Srinatha Mahakavi’s poetic wit (1)

Srinatha Mahakavi‘s poetic wit (1)

avanisura! chiMtakaayala kaajna gaaka
yarasi chuuDaMga grukkiLLa kaajna galade?
yaMTaraakunna neami yaMtaMta nilichi
chitta malaraMga ninni viikshiMparaade?

అవనిసుర! చింతకాయల కాజ్ఞ గాక
యరసి చూడంగ గ్రుక్కిళ్ళ కాజ్ఞ గలదె?
యంటరాకున్న నేమి యంతంత నిలిచి
చిత్త మలరంగ నిన్ను వీక్షింపరాదె?            (In Telugu font)

Oh divine on earth! it is for possessing the tamarind-fruits
that permission is needed, why for gulping looking at them?
What if you are not permitted to be touched, won’t it do if
seen from a distance, as the heart continued to get rejoiced?

This poem is from the classic work named ‘Sivaratri mahatmyamu’ (3rd Canto, 56th poem) by one of the greatest of poets in Telugu language Srinatha Mahakavi, who lived during the period (appxly) AD 1350-1450. His most famous works are Sringara Naishadhamu (a free rendition of Sriharsha‘s Sanskrit work ‘Naishadhiiya charitamu’ into Telugu language),‘Hara vilasamu’, ‘Kaasi khandamu’. He was in the royal court of the king Pedakomati Vemareddy during the period AD 1402-1420 as an administrative officer concerning imparting of education. He was in the royal court of the king Allada Veerabhadra Reddy of Rajamahendravaram (present day Rajahmundry) during the period AD 1423-1445 as his important Court Poet. During his life time he toured many parts of present day Andhra Pradesh and told many poems on the spot describing the peculiarities of customs, food and dressing habits of the people who lived there. The poems known as ‘chaaTu poems’ became very famous, remembered for the wit they contained and passed them down to next generation of connoisseurs who in turn did the same. Thus, most of the ‘chaaTu poems’ told by Srinatha Mahakavi remained defying extinction in spite of them being not recorded anywhere expect in the memory of people who liked these poems.

Srinatha Mahakavi was a gifted poet who was known to have not only learnt three most important languages of his time i.e., Sanskrit, Prakrit and Sauraseni but also mastered them. In one of his poems, he told that he translated Hala’s Gatha saptasati, which was composed in the language Prakrit, into Telugu language when he was still in his teens. The work named ‘Salivahana saptasati’, however, was lost in time and not available today, except one poem, which was discussed in this blog here.

Wherever he found it apt, Srinatha interspersed the contents of his works with some poems of humor, some that described the customs and habits of people of Andhra Pradesh in general. The above poem is one such poem in the work ‘Sivaratri Mahatmyam’. The situation was when a pretty woman, who belonged to a lower caste, sees the main male character of the work, by name Sukumarudu, who looked very handsome. As she belonged to a lower cast, she was only allowed to look at him and not touch him. keeping her distance away from him and looking at him from a distance, she tells these words, a bit satirically reminding to him that it is only when a person wanted to have a seizable quantity of tamarind fruit (tamarind fruits in sizable quantify are needed to make pickle with them which can be stored for many days there after) that are seen hanging from the branches of the tree that he needs permission of the owner of the tree and not for just looking at them and merely gulping in desire of tasting them, a natural inclination that catches the beholder because of its acid taste. For just looking at them and keep on gulping in anticipation of tasting them no one’s permission is needed.  Likewise, she belonging to a lower caste, though not permitted to come into contact with him and touch him, no one could bar her to look at him and enjoy the beauty of his handsome physique. Thus, Srinadha Mahakavi used the common saying, a Telugu proverb ‘చింతకాయల కాజ్ఞ గాని, గుటకల కాజ్ఞయా’ (‘permission is for taking tamarind fruits, why permission for gulping looking at them’) aptly for the situation, in a way that could elicit humor and satire at the same time.

Gems of Telugu Poetry – ‘chaaTuvu’ (2)

The smallest metered poem in Telugu language is ‘kanda’ poem.  It is built with letters (alphabets) which can be arranged with in the space of a maximum of 64 maatras in all (a short alphabet is equivalent to one maatra and a long alphabet or a double consonant is equivalent to two maatras), distributed in four lines of equal lengths of 1st and 3rd lines; 2nd and 4th lines.  Many poets in Telugu language have very effectively handled it and fascinated by the way the ‘meter’ organizes the poem, there were even poets who have taken a very special liking and interest in writing poetry only in ‘kanda’ meter.

Srinadha Mahakavi, one of the high-ranking poets of Telugu classical poetry, was equally famous for his ‘chaaTu’ poems that he told wherever and whenever he found occasions for poetry during his visits to the different parts of Telugu country.  One of his famous ‘chaaTu’ poems, a poem in ‘kanda’ in meter, ‘sirigala vaaniki chellunu’ has already been discussed at Srinadha’s Chaatu poems…(1). This poem is the one poem, which has in it all the qualities of a perfect ‘chaaTu’ poem. Telugu speaking people continue to adore it, preserve it and pass it on to the next generation as they got it from their past generations.

Srinadha’s only poem from his ‘Saptashati’….

