APPACHA KAVI’S CONTRIBUTIONs TO KODAVA LITERATURE
-Bacharanianda Ranu Appanna, Kushalnagar
(Translated from the collection of articles in Kodavattakk, published by Kodava Samaj, Ponnampet, on the occasion of the 125th Birth Anniversary of Haradas Appacha Kavi, 1994)
There are two types of literature: oral literature and written literature. Oral literature is the kind of literature that has been handed down orally over generations; Literature that has been recorded in writing is called written literature. Oral literature of Kodagu comprises of the Kodava Baalopat (songs of Life), Chaavupaat, (songs of Death), Makkala paat (childrens songs), proverbs and sayings and so on.
The moolapurusha or creator of Kodava literature is Appacha Kavi. He can rightly be credited with the honor of creating Kodagu’s first written literature. Appacha Kavi set aside his entire life for the pursuit of the enrichment of Kodava vocabulary and Kodava literature. Unfortunately, he was unable to get the required support from the gentry of Kodagu that kept him going strong. One can discern the deep troubles that he underwent, by reading some of his letters in which he penned down the journey of his difficult times. These are some excerpts from the letters he wrote to Dr. I.M. Muthanna, his contemporary, and one of the most prolific writers and historians of Kodagu.
I compiled a collection of Kodava and Kannada songs in a book titled “Bhakta Ratnakara” priced only at around 50-70 rupees although it contained valuable information that couldn’t even be contained in a thousand books. When I presented this matter to Puliyanda G. Aiyappa, he was quite enthusiastic about it and assured me that he would discuss about the immediate publication of this book with the Kannada Sahitya Sangha. At the same time, the President of the Sangha, P Ramarai mooted the idea of making this book a part of the curriculum at the Madikeri High School. When I recited some verses from my compilation on stage, everyone present was very excited! They appreciated me immensely and assured me that they would raise the funds to get this book printed. They promised me that they would inform me as soon as the funds were ready. But unfortunately, due to my bad luck, nothing materialized even after waiting for a really long time. Thereafter, I wrote a short poem in praise of the President, Mr. P.Subbayya which he was absolutely overjoyed to hear me recite. Soon after the recital, he promised me a positive reply about the publication, within exactly eight days. But unfortunately, not eight days, but three years have passed and still nothing!
This is just an example of the series of misfortunes that the Kavi had to suffer during his lifetime. Here we would be able to discern the extent of injustice meted out to a well known poet by the Kodava gentry of those days. In another letter he mentions,
“After the deaths of Maletira Machayya and Kelappanda Muddappa, sustenance for my poetry has completely vanished.”
It is quite depressing to imagine that the death of his two patrons steeped the poet in abject poverty.
The first theatre performance in Kodagu took place between 1870 and 1880 by the touring Tiptur Nataka Company that performed near the Omkareshwara temple at Madikeri. Being a regular visitor to these Company plays, Haradas Appacha had learned all the songs in all their plays by heart. Impressed by his melodious rendering of the songs, the Company even gave him minor roles to perform. It was then that the Kavi got acquainted with a renowned poet of those times Sri. Venkatadri Shyamaraya. Under his guidance, he got himself tutored in the art of classical music. With the help of a few close friends, he acquired some of the used props and theatre equipments left behind by the Tiptur Nataka Company and performed the play called “Chandrahaasa” which was widely acclaimed.
He was married in 1892 and was transferred from Madikeri to Bhagamandala in 1894. By that time, he had thoroughly familiarized himself with the intricacies of complicated Sanskrit verses. The district education officer of the time, Mr. Raghunatha Rai, impressed by the Kavi’s talents of writing and reciting his original poems, urged him to write poetry in his own mother-tongue, Kodavattakk. “It would bring glory to the Kodava people!” he said. Appacha decided to do exactly that. From that day onwards, the literary career of the Kavi underwent a sea change, and thus was born the first written literature in Kodava language.
He composed a play called “Sukanya Parinaya” in Kannada language in 1909. But it was never published. In order to increase viewership, Appacha used to perform plays in Kodavattakk within Kodagu, and in Kannada language outside Kodagu. During that period, he was reviewed in a newspaper called Madras Mail praising him as not only a talented and excellent actor but also a learned scholar and playwright.
But unfortunately, the good times did not last long. He did not make enough money through his performances alone to earn him a comfortable living, and thus his fortunes gradually drifted down towards poverty. To add to his misery, old age caught up and he became deaf while he was steeped in poverty. That is when he began composing Harikathas. The extraordinary talent of Appacha Kavi was recognized by Sri. Panje Mangesha Rai, a renowned poet of the time, who praised him greatly in the Swadeshabhimani newspaper in March 1928. He celebrated the poet’s talents and creativity profoundly highlighting his musical and literary abilities.
In present day Kodagu, people are only familiar with the four plays of Appacha Kavi. It is rather pitiful that a large collection of Kannada musical plays and Kodavattakk devotional songs exemplifying his brilliance in the field of theatre and poetry were never printed or published. This has indeed been a huge loss in the history of written literature and for the enrichment of the local language - Kodavattakk.
