Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Love in Modern Telugu Poetry

K. Lakshmi Ranjanam M.A.


(Lecturer, Osmania University)


Modern Telugu poetry reaches its high-water mark in perfecting the sentiment of love. In India, the function of poetry, whether in the drama or in descriptive and narrative ‘Kavyas" was understood to be the delineation of the permanent moods of the human heart in all their subtleties, to enable the reader to know his own heart. When the ‘Rasas’ (sentiments) are skilfully presented by the dramatist or the epic or lyric poet, the cultured man experiences an aesthetic poise, and the baser element in him is ‘purged’, as Aristotle would have it. Hence Indian literature excels in the poetry of the feelings rather than in compositions characterised by vigour of action. As the rhythmic balance of the mind is the object aimed at, violent passions, though they are recognised and enumerated amongst the eight ‘Rasas’, are seldom developed, and that accounts for the absence of the tragic element in Indian poetry.

The violent jealousy of an Othello, the inordinate ambition of a Macbeth, the wreckless and whimsical nature of a Lear are not sentiments unknown to the Indian poet, but in choosing them as themes of his drama or narrative poem, he cannot help stirring up a storm in the breast of his reader, which is foreign to the genius of Indian poetry with its ideal of aesthetic balance. Though the tragic is eschewed in its violent aspects, the pathos which is of the essence of tragedy is consummately dealt with and represented. The pathos of a poem suggests the tragic element in life, of which it is the fragrance. Thus, traditionally, Indian poetry pinned its faith to the, ‘Sringara Rasa’ and ‘Karuna Rasa’ (sentiments of love and pathos), with the violent moods of the human breast employed to spice the composition. These two alone are capable of maintaining the rhythmic equilibrium of the mind, sometimes by pleasing and sometimes by opening the floodgate of tears. As the sky clears up after a heavy downpour, the mind assumes its original calm after reading a pathetic poem, and there are not those terrible remains of the havoc done by the storm on the angry breast of the ocean.

The history of the development of the sentiment of love in Telugu poetry is an interesting study. With Nannaya, a child of purity and a bird of penance, the sentiment of love is treated with severe simplicity. Though he lived a life of high spiritual endeavour, he had the heart of a poet and produced a large number of idyllic themes, unparalleled for simplicity and beauty, All the charming love-episodes sparkling in the Mahabharata, the story of Ruru and Pramadvara, Sakuntala and Dushyanta, Tapati and Samvarana, Nala and Damayanti are all the happy creations of his poetic soul, Tikkana, great artist that he was, made a departure from the naive simplicity of Nannaya and treated the sentiment of love in all its psychological ramifications in the story of Simhabala and his infatuation for Draupadi. Even with him, it was by the way only. His main theme was the heroic struggle of the Kurus and Pandavas. The Prabandha age, true to its aesthetic susceptibilities, took up the sentiment of love earnestly and enshrined it in some of the masterpieces of Telugu literature. But with the exception of Peddana in Manucharitra and Pingali Surana in Kalapurnodayam, the Prabandha poets narrowly missed the soul of this great sentiment. For it is the hope of achievement and not the fruition in love that can create the highest artistic purpose and purify the heart.


Modern poetry is no longer content with love in easy union, which loses its appeal by becoming commonplace and unemotional I.ove in separation has a, peculiar fascination for the modern poet. The ‘vipralambha’ (love in separation) is the underlying theme of the greatest poetry in Sanskrit and Telugu. The separation may be before the lovers are joined in wedlock, or after tasting the sweets of life as in Uttara Ramacharitra of Bhavabhuti, the Meghaduta of Kalidasa and the Gitagovinda of Jayadeva. In Manucharitra of Peddana and Kalapurnodaya of Surana, insurmountable obstacles in the way of the fulfillment of love provide the motive force of the ‘Kavya’.

