Wednesday, November 15, 2006

స్తుతమతియైన యాంధ్రకవి

An Extempore Poem

A caatuvu (చాటువు) is an extempore, witty poem. There are many in Sanskrit, usually ascribed to famous poets like Kalidasa. There are many in Telugu as well - ascribed to famous Telugu poets such as Srinatha and Tenali Ramakrishna who are known for their ready wit..

Background of the poem
Srikrishna Devarayalu ruled the combined telugu-kannada land from his capital in Hampi, circa 15th century CE. He was a patron of the arts, especially of literature, being a poet himself. Legend goes that he had 8 great Telugu poets in his court, known as Ashta Diggajamulu (అష్ట దిగ్గజములు). Setting aside their combined literary output, which was humongous and marked a significant era in Telugu literature, this situation (a poet-king, 8 poets, the competition, the intrigues, etc.) gave rise to a wealth of amusing caatuvulu. There is no proof that any of these caatuvulu were actually spoken by the principals of the story - they very well may be creations of a later age, but ascribed to these famous personages, just to make the story more interesting.

Dhurjati was one of the 8 poets in Devarayalu's court. He was a great Siva devotee in the royal court dominated by Vaishnavism. He composed two long poems in praise of Sree Kalahasteesvara, a form of Siva in Southern Andhra. This following caatuvu is about him.

One day in court, the king expressed his wonder at the sweetness of Dhurjati’s poetry .. being a poet himself, the question took the form of an incomplete poem as ..

స్తుతమతి యైన యాంధ్ర కవి ధూర్జటి పల్కుల కేల కల్గె నీ
యతులిత మాధురీ మహిమ? --- --- ---

ఆంధ్ర కవి = Telugu poet
స్తుతమతి యైన = with praiseworthy intellect
ధూర్జటి = the poet Dhurjati
పల్కులకు+ఏల = how his words
కల్గెన్ = happened
ఈ = this
అతులిత = incomparable
మాధురీ మహిమ = nectar-like sweet effect

The king wonders how the words of the Telugu poet Dhurjati, the one with praiseworthy intellect, have attained this incomparable sweetness.

The question hung there for a moment .. then, Tenali Ramakrishna, always up to mischief, piped up and provided the solution, completing the poem in the same stroke, with this ..

- - - - - - - - - - - - - హా తెలిసెన్, భువనైక మోహనో
ద్ధత సుకుమార వార వనితా జనతా ఘనతాప హారి సం
తత మధురాధరోదిత సుధా రస ధారలు గ్రోలుటం జుమీ

హా తెలిసెన్ = yes, I got it
భువనైక = the entire world
మోహన+ ఉద్ధత = capable of enchanting
సుకుమార = delicate
వార వనితా జనతా = group of "street" women (prostitutes)
ఘన = great
తాప = suffering of love
హారి = destroyer
సంతత = constantly
మధుర = sweet
అధర+ ఉదిత = born from the lips
సుధారస = honey
ధారల = streams
గ్రోలుటం = upon savoring
జుమీ = listen!

Tenali Ramakrishna replied, "yes, I know, listen! It's because he (that is, Dhurjati) had been constantly savoring the streams of honey from the lips of the delicate prostitutes who are so lovely that they can enchant the whole world!

There are many folk tales popular which paint Dhurjati as being obsessed with women, and a regular patron of the high class prostitutes of the city. Some naïve scholars even try to show evidence of this from Dhurjati’s own works. However, a scholar who studied Dhurjati deeply came to the conclusion that Dhurjati was a staunch Siva devotee, turned off from worldly pleasures. This scholar offered a completely different take on this poem – here is the "other" meaning of this poem.

The whole poem takes a different twist upon reinterpretation of just the one word, Dhurjati.
Literally, ధూర్జటి = one with long matted hair, Siva, Isvara, Lord.
So, the phrase "కవి ధూర్జటి" is interpreted as "కవి+ఈశ్వర", Lord of Poets, a leader among poets.
Therefore, the question asked by the king is not about the specific poet named Dhurjati, but about the great Telugu poets of the time - he was wondering how their poetry obtained such incomparable sweetness.

The answer is as follows:
భువనైక = the entire world
మోహన+ ఉద్ధత = capable of enchanting
సు+కుమార+వార = the group of good sons and daughters
వనిత జనత = and wives (a man could have more than one wife in those days)
ఘన తాప = great pain
హారి = remover
మధు రాధ = sweeter than honey
రోదిత = born of meditation
సుధారస = honey
ధారల = streams
గ్రోలుటం = upon savoring
జుమీ = listen!

The wives and the children, capable of enchanting the world, are the bonds that keep one attached to the world and cause pain. This pain is overcome by the constant meditation, which is sweeter than honey - it's because the Telugu poet had been feeding on such streams of sweetness that his poetry is so incomparably sweet!

This explanation was put forward by renowned Telugu scholar, the late Ravuri Venkateswarlu gaaru.

I obtained both the interpretations of the poem from the book "పద్య కవితా పరిచయం" by Acharya Betavolu Ramabrahmam gaaru.