He composed the Yayati Nataka in 1906, Savitri Nataka and Subramanya Nataka in 1908 and the Kaveri Nataka in 1918. It is admirable that for the plays that he authored, he himself played the protagonist’s role. Then, in 1926, a heavy misfortune befell the poet and his house was burnt down. Poverty crept in gradually and reached up to a level of desperation, where he couldn’t make ends meet anymore. He even lost the patronage and encouragement from the Kodava gentry, the most important factor that kept him going. If only his circumstances were better and the opportunities aplenty, one can only wonder about the treasure trove of poetic literature this great personality could have produced!
On closely observing the poetic talents of the Kavi one could say with conviction that the Kavi can be considered no lesser than any of the famous poets that our country has ever produced!
The Kavi used the following Raagas in his Kodava compositions- Kalyani, Hindustani, Kaapi, Ketaara, Junjoti, Behaag, Mohan, Khamaaj, Suruta, Naatta, Durbar, Kharharpriya, Mayamaalavagoula, Mukhaari, Shriraaga, Shankaraabharana, Saveri, , Naadanaama, Ghazal, Kamboji, Bilaahari, Poorva Kalyani, Kaanada, Dhanaasari, Farz, Yamuna Kalyani, Dhanyaasi, Shaama Kalyani, Neelambari.
In order to simplify the songs, before the beginning of the songs, he even instructed the reader about how to sing a particular song by providing examples of old /familiar songs. The depth of the Kavi’s knowledge in theatre and literature is so tremendous that we cannot even begin to grasp the extent of its magnitude.
He employed all the Navarasas in the creation of his plays. Crucial elements in a play like Hasya rasa, Karuna rasa and Veera rasa have been used most effectively, according to the circumstances in the plays. It is generally thought that since there is limited vocabulary in Kodavattakk, it is difficult to create meaningful literature. However, from looking at his works, one can clearly discern that this logic cannot be applied to Appacha Kavi.
For example, he writes,
Shanmukhandavvaa Nee, Manmatha Maavi Ni
Kanmoond Ulla aa Chinmaya Raani!
The above verses which are in praise of Goddess Parvati, relating her to Shanmukha and Manmatha and describing her as the three eyed Queen of Lord Shiva, profoundly amplifies his thorough knowledge of ancient puranas and his power using diction, creating rhythmic intonations wherever required.
Elsewhere, he writes,
Benjava neen deddhith kel
Anji Moodna Tapass Maadiyava
The above verses encapsulate the entire Shiva Purana! The alliteration of the second syllable, musical intonation, word formation, and fluent vocabulary are all unique talents of the Kavi that render an entertaining, yet meaningful flavor to the poetic verses.
If great philosophical themes have been expressed thus, the everyday quotidian themes have also been depicted as below:
Kall nalladh kanda /kallanga kellaakku
Bolle kalladh nalladh
Challek bookkane thulli kalippala
Bollavva bolle kall
The above lines are a description of white toddy, a kind of sweet wine usually tapped from palm trees. Toddy/alcohol is an important aspect of Kodava lifestyle and is also an identity marker for a Kodava. He likens the white toddy to a beautiful girl named Bollavva. He says, ‘Look how she bubbles when poured into coconut shells!’
Now let us see the Kavi’s expertise in instant poetry, creating a poetic marvel!
Karthor pattudth arekett cheela bechhi
thorpena aadchand ponne
Chandel poov bechhi
Hand thirthirki ponne
The above lines are a description of a beautiful woman, draped in a black silk sari, a bag tied to her waist, carrying a pot that she sways this way and that. He asks, ‘Wearing flowers in your hair, O gorgeous woman, where do you go?’
If pure Kodava words have to flow with such ease from the Kavi’s pen, one can truly say that it could only be due to a divine blessing!
Elsewhere, he says:
Bamba naanlo amb kenchilo
Komba kadamanda thombe kenipino
Baala naa shoora baalil dheera
Kale pandira bole kethuvi
These words describe a valiant young man who is a master of archery. Describing his talents, he says that he is able to shoot a stag-horned deer with ease. He is brave and courageous in his life. He could easily chop the neck of a strong wild boar!
It is clearly evident that there is no dearth in the original Kodava vocabulary for approporiate words as and when the situations demand. Such a treasure trove of short verse and spontaneous poetry stands testimony to the creative power and philosophical observations of the poet.
Where can one ever find a greater contribution to literature? But, while Kodavas who assimilated and appreciated the imaginative genius and rasamaadhurya of the Kavi were already less in number those days, it is unfortunate that the situation has worsened during the modern times too.
Proving that great literary works can also be produced in Kodava language as well, Appacha Kavi became an idol worthy of emulation for all upcoming poets of Kodagu. Innumerable works of literature have been produced by taking inspiration from the rich vocabulary that Haradas Appacha has gifted to Kodavattakk. Several hundred books have been printed too! Thus, Appacha can rightfully be credited with the apt title of the ‘Sahitya Brahma’ of Kodavattakk and Kodava literature.
Just like a beautiful jungle flower that falls to the ground without having the good fortune of falling at the feet of the Lord, even invisible to the eye of the nature lover, and withers and dries up, losing all its beautiful essence, so also, it is the absolute misfortune of Kodavas and of Kodagu, that Haradas Appacha’s literary marvel came