Friday 26 October 2012

Karnataka's own Vyasa, The first Mahabharata in Kannada

It was sometime in 1430 AD and a scholarly Brahmin sat down near the Veera Narayana Temple in Gadag to have food. Gadag then was part of the Vijayanagar Empire and Devaraya 2 was ruling monarch. Devaraya had subdued the Bahamanis and other enemies and the kingdom was enjoying a period of peace and prosperity.
As was the custom in those days (this custom continues even to this day), food was being served to people in a temple. The scholarly Brahmin whose name was  Narayanappa  sat with several children at the temple hall to partake food. Even as the food was being served, some of the children got into a brawl.
One of the Brahmins serving food tried to end the fight and asked them why they were fighting like Duryodhana (Duryodhana was the eldest of the Kauravas and it was because of his obstinacy that the Kurukshetra war broke out). Even as Narayanappa looked towards the children with a grin, another Brahmin sitting near him walked out of the hall with tears in his eyes.
The manner in which the Brahmin walked out of the hall and his tearful eye immediately pulled at Narayanappa’s heart. Narayannappa went behind the Brahmin and tried to console him. “What happened and why are you crying”, he asked.
The Brahmin turned around and Narayannapa found that his eyes were full of tears and his face was anguished. There was immense sorrow on his face.  “ I am Ashwathamma, son of Dronacharya”, he said.
A dumbfounded Narayanna looked askance and the Brahmin continued. “I could not control my tears when the Brahmin serving food rebuked the children by taking the name of Duryodhana. The first of the Kauravas was my friend and I do not know what happened to him. I witnessed the death of Duryodhana and I do not know what happened afterwards”, he said.
Narayanappa appeared tongue tied and did not know what to reply. In his mind’s eye, he was thinking how Ashwathamma could have survived for so long and what was he doing here.
As if reading his thoughts, Ashwathamma began narrating the Mahabharata, including the Kurukshetra wars as it had happened before his eyes. Ashwathamma appeared pleased when Narayannapa said it was his amobition to write the Mahabharata in Kannada.
Then hear me and my story, said Ashwathamma to Narayanappa. He began narrating the events of the Mahabharata.A spellbound Narayannappa listened to the narration in awe and with reverence. Ashwathamma stopped as soon as he completed the 10th Parva or chapter which deal with the death of Duryodhana at the hands of Bheema.
Narayanappa then decided to base his version of the Mahabharata on the facts narrated by Ashwathamma. He thus commenced writing the epic in Kannada and completed it till the 10th chapter. He did not go any further and the rest of the Mahabharata was completed by another poet of the Vijayanagar court, Thimanna Kavi during the reign of Krishna Deva Raya.
One of the foremost Madhwa saints of the times, Vyasa Theertha read the epic and gave him the name Kumara Vyasa. This name struck and today, Narayanappa is better known as Kumara Vyasa.
This is one of the legends associated with the first Brahminical writing of the Mahabharata in Kannada. It is called Gadugine Bharata or Karnataka Bharata Kathamanjari.
There is another story about how the Kannada Mahabharata was written. Here it goes.
Narayana came in Kumara Vyasa’s dream and told him that he would recite the Mahabharata and asked him to pen it down. But he had two conditions. The first was that Kumara Vyasa would come to the Narayana temple and that the second was he would only transcribe the epic without trying to locate the place from where the voice reciting the epic was coming.
Kumaravyasa was ecstatic and he then began writing down whatever he was hearing from a voice which was coming from behind the statue of Narayana in the Veera Narayana Temple. This exercise continued till the 10th chapter or the Gadha Yuddha between Bheema and Duryodhana. By then several years had passed,
When he had compted the Gadha  Yuddha, curiosity took the better of Kumaravyasa. He went behind the idol and was astonished to find that Narayana was himself reciting the Mahabharata and the entire scene was being enacted behind the idol.
Narayana stopped the recitation as Kumaravyasa had broken his promise. Kumaravyasa did not want to complete the epic as he felt he had betrayed Narayana. He left the Mahabharata unfinished but write that he had only written what had been dictated to him by Narayana.
Even to this day, there is a pillar in the temple which is named Kumaravyasa pillar. It is said that Kumaravyasa stood leaning on the pillar and  reverentially composed the Mahabharata.
There is a small tank adjoining the Veera Narayana Temple. Kumaravyasa used to bathe here everyday and come and lean against the pillar till his clothes dried.
These are the two legends about how Narayanappa came to write Mahabharata in Kannada.
This epic exerted a lot of influence on the literature of the times. Both Purandara Dasa and Thimanna Kavi refer to it. Vyasa Theertyha has also alluded to it. Another Brahmin writer, Narayana better known as Kumara Valmiki of Bijapur, was influenced by this epic and decided to pen the Ramayana in Kannada.       
The Bharata of Narayanappa vests Krishna with divine powers, while attributing human frailities to the rest of  the cast. If Pampa puts forward the Jain interpretation of the Mahabharata, Kumaravyasa sticks to tradition. Pampa  is more liberal in his Vikramarjuna Vijaya. He makes Draupadi the wife of  Arjuna only and not of all the Pandavas. He also portrays Duryodhana and Karna as good individuals. Arjuna is the herof the epic.
The entire work is composed in  Bhamini Shatpadi meter, a form of six lined stanza. Lakshmeesha, another great poet who was born a few decades after Kumaravyasa’s  death, took up and completed Ashwamedha yaaga parva alone in his work "Jaimini Bharata" in Kannada.
Airavata . is another work of  Kumaravyasa 
The Veeranarayana Temple is one of the five Narayana temples consecrated by Ramanujacharya. This temple was built by the Hoysala emperor Vishnuvardhana,
The main deity, Veeranarayana is in a standing posture  with his four hands holding the Shanka, Chakra, Gadha and Padma. Lakshmi and Garuda are on either side.
Gadag is 400 kms from Bangalore. It can be easily reached from Hubli which is 60 kms away.   


  1. Very good post about kannada mahabharatha


  3. anyone aware, as to where i can get a copy of this book?