(Read Part 2 of this series here.)
Whenever the Vedic legacy faces a crisis, the fifth Veda, which is the Mahabharata, takes a new shape to redefine Dharma.
This is a loose translation of a statement made in the preface to the Andhra Mahabharatamu edition by Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD). The conditions that led to the composition of Andhra Mahabharatamu validate the quote. The Telugu version of the epic Mahabharata has a unique distinction of being composed by not one, but three poets belonging to three different generations. It took close to 300 years for this book to reach completion. These three poets are collectively called as Kavitrayam (“Poet Trinity”) among the Telugu literary sphere. The scope of this post is to observe the conditions that inspired each of the poets to take up this work.
Adikavi Nannayya. Picture Credit: Internet
Nannayya, who existed in the 11th Century CE, was the guru of Raja Raja Narendra, the Eastern Chalukyan King who ruled over Vengi. The political conditions that led to his ascension did have a bearing on the translation of the Mahabharata.
Raja Raja Narendra was the son of King Vimaladitya. Upon Vimaladitya’s death, he faced opposition from his step-brother Vijayaditya. Vijayaditya was influenced by his mother, Princess Melavamba, who was sympathetic to the Jain cause.
Raja Raja Narendra’s mother, Kundavamba, was a Chola princess and the sister of Rajendra Chola-I. She was a follower of the Shaiva thought. In the strife that ensued, Vijayaditya was supported by the Western Chalukyas, while the Chola emperor Rajendra supported his nephew.
Raja Raja Narendra prevailed, and he ascended the throne with some observations of common folk that he made in this course. He observed that the Jaina and Bauddha traditions endeared themselves to the common folk by having their literature available in the common tongue. Vedic literature, on the other hand, was a captive of a few scholars who had the knowledge of Sanskrit, and common folk had begun to feel uncomfortable about depending upon them. Adding to this, Pampakavi had composed “Vikramarjuna Vijaya”, a retelling of the Mahabharata in Kannada, in which he established the supremacy of the Jain thought over the Vedic thought.
Raja Raja Narendra’s concern rested on the glorification of renunciation by Jain culture and the undermining of the householder (“grihastha”) who was actually the social, cultural and economic backbone of the household, society and the State. The due respect of the householders, who were critical to any State, he believed, could be restored only by restoring Vedic thought through a language appreciated by the common folk. This led to his requesting Nannayya Bhattaraka to take upon the task of translating the fifth Veda to Telugu.
Nannayya, who empathized with Raja Raja Narendra’s observations, had a daunting task before him. Telugu, as a language, lacked an independent grammatical structure in his days. Thus, he took on the job of scrutinizing Telugu vocabulary, and produced the “Andhra Shabda Chintamani”, a grammatical treatise in Telugu, largely inspired from Panini’s Ashtadhyayi, while sticking to a five-fold grammatical structure (samjnā, sandhi, ajanta, halanta, kriya, as per “A Comparative Study Of Andhrasabdachintamani And Balavyakaranam”). The work earned him the titles “Sabda SAsana” and “vAgAnuSAsana”.
After carving the linguistic path for the Telugu language, Nannayya started on the Andhreekarana of Mahabharata. I use the term “Andhreekarana” instead of “translation” because Nannayya’s style of composition cannot be termed as a true translation of Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa’s Moola Mahabharata. It also cannot be termed as a reconstruction or a retelling. According to the scholars who critiqued the text, the focus of Vyasa’s Mahabharata rested on the SAstra. Nannayya, while maintaining the spirit of this SAstra, took liberties with the kAvya element of the text. It goes without saying that there were a few plot deviations in his part of Andhra Mahabharatamu. This text thus covered linguistic as well as socio-philosophical lacunae that existed in 11th Century Telugu land.
Nannayya, coveting the title of Adikavi in Telugu, completed the Adi and Sabha Parvas of the Andhra Mahabharata. The Adikavi’s life, and thus that of his trail-blazing pen, came to an abrupt end in the middle of Aranya Parva.
It was a totally different socio-political situation that motivated the second poet, Tikkanna Somayaji, to continue this Yajna of Andhreekarana after more than 200 years, and we shall see why, in my next post.
Reference: Preface of Srimad Andhra Mahabharatamu – TTD Edition
For further reading: Andhra Kavula Charitramu – Sri Kandukuri Veerashalingam Pantulu