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Kamat's PotpourriHistory of the Kannada Literature -IV

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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,
A Survey of Medieval Works in Kannada

Veerashaivism and TheVachanas

There were Vachanakaras prior to Basavanna  like Devara Dasimayya, Madara Channayya, and Sakalesha Madarasa. The revolutionary spirit and social awareness ushered in by Basavanna gave strong impetus to the composition of Vachanas attracting large numbers of devotees who belonged to different strata of society. They gave expression to their own milieu, depicting imagery and symbolism revealing different professions to which he or she belonged.

Vachanas contain the thought and experience of Vachanakaras who strived for God realization through their own vocations. Vachanas are aphoristic in form and rhythmic in style and words. The language was the spoken word of the commoners. Vachana normally means spoken word or phrase. But now it came to indicate a special type of composition which was neither prose nor verse but pithy expression. The Vachanas do have rhythm, though non-metrical. Its style became immensely popular and has its own following till today.

Basaveshwara of Koodala



Saint Basaveshwara

Basaveshwara showed common people a new path to reach God -- one through their vocation.

Saint Basaveshwara<p> Basaveshwara showed common people a new path to reach God -- one through their vocation.
Sage Basavanna
Basaveshwara, the Revolutionary Saint

Portrait from a calendar painting


King- sage Basavanna (a.k.a. Basaveshwara) stood for equality for all and dreamt of a casteless society. He criticized all forms of social injustice, condemned vehemently several superstitions and animal sacrifice, and taught that the path of devotion was the best way for self-realization. He advocated equal opportunity for women with men in all fields: social, religious, and economic. These reforms attracted devotees from the lower strata  of society along  with  highly placed and educated people as well. Thus there were shoemakers (Madara Dhulayya), cowherds ( Ramanna ), tailors ( Sujikayakada Ramitande),  basketmakers ( Medara Ketayya ), and a carpenter ( bachi Kayakada Basappa). All of them turned great devotees and Vachanakaras. Kayakave Kailasa --work is worship -- became the mantra. Their Vachanas born out of their respective vocations are full of imagery and liveliness.

Cripple me, father,
that I may not go here and there,
Blind me, father,
that I may not look at this and that,
Deafen me, father,
that I may not hear anything else.
Keep me
at your men's feet
looking for nothing else,
O lord of the meeting rivers.
by Basavanna

Translated by A. K. Ramanujan

Akkamahadevi's Vachanas has a lyrical quality and direct personal appeal with rare poetic elements. The similes she chose have great mass appeal because they are true to life.

I love the Handsome One:
He has no death
decay nor form
no place or side
no end nor birthmarks.

I love Him O mother. Listen.
I love the Beautiful One
with no bond nor fear
no clan no land
no landmarks

So my lord, white as jasmine, is my husband.

by Akkamahadevi

Translated by A. K. Ramanujan

With the Vachana movement, Kannada language broke the traditions of court poetry and opened avenues to one and all who aspired to express his/her innersoul. The Vachanas became common man's literature, his/her ideal and his/her medium for the following century.

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

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