Srinatha: The Poet Who Made Gods and Kings

Srinatha: The Poet Who Made Gods and Kings

Srinatha: The Poet Who Made Gods and Kings

Srinatha: The Poet Who Made Gods and Kings

Synopsis

This groundbreaking cultural biography of Srinatha, arguably the most creative figure in the thousand-year history of Telugu literature., shows how the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century poet revolutionized the classical tradition and effectively created the classical genre of sustained, thematically focused, coherent large-scale compositions. Some of his works are proto-novellas: self-consciously fictional, focused on the development of characters, and endowed with compelling, fast-paced plots. Though entirely rooted in the cultural world of medieval south India, Srinatha is a poet of universal resonance and relevance. Narayana Rao and Shulman provide extended translations of Srinatha's major works and show how the poet bridged gaps between oral (improvised) poetry and fixed literary works; between Telugu and the classical, pan-Indian language of Sanskrit; and between local and trans-local cultural contexts. This wide-ranging and perceptive study reveals Srinatha place in a great classical tradition in a moment of profound cultural transformation.

Excerpt

Some years ago we tried to interest a major academic publisher in an anthology of translations from classical Telugu poetry. the editors responded that they were unable to take on this book for two reasons: no one would buy it (an understandable argument), and there was also a principle involved. If they published such an anthology for Telugu, they wrote us, they would find it difficult to resist demands to publish similar anthologies “for other minor literatures.” We found the principle somewhat amusing, not to say insulting. Telugu has an unbroken classical literary culture of at least a thousand years. Its literature is by far larger than those in English, German, Italian, French, Spanish, or Russian, and its originality and artistic visions are in no way inferior to those of European traditions. We’ re a little tired of explaining to the world where Telugu is spoken (by some 80 million people—OK, it’s in south India) and why it should interest anyone.

There are hardly any substantial monographs about individual South Asian poets who made a difference to their tradition and to South Asian literature as a whole. the very notion that one might be able to characterize a poet’s oeuvre stylistically and thematically, in a historical context and as part of a structured literary ecology, seems exotic to the field. Among the towering figures who emerged in the long history of Indian literature, Śrīnātha, in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, could easily be seen as one of the most unusual. He definitely deserves a book of his own. Here is one poet who lives on, both in his very considerable literary production and in popular memory embodied in legends and oral verses.

Modern Telugu scholarship on Śrīnātha, which engaged the minds and energies of a number of gifted scholars such as Veturi Prabhakara Sastri and Bandaru Tammayya, has unfortunately concentrated for the most part on technical problems of dating and sources. Attempts have . . .

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