Sometimes the tragedy in love may be due to unequal marriage. Poet Gurazada Apparao made this aspect of life the subject of a poem of great pathos. Social practice and custom are responsible for many a tragedy in Hindu families, and, in immortalising them in verse, the poet is standing on solid ground. The evil custom of marrying tender girls to old men, a practice now almost extinct, is the theme of Gurazada. Purnamma was a young girl in her teens. Her father, the head of a numerous family, gave her away in marriage to an old man. Her playmates used to make fun of purnamma on account of her old husband. Her tender heart was wounded beyond words. When the husband came to take Purnamma to his house, Purnamma meekly pronounced judgment on herself. She decided to die. The swan-song of this sweet soul is awful in its pathos. The ladies of the family decorated Purna for her journey. She took the blessing of the elders and embraced the dear young ones. To her brothers she left this moving message:

"Brothers, young and old,
Take care of father and mother;
Forget not the worship of Durga,
the Mother of mothers.
"The flowers of the seasons,
The fruits of the seasons,
Offer to the Goddess with a
devout heart.
"And when you all gather in the common parlour,
When you laugh and talk, do remember
Me for a while. And when you beget children
Call one of the dear ones after my name."

Tears gushed down the eyes of Purna, but a tragic smile danced on her lips. She went to the temple to bid farewell to Goddess Durga, and returned no more. The Poet says: -

‘The lustre of her eyes flew to the lotuses,
The essence of her colour hid in the yellow metal,
Her winning gait fled to the swans,
And she joined Mother Durga."

Yet another kind of love-tragedy is envisaged in the poem Bhikshuvu (ascetic beggar) of Kodavatiganti Subbaiah. The tragedy in thee above poem turns on the life-separation of two lovers. Narmada and her playmate of girlhood were deeply in love. But Destiny intervened in the form of her parents, who married her to a rich bridegroom. Hindu ‘dharma’ has no remedy and no balm for broken hearts, for with Hinduism duty is first and every other sentiment comes next. ‘Dharma’ may be deaf to the voice of this great potent force of the heart, the feeling of love, but poetry as coming from the heart is keenly alive to it. The poet expresses this succinctly but most powerfully in these lines. Narmada knows no peace, for the object of her love is kept away from her:

"She has splendid mansions to live in,
She is the mistress of boundless wealth and jewels.
Scores of maid-servants are at her beck and call-
She need not so much as lift a pin.
But alas! happiness is leagues away from league away from her without the lover."

One day the former lover, who has turned an ascetic, passes by, chanting hymns. The heart of Narmada leaps up within her. She sends for him to come up to her mansion, and asks him, "Art thou so forlorn that you go about the night exposing yourself to danger? Have you none to befriend you, not even one dear soul to keep you ?" The reply came like the moaning of the chill wind amongst the wintry leaves at midnight:

"I do not have a Guru who can raise a hue and cry that I lost my caste. Nor mother to weep for the plight of the son. Nor wife to lament endlessly for me. I am all-alone in this wide world, I am single.

"I am an ascetic and I renounced every tie of the World. My dandam (ascetic’s staff) is my only companion. Wherefore need I mind night or day? What can scare me from the burning ground or draw me to the king’s highway?"

"I aspired to pluck a fruit of rare charm, but meanwhile some one stole it away. Now, naught is left for me but to retire to the sweet, silent forest-regions of Narmada, the holy river, and live in peace."

Pathos reaches a climax in the poem and one cannot read the same without experiencing a sweet pain.

