Saints & Poets – Kannada Poetry

Translated works are often special because of a completely new world that they open up for a reader who wouldn’t have otherwise known and understood some of the finest poetry of a different region composed in an alien language. When such a world opens up, it is like a travel to a distant unknown land whose terrain, landscape and colors one enjoys with fascination. Living in Bangalore for some time now, I noticed statues of men like Basvanna (near Chalukya Hotel signal), Kuvempu (at Freedom Park) and could know no further of their poetry or their life.

Book Cover: Poets & Saints, Translated by G. S. Amur
Book Cover: Poets & Saints, Translated by G. S. Amur

This afternoon, I am reading Saints and Poets, a collection of Kannada poetry translated by G.S. Amur. It is a sheer delight to know these men and women poets of Karnataka and have a taste of their poetry. The book is highly recommended.

Here are some of my favorites :

Basavanna: A great religious and social reformer of the 12th century and a minister in the court of the Kalachuri king Bijjala (1130-1167) who ruled in Kalyan. He is considered to be the most poetic of the Vachanakaras.

Tied to the altar,
The sacrificial lamb
Ate the tender leaves
Hung in decoration.
Not knowing the axe
Would fall, it filled
Its burning belley.
That day it was born,
That day it died.
Did the killers live
O God Kudala Sangama?

Akkamahadevi: First woman poet in Kannada and one of the best known of the 12th century Vachanakaras. She has been an iconic figure for women poets in Kannada because of her revolutionary nature, her spiritual achievement and the high poetic quality of her Vachanas.

When you build a house in the mountains
It will not do to be scared of wild animals.
When you build a house on the ocean shore
It will not do to be frightened by breaking waves.
When you build a house in the marketplace
It will not do to shy away from noise.
Hear me Channamallikarjunadeva,
Being born on the earth it will not do
To lose peace of mind by praise or blame.

Sarvajana: A 16th century saint and preacher, he is a household name in Karnataka. His Vachanas, set in the desi metre of Tripadi have a biting wit.

You find him in fine sand,
In polished stone
And in lines drawn on cloth
Can’t you find him in yourself,
Says Sarvajana.

The other names in the collection include modern poets like Gopalakrishna Adiga, Channaveera Kanavi, G.S. Shivarudrappa and more. This serves as a very engaging and enjoyable panorama of Kannada poetry.

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