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Jaina, Veerashaiva and Brahmanical Epics

by Dr. Jyotnsa Kamat

First Online: September 07, 2003
Page Last Updated: January 06, 2018

The Veerashaiva movement and the composition of Vachanas introduced a new era in Kannada literature. A pucca desi or usage of simple spoken language came into vogue replacing the Sanskritized or Champu style. Tripadi, Sangatya, and Ragale meters found favor with a new generation of poets. The shatpadi (a six lined verse stanza) took shape and was to dominate the literary world for another four centuries. All important epics written during the 14th to the 18th century were all written in Shatpadi. The rise of the Bhakti movement during the Vijayanagar period also gave fillip to compositions of:  epics following the faiths of Jainism, Veerashaivism, and Brahmanism. Some of the classic works of the period are discussed below:

 ' Bharatesa Vaibhava' of Ratnakaravarni (c 1500 ) is an outstanding Jain epic of the Vijayanagar times. It is a long poem ( 10,000 stanzas ) in Sangatya meter. Dealing with the life and achievements of Bharata, son of Adinatha the first Jain, it describes  his several conquests together  with sensuous descriptions of dance, music, love, and family life. The style is easy, graceful, and musical. Humorous anecdotes are artistically embedded while describing Brahma's domestic life. The poet has tried  to blend bhoga ( worldly enjoyment ) with yoga ( renunciation ) beautifully. Emperor Bharata is able to conquer the whole world except his own brother Bahubali. Finally even Bahubali becomes a Sannyasi subduing all passions. Bahubali is immortalized as Gommateshwar at Shravanabelagola. Several works in Kannada deal with the Bahubali episode.

 'Bhimakavis Basavapurana' ( 1369 ) is a literal translation of 'Basavapurana' of Palkurike Soma in Telugu. It deals with the life of Basaveswara. It contains stories of Shaiva devotees as well and is the storehouse of Saiva legends. The 'Prabhulingaleele' of Chamarasa (1430 ) tells the story of Allama or Prabhudeva, a great mystic poet of the Basava age and leader in the Virasaiva movement. Befitting the spiritual greatness of the hero the epic provides glimpses in the socio-religious life of the period trying at the same time to establish tenets of  Virashaivism. 'Padmaraja Purana' of Kereya Padmarasa (1385 ) describes the life and achievements of Padmaraja who defeated a Vaishanava exponent (tribhuvanatata) and made him a Veerashaiva. All these epics were written only in shatpadi meter.

Lakkana Dandesa's 'Shivatatwa Chintamani' (1428 A.D.) deals with the life of various Virashaiva saints. Mallanarya's 'Veerasaivamrita Purana' ( 1513 ) is a massive work containing more than 7,000 stanzas. It is the largest in Shatpadi meter.

Brahmanic Epics

Kumara Vyasa ( c 1430 A.D.) undoubtedly reached and inspired the masses, literate and illiterate, through his 'Gadugina Bharata' or Kannada adaptation of Mahabharata. It is the free rendering of the great Sanskrit epic and the poet's aim was to glorify Krishna as the supreme God. The Vaishnava Bhakti movement was also at its peak during the period and naturally Naranappa or Kumara Vyasa saw Shri Krishna as the moving force of the entire Universe. His rich imagination, lyrical style, picturesque descriptions of men and situations and devotion left a deep impression on peoples' minds. 

'Torave Ramayana' of Narahari or 'Kumara Valmiki' (1500 A.D.) is also another Kannada popular epic of the period.

Satakas or Centuries

The prolific literature in satakas (a.ka. shatakas) or 100 verses was the creation of this age. The underlying idea was to teach simple moral truths of life. These also brought in the all- pervading influence of God-almighty and put forth the meekness of human achievement. Ratnakaravarnis Triloka Sataka, Maggeya Mayidevas, and Someswara Sataka are only a few of the several satakas composed during this period.

Stories (Charite)

The stories of the sixty-three Shaiva saints were told in popular style and many in sangatya meter.

 The most popular story was that of Harishchandra told vividly by Raghavanka. It became a model to various charities and smaller puranas like skand, veerabhadra charities and Bhikshatana charities. Veershaiva literature was quite rich during this period consisting of: stories from Shaiva puranas and stories about the spiritual attainment of the sixty three saints called Puratanas and Nutana puratanas (neo-ancients ?) as Basava and his contemporaries were called. There were stories about the modern (contemporar ) saints and also sundry tales of Veerashaivism.

Devotional Songs

Just like the vachanas, innumerable dasara padagalu  (slave songs) came to be composed during this age. Keertanas, suladis, and simply padas were composed. They were easy to sing and set to classical notes of Indian music. They all dealt with bhakti  or devotion and  virtues of pious life. The composers belonged to Vaishnava, Shaiva, and Jaina faiths.

See: Dasa or Slave Literature

History of Kannada Literature
Early History | Jaina Works | Medieval Kannada | Ranna | Kumaravyasa | Sarvajna
Vachana LiteratureDasa Sahitya | Epics and Mahakavyas | Modern Kannada


Author Dr. Jyotsna Kamat is the recipient of the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award in 1991.  She lives in Bangalore.

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