But is the note of despair the last word on love broken, unrequited, or infructuous? Has a man to burn his boats and withdraw from the world and nurse his wounds in the deep recesses of caves or forests? Is there no philosophy which can harness the fire in his heart to great purposes? Poet Rayaprolu Subbarao offers a solution to the difficult riddle in his Trinakankanam (the Bracelet of Grass). The poem is generally considered his masterpiece and universally acclaimed as the model for many other poems. It is a column of careful art. The thought runs smoothly on a bed of melodious verse. The atmosphere of the poem is one of deep serenity, and philosophic calm tinged with gentle melancholy. The story of the poem is simple enough. Two playmates of childhood were brought up on the same loving care. They ate out of the same plate and drank out of the same cup. But on attaining youth, cruel fate sundered them and the girl was married to some other. Sundari was in fact a real ‘Sundari’, a charming lady. The youth, her former lover, is crestfallen. The earth underneath his feet seemed to yawn and engulf him. He felt that life had no meaning for him. After a lapse of time the lovers happened to meet each other at eventide under a familiar old tree. At the sight of his lady-love, the yet unhealed wounds of his love-sick heart reopened and he bewailed thus:

"Dear friend! Friendship of the ordinary kind is itself a sweet tie. Hearts joined by love are linked by sweeter and surer bonds. When these ties are broken and friends part like the petals of the flower torn to pieces, what remains but to bewail? The heart that has nursed the seed of love from our earliest youth has now received a set. It cannot be nourished upon empty words, for in separation nectar is turned into poison. Do not condemn the very feeling of love which has taken root in our hearts. You might as well say that the sprouting of pearls from shells and the oozing of honey from the lotus is unnatural. Time, my dear, is freakish. Does it not cruelly expose to the biting winds of autumn, the tender leaves of the mango that have been the glory of spring? Alas! nature is no less violent in its changes. The dew-drops which in the morning adorn the necklace of the Goddess of Dawn are by evening converted into the tears of the Goddess of the Evening at her separation from the Lord of the Day (the Sun). One is in doubt about the Divine purpose in nature if lovers united by indissoluble ties of love are cruelly separated by freaks of fortune."

The heroine Sundari is that ideal Hindu woman with whom patience is the queen of virtues. The Hindu conception is that man is like an oak and woman the gentle creeper. He is the storm and she the gentle breeze. He is the sun that scorches, she the moon that delights. The picture of Sundari as drawn by Rayaprolu Subbarao reminds one of the immortal Sakuntala. She is the younger sister of the heroine of Kalidasa. When Sundari moves about the grove, the deer clog her feet as when Sakuntala left the penance grove. Love and a rare courage to suffer come so natural to woman that Sundari can rise above the prevailing gloom and lift the soul of the dejected lover out of himself:

"Friend, away with your grief! The chains of love are too well forged and there can be no fear of breaking for them. The links that unite hearts are from the Divine. Unselfish and perenial love is the fruit of penance, long and severe. The human being subject to the low cravings of the heart goes deeper and deeper into the mire of physical indulgence and finally becomes so animal in nature as to grow a stranger to the sunshine of love. Wisdom lies in putting reins to the passions and in chastening the heart with true love. For the promptings of blind youth drop sails with the advent of old age, like the tender shoots that rise in spring and fade away in winter. How can you invest with inviolability things that are periodical in nature?"

Warming up to the subject with Platonic poetic vision she urged:

"Love is not subject to union and separation in the physical sense. Friendship is the magic chain that links hearts together. The unbroken realisation of this ideal is the path pursued by sages. Physicat attachment is, by its very nature, subject to change and can be sullied. Love, the spiritual bond, is mellowed by patience, penance and meditation. Our love, my friend, is safe in the caskets of the books we studied together in the cool shade of the lime trees, and in this chain of love on my hand which you tied then. Break this if you can, this silken thread on my hand. What else can true lovers desire than to be able to see each other and address each other with a dear ‘thou’?"

Like the surface of the sea after a storm, the heart of the young lover resumed a noble calm and serenity. He unloosed the old symbol of love, the silken thread on the hand of Sundari, and replaced it by one yet more sacred. He picked up some fresh blades of grass and made a bangle of them and adorned her wrist with it. Nature alone was to be the witness henceforth of their undying love. The old chain, which was not fortunate enough to fulfil its mission and rise to the heights of destiny, was left to float away on the waves of an adjoining brook.

