Literary Shelf

Medieval Telugu Poetry - II

Continued from Medieval Telugu Poetry - I

Tenali Ramakrishna is one of the legendary ashta diggajas, the eight court poets, of Sri Krishnadevaryalu. Ramakrishnakavi is familiarly known as Ramalingadu and vikatakavi, a high profile poet of ridicule and humour. Panduranga Mahatmyamu is a famous work extolling Lord Panduranga’s power and grace. The work belonged more to Bhakti cult. A little act of suplication at the end of a life of profligacy replete with sin marks him out for mukti (salvation): such is the grace of Lord Panduranga.

Apart from this central message, the poem can be viewed at a level as a social document: an erring brother and a committed sister, devoted to keep the family name and prestige. The character of Nigama Sarma’s akka, elder sister, has drawn immense praise for generations. A distinguished daughter of the house of learned ones, revered by kings, she uses all her innate goodwill ad wisdom to draw her brother, a debauchee and a prodigal, back to respectability. A fine specimen of traditional narrative technique, the episode ends in a captivating climax. This piece is usually prescribed for study as a literary and language text in schools and colleges even today.

Prabhadha poets like many poets in our Bhasha literatures revelled in hyperbole and over statement and the use of various poetic devices and embellishments (alankaras) and Ramakriushna Kavi is a past master in characterisation, narration and the use of beautiful and telling figures of speech.

“The Episode of Nigamasarma’: Tenali Ramakrishna
(Panduranga Maahatmyam- Nigamasarmopaakhyanam)

Born of a family considered the seed of immense promise
Came he to be known as a granary of sacred lore
The birth place of sciences diverse
The forum and stage of arts various,
An ever-devout one named Sabhapati.
Grew he to renown in Pithikapura,
Ornament of Kalinga country famous,
The most brilliant among all Brahmins.
The devout lady, his pious wife,
Unremitting, soulful worship paid
Bringing down deities from above,
And elevating the twice-born by her worship,
Blessed was she with a son resplendent.
Amorous deity was he to hearts of women young
Well-behaved, upright and charity incarnate
In radiance comparable to the moon.
In the first flush of youth shone
His silk-soft moustache bright,
In garrulous talk was he unparalleled.
Came he to be well-known by the appellation
Nigamasarma, which his devout father gave.

O! the mighty one who did penance great!
The making of Almighty it was
That though of great lineage born
Learned in all arts and sciences holy
Came he to be drawn both in body and mind
Towards lust, the third of the four ends of life.
With hair washed well with water pure,
Clad in resplendent clothes white,
Having eaten the best of rice cooked,
Wearing garlands of flowers fragrant
With sandal paste his person anointed
Camphor-smelling, betel-leaves chewing,
Ornaments of rare gold wearing,
Went he about in the town’s thorough fares
Like a pearl washed clean, again and again.
With the sacred thread gleaming on him
Rousing debate whether it is or not
Perfume-smeared, dhoti end trailing the path,
Excessive betel juice giving lips a lurid red,
Neck like the conch of the love god,
With nail marks of pleasure girls covered,
Wearing apparel dirtied by sleeping with women uncouth.
Getting along just calling himself a Brahmin
Beaming shamelessly and laughing blatantly
Nigamasarma with a great show of pomp,
Roamed the disreputable scamp.

Breasts of the wife faithful empty goblets,
Those of the street walkers full goblets,
The wedded caste-woman was ill-omened forth-day moon
The kept woman worth scanning and adoration wide,
Unwilling was he to blow the fire of oblation,
But sigh he would with the fever of the sweetheart’s separation
Incapable though to hold out palms devout obeisance to offer
Fall he would at the feet of
Jealous-eyed women for his being unfaithful.
Participate he wouldn’t in discussions of matters holy,
But in squabbles of lovers from dawn to dusk partake.
Brook he wouldn’t to drink
The holy water from the sacred conch,
But joyously lick the honey of cheap women’s lips,
Refuse he would the sacred caste-marks to wear
But willingly would the depraved rake suffer
The nail-wounds of debauchees low.
Like the species of ribbed gourd called ghee-gourd,
Though nothing of ghee in it,
Nigamasarma, called knowledgeable in scriptures
A hollow appellation he came to prove.
Wears a sacred thread in vain
Roaming about the streets like a vagrant,
Mores, decencies and proprieties, transgressing all.
Falling down at first slowly,
Fell he down lower and deeper,
The admonitions of the preceptors unheeded,
Discarded he even the cover of a twisted straw,
Steeping himself in depravity bottomless,
The wealth his grand sire and forefathers great,
Generations down like industrious ants gathered
Falling into his hands fell to ruin,
Like blood in one stung by a serpent.

