From epigraphically records we learn that Kannada was a full-fledged language of
communication by the 5th century A.D.( Halmidi inscription). Verse form was quite
popular among poets by the 8th century. Though Kavirajamarga ()
refers to several earlier
poets and their works, these are not traceable. Hence we may agree that Pampa (
902-975 A.D.) was the first poet though he also suggests that his works excel all the earlier
existing ones ( ). 'Desi' and 'Marga' styles of native Kannada and then others
influenced by Sanskrit had become demarcated clearly by then, and Pampa prided over
assimilating both styles in his two great epics Adipurana and Vikramarjuna Vijaya or
simply known as Pampa Bharata.
in Champu style, a mixed form of prose and verse. Adipurana is a work in sixteen cantos
dealing with the life and the attainment of Vrishabhadeva's salvation, the first among the
24 tirthankaras. Jainism was a great force and quite popular among the masses in the
early centuries of Christian era and some of the greatest ancient classics are authored by
Jains. Tenets of Jainism, Pampa's own religion, are dealt with in Adipurana. It deals with
the story of Bharata and Bahubali, sons of Vrishabhadeva, who vied with each other for
power and glory. The father divided the kingdom among the two. However, Bharata aspired to become the sole conqueror of Earth and challenged Bahubali. But he got
defeated. However Bahubali renounced everything in favor of his brother
and becomes a Kevalin. There are several Jain episodes narrated in-between. Human
elements of love, friendship, loyalty, opulence, pleasure, and finally moral and spiritual
messages are artistically portrayed.
became a role model work for all succeeding Kannada poets and there are numerous
Jain Puranas dealing with the life and attainment of Moksha of different tirthankaras, composed
during the middle ages.
Pampa Bharata or
Vikramarjuna Vijaya was written in honor of his friend and patron Chalukya
feudatory to Rashtrakuta kings. Because of the existing poetic norms, Pampa could not
directly make his patron a hero. Only gods and superhuman could become heroes in an epic.
Hence he made Arikesari a personification of Arjuna, the hero Pandava of Mahabharata.
Though the poet was compelled to restrict himself to the poetic norms of the age, like the
inclusion of eighteen descriptions, nine rasas and mythological sequences, he excels in
vivid descriptions, imagery, idioms, powerful diction, and mostly in the depiction of the
human character in its glory and weakness.
Ponna was a close
contemporary (939-966 A.D. ) of Pampa and wrote Shantipurana, dealing with the life and
spiritual message of the 16th tirthankara, Shantinath. Ponna was a master in Sanskrit as
well and was known as Ubhayakavi Chakravarti. The underlying current in his epic is the
exposition of various tenets of Jainism. Another secular work of Ponna was
Bhuvanaikaramabhyudayam which is not traced, but is supposed to deal with the achievements
of his Rashtrakuta patron..
Ranna ( b. 949 A.D. ) was the third
great ancient poet. Known as Kavichakravarti, his three works are currently available:
Ajita Tirthankara Purana, Gadayuddha, and Rannakanda. The first is the life story of
Ajitaswami, the second among the 24 tirthankaras. The second work is a heroic poem dealing
with the last phase of the Mahabharata war with Bhima as hero. Hence the classic is known
also as 'Sahasa Bhima Vijaya'. Ranna has used the technique of "
flashback" of films and radio-plays. Though the epic deals with the combat incident
between Bhima and Duryodhana, of a single day, the entire story of Mahabharata is
narrated in dialogue or in a reminiscential way. Simhavalokana krama is the name given by
Ranna to this flashback technique. Even today this word
is used for bird's eye view,
the nearest equivalent term in English. Only Ranna's coinage of the word is more majestic
and truly native! Even Duryodhana, the tragic hero, is taken to great heights by Ranna
without lowering the status of Bhima. Rannakanda , the third work, is a composition in
praise of Jina.
)is the earliest
prose work in Kannada. Some ascribe it to the 9th century. But from the linguistic form
and the depiction of the existing society, most scholars agree to its belonging to the
early 10th century. It is a collection of nineteen stories borrowed from the Sanskrit
'Brihatkathakosha of Harishena'. The author is supposed to be Shivakoti Acharya. The
stories deal with the Karma theory and the tenets of Jainism and there are stories
within stories. They stress on the need of ascetic practices for sages and pious life for
householders. The language is suited to narrate stories and presents a well developed word
form, idiom, structure, and texture indicating that Kannada was a full-fledged language
for prose and poetry by the 10th century.
is ascribed to the
great Ganga General Chavundaraya who installed the well known statue of Gomateshwara at
Shravanabelagola in A.D.983. It is a prose work and is considered a handbook of Jaina
religion. It deals with the life and the message of the 24 tirthankaras, 12
9 each of Baladeva-Vasudevaprati Vasudevas, a total of 63 salaka-purushas or the
great men of the Jain Calendar. The cataloguing and dogmas do not make a pleasant reading
but the work throws light on the religious beliefs and practices among Jains of the
Apart from written works,
the inscriptions of the period illustrate many variations of meters and structural
variety. The hero-stone of Manalera's dog Kali (943 A.D.), the details of the pologame
of Rashtrakuta, on king Indra IV. The heroic fight of Nolambaraditya provide
moving descriptions attesting the fact that well known poets were asked to compose epitaphs
befitting the occasion. These inscriptions are a wealth of information for
historical data, cultural life and study of Kannada language and literature of early