Tenali Ramalingakavi’s ‘ChaaTu’ poems (2)
ptRvvaTa baabaa; talapai
puvvaTa jaabilli; valva buuchaTa; cheadea
buvvaTa; huLuLuk huLuLu
kkavvaTa, talapaMga naTTi harunaku jea jea!
ప్తృవ్వట బాబా; తలపై
పువ్వట జాబిల్లి; వల్వ బూచట; చేదే
బువ్వట; హుళుళుక్ హుళుళు
క్కవ్వట, తలపంగ నట్టి హరునకు జే జే! (In Telugu font)
ptRvva is his vehicle; on his head
the moon is a flower; the beast is his clothing;
poison is his food; all turn false
when he so desires; hails to such Lord Hara!
This ‘chaaTu’ poem is one of the most famous of such poems in Telugu language and definitely one of the well known to the learned as well as not so learned, but who have a liking to poetry in Telugu language in general.
This poem has an interesting story linked to the age of the rule of Sri Krishnadevaraya, the greatest of kings of Vijayanagar dynasty, belonging to the period of 15th and 16th centuries AD. Tenali Ramalingakavi, who is also known as Tenali Ramakrishna kavi, is believed to have been one of the eight great poets who adorned the royal court of Sri Krishnadevaraya.
One day when the king, Sri Krishnadevaraya, along with all his eight poets was present in his royal ‘Literary Court’ (popularly known as ‘Bhuvana vijayam’) and the proceedings were in full swing, a person named Pregadaraju Narasaraju presented himself before all of them with a challenge. In those days, when the palm leaf and the metal pen were used for writing and recording poetic works, writing on palm leafs was practiced as a form of art and this person, Pregadaraju Narasaraju, was one such expert who excelled in the art of writing on palm leaves. His pride and belief in his expertise in that art was such that he challenged the great poets present in ‘Bhuvana vijayam’ to tell a poem that he could not complete writing before they completed reciting the poem or else they should accept their defeat before the king. Intrigued by the challenge, the king, Sri Krishnadevaraya, looks at all the great poets present in the Royal Court, with his intent clearly showing on his face, that one of them should try and tell a poem that the challenger should not be able to write. It so happened that, for fear of defeat in the hands of this unknown and loud-mouthed challenger, no one dared to try and as minutes passed by without anyone trying their mettle, the king, Sri Krishnadevaraya started felling anxious of encountering defeat, which he never liked to taste either in real battle field or in literary battle field.
It was then that Tenali Ramalingakavi came to the rescue of his mentor king with the above ‘chaaTu’ poem. Sensing that the person before him was expert in writing on palm leaves with the metal pen, he could guess that it would be a futile exercise to recite a poem containing ordinary words and it would be certain that he would taste defeat if he recited a poem with usual words. It was then that his sense of presence and the power of his queer intelligence he got from Goddess Kali came to his rescue and played its role. The first word in the poem, ‘ptRvva’, is a sound (and not a recognised word till then and even now) which was and even today used by farmers to guide an ox and make it obey his directions. Tenali Ramalingakavi took this sound and used it as a word to denote the divine ox ‘Nandi’ which carried Lord Siva on its back. Likewise the word ‘huLuLuk’ in the third line of the poem also is not a recognised word till then and only a sound that is made to denote ‘nothigness’, ‘falseness’, ‘disappearance’ etc. Using these two unusal and until then unheard, unrecognised words in the poem Tenali Ramalingakavi recited the above poem praising the greatness of Lord Siva. As expected, Pragadaraju Narasaraju could not complete writing the poem, in fact, and as the story goes, he couldn’t even start writing the poem at all…he was so confused since there was not any conventional writing method of recording the sound ‘ptRvva’ and helplessly accepted his defeat before all those present in ‘Bhuvana Vijayam’.
That is the story. Whether it is real or concocted, it doesn’t matter much, since even in the case of it being a concoted one, the intelligence and poetic prowess of the person who concocted the story is also to be accepted equally great.
The poem thus remained as one of the gteatest of ‘ChaaTu’ poems in Telugu language and continues to remain so!