Mortgaged he for his sundry expenses dire
Things of value in the pawn-broker’s hand,
His pious mother he fleeced taking sums available
By stages he relieved her of all her gold.
Sold everything that would fetch money
Borrowed at rates of interest ruinous high
Disposed of lands fertile right and left
To rakes, acquaintances and officers low.
O! The most pious one among the devout!
Being one Kalinga-born stubborn
Like a vegetable that withered not when pointed with a finger
Stricken he not with shame:
Crass and depraved fell he low.
Borrowing and extracting from every source
Approaching relatives with his carnal urges
Beyond all measure fell the shoddy wretch.
Carousing in houses of ill-repute,
Never coming home, burning the candle both ends
Snatching money by thieving ways,
Sank Nigamasarma to foul depths never to rise.
Hounded and pestered by lenders diverse
For breaking promises and jumping deadlines
Suffering and ignominious he roamed about
Avoiding the town’s main thoroughfares
Starving and feeble-voiced, wretchedly,
Fallen from esteem wanders the rake,
Like musk evaporated, flowers faded,
Cooked rice gone stale and pond gone dry.
Looked he an ornament bereft of stones
The foul lecher, fallen from esteem and grace.

Meanwhile comes on one day
An elder sister, the daughter of the house,
Wither her man and children wise and fine,
Saying the fallen one she would discipline.

In this manner having come from her place about five or six yojanas away to her parental house, having comforted and reassured her parents with many a cool sweet word in a skilful way, consoling them with generous and soothing gestures; she went about performing her filial duty. She went about attending to the family deity’s devout service, organizing daily worship and attending to guests. She quickly began gathering the remnants of family fortune and keeping them in safe care. She mingled with children, servants and maids. She began removing causes of discomfort and anxiety; taking care of the family collection of books through her husband’s good offices, saving them from fire, decay and beggars. She went about collecting together things that fell in disarray; setting the house in order, restoring it to its original stature, identifying things that once belonged to them; consolidating whole villages of their ownership that had gone out of their hands owing to carelessness. She was grieved and agonized to see her brother’s youthful wife fatigued while keeping the secret of their family while serving her in laws to the best of her ability, the first flush of her youthful charms impossible to suppress but yet going to waste like moonlight in the wilderness. Suddenly finding her brother return at breakfast time from some where like a star from the firmament, he showing joy at her sight with an effort and making a deep obeisance not knowing what else to do. The elder sister, having seen the cuts and nail marks on his person by lascivious woman was disturbed but in a little while collecting her wits, blessed her brother with subtle intention to become bridegroom for the festive occasion of his wife being in the family way. While she wanted to go further, having noticed his condition, put on a clever trellis of sweet words proffered her little moon-faced kid to hi. Restraining him from leaving, she said: “Where do you go now? You’d dine with your brother-in-law and in a minute I would get the vegetables and dishes cooked.” Thus stopping the erring from slipping out, she made a gesture with her eyes to the young man’s wife, her sister-in-law. At that quick sign of the eyes of the daughter of the house:

The devout husband-adoring wife
Washed with waters pure and cool
The blessed feet of her lord worshipful,
Warm exhalations of her sighs deep
Fanning the wetness dry.
In a single trice to her beloved brother
The elder sister served dishes like a feast,
As to gods and those close
Relatives great she would.
Getting bathed clean in form and style,
Giving him freshly-laundered clothes to wear,
Drying well the hair washed clean
Decking it with flowers fresh and fragrant,
With love exceeding smearing sandal paste
Offered she to her brother dear
The food that was offered first to god,
In the company of her sire, sons and husband revered.
Having eaten to his heart’s content,
And given the water-offering at the meal-end,
Chewing betel leaves his wedded wife gave
Sitting on a platform like one pure
Pleased he his elder sister happy and contented.

Children of hers small and older
Clamouring around for breast and for attention,
Untied she her brother’s hair knot
To comb and do it afresh.
With sibilant noises killing lice one by one,
Parting his hair carefully the nits to detect,
Combing it again and again
Fingers and nails skillfully using
Sat she with patience infinite doing her brother’ hair.
Stood the brother’s youthful wife fanning her husband dear
Giving her sister-in-law leaves of betel.
Finished she doing that, wiping his neck clean
And washing her hands crisp.
Seated on a plank brought by the maid
Like the goddess of wealth on the lotus stud,
Casting loving looks at her sucking babe,
Began she to speak, the lotus eyed one:

“Why, dear brother, have you not visited me even once?
Was it because it would hinder your Vedic studies?
Longing and waiting to see you swollen are my eyes,
Desires and waits too your revered brother-in-law:
To see you, my dear, ardently like the sea for the moon to rise.
With affluence fair and abundance of qualities
Come to your lot by the grace of god
It becomes you to appear as the moon for the sea,
But one like you becoming otherwise
Falling down from merit and grace
Would be mean, like stones of little value
Born in mines of holy stones rare.

