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Kamat's PotpourriHistory of the Kannada Literature -II

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by Dr. (Mrs) Jyotsna Kamat
Last updated on : April 04, 2014

History of Kannada Literature
Early History | Jaina Works | Medieval Kannada
Vachana LiteratureDasa Sahitya | Epics | Modern Kannada

Origins of Kannada Language Previously,
History of Kannada Literature-I

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.

Both are 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.

© K. L. Kamat
Loga -- a very brave dog
A Tenth Century Hero-stone showing Old Kannada Inscription

Adipurana 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 Arikesari, a 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.

'Vaddaradhane'  ( )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 chakravartins, 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 period.

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 times.

History of Kannada Literature
Early History | Jaina Works | Medieval Kannada
Vachana LiteratureDasa Sahitya | Epics | Modern Kannada

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