Such is the philosophy of poet Rayaprolu Subbarao. What is tragic in fate and cruel in nature may not be really so. It is the weakness of man, a frail vessel, that he is not able to reach the haven and blames the high seas. Nature is what it is, an odd mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous, the mountain and the pebble, joy and sorrow, the cruel and the gentle. Like the great sages of India, man must learn to overcome this duality and keep his gaze steadily on the goal which was immortality in the view of the Rishis, and which the present age, with its aesthetic bias, calls love or beauty, only a difference in names. The conception that love is a spiritual urge and not a physical propensity is as old as India. Bhavabhuti, the sad and wise poet, expressed this sentiment forcibly:

"Surely some internal force draws objects unto each other. Nothing physical or external at least can account for the sentiment of love and magnetic attraction. For why should the lotus bloom only when the sun rises and the marble stone begin to moisten on the appearance of the moon?"

The thought that love is not a base physical motive, runs like a golden thread through all the great poets of the present day. Poet Gurazada sings in praise of love thus:

"Do not mistake base passions for sacred love.
The passions recede with advance of age;
Friendship with no guiles and tricks
Is the royal road to happiness
To men and women on earth."

Poet Basavaraju Appa Rao is an ethereal spirit like Ariel. To him love as obtaining amongst human beings has no appeal, for it is vitiated by convention and bounded by limitations. His blithe heart goes up to the birds perched on the trees and singing ditties of unsullied love. It is here he seeks love in its pristine purity and naked truth:

"Dear cuckoo, with you on the branch of one mango tree and your dear mate on another tree, what messages of love do you exchange?

"Perhaps you are speaking to each other of the beautiful and natural craving of your hearts and are holding converse on love.

"We human beings are ignorant of the sweet tenour of your mellow speech which is pregnant with divine love.

"Are you not worried with fear of loss of reputation if others overhear you in your love musings? Surely, you have no thought for the cruel world of human beings."


Trinakankanam, with its message of lofty and philosophical forbearance in the tragic moments of life, holds a unique place in modern Telugu. Yet it is not often that the reader can scale the towering heights of philosophy or nicely balance himself on the crest of raging waves. He is content to welcome a more amiable soul wearing the crown of sorrow, with pity in his bearing and tears in his eyes. He does not want to be steeled with philosophy; he simply desires to seek a sympathetic soul who suffered as he did. For it is a great consolation to us to see that we are not isolated in sorrow. The mind seeks parallels in life.

As poet Jayadeva said:

"If you are inclined to sing the praise of Lord Krishna, if your heart yearns for the delight of playful deeds, then betake yourself to the muse of Jayadeva, rich in sweet and harmonious cadences."

Similarly if one is disposed to shed tears and experience the sweet pain of sorrow, one thinks of Poet Devulapalli Krishna Sastri, than whom there is none more arresting. Wherein lies the charm of Krishna Sastri? Firstly, he is a master of diction and honeyed numbers. Then he is gifted with a gorgeous imagination. His fancy has the wings of an angel and soars to unattained heights. Rather, he is in the air like the winged bird always and visits the earth rarely. Hence his poetry has no relation to contemporary facts. It is not a criticism of life. It is imagination burning at white heat and fancy spreading its wings, now diving deep into the blue ocean, now running on the cloud seeds, and now whispering to the stars in their mute journey through boundless space. He perfected the sentiment of love in separation. At his magic touch sorrow assumes the shape of joy and pain loses its terrors. One begins to wonder that there are such sweet possibilities in affliction also.

