Classical Telugu Poetry: An Anthology

By Velcheru Narayana Rao; David Shulman | Go to book overview

THREE
Pālkuriki Somanātha
Thirteenth century

The outstanding representative of the dvipada style, and as such the dominant voice in the counter-tradition competing with the campū style of Nannaya and his successors, Pālkuriki Somanātha also embodies the crystallization of a Vīraśaiva hagiographic corpus in Telugu, perhaps a century after the VĪraśaiva foundational poet Basava, whose story he tells in his Basavapurāṇamu.1 His tradition is anti-Brahminic, anti-court, anti-temple; it is also closely associated with the so-called “left-hand” castes of artisans, merchants, and other groups not tied to the land. This milieu inherited the great wealth of Śaiva narrative from further south, in the Tamil country, and refashioned it radically. Thus, the story of Tirunāḷaippovār, embedded in the selection below, is known from the Tamil Pěriya purāṇam of Cekkiḻār, who tells it in a “right-hand” (Velala) mode; according to Cekkilār, the Untouchable hero, intent on reaching the great temple of Cidambaram, is purified by fire outside the shrine. By the time this story has entered the VĪraśaiva Telugu stream, even the name of its Untouchable protagonist has been reconceived, apparently on the basis of a linguistic misunderstanding. Instead of “the one who wants to go [to Cidambaram] tomorrow, ” we now have “one who is going to the festival [tirunāḷḷu]. ” In addition, this story of an Untouchable is now part of a radically subversive set of stories highly antagonistic to the ordered society of the medieval south, with its well-defined castes, its rules of purity, and its hierarchically graded spaces.

This short selection is an embedded narrative in Somanātha's

____________________
1
See Velcheru Narayana Rao, trans. assisted by Gene H. Roghair, Śiva's Warriors: The Basava Purāṇa of Pālkuriki Somanātha (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).

-76-

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