Preceptors of Advaita
SOME AUTHORS OF WORKS IN REGIONAL LANGUAGES
D. RAMALINGA REDDIAR
In the history of Telugu literature, old and medieval, we find several great poets who have enriched the language with their works. But there are only a few poets who are remembered by a grateful public even to-day. Among them, Bammera Potana is perhaps the most outstanding poet. Bammera is his surname and this is the village in which he was born. Though some scholars may not agree, it may be said that this village is located near Warangal in Telengana (Hyderabad area). Warangal is also known as Orugallu in Telugu and Ekasilanagara in Sanskrit.
Bammera Potana is said to have flourished in the 15th century A.D. We do not know much about the details of his life; but several interesting stories dealing with his life and work are current in the Telugu country. However, the following details can be given with an amount of certainty.
Potana was not rich. He led a humble and pious life. His parents were Kesana and Lakkamamba. It is said he lived on agriculture, rejecting the riches offered by the kings. As a result, Potana had to face the wrath of a king by name Sarvajna Singabhupala. The King wanted Potana to dedicate his Bhagavata to him; but Potana refused to do so and he dedicated the work to his favourite God, Sri Rama. This clearly brings out the great quality in him. Even though he was poor, he never cared for the riches or the patronage of the kings.
It is also unfortunate that we do not know much about his educational attainments. He has called himself ‘Sahaja Pandita’ which means ‘one who has self-acquired scholarship’. In the colophon, it is mentioned as follows:
sahaja panditya potanamatya pranitambaina.
From this, it is evident that he did not study under any great scholar of the day. He might have acquired scholarship by self study. Whatever the truth might be, it can be said that Potana was a great scholar well-versed in both Sanskrit and Telugu. He had such a mastery over the Telugu language that he used several expressions with consummate skill.
Potana is said to have written the following works in Telugu:
Of the above, Bhagavatam is definitely the most celebrated work.
Virabhadra-vijayam is a poem of four cantos containing 1046 verses and prose passages. This deals with the well-known story of Dakshayajna. It is believed that this poem must have been composed by the poet in his teenage. Still it does not lack vigour, or poetic beauty.
Potana is famous for his sweet and melodious poetry. Though he has used a considerable number of Sanskrit compounds, they are at once sweet and pleasing to the ear. His style, though at some places appears to be flamboyant, arrests the attention of the reader. He is quite popular with the pandit and peasant as well. This is evident from the fact that even the unlettered recite some of the stanzas from his works. Potana is a people’s poet.
Among all the works of Potana, his Mahabhagavatam deserves special mention. It is due to this immortal work, that he is remembered with great respect even to-day. It is interesting to note that several later poets had paid their profound respects to Potana. It is also worthy to note that only in Telugu country Mahabhagavatam is read with interest and reverence. Even in Telugu, Mahabhagavatam would not have attracted the reader had it been written by some one other than Potana. This is enough to prove that Potana was a great poet. Besides, he was a true devotee of Rama. His sincere devotion to God, his sweet poetry and above all his pious, humble and independent life are also responsible for the popularity of the Mahabhagavatam. It is really astonishing to find in one and the same person, namely Potana, true devotion and genuine poetry.
Let me quote a stanza from his Bhagavatam to indicate his style:
mandara makaranda madhuryamunodelu
madhupambhu pobhun madanamulaku
rayam cha chanuntaramginalaku
lalitarasala pallavikadi yai choku
koyila serune kutajamulaku
purnendu chandrika sphurita chakoraka
marugune samdhrini haramulaku
In the introductory verses in the Mahabhagavatam, he says as follows:
ne palikina bhavahara magunata
‘It is Rama who prompts me to write the Bhagavatam. I shall not write anything other than this story.’ In the colophon also, he says: “Sri Paramesvara karunakalitakavita. . . . . “ Such was the humility and true devotion of Potana !
Though Bhagavatam is generally regarded as Potana’s work, he is not the author of the entire work. He was helped by three other poets –– Gangana, Singana and Naraya. Of these, Naraya seems to be the disciple of Potana. It should be remembered that the major portion of the work was written by Potana himself and that it is the best part of the poem.
Potana’s Bhagavatam is not a mere translation of the original Sanskrit Bhagavata. The size of the Telugu version is almost the double of the original. Besides following the original, Potana drew from the commentaries also whatever that could be given to the reader. Further, he included the different stories relating to Sri Krishna as found in Harivamsa, Vishnu Purana and other works. Whenever he got an opportunity, Potana, out of his abundant devotion to the Almighty, composed several verses in His praise. Thus the Telugu version contains several additions which are not found in the original.
As already mentioned, Potana’s Bhagavatam is very popular in the Telugu country. Especially, stories like Kuchelopakhyanam, Gajendramoksham and Rukmini Kalyanam are very popular and are being widely read. Some of the beautiful verses like ‘alavaikunthapurambulo’, ‘sirikinjeppadu. . . . ’, ‘lavokkintayuledu. . . . . ’, ‘Ghanudabhusurudegeno. . . ’, can be easily compared with the best pieces written in any language. The above stories as depicted by Potana can be recommended for translation into other languages.
The popularity of the Bhagavatam can be well gauged from the fact that more than three hundred manuscripts are available in the libraries like Govt. Oriental Manuscripts Library, Madras, Tanjore Sarasvati Mahal Library and the library of the Telugu Academy, Kakinada. Bhagavatam has been printed several times; the first edition was brought out in 1840 by Vedam Vekatachala Sastri; the latest being that of Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Akademi, Hyderabad. The National Book Trust has brought out a book in Telugu on Potana by Sri N. Venkata Rao. Several well-known writers, past and modern, have written and published valuable articles on various aspects of the Bhagavatam. All these will clearly show that this classic has attracted the writers and the readers alike.
Though we find the element of Bhakti in almost all stanzas in the Bhagavatam, we find at some places the elaborate description of a particular type of Bhakti, namely dasya-bhakti or madhura-bhakti. For instance, madhura-bhakti can be well seen and appreciated in the Bhramara Gitalu or jala krida in the Tenth Canto. The passages relating to the Gopikas searching for Lord Krishna are at once poetic and beautiful. One cannot but quote this verse in this connection.
punnaga kanave punnagavamditu
dhilakamba kanave dhilakanitula
ghanasara kanave ghanasara sobhitu
bandhuka kanave bandhumitra
manmata kanave manmata karuni
vamsamba kanave vamsadharuni
In the story of Rukmini Kalyanam Potana describes in detail the two sentiments – sringara and bhakti. To a casual reader, it would appear that in the hands of Potana sringara got the upper hand. But a careful study of the story would reveal the fact that bhakti is the end of sringara and that Potana has proved this in unmistakable terms.
Rukmini writes a beautiful letter to Krishna wherein she sought the Lord’s help in fulfilling her desire. At one place, she says ‘What use is there of these ears if I could not hear your sweet words?’ This can be interpreted as a devotee’s prayer to the Almighty.
We also find in some places the Advaitic approach. Without referring to Rama or Krishna, Potana addresses the Almighty in some verses. The following stanza may be quoted in this connection:
yavvaniche janinchu jagame’vvani lapolanundu linamai
yavvaniyandu dindu paramesvarudevvado.
This can be regarded as the universal prayer.
Potana believes in the existence of one God, Isvara, though Rama is his personal and favourite God. This has been well illustrated in the story of Gajendra.
Gajendra, the mighty elephant, was caught by the cruel crocodile and he suffered a lot. The elephant tried his best to get to the shore; but he could not. Potana compares this state of helplessness of the elephant to that of a man (dehi) who is encircled by the illusion (moha) and is unable to get rid of it Naturally, he then turns his eyes to the Almighty, the most powerful and seeks His help. Potana in the following stanza describes the state of helplessness of the man and his complete surrender (saranagati) to God.
dhairyamu vilolambaiyye, Pranambulun
thavul dappenu, murccha-vacce
nivetappa itah param beruga
rave isvara, kavave varada
In conclusion, it may be said that Potana, through his immortal work, has popularised the Bhakti movement and the Advaitic thought among the devotees, particularly the Andhras
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