Given in matrimony, the right of others have I become,
How grievous would it be for parents
Like this to see you fallen and degraded:
Hoary traditions of the family you set aside;
Fail you to make your parents happy,
Treat you your chaste wedded-wife with
Conjugal love deserving!
Decline you to rise high in esteem popular
Ridiculed are you by people to my very face
Your education as parrot learning!
Call they your character that of a cat,
Whatever did you do low so to fall?”

Saying thus in words furious, her heart frowning hot with sadness, the lion-waisted one having gone hoarse, noticing the stupid one pulling a long face, regained her temper quickly, and with a desire to do good, proceeded in a soft and more persuasive tone:

“As Karna to the scripture Mahabharat,
So are you to this family central,
Why resorted you to this act heinous,
Dastardly leaving all these helpless,
The overworked parents trembling,
Crawling little brothers not on their feet yet.
Wife a caste woman devout fresh-wed,
The dumb cows, and she their keeper?
Dream and hope was it mine
That my little brother dear, good and noble,
Acclaimed by all, you should a holy rite perform
With me in the place of honour supervising.
Why fall did you instead, devoid of virtues all?
In emotion wild you spent all.
Proper is it the thrice-yielding lands to sell?
Without a wife are you?
Don’t you have brothers after you?
Meet is it for you the family to ruin?
If desire carnal should make stronghold of you
Wouldn’t be fair for thousand caste-women to wed?

Are house holders hermits and ascetics plain?
Wrong is it to have many a wedded wife?
Fair is it in concupiscence all to waste
On ill-reputed women, uncouth and dire?
Nobles affluent and monarchs themselves
Would all be impoverished such to keep.
Pshaw! Would the wise for hoards of harlots care?
Bevy of broads and concubines low,
Bundles of evil and of manners slovenly,
Cares a wise man for trollops filthy?
Hints and suggestions vile and bawdy,
Strange coyness and play-acting diverse,
Mad pranks and changeful moods.
Mean congresses and external attractions,
Enticements and gestures lascivious,
Hysteric and profligate acts delirious,
Games with outbursts of lusty allurements low,
Disastrous would it be whores to caress.
Not too late even now to stop his profligacy, I pray,
Why not go the way of the wise and fair!
If need be, procure I would the choicest gems.
Drop you the league of vicious scoundrels,
Dear brother, the way I lay, you take,
Happy and fulfilled I feel,
Meet it is not for you yourself to ruin.”

While the elder sister thus did him harangue,
Obeyed he the sweet soothing words full.
For many days stayed good the soiled one
Of food fine and water starved hard.
Willingly visited he the King’s court,
Renewed his studies gone rusty and dusty,
Hung down his head when friends old he ran into,
Consoled he the caste bride of the house,
Revered the preceptors as of old,
Offerings meet he made to the deities
Fed guests arriving past midday at mealtime
Cared for and tended the milch cattle,
Washed he himself his sire’s upper-cloth
His reverence thus showing in amends
Attended the public court with his brother-in-law
Arbitrate and judgements to deliver
Honey-smeared sword-blade was he, the twice born.
While things went thus, one day:
Tied the depraved youth into a knapsack quick
Those ornaments womenfolk of the house dearest held,
Jewellery gorgeous of choicest gems
Ornaments inlaid with emeralds and sapphires,
Carbuncles and rubies bright
Opals, turquoises and amethysts clear,
Many hued stones of rare value,
Ornaments of the sister dear too.
Not letting know even the bed he lay on
Stole he, the scoundrel, into the darkness of the night
The wilderness only his companion lone
Ran he away the forest way black.
Grief-stricken was the decrepit sire doomed
Robbed of the sacred reed-knot inlaid ring
Broke the old man into tears agonised.
Downcast was the old mother losing her necklace rare,
Given to her by her lord’s mother with love,
Inconsolable was the daughter of the house
The nose-stud ordered fresh losing.
Discomfited was the son-in-law of the family
His ear studs the nine planets propitiated lost.
Oh! What guile and what wickedness bottomless
All wealth stole the worthless rake
Leaving behind nothing, taking the leap!
Knows anyone the time when loss it all would be entire!
(16th century)

This is first published in 2000 by Sahitya Akademy in Medieval Indian Literature Part 4 (Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu) edited by K.Ayyappa Panicker.

Continued to Medieval Telugu Poetry - III


More by :  Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.

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