कतिकति न कुसत्पयः किं ते तु कदापि नायकायन्ते |
कौ पादपास्तु सन्त्यपि किं ते सन्तानपादपायन्ते ||
Raghunātha-nāyaka, a 17th century king in the Tanjavur region, was the best among his contemporaries - both as a king and as a poet. He was like a combined avatar of Bhoja-rāja and Śrī Kṛṣṇadevarāya. During his reign, southern provinces saw peace and prosperity. Literature, music and other fine arts flourished. He was a brave warrior and an erudite poet. His court boasted of several poets and scholars such as Yajñanārāyaṇa-dīkṣita, Rājacūḍāmaṇi-dīkṣita, Samarapuṅgava-dīkṣita, Veṅkaṭamakhi and Cemakūri Veṅkaṭakavi. He also patronized women poets like Rāmabhadrāmba and Madhuravāṇi. Govinda-dīkṣita was his minister and also his tutor.
Śukavāṇi, despite hailing from a family of prostitutes, was a great scholar. Raghunātha-nāyaka, who married her, was impressed with her prowess in music and poetry and gave her the title ‘Madhuravāṇi’. He even honoured her with a ‘kanakābhiśeka’ (anointment with gold). She had acquired mastery over several fields of knowledge and was tutored by Govinda-dīkṣita, Veṅkaṭamakhi and the King Raghunātha-nāyaka himself. As an extempore poetess, she could compose a hundred verses within just twelve minutes and could engage in scholarly discussions even while playing the veena. She was well-versed in six languages and was a śatāvadhānini.
Once, a samasyā ‘किं ते सन्तानपादपायन्ते’ was posed to her in the court, with an additional constraint – the samasyā had to be solved by using only the seven letters which occur in the phrase itself, i.e., ‘क-त-स-न-प-द-य’. Madhuravāṇi came up with the following solution immediately:
“Aren’t there several kings here? But none can ever match (Raghunātha) nāyaka. There are several trees on the earth. Can they ever be the ‘santāna-vṛkṣa’, the divine tree that adorns the heavens?’ – She solved the samasyā and also turned it adeptly into a eulogy to her beloved.
Isn’t it wrong to say that ancient India denied education to women, when such great poetesses stand proof to the contrary?
Adapted from Kannada by Arjun Bharadwaj
(The original article is from the anthology Kavitegondu Kathe.)