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.