Classical Telugu Poetry: An Anthology

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

TWENTY
Śatakas

A vast literature, beginning with Pālkuriki Somanātha's Vṛṣâdhipa-śatakamu in the thirteenth century and continuing up to the present day, was composed in the formal structure of śataka(mu)—literally, a century, with approximately 100 verses addressed to a deity, a guru, or, later, some other person (a courtesan, a friend, even a cat). The earlier, largely hymnal or devotional themes eventually gave way to a wider range, including statements of deep personal feeling, social criticism, political satire, jokes, curses, and so on.1 Each individual verse in the śatakamu is highly portable, devoid of narrative or other context, so it could be easily memorized and quoted as a unit. Statistically, śataka is certainly the largest genre in Telugu.

To some extent, we may observe a correlation between the efflorescence of this flexible and expressive genre and a perceived disturbance in the established political order—as, for example, in the satirical śatakas addressed to temple deities in the seventeenth century that reflected the political weakness of Andhra at that time. No poet who had a sustained and stable relationship with a patron composed a śataka for that patron; rather, these works emerged from individual poets not integrated into any particular community or courtly setting. Equally symptomatic of this genre is a certain freedom or relaxation in the standards of language and meter. Some śataka writers, such as Dhūrjaṭi at Kāḷahasti and Śeṣappa-kavi in his Narasiṃhaśatakamu, make explicit ideological statements about this freedom from constraint and lack of formal training:

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1
See the essay on this genre, “Afterword, ” by Narayana Rao in Hank Heifetz and Velcheru Narayana Rao, trans., For the Lord of the Animals: The Kāḷahastīśvara Śatakamu of Dhūrjaṭi (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).

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