Unsung Poetry (Part 4)

Sixty-seventy years ago, the erudite scholars of the era were blessed with an abundant vocabulary. Unfortunately, the themes on which this prowess was to be applied were not extraordinary. Shri. Tiruvengadayya of Mulbagal was a scholar in Telugu. He was an expert and an enthusiast when it comes to teaching classical poetry; pure in conduct; a true devotee of the Almighty.  He was the headmaster of the Telugu middle school. Along with that he also used to teach Gamaka[1] to some of the youngsters from the Vaishya[2] community. In Telugu, as it is the case in Kannada, Prāsa[3] is an important component of poetry. Tiruvengadayya was a huge fan of that. One of his disciples composed some imitation poetry as follows:

ಅಂಡಾಂಡ ಪಿಂಡಾಂಡ

ಬ್ರಹ್ಮಾಂಡ ಭಾಂಡಂಬು ।

ಧಂಡಿಗಾ ಭಂಡಿಗಾ

ಮೆಂಡಿವೆಲಸೆ ।।

The vessels which are the Aṇḍāṇḍa, Piṇḍāṇḍa and Brahmāṇḍa, overflowed in excess

ತೆರೆತೂರ್ಣ ಪರಿಪೂರ್ಣ

ಪೂರ್ಣ ಘೂರ್ಣಿತಮಯ್ಯಿ ।

ಚೂರ್ಣಂಬು ನೂರ್ಣಂಬು

ಪೂರ್ಣಮಯ್ಯೆ ।।

The waves soon became full, morphed into whirlpools, were decimated, and were filled

Seeing this Tiruvengadayya asked, “What is the meaning of this?”. His disciple replied in Telugu, “I’ve just arranged the words now. I’ve not decided anything on the meanings, it is something which would be thought about later”

 

If Tiruvengadayya had stumbled upon a good theme, he might have written a great classic. His wish was fulfilled when the Amaldar of his place got transferred.

The Amaldar was Shri. C. Sheshadri Iyengar. He was the brother of the famous councillor Shri. C. Srinivas Iyengar. When there was a gathering to felicitate him before he left, Tiruvengadayya recited his huge literary work.

The theme of his work was two-fold (thus the work consisted of two parts).

  1. The construction of the gopura of the Anjaneya-svami temple.
  2. The extermination of the Nagadāḻi/Common Rue[4] plants.

We can indeed consider the first one as a good theme for a literary work. In the first part, the power of Anjaneya-svami, how he resided on the flag of Arjuna, later making Mulbagal as his abode, the king who requested him to reside there, agreeing to arrange the daily pooja which consisted of adorning him with a garland of Kedage[5] flowers, the Deity blessing all the devotees and giving them whatever they desired in the form of through the Kedage petals and the Bhasma[6] of the Bhasmārati. Then the devotees realizing the lacuna caused by the absence of the gopura and how it diminishes the grandeur of the temple, the persistent efforts of Sheshadri Iyengar to fill in this lacuna, his devotion, the magnanimity of the general public, the magnanimity of the people who donated funds to the noble cause---all these were described.

The second half dealt with the problems caused by the Nagadāḻi plants which had grown so much without any check, the travails it had caused to the travellers, the malevolence of the thieves and bandits who used them as their hiding place, the nuisance and the danger of the frogs and snakes which resided amongst these plants, the urgent need of destroying these plants to remove all these dangers, a generous praise for all the tools which were sharpened to weed out these plants, descriptions of their previous exploits; The process proceeded as though Shri. Rāma destroyed the army of Rāvaṇa, Arjuna destroyed the army of the Kauravas, Indra cut through the wings of all the mountains, Parameṣvara, the lord of all worlds destroying the three cities[7] --- Tiruvengadayya described. In this work rhyming words, like “ಅಂದಂಬುನ ಚಂದಂಬುನಡೆಂದೆಂಬುನ” and “ಪೇರೊಂಡ್ರು ವೇರೊಂಡ್ರು ಭೇರೊಂಡ್ರು”, flowed copiously.

Listening to it, people were wonderstruck. In those days, in our country, erudition was there; so were people who knew its value.

