For the Lord of the Animals, Poems from the Telugu: The Kalahastisvara Satakamu of Dhurjati

by Indira Viswanathan Peterson
For the Lord of the Animals, Poems from the Telugu: The Kalahastisvara Satakamu of Dhurjati
Indira Viswanathan Peterson
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 Reviewed work(s): For the Lord of the Animals, Poems from the Telugu: The Kāḷahastīśvara Śatakamu of Dhūrjạti by Hank Heifetz; Velcheru Narayana Rao For the Lord of the Animals is a welcome addition to the growing body of poetic translations from the rich classical literatures of India's Dravidian languages. In this volume V. Narayana Rao, an eminent scholar of Telugu literature, and Hank Heifetz, a poet and Indologist, have effectively introduced to Western readers a classic of Telugu literature and a significant text in the history of bhakti devotionalism in the Andhra region of south India. Heifetz's renderings of the sixteenth century poet Dhurjati's Satakamu (Century of Verses) dedicated to Siva Kalahastisvara read beautifully as poetry in English, and Narayana Rao's deep knowledge of Telugu letters and religion is in evidence throughout the book. Heifetz and Rao have prefaced the poems with a lucid, informative introduction to their literary aspects; the book concludes with a fine essay by Rao on the work's cultural context. In his afterword Rao focuses on the cultural shift that resulted, from medieval times onward, in a division between "court" and "temple" literature in Telugu. It is indeed in the context of the court/temple split among Telugu intellectuals that a work such as the KS makes sense, or, for that matter, could have come into being. Faced with the conflicting values of allegiance to a royal patron and to God, of the world of the court and the world of bhakti, Dhurjati has opted for Siva, and for liberation from the oppressive chain of karma and rebirth through devotion to God. Yet the choice is by no means an easy one. The poems eloquently articulate the complexities of the situation: the mode of the satakamu, a vehicle for the praise of God, serves equally as a forum for "psychological and philosophical reflections which include a number of meditations on sensuality".  The translations capture the power, the vivid imagery and the drama of the originals, and their beauty is in no small measure a reflection of the sensitivity of both authors to issues of tone and rhythm in Telugu and English. In addition to poems in which a stunning image, or a sudden turnabout in the situation, has a powerful impact, the most effective translations are those in which the rhythm and flow of Heifetz's English lines are most natural, yet give us some idea of the litany-like intonation of the originals, created by the repetition of sounds and keywords, and of the counterpoint of meter against semantic units. Here is an example: Even though knowing that death is near, still not willing to let go of life, hoping for some physician to cure him, some drug to save him, some god who will have compassion for him, the holy man who has performed his own funeral while still alive, to break from the world, even he does not think of you for an instant, O God of Kalahasti! (poem 7) In the process of locating the text for the reader, Heifetz and Rao have raised, and tried to answer, a number of questions about classical Telugu literature and its relation to Sanskritic forms and modes as well as to its indigenous roots. As must be inevitable with any pioneering work, their study leaves some important issues untouched, and raises further questions about yet others. Specifically, in the context of the KS more needs to be said about the text's relationship to Sanskrit kavya as well as to earlier South Indian vernacular bhakti cultures and literatures. The authors' tendency to underplay the kavya aspects of the KS is unfortunate, for here we have a rich area for investigation in the history of genre formation in classical Telugu literature. The century of lyric stanzas (sataka) came into its own in Sanskrit kavya poetry no later than the seventh century in the celebrated satakas of Amaru and Bhartrhari. With the form of the sataka Dhurjati and other Telugu poets inherited many of its kavya features as well. Heifetz and Rao note that Dhurjati employs the sardulamu and mattebhamu, Telugu adaptations of Sanskrit syllabic meters (the 19-syllable schema of the sardulamu line is identical to that of the Sanskrit sardulavikridita). The authors also note that the Telugu meters use yati and prasa (line-initial and second-consonant rhyme), but they do not say that these features are indigenous to poetry in the Dravidian languages. Elsewhere we learn that the verses are recited in a mode that challenges the syllabic pattern. Connections and tensions such as this one between Sanskritic and indigenous elements in the KS are surely worth exploring. It is no coincidence that Dhurjati uses for his main meter the Telugu counterpart of the sardulavikridita, the principal meter of the courtly satakas of Amaru and Bhartrhari. The KS's resonances with Sanskrit kavya extend beyond meter. Bhartrhari, the great master of the sataka form, devoted his three centuries to passion, worldly wisdom, and renunciation. The distinctive themes of Dhurjati's devotional poetry -- his obsession with the unworthiness of kings and his deep understanding of the power of passion--make him a direct heir to the Sanskrit poet, whose stanzas reflect the sensibility of a thoughtful man torn between passion and renunciation. And yet Heifetz and Rao never once mention Bhartrhari. But then, Dhurjati's poems speak for themselves--here is a Bhartrhari-like one on kings: If you call a man a king, must he then say good-by to compassion, charity, self-respect, the tolerance that learning can give, good-by to speaking the truth and to helping scholars who have been his friends, to gentleness or recognizing whatever others have done for him and good-by to loyalty? O God of Kalahasti, is there a reason why kings seem to be a growth from the worst seed? (poem 37) There are also Sanskrit precedents for the devotional associations of the sataka form. Two of the earliest major devotional poems in Sanskrit are the satakas of the seventh-century court poets Bana and Mayura, dedicated to the Goddess and to Surya, the Sun. After the seventh century important works in the Sanskrit stotra-kavya (praise of a deity) genre were produced in south India, by authors ranging from the Vaisnava Acarya Vedanta Desika (13th century) to the Saiva court poet Nilakantha Diksita (17th century). Like these stotras, the KS is an illustration of what A. K. Ramanujan has called the "bhakti shift," the many ways in which poets with a bhakti sensibility have appropriated and transformed the discourse and categories of Sanskrit kavya. In this respect, despite his troubling, persistent consciousness of the courtly world, Dhurjati is indeed a true bhakti poet. The transformative power of bhakti is seen in the certainty with which he invokes Siva's grace in resolving the conflict between the values of the world and those of the true devotee, whereas "the solution, for Bhartrhari, comes only with old age and death" (E. Gerow, in The Literatures of India, ed. E. C. Dimock et al. |Chicago, 1974~, 149). Dhurjati's poems point in other directions as well. Many of the KS's striking bhakti images and ideas arise out of the poetry of the Kannada Virasaivas, a militant Saiva sect that flourished in Karnataka from the 11th century on, and became firmly entrenched in neighbouring Andhra. The 13th-century Telugu poet Palkuriki Somanatha, Dhurjati's eminent predecessor, deals with Virasaiva themes in his major work, the Basavapurana. It is not surprising to find in Dhurjati echoes of the powerful Kannada vacanas (sayings) of Basava and other early Virasaiva saints (A. K. Ramanujan, Speaking of Siva |Penguin, 1973~). Lastly, some of the local narratives repeatedly invoked in the KS--the stories of the hunter-saint Kannappa of Kalahasti, and of Siriyala and Sankhya Tonda (Tamil Cakkiya Nayanar)--are part of the Saiva hagiological repertoire of the entire south Indian region, and are popular already in the bhakti poems of the Saiva Nayanar saints who lived in the Tamil area in the seventh and eighth centuries. With this rich, thought-provoking volume Hank Heifetz and Narayana Rao have made manifold contributions to the field of Indian studies. They have given us an excellent resource for the study of classical Telugu literature and religion. They have made Dhurjati's verses come alive for us; and they have shown us how truly diverse, human and creative the phenomenon called bhakti has been in Indian civilization. COPYRIGHT 1992 American Oriental Society 

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