Monday, April 14, 2008

Content and genre

Inscribed handwriting of 10th-century poet Ranna reads Kavi Ratna (gem among poets) in Shravanabelagola
In the medieval period, between the 9th and 13th centuries, writers were predominantly of the Jain and Veerashaiva faith. Jains were the earliest known cultivators of Kannada literature, which they dominated until the 12th century, although a few works by Veerashaivas from that period are available. Jain authors wrote about Jain Tirthankars and other personages important to the Jain religion. The Veerashaiva writers accounted for devotees of the Hindu God Shiva, his 25 forms, and the expositions of Shaivism. Veerashaiva poets belonging to the Vachana tradition advanced the philosophy of Basavanna from the 12th century.
The period between the 13th and 15th centuries saw a decline in Jain writings and an increase in the writings of the Veerashaiva and contributions from some Vaishnava writers. Thereafter, Kannada literature has been dominated by Veerashaiva and Vaishnava writers. Vaishnava writers treated of the Hindu epics, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Bhagavata, as well as the Vedanta and other subjects from the Hindu puranic traditions. From the 15th century, Haridasa poets heralded the age of devotional songs, which they propagated using music as the medium. Writings on secular subjects had remained popular throughout this period.
An important change during the Bhakti (devotion) period starting from the 12th century was the casting aside of the concept of court literature and the rise in popularity of shorter genres such as the vachana and kirthane, traditions that were more acceptable to the common man. During this period, writing classics eulogising kings, commanders and spiritual heroes was on the wane with a proportional increase in the use of local genres. Kannada literature moved closer to the spoken and sung folk traditions, with singability being its hallmark, although some poets continued to use the ancient champu form of writing (such as Shadaksharadeva of 17th century). These poets however are generally not considered trailblazers in a period of increasing vernacularization.
The most popular Sanskritic metre used to write Kannada literature from the 9th century onwards was the champu (poems in verse of various metres interspersed with paragraphs of prose, also known as champu-kavya), although it steadily fell into disuse from the 12th century. Other Sanskritic metres that were employed were the saptapadi (seven line verse), the ashtaka (eight line verse) and the shataka (hundred-line verse). There have been numerous translations of Sanskrit writings into Kannada and to a lesser extent, the other way round. The medieval period saw the development of literary metres indigenous to the Kannada language. These included the tripadi (three-line verse, in use from 7th century), one of the oldest native metres; the shatpadi (six-line verse, in use from 1165), of which six types exist; the ragale (lyrical narrative compositions, in use from 1160); the sangatya (compositions meant to be sung with a musical instrument, in use from 1232) and the akkara which came to be adopted in some Telugu writings. Such interactions with Tamil literature are however few and far apart.
Though religious literature was prominent, various literary genres such as romance, fiction, erotica, satire, folk songs, fables and parables, musical treatises and musical compositions were popular. A wealth of literature dealing in subjects such as mathematics, sciences such as astronomy, meteorology, veterinary science and medicine, astrology, grammar, logic, philosophy, poetry, prosody, drama, rhetoric, chronicles, biography, history, and cuisine, as well as dictionaries and encyclopedias are available.
Kannada literature of this period was mainly written on palm leaves. However, more than 30,000 Kannada inscriptions known as shilashasana (stone inscriptions) and tamrashasana (copper plate inscriptions) have been found in modern Karnataka and are considered important to the study of its literary developments. The Jura (Jabalpur) inscription of King Krishna III (964) is regarded as an epigraphical landmark of classical Kannada composition, containing poetic diction in kanda (a group of stanzas or chapters) metre. Elegiac poetry on hundreds of veeragallu and maastigallu (hero stones) written by unknown poets in the kanda and the vritta (commentary) metre mourn the death of heroes who sacrificed their lives and the bravery of women who performed sati.
The process of evolution from old Kannada literature to one that satisfied modern sensibilities gained momentum in the early 19th century. Kannada writers were initially influenced by modern literatures in other languages, especially English.[ Modern English education and liberal democratic values were mainly responsible for this change. Subjected to criticism by Christian missionaries, writers were quick to see weaknesses in the ancient Hindu society. This resulted in a longing for social change, while the need to cling to all that was good in the past tradition was very evident. Modernisation of Kannada prose resulted in new genres such as the short story, the novel, the literary criticism, the essay and the dramatic literature.

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