Krishna Sastri is not content to love and lose the object of his adoration. His is not the love of any living image on earth, however beautiful; it is an elemental yearning of the human soul for the beautiful in the vast expanse of creation. The sun and the moon, the earth and the stars, the innumerable planets, are all held together by the holy bonds of love and each is passionately moving to meet the other. This endless march in the physical universe is but a ripple on the wave of a cosmic love. This supernatural object of his love is termed ‘Urvasi’ by the poet, the being of beauty and ideal perfection. His soul thirsts for union with her soul. This yearning is described thus:

I can neither weep in sorrow, nor die in death
For that great beacon-light which was never seen
And which can never be seen;
With a new load on my heart and with a new ray of hope
I fall down all alone into chaos,
And will be consumed there all alone.

The poet feels that the distance between this ideal beauty and himself is vast and unbridgeable. He is the flower and she the fragrance, or perhaps:

"You are the radiant crest-jewel in the crown of the Lord of the three worlds, queen among sister precious stones; miserable me is the film of darkness which trembles to creep unnoticed along the narrow lanes and dark caverns of the nether world."

The thought of separation from the ideal of his heart converts his life into a long wintry night of grief. When union is impossible his sorrow is his only consolation and he carefully nurses his grief, like the child which hugs the broken toys to its heart. To weep is a pleasant pastime with him in this long night of separation from unattainable light. It is the supreme achievement of Krishna Sastri to have demonstrated that sorrow is as sweet as joy, pain as enjoyable as comfort. The Krishna Pakshamu (the dark half of the moon), which has inspired more poets and more poems than any contemporary work, vibrates with echoes of a mighty sad music. The progress of the poet’s feelings can be well traced. Disappointment in love leads to grief; grief becomes an object of love; grief leads to disgust with the world of cruel facts; finally comes the conversion of grief into a spiritual yearning and universal love. The physical world hangs on his rare spirit like an eagle on a tiny flower. It prevents him from soaring away into eternal regions of radiance. The din and bustle of the heartless world jars gratingly on his ears attuned to the music of unknown worlds. His eye, which is feasting eagerly on the growing smile of the lady of eternal beauty, is cruelly distracted by the ugly world. The poet defies the world and spurns its spurious sympathy. He is rich in his own grief and does not stand in need of the miserable consolation of the world. In one of his great lyrics he gives expression to this:

"Let not the world pity me, I do not need it. Whom do you take me for? I am the mighty Lord of the nether world of dark sorrow; I wear a crown of thorns; I hold my royal Court in the vast halls of the mansions of the eternal night at the silent hour of deep midnight. I reign in solitude. My heart leaps up at the tragic notes of the ugly owl that fights shy of light and my soul sings in harmony with the sad music of the bird of the night. And when I raise my melancholy voice the night becomes doubly dark and infernal. Did you not watch me in such moments!

Let not the world pity me! I fan myself with the gentle breeze of my sighs. I am the proud master of the oceans of tears. I am the happy owner of the rich mines of sorrow which afford me priceless and unheard of joy. Whom do you take me for?"

The poet has gone into voluntary banishment from the world. He has spurned the light and welcomes the silent night. For, it is with grief that he wants to keep the memory of the ideal of his heart ever green. The flimsy joys of the world might distract his attention and cloud his vision. That penance is the road to realisation is the age-long conception of India. To the poet his grief is his penance. Like II Penseroso he will exclaim "Hence, vain deluding joys". Krishna Sastri says:

"I have no Ugadi (day of universal festivity). The glorious panorama of the dawn is not for me; I am the bleak night of mid-winter in the dark half of the moon. Fleeting time is one eternal darkness with me, like my grief and my sad life."

In a solemn lyric he sings:

"You (the world) do not allow me to weep to my heart’s content; leave me for once to myself; if you leave me I will sob and sob behind the dark curtain of solitude. I will cry away and exhaust the endless notes of sorrow that press against my bosom. I will weep at the top of my voice. I cannot balance myself on the nice crests of the waves of mighty joy; I cannot allow the radiance of a smile on my lips. I cannot bear the load of this endless gala of festivities; I cannot bear this life in me."

