Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Vijayanagara period in Karnataka

Poetic inscription in Kannada by Vijayanagara poet Manjaraja (1398)

The 14th century saw major upheavals in geo-politics of southern India with Muslim empires invading from the north. The Vijayanagara Empire however, stood as a bulwark against these invasions and ensured an atmosphere conducive to the fine arts. In a golden age of Kannada literature competition between Vaishnava and Veerashaiva writers was fierce and literary disputations between the two sects were common, especially in the court of King Deva Raya II. Acute rivalry led to "organised processions" in honour of the classics written by poets of the respective sects.
To this period belonged Kumara Vyasa (whose real name was Naranappa), a doyen of medieval epic poets and one the most influential Vaishnava poets of the time. He was particularly known for his sophisticated use of metaphors and had even earned the title Rupaka Samrajya Chakravarti ("Emperor of the land of Metaphors"). In 1430, he wrote the Gadugina Bharata, popularly known as Karnata Bharata Kathamanjari or Kumaravyasa Bharata in the Vyasa tradition. The work is a translation of the first ten chapters of the epic Mahabharata and emphasises the divinity and grace of the Lord Krishna, portraying all characters with the exception of Krishna as deeply human with foibles. An interesting aspect of the work is the sense of humour exhibited by the poet and his hero, Krishna. This work marks a transition of Kannada literature from old to modern and heralds a new age combining poetic perfection with religious inspiration. The remaining parvas (chapters) of the epic were translated by Timmanna Kavi (1510) in the court of King Krishnadevaraya. The poet named his work Krishnaraya Bharata after his patron king.
The first complete brahminical adaptation of the epic Ramayana was by Kumara Valmiki (1500) and is called Torave Ramayana. According to the author, the epic he wrote merely narrated God Shiva's conversation with his consort Parvati. This writing has remained popular for centuries and inspired folk theatre such as the Yakshagana, which has made use of its verses while enacting episodes from the great epic. In this version of the epic, King Ravana is depicted as one of the suitors at Sita's Swayamvara (lit. a ceremony of "choice of a husband"). His failure at winning the bride's hand results in jealousy towards Rama, the eventual bridegroom. As the story progresses, Hanuman, for all his services to Rama, is exalted to the status of "the next creator". Towards the end of the story, during the war with Rama, Ravana realised that his adversery is none other than the God Vishnu and hastened to die at his hands to achieve salvation.
Chamarasa, a Veerashaiva poet, was a rival of Kumara Vyasa in the court of Devaraya II. His eulogy of the saint Allama Prabhu, titled Prabhulinga Lile (1430), was later translated into Telugu and Tamil at the behest of his patron king. In the story, the saint was considered an incarnation of Hindu God Ganapathi while Parvati took the form of a princess of Banavasi.
Interaction between Kannada and Telugu literatures, a trend which had begun in the Hoysala period, increased. Translations of classics from Kannada to Telugu and vice versa became popular. Well known bilingual poets of this period were Bhima Kavi, Piduparti Somanatha and Nilakanthacharya. In fact, so well versed in Kannada were some Telugu poets, including Dhurjati, that they freely used many Kannada terms in their Telugu writings. The notable writer Srinatha even called his Telugu, "Kannada". This process of interaction between the two languages continued into the 19th century in the form of translations by bilingual writers.

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