Preceptors of Advaita

by T. M. P. Mahadevan | 1968 | 179,170 words | ISBN-13: 9788185208510

The Advaita tradition traces its inspiration to God Himself — as Śrīman-Nārāyaṇa or as Sadā-Śiva. The supreme Lord revealed the wisdom of Advaita to Brahma, the Creator, who in turn imparted it to Vasiṣṭha....



D. Ramalinga Reddiar

M.A, B.L.

In the history of Telugu literature, old and medieval, we find several great poets who have enriched the language with their works. But there are only a few poets who are remembered by a grateful public even to-day. Among them, Bammera Potana is perhaps the most outstanding poet. Bammera is his surname and this is the village in which he was born. Though some scholars may not agree, it may be said that this village is located near Warangal in Telengana (Hyderabad area). Warangal is also known as Orugallu in Telugu and Ekasilānagara in Sanskrit.

Bammera Potana is said to have flourished in the 15th century A.D. We do not know much about the details of his life; but several interesting stories dealing with his life and work are current in the Telugu country. However, the following details can be given with an amount of certainly.

Potana was not rich. He led a humble and pious life. His parents were Kesana and Lakkamaṃbā. It is said he lived on agriculture, rejecting the riches offered by the kings. As a result, Potana had to face the wrath of a king by name Sarvajña Singabhūpāla. The King wanted Potana to dedicate his Bhāgavata to him; but Potana refused to do so and he dedicated the work to his favourite God, Śrī Rāma. This clearly brings out the great quality in him. Even though he was poor, he never cared for the riches or the patronage of the kings.

It is also unfortunate that we do not know much about his educational attainments. He has called himself ‘Sahaja Paṇḍita’ which means ‘one who has self-acquired scholarship’. In the colophon, it is mentioned as follows:

sahaja pāṇḍitya pōtanāmātya praṇītambaina.

From this, it is evident that he did not study under any great scholar of the day. He might have acquired scholarship by self-study. Whatever the truth might be, it can be said that Potana was a great scholar well-versed in both Sanskrit and Telugu. He had such a mastery over the Telugu language that he used several expressions with consummate skill.

Potana is said to have written the following works in Telugu:

  1. Vīrabhadra-vijayamu
  2. Nārāyaṇa-śatakamu
  3. Bhoginī-daṇḍakamu
  4. Mahābhāgavatamu

Of die above, Bhāgavatam is definitely the most celebrated work. Vīrabhadra-vijayam is a poem of four cantos containing 1046 verses and prose passages. This deals with the well-known story of Dakṣayajña. It is believed that this poem must have been composed by the poet in his teenage. Still it does not lack vigour, or poetic beauty.

Potana is famous for his sweet and melodious poetry. Though he has used a considerable number of Sanskrit compounds, they are at once sweet and pleasing to the ear. His style, though at some places appears to be flamboyant, arrests the attention of the reader. He is quite popular with the pandit and peasant as well. This is evident from the fact that even the unlettered recite some of the stanzas from his works. Potana is a people’s poet.

Among all the works of Potana, his Mahābhāgavatam deserves special mention. It is due to this immortal work, that he is remembered with great respect even to-day. It is interesting to note that several later poets had paid their profound respects to Potana. It is also worthy to note that only in Telugu country Mahābhāgavatam is read with interest and reverence. Even in Telugu, Mahābhāgavatam would not have attracted the reader had it been written by some one other than Potana. This is enough to prove that Potana was a great poet. Besides, he was a true devotee of Rāma. His sincere devotion to God, his sweet poetry, and above all his pious, humble, and independent life are also responsible for the popularity of the Mahābhāgavatam. It is really astonishing to find in one and the same person, namely Potana, true devotion and genuine poetry.

Let me quote a stanza from his Bhāgavatam to indicate his style:

mandāra makaranda mādhuryamunodelu
madhupaṃbhu pobhun madanamulaku
nirmala-mandākini nelakalādhāgu
rayam cha chanuntaraṃginalaku
lalitarasāla pallavikādi yai choku
koyila seruṇe kuṭajamulaku,
pūrṇendu chandrikā sphuritā chakoraka
inaruguṇe saṃdṛṇi hāramulaku

In the introductory verses in the Mahābhāgavatam, he says as follows:

palikeḍidi bhāgavatamaṭa
palikumbeduvāḍu rāmabhadruḍaṭa
ne palikina bhavahara magunaṭa

‘It is Rāma who prompts me to write the Bhāgavatam. I shall not write anything other than this story’.

In the colophon also, he says: “Śrī Paramēśvara karuṇākalitakavitā. . . . ” Such was the humility and true devotion of Potana!

