The only feature that is common to both ‘Shlokam’ in Sanskrit language and generally used word ‘Poem’ in Telugu language is – both have four lines (‘feet’ in Prosodical parlance). But very often we see Sanskrit Shlokas appear in two lines i.e., 1st and 2nd feet clubbed and appearing in one line and the 3rd and 4th feet clubbed and appearing as the second line of the Shlokam. The word ‘Shlokam’ actually means ‘stotram’ which in turn means ‘to praise’. Elders opine that since this form of prosodical formation was initially very frequently used in works that are primarily intended to praise (Gods, Goddesses etc.,) the name ‘Shlokam’ might have been ascribed to them and as such settled as days went by.
In Telugu language, in general, any poem is formed in four lines. (There are another genre of poetic works that are formed as a conglomeration of ‘units of two lines’ each which are called ‘dwipada’ (two feet), but these ‘two line units’ are not independent poems; they form parts of bigger work). The length of each ‘foot’ of a poem may be differing depending upon the prosodical formation but the characteristic of ‘four feet’ is common to all poems in Telugu language. To make this clear, it is better to have the entire thing explained through an example. And, here is a small example:
paDi miDamiDa miDukunaTTi baDuguna kiyyaa
raDi amaratvaM beaTiki
kaDupiTa kaalaMga kaMTa kaaTuka yealaa?
పడి మిడమిడ మిడుకునట్టి బడుగున కియ్యా
రడి అమరత్వం బేటికి
కడుపిట కాలంగ కంట కాటుక యేలా?
This poem has been taken from a work known as ‘simhaasanaa dvaatriMsika’ (సింహాసనా ద్వాత్రింశిక) written by Koravi Goparaju (కొఱవి గోపరాజు) of 15th century AD. The Prosodical specifications following which this poem was written is known as ‘Kanda’ (కంద), one of the earliest of prosodical formations in Telugu language poetry. Before going into the details of the specifications of a Telugu ‘Kanda’ poem, a rough translation of this poem into English is as under:
Unable to find food to eat
To a pauper who is dying every day a death
What use this unending longevity;
Why decorate the eye, when stomach is burning?
A little explanation about the meaning of the poem – the male of a family which is extremely suffering with poverty and spending days on without proper food, gets as a boon ‘unending longevity’ (freedom from death) from a person of divine powers and reaches back home feeling happy and reveals to his wife what he brought home with his wisdom. The prudent wife, laughs at his innocence or lack of common intelligence and says these words to her husband. Her observation is – by bringing upon himself and all his family members unending longevity (freedom from death) her husband, that unworldly intelligent person, had made things even more worse, since before attaining this freedom from death there was at least the solace of death – a freedom from all the miseries due to lack of food and unending hunger. Now, with this boon of useless freedom from death, the possibility of that solace also disappeared and it would become nothing less than hell on earth for them. And, this poem, in my opinion, is worthy of remembering because of one more reason, i.e., for the poetic usage of peoples words, popular idiom, as the entire last line ‘కడుపిట కాలంగ కంట కాటుక యేలా?’ which means ‘Why to decorate the eyes when stomach is burning with hunger?’.