It is necessary to know the growth of Kannada literature after understanding its various stages of progress. Hundreds of literary men have contributed to Kannada literature during its 1500-year-old tradition. Some of them have made an indelible mark in the Kannada literary history. They stand as milestones. Their literary contribution is everlasting. Their masterly works are unique. If one wants to have a glimpse of the Kannada literary history, one should know about some of these giants and their significant contribution.
As mentioned earlier, the first available Kannada work is ‘Kavirajamarga’ of 9th century A.D. Very much similar to the Sanskrit ‘alamkara’ work, ‘Kavyadarsha’ of poet Dandi, it is an important classical work in the history of Kannada language and literature. ‘Kavirajamarga’ (The Royal Road for the Poets), a work of rhetoric and poetics, was written during the reign of Rashtrakoota King Nrupathunga (817-877 A.D.). It is dated around 850 A.D.
The author says in his work, ‘Nrupathunga dhevaanumathappa kaviraajamaargadhol’. Based on this, many of the Kannada literary historians consider King Nrupathunga to be the author. However, some other literary historians are of the opinion that the author of ‘Kavirajamarga’ must have been a poet in the court of King Nrupathunga.
As stated earlier, it is evident from many sources that contribution to Kannada literature began well before the period of ‘Kavirajamarga’. An inscription at the famous Jain centre, Shrvanabelagola, says that one Shrivardhanadeva had written ‘Choodamani’, a poetic work which has been praised by another poet Dandi.
The period of Shrivardhana is 650 A.D. Dandi is also of the same period. However, Nrupathunga makes no mention of Shrivardhana. Two other poets of a later period – Bhattaraka, a grammarian of 1604 A.D. and poet Devachandra of 1838 A.D. – say that a poet, Thamboolaracharya of 7th century, had composed a work, ‘Choodamani’. This makes it very clear that even prior to the first available Kannada work, ‘Kavirajamarga’, significant contribution had been made to Kannada literature. It had already gone through the formative phase and had progressed considerably.
If a poetical work was possible to be produced by the 7th century alone, Kannada literature must have made substantial progress by then. It must have had a background of at least a few centuries prior to the 7th century. Without such a literary past, a work of standard authority cannot be produced.
From similar sources, it can be ascertained clearly that works of merit had been produced during the 7th and 8th century itself. From the records of Thamboolaracharya, it is stated that one Shyamakundacharya had written ‘Prabhruthwa’ in Kannada. From an inscription, it is learned that the work, ‘Gaja Shastra’, written by Gangaraja of the 8th century had become famous. Similarly, more such names come to light in various other records. Basing on such available records, it can be clearly said that by the 7th-8th century alone many Kannada literary works of the standard had been written.
Nrupathunga himself has remembered several predecessors in his work ‘Kavarajamarga’, clearly establishing that Kannada literature had made good strides prior to his work. He has given a big list of distinguished writers, in prose as well as poetry, in two poems of his famous work. In the two poems, Nrupathunga mentions the names of Vimalodaya, Nagarjuna, Sametha, Jayabandhu, and Dhurvineetha.
These writers had produced prose works. Parama, Shreevijaya, Kaveeshwara, Pandita, Chamdhra, and Lokapala had written poetical works. Unfortunately, their works are extinct. However, the list of writers is a clear proof of the pre-existence of a long and rich literary tradition in Kannada, both in prose and poetry, apart from the language itself.
Dhurvineetha has been identified as a King of Ganga dynasty who ruled during the last phase of the 7th century. He is stated to have authored ‘Kirartharjuneeya’, ‘Shabdhavathara’, ‘Bruhathkathe’, and a few other works. Some poets prior to him have praised another writer, Shrivijaya. From these poets, it is learned that Shrivijaya had produced work in ‘Champu’ meter, ‘Chandraprabha Purana’.
Some writers are of the opinion that Shrivijaya is the author of ‘Kavirajamarga’ also. During the period of ‘Kavirajamarga’, it is understood that two poets, Asaga and Gunanadhi, have written some works. Keshiraja mentions the names of some of these poets in his work, ‘Shabdhamani Darpana’. Thus we find a long tradition of writing in Old Kannada prior to the 7th century. These writers and their works paved the way for subsequent excellent works like ‘Kavirajamarga’ and others.
‘Kavirajamarga’ is an important work from the point of view of understanding Kannada literature and Kannada culture of the period. It is a work of great pride for all Kannadigas, a great work, which tells about the richness of Kannada literature and its greatness. It gives a clear pen-picture of the Kannada language and its region, besides revealing about the Kannada and Sanskrit poets. It also tells about the achievements of Kannadigas. By adducing the names of several distinguished writers, the classic stands as a clear proof of the pre-existence of a long and rich literary tradition in Kannada.
Not only that. The poet clearly indicates the boundary of the Kannada land by saying that, ‘the land called Kannada extended from the Cauvery up to the Godavari’. This is a clear indication of the size and boundary of Karnataka. The poet says that ‘the kernel of Kannada Empire’ was the region between the four places of Kisavolalu, Kopanagara, Puligere, and Okkumdha. These four towns are known today as Pattadhakal, Koppal, Lakshmishwara, and Okkundha. ‘Kavirajamarga’ thus becomes an invaluable historical record of the 9th century.
What type are the Kannadigas?
What are their unique personality and traits?
The poet describes with great pride that Kannadigas are the people who speak what is most appropriate to the occasion. They understand well what others say and can analyze its implications. They are intelligent. They can identify mistakes in literary works. Both the speaker and the listener are clever. What is their literary style? They have ‘Bedande’ and ‘Chaththana’ poetical styles.
The poet explains the distinctive features of the two styles of writing. According to the poet, Kannadigas are not only intelligent by birth but also, even without reading or study, they are proficient in composing poems. They are good soldiers and poets, good rulers and handsome in looks, courteous as well as virtuous. They are proud and fearsome, magnanimous and wise. Over 1,200 years ago, the poet presents the Kannadiga whose trait and virtue stands out prominently even today.
Besides the two great poets, Asaga and Gunanandhi, who have been mentioned by Keshiraja in his work ‘Shabdhamani Darpana’, one of the poets famous prior to Adi Kavi Pampa was Gunavarma. The author of ‘Kavirajamarga, however, does not mention the names of these three poets. Therefore, these three poets must be of a later period.
Gunavarma-I has been designated to the period of 900 A.D. He is credited with the authorship of two works – ‘Harivamsha’ and ‘Shudraka’. Adi Kavi Pampa, Ponna and Ranna have emulated the same ‘Champu’ style of Gunavarma. Poet Asaga has authored works both in Kannada and Sanskrit. His work ‘Karnataka Kumarasambhava’ probably is a rendering in Kannada of the famous work of Kalidasa of the same title.
Another famous poet prior to Pampa was Shivakotacharya. He is credited with the authorship of the famous work, ‘Vaddaradhane’. ‘Vaddaradhane’ is believed to have been written in the early part of the 10th century, prior to Pampa. ‘Vaddaradhane’ is a unique work in old Kannada. It is a bunch of moral stories taken from Jaina history and legend. It is Kannada’s extant first prose work. Even after 1,000 years, it continues to be popular having made a mark in Kannada literary history, though there are still some doubts about its author and period.
From these and other details, we find that a long tradition of Kannada writing was built up in Old Kannada (Hale Kannada) style, even prior to Adi Kavi Pampa. These writers paved the way for the emergence of great classics in Old Kannada in the Champu style from the 10th century onwards.