Though Bhāgavatam is generally regarded as Potana’s work, he is not the author of the entire work. He was helped by three other poets — Gaṅgana, Siṅgana and Nāraya. Of these, Nāraya seems to be the disciple of Potana. It should be remembered that the major portion of the work was written by Potana himself and that it is the best part of the poem.

Potana’s Bhāgavatam is not a mere translation of the original Sanskrit Bhāgavata. The size of the Telugu version is almost the double of the original. Besides following the original, Potana drew from the commentaries also whatever that could be given to the reader. Further, he included the different stories relating to Śrī Kṛṣṇa as found in Harivaṃśa, Viṣṇu Purāṇa, and other works. Whenever he got an opportunity, Potana, out of his abundant devotion to the Almighty, composed several verses in His praise. Thus the Telugu version contains several additions which are not found in the original

As already mentioned, Potana’s Bhāgavatam is very popular in the Telugu country. Especially, stories like Kuchelopākhyānam, Gajendramokṣam and Rukmiṇī Kalyāṇam are very popular and are being widely read. Some of the beautiful verses like

ala vaikuṇṭhapurambulō’;
śirikiñjeppaḍu . . .’
lāvokkintayuledu . . .’
Ghanuḍābhūsuruḍegeno . . .’

can be easily compared with the best pieces written in any language. The above stories as depicted by Potana can be recommended for translation into other languages.

The popularity of the Bhāgavatam can be well gauged from the fact that more than three hundred manuscripts are available in the libraries like Govt. Oriental Manuscripts Library, Madras, Tanjore Sarasvatī Mahal library and the library of the Telugu Academy, Kākināḍa. Bhāgavatam has been printed several times; the first edition was brought out in 1840 by Vedam Vekatachala Sastri; the latest being that of Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Akademi, Hyderabad. The National Book Trust has brought out a book in Telugu on Potana by Śrī N. Venkata Rao. Several well-known writers, past and modem, have written and published valuable articles on various aspects of the Bhāgavatam. All these will clearly show that this classic has attracted the writers and the readers alike.

Though we find the element of Bhakti in almost all stanzas in the Bhāgavatam, we find at some places the elaborate description of a particular type of Bhakti, namely dāsya-bhakti or m adhura-bhakti. For instance, madhura-bhakti can be well seen and appreciated in the Bhramara Gītalu or jala krīḍā in the Tenth Canto. The passages relating to the Gopikas searching for Lord Kṛṣṇa are at once poetic and beautiful. One cannot but quote this verse in this connection.

punnāga kāṇave punnāgavaṃditu dhilakaṃba kāṇave dhilakanitula
ghanasāra kāṇave ghanasāra śobhitu bandhuka kāṇave bandhumitra
manmata kāṇave manmatā kāruni vaṃsaṃba kaṇave vaṃsadharuni

In the story of Rukmiṇī Kalyāṇam Potana describes in detail the two sentiments — śṛṅgāra and bhakti. To a casual reader, it would appear that in the hands of Potana śṛṅgāra got the upper hand. But a careful study of the story would reveal the fact that bhakti is the end of śṛṅgāra and that Potana has proved this in unmistakable terms.

Rukmiṇī writes a beautiful letter to Kṛṣṇa wherein she sought the Lord’s help in fulfilling her desire. At one place, she says

‘What use is there of these ears if I could not hear your sweet words?’

This can be interpreted as a devotee’s prayer to the Almighty.

We also find in some places the Advaitic approach. Without referring to Rāma or Kṛṣṇa, Potana addresses the Almighty in some verses. The following stanza may be quoted in this connection:

yavvaniche janiñchu jagame’vvani lapolanunḍu līnamai(?)
yavvaniyundu ḍindu parameśvaruḍevvado.

This can be regarded as the universal prayer.

Potana believes in the existence of one God, Īśvara, though Rāma is his personal and favourite God. This has been well illustrated in the story of Gajendra.

Gajendra, the mighty elephant, was caught by the cruel crocodile and he suffered a lot. The elephant tried his best to get to the shore; but he could not. Potana compares this state of helplessness of the elephant to that of a man (dehī) who is encircled by the illusion (moha) and is unable t'o get rid of it Naturally, he then turns his eyes to the Almighty, the most powerful, and seeks His help. Potana in the following stanza describes the state of helplessness of the man and his complete surrender (śaranā-gati) to God.

lāvokkintayu lēdu
dhairyamu vilolaṃbaiyye, Prānambulun
ṭhāvul dappenu, mūrccha-vacce
tanuvunḍassen śramaṃbayyaḍin
nīvetappa itaḥ paraṃ beruga
mannimpan dagundīnunin
rāve īśvara, kāvave varada
saṃrakṣiñcu bhadrātmakā.

In conclusion, it may be said that Potana, through his immortal work, has popularised the Bhakti movement and the Advaitic thought among the devotees, particularly the Andhras.

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