Vedic legacy faces a crisis, the fifth Veda, which is the Mahabharata, takes a new shape to redefine Dharma.

This is a loose translation of a statement made in the preface to the Andhra Mahabharatamu edition by Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD). The conditions that led to the composition of Andhra Mahabharatamu validate the quote. The Telugu version of the epic Mahabharata has a unique distinction of being composed by not one, but three poets belonging to three different generations. It took close to 300 years for this book to reach completion. These three poets are collectively called as Kavitrayam (“Poet Trinity”) among the Telugu literary sphere. The scope of this post is to observe the conditions that inspired each of the poets to take up this work.

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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.