As he recorded in the introductory verses of his work Kaasikhandam, Srinadha translated Gaadha Saptashaticompiled by Hala Satavahana. This he did when he was around 16 or 17 years old. Unfortunately the work somehow became extinct and is not be seen by any one.

Decades ago (probably during 1960s) there was a lot of argument between scholars and learned people of  Telugu poetry regarding the correct and meaningful text of a poem purported to be the only one verse which somehow saw the light of the day from the translated version of Srinadha’s, the now unavailable, Saalivahana Saptashati’. The poem (composed in Utpalamala meter) and  its meaning in English read as follows:

Vu.  Vaarana seya daava gonavaa, Nava vaarijamandu teti  kro
(Did you heed when I said no, don’t you know, in the newly born lotus, the bee)
vvaanuchununta neeverugavaa, priya vaatera gantu ganti ke
(will be residing tasting the nectar, will the sight of his lover’s bruised lower lip)
vvaariki kempu raadu, tagavaa magavaarala doora, nee vibhun
(ever fail to make the man’s eyes red, will it help to quarrel with men)
daarasi nee nijam berugunantaku nantaku noorvu nechchelii!
(wait until your man  found out the truth and knew about you, my dear one!)

Gaadha Saptashati is a collection of many of such teasing instances, poetized during the time of Hala Satavahana, one of the kings of Satavahana dynasty, which ruled most of South India and some parts of regions north to Vindhyas, for about 400 years, from 225 BC to 225 AD.

Though his reign was only for a brief period of 6 years, i.e., 19-24 AD, Hala Satavahana was so popularly remembered by generations that followed,  because of his literary bent of mind and philanthropic attitude. He was in fact the hero of the Prakrit work Leelavathi.

Himself being a poet, he authored many Gaadhas in Prakrit language and collected many. It is also popularly believed that a poet by name Sripaalithudu later had selected 700 of the most romantic of the lot and created Gaadha Saptashati.

Srinadha’s ‘Chaatu’ poems…(1)

(Kandamu).sirigala vaaniki chellunu
(It suits that man of riches)
taruNula padiyaaruvela taga pendlaadan
(to marry sixteen thousand women with due pride)
tiripemuna kiddaraanDra?
(You yourself live by alms, do you need two wives?)
parameSaa, gangaviDumu Paarvati chaalun!
(Lord Siva! leave Ganga for us, Parvati is sufficient for you!).

This one poem told by Srinadha Mahakavi is sufficient to explain the wit, the dare the brevity of composition and the grandeur of the style of his poetry. It is popularly believed that Srinadha Mahakavi told this poem in a spontaneous response to his not being able to find sufficient water  to quench his thirst during his visit to a region effected with extreme draught. In this poem, Srinadha Mahakavi, with all his natural wit, beseeches Lord Siva to leave the river goddess Ganga, held by Him within the folded tresses on His head, for them so that the region is filled with enough water for their daily needs.

The flow of words is too natural and most of the times it gives a feeling that the poem was already there for Srinadha to recite. Words do not appear to follow each other.  Instead, they seem to fall in place just to fill the gaps, which will be left blank if not filled by them and none other than by them!  This is called ‘dhaara’ the uninterruptable flow of poetic words.  Works of very few poets, like Nannaya, Tikkana, Srinadhudu, Potana…, has this quality.

Srinadha’s poetic mind never remained silent whenever there was an occasion for poetry. Let it be his admiration of certain events he liked most, beauty of things and women he happened to see or his hatred towards certain things that he disliked and despised to the core, everything was turned into excellent poetry. None, at times not even gods and goddesses, escaped the onslaught of his poetic wit. The precision and the timing of words he used never failed to hit the target with the force he originally intended.  Around a hundred of his chaaTu (means ‘to declare’) poems available today amply declare to the literary world the power and prowess of his poetic abilities, his fearlessness and the way he liked to live and actually lived.

It were the learned amongst the common people who, more than anyone else, admired his chaaTu poetry, remembered it and passed on  the verses  from tongue to tongue and from generation to generation.

Wit, especially the poetic wit, seldom fails to live on!

Andhrula bhojana priyatvam…

Andhrulu bhojana priyulu’Andhras are lovers of good food, means the popular saying. The word ‘bhojanam’ does not denote an ordinary meal.  It means some thing special, a sumptuous meal with at least a dozen varieties of eatables, inclusive of the side dishes like ‘vadiyam’, ‘pappad’ etc. Since long, Andhras have the history of maintaining a fairly large variety of food items in their list of eatables for different occasions.

Hamsavimsathi, a poetic work of 18th century AD, records a list of names of 109 varieties of eatables carried by the servants along with the convoy of the great merchant Vishnudasu when he set out for the long journey to the foreign lands to sell his merchandise.

If we go a little further back in time, Kreedabhiraamam, a work of poetry by Vinukonda Vallabharaya of Kakatiya period (13-14th century AD), describes the components of a rich man’s ordinary morning meal, which comprises of cooked white rice, two varieties of curries (one dry and another wet), curdled ghee (curdled due to the chill of the winter) and curds hardened like a rock…. and all this for one Mada, which is about half of a Varaha in those days.