To crown the musical unrest of his soul comes the note of spiritual aspiration of the poet. His soul is now far away from the regions of the earth and is coming face to face with the divine image in the form of ideal beauty. The poet is submissive before the effulgence of this being. Love has transformed itself into spiritual desire. The poet offers himself like a devotee to the service of the universal form of beauty.

The poet has at last felt the radiant presence of Urvasi, the being of his vision. He overcomes sorrow. His life is one great song of joy. The rhythm of the universe has its echo in his soul. The night of sorrow is at last at an end and the dawn of supreme joy is close at hand:

"The harp of the universe rings in my breast today with resounding music.

"The ten quarters which are the strings of this instrument are set to one great symphony and dance upon the key-board of the stars.

"My throat is a narrow passage for the music of the waves that strikes against my heart. I cannot contain in my heart the sweetness of the innumerable worlds of love. Let me raise my feeble voice in praise of the mighty oceans of joy, flooding the Universe."


Poet Nayani Subbarao, like Krishna Sastri, is a poet of sorrow. His heart is sensitive like a leaf and trembles at the least breath of pain. But unlike Krishna Sastri, he is a lover of this earth. His penetrating imagination may soar into the region of the stars, but like the hare which returns to the starting place after many wanderings, his heart comes to the earth, imperfect as it is. "Deliverance is not for me in renunciation. I feel the embrace of freedom in a thousand bonds of delight", applies well to him. His is not the search for the lady of the vision; his passion is more well-grounded and thus becomes more intelligible and cognisable to the ordinary reader. He also displays a refreshing degree of originality in the symbols he creates for himself. Radha may be a being of exquisite beauty and poetic appeal. The dullest soul learns to hum at the mention of her name. Yet Nayani Subbarao created a different poetic symbol after his our heart. He selected Abhimanyu, the hero of the Mahabharata, and his love for Sasirekha (also called ‘Vatsala’), the niece of Lord Krishna. Here, again, true love did not run a smooth course. Balarama, the brother of Krishna and the father of the lady, intended her to marry the son of Duryodhana, the Kaurava emperor, despite the love of the lady for Abhimanyu. The story has all the suggestive possibilities of an idyllic attachment and the poet seized on this for pouring out his heart. The separation in love contemplated here is the sweet pain of separation before union. There is no heart that has not experienced this pleasurable pain. The motive of separation is more genuine than is the case with some Prabandha poems. Highly cunning artist that he is, Subbarao sings great melodies on his oaten reed. As union is not excluded from the range of possibility, there is always a ray of light ready in the ground to illumine the darkness of separation. With great skill the poet leads the reader to the brink of the precipice of sorrow. The awful chasm of irreparable loss is within sight. But having chased the sensitive heart of the reader on the path of excruciating pain, as the raging storm does a tiny vessel, the poet parts ways with Krishna Sastri. Krishna Sastri, like the great inscrutable Fate, cuts the knot of hope, and down goes the human heart into the living darkness of the nether world, only to rise with spiritual wings. But Subbarao is the good Angel that stays the hand of destruction, and lets in a flood of light into what appeared eternal darkness.

In its ceaseless yearning after beauty, modern Telugu poetry draws its inspiration partly from Prabandba poetry-with this exception, that what is sensuous is severely eschewed, for society has changed its tastes. As a worshipper of the beautiful, the modern poet brings a pure heart and a great reverence to the delineation of the heroine. The modern poets have contributed some of the most lovely heroines to Telugu poetry. Sundari in the Trinakankanam of Rayaprolu Subbarao, Narmada in the poem Bhikshuvu (the ascetic) of Kodavatiganti Subbaiah, Mallikamba in the poem of the same name by Abburi Ramakrishna Rao, are excellent portraitures. The lady of the imagination of Krishna Sastri and the ‘Hridayeswari’of Sivasankara Sastri have an unearthly and weird charm. These modern heroines are worthy sisters of their mediaeval prototype-Varudhini, Satyabhama, and Kalabhashini.

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