Classical Telugu Poetry: An Anthology

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

TWELVE
Kṛṣṇadevarāya
r. 1509—1529

The emblematic king of the Vijayanagara state at its peak, Kṛṣṇadevarāya was also a Telugu poet of the first order. His father, Narasā Nāyaka, founded the third, or Tuluva, dynasty at Vijayanagara; his mother was a Tuḷu woman, Nāgâmba, so there is reason to believe that Kṛṣṇadevarāya's first language was Tuḷu. Kṛṣṇadevarāya's ascension to the throne marks a moment of dramatic expansion in the state—system over which he ruled—a period of military conquests, social change (including the mobilization of a new elite bound in ties of personal loyalty to the king), vast public building, and literary and artistic innovation. In the eyes of the south Indian tradition, Kṛṣṇadevarāya has always remained the synoptic “great king, ” a symbol of elegant power, wealth, and love for his god: Veṅkaṭeśvara at the Tirupati temple, which the king visited many times as a pilgrim.

He is the only Telugu poet whose physical portrait we can realistically reconstruct. Domingos Paes, a Portuguese visitor to the court, describes him as pock—marked, irascible, “of fair complexion and good figure, rather fat than thin. ”1 This image is at odds with the idealized images of Kṛṣṇadevarāya that we see, for example, in bronze sculpture at Tirupati (together with his two wives), or on the north gateway at Cidambaram. Along with these visual images, we have a rich depiction of this king in the oral cāṭu tradition, which connects him to various women, to the court jester Tĕnāli Rāmaliṅgaḍu, and to a series of eight great poets, the aṣṭa—dig—gajas. This retrospective cāṭu vision of the royal court, which seems to have crystallized in the mid—seventeenth century, gives a sense of constant poetic produc–

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1
Cited by Robert Sewell, A Forgotten Empire (Vijayanagar): A Contribution to the History of India (London: S. Sonnenschein and Co., Ltd., 1900), 246–47.

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