Since Tuesday was the day when the Sante[8] was set up in the town, it was a holiday for schools. Afternoon, it was a routine that all the schoolteachers would meet and chitchat in the Telugu school building which was in the town centre, while eating cucumbers and peanuts.  

One day to start the proceedings, Tiruvengadayya quoted a verse written by some unknown person and explained it’s meaning as follows:

ಕನ್ನಡ ಕವಿತಲು ವೆಧವುಲ ।

ಚೊನ್ನುಲ ವಲೆ ಜೋಲು ಬಡಿನ ತಿತ್ತುಲು ಗದರಾ ।।

“Aren’t the Kannada poems like the sagging bag-like breasts of the widows”

After hearing it, Shri Vegamadulu Shinappa, immediately replied as follows,

ತೆಲುಗುನ ಕವಿತಲು ಕಮ್ಮಡಿ ।

ಪುಲುಗುಲ ವಲೆ ಮುಂಡ್ಲನೆತ್ತಿ ಜರುಗುನು ಗದರಾ ।।

“Telugu poems meanwhile are like the crawling caterpillars whose thornlike spines are always erect”

Someone in the audience exclaimed “Such a great match between those widows and these widows!”.

ಮುಂಡ್ಲು can be understood either as ‘thorns’ or as ‘widows’.

Koḻḻi Naraṣiñyācārya

Naraṣiñyācārya was the disciple of Gopinathācārya. Was a great devotee of his teacher. All his prominent poems dealt with praising his teacher.

There are many stories about Naraṣiñyācārya. They are not to be written, not to be published even if written. To give an example, I’ll narrate one story.

The teacher-student duo had been to a village in Nangali for lunch. A sumptuous meal of Huḻitovve, Hayagrīva, Hālukīru, Aṃboḍe was devoured with glee. They started their return journey by around three thirty or four in the afternoon. The heavy meal in their stomachs were dragging them down. Scorching summer heat beat them down their heads. Somehow with great effort they covered one or two miles. They were exhausted by then. They spotted a thick vegetation of the Muttuga[9] trees nearby. The shade below them due to their expansive leaves felt refreshing. Gleefully ignoring the consequences, they both relieved themselves of the nature call. Then they thought of water. But alas! They couldn’t find any nearby. In such situation they did whatever anyone else could have done i.e. lifted their clothes so as to not make them dirty and walked further. There they noticed a rock which was wide and clean. Seeing it Ācārya (the teacher) turned back and said “Wow!

ಈ ಬಂಡೀ ನಾ ಕಂಡೀ ।

ಎಮ ಕುಂಡೀ ಶುದ್ದಿಃ” ।।

This rock I saw is clean

And so, my ass got cleansed.

The disciple continued.

ನಿಮ ಕುಂಡೀ ನಾ ಕಂಡೀ ।

ಎಮ  ಕುಂಡ್ಯೂ  ಶುದ್ದಿಃ ।।

Your ass I saw is clean

And so, my ass too got cleansed.

Something which is pure can also be a purifier is the concept here. Isn’t a lighted lamp capable of lighting another lamp?

I can’t say if the story is true or fiction. Even if it is fictitious it throws some light on human behaviour is all I can say.

This is the First part of the English translation of  the nineteenth essay (Aprasiddha Kavitva 2) in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 7) – Hrudayasampannaru, translated by Raghavendra G S. The translator likes to acknowledge the timely help of Shatavadhani Dr. R. Ganesh in translating the verses in this article.  

Footnotes

[1] The art of singing verses from classical literature followed by giving a detailed exposition/explanation

[2] Businessmen

[3] Rhyming words

[4]Also called as Ruta graveolens

[5] Botanically named as Screw Pine

[6] The sacred ash

[7] Tripura-dahana

[8] Flea market

[9] Butea Monosperma, Flame of the forest

Author(s)

About:

Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.

Translator(s)

About:

Raghavendra G S is currently pursuing a PhD in Computer Science at the Indian Institute of Science. He is a Sanskrit poet and a keen student of classical literature in Sanskrit and Kannada. He is one of the contributing editors of Prekshaa.

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