Kannada vacanas

Robert Zydenbos zydenbos at FLEVOLAND.XS4ALL.NL
Tue May 12 03:52:18 UTC 1998

Replies to msg 10 May 98: indology at listserv.liv.ac.uk (S Krishna)

 mC> Robert Zydenbos writes:
 mC> <<I can look up the original for you in about a month from
 mC> now, when I am back in India. (It would be helpful if you
 mC> could give the opening words in Kannada.)>>

 mC> Thank you very much for your kind offer, I however regret
 mC> that I cannot give you the first words since only the
 mC> translation is available to me...can I request you to give me
 mC> books where the vacanas of people like dAsimaiya or couDaiya
 mC> are available in kannaDa? I have seen books brought out by
 mC> the Institute of Kannada Studies, Dharwar which give the
 mC> vacanas in kannaDa of mahAdEviyakka and basa vEzvara but none
 mC> of the other vIrazaiva saints...

Alas: behold the result, on the one hand, of excessive modesty on the part of Kannada people in publicising their treasures, and, on the other hand, of limited inquisitiveness to date in the scholarly community. -- Practically every vacana that has been found has been published. The Directorate of Kannada and Culture, Bangalore, has brought out all the known early vacanas in 15 hardbound volumes a few years ago, under the general editorship of Prof. Dr. M.M. Kalaburgi of Dharwad. Small publishers, mainly in northern Karnataka, have brought out many editions of the writings of individual vacanakaaras. (As for where to get them: please wait another few weeks. I happen to have here _Ambiga Cau.dayyana vacanaga.lu_, ed. B.R. Surapura [Dharwad: Hejjeenu prakaa;sana, 1980], containing 177 vacanas. I believe Prof. Dr. L. Basavaraju of Mysore has brought out Deevara Daasimayya's vacanas, but I'll have to check.)

 mC> I'm surprised to know that kanakadAsa came from a zrIvaiSNava
 mC> background.. From what I know, he came from a wealthy buNT
 mC> i.e. (shepherd?) family near mangaLUru and was orphaned early
 mC> in life.

(See other message.)

 mC> HE then wandered around and finally settled down in
 mC> uDupi and most of his songs were composed in uDupi. I was
 mC> also under the impression that since his ideas are accepted
 mC> as part of the dvaitic corpus, he was more a dvaitin.

This apparently happened at a later stage in his life. But his relationship with Udupi is simply that U. was the centre of Madhvaacaarya's activities and has since remained the centre of the Dvaitin tradition, and not that Kanakadaasa was born there, or had family relations there, etc.

 mC> Were his parents zrIvaiSNava?

This is the common assumption.

 mC> Was there a lot of zrIvaiSNava activity at any point of time
 mC> in the uDupi area?

I would say none at all; or if there had been any, then all traces have been obliterated by the Vaishnavism of Madhva.

 mC> Vidyansankar Sundaresan says that there was no stylistic
 mC> change from the "ankita" of the saraNa and the dAsakUTa
 mC> schools ..Firstly, kanakadAsa's kAginEle kEzava , AFAIK has
 mC> nothing to do with uDupi whose krSNa temple he was associated
 mC> with( viz the kanakanda khiDkI episode) but with the village
 mC> of kAginEle where he was born and left at a fairly young age;

This seems correct.

 mC> I therefore believe that this ankita has nothing do with the
 mC> temple i.e. uDupi with which he was associated.


 mC> Out of the many dAsas who named themselves after viTThala, I
 mC> am not sure of how many actually visited/became
 mC> sannyAsins/had their iStadEvata as viTThala of pandharpUr(
 mC> Their region of activity was more in the vicinity of
 mC> north-eastern/central karnATaka i.e. rAyichUr and in
 mC> Southern/Western karnATaka) where even today there is a
 mC> strong dvaitic presence in the temples. I therefore believe
 mC> that there was a big stylistic change in that the poets were
 mC> refering to themsleves in the first person and included their
 mC> signature even when writing about MULTIPLE dieties which is
 mC> certainly not the case with the zaraNas.

Multiple deities, or manifestations of one deity? This brings up the complex issue of "little traditions" vs. inclusivistic "great traditions", but also the religio-psychological (drat, how does one say this in English? I want to say: "religionspsychologische") question of localisation of the divine and how the devotee relates to the divinity in its local(ised) form. If Kaaginele Kee;sava and Vi.t.thala of Pandharpur are to be thought of as 'multiple deities' of the Maadhvas, one could argue that the same ought to be true of, e.g., Kuu.dalasa:ngamadeeva and Guhee;svara among the Virasaivas. Theologically (on a 'great tradition' level), neither group would agree with such an interpretation. Siva is one. Maadhva theologians have apparently tried to accommodate local traditions more explicitly (cf. Madhva's verse: "arcitaas sarvadevaas syur yatas sarvagato Hari.h" in his K.r.s.naam.rtamahaar.nava), but here there are gods and gods, and the only two eternal gods are the coexistent!
 Hari and Lak.smii.

Literarily, we can speak of a 'stylistic' difference; but why should it be there in the first place? In Virasaivism, the devotee ultimately realises his / her essential unity with Siva, whereas in Dvaita such a notion is considered perditious hybris, and individuality never ceases to be. Thus in the theology of the daasas an explicit placing in the foreground of the individual and a stressing of the daasa's personal relationship with God (_Purandaradaasa's_ Vi.t.thala, etc.) makes sense (in view of religious polemics of the time), whereas in Virasaivism individuality, which is worldly, is played down. But I can agree with Vidyasankar Sundaresan to the extent that this difference between the a:nkitas of the ;sara.nas and the daasas is not absolute.

We should perhaps also note that Kannada scholars agree that the use of such signatures as a literary device among the daasas has been borrowed from the Virasaiva ;sara.nas. If the ;sara.nas had never had such a usage, then the daasas might never have developed it.

Robert Zydenbos
zydenbos at flevoland.xs4all.nl

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