‘Harishchandra Chāritra’ and the Medieval Shaiva Literary Canon in Kannada

Tuesday, October 16, 2018 - 5:00pm

Foster 103

South Asia Seminar: Vanamala Viswanatha, Azim Premji University

Harishchandra Chāritra, or Harishchandra Kāvya, as more popularly known in Kannada literary culture, (The Life of Harishchandra, Murty Classical Library of India, Harvard University Press, 2017) was written by poet Raghavanka of Hampi in Northern Karnataka, around 1225 CE. Like the mythical, two-headed gaṅḍabhēruṅḍa bird, the insignia of Karnataka kings, that looks back and looks forward at once, this kāvya text of narrative poetry in the mārga/courtly tradition combines in equal measure aspects of the dēsi/vernacular which came to dominate literary production in the ensuing centuries. The talk demonstrates ways in which this shaiva text from the medieval period forges important links with its literary forebears from the Sanskrit kāvya tradition even as it establishes a local habitat for itself in a quintessential Kannada milieu. Drawing from the oral and folk traditions of Kannada, the poet innovates a new metre called shatpadi, which also provides creative expression for the Vaishnava poets in the later centuries. The text becomes a dialogic space in which Kannada and Sanskrit, the classical and the popular/ dēsi, the local and the pan-Indian jostle against each other to gesture towards a poetics that could go beyond its sectarian moorings. I argue that Raghavanka could accomplish this by maintaining a critical distance in terms of ideology, theme, and form from the canonical Virashaiva poets of the earlier century as well as from Harihara, his own guru and contemporary poet.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018 – 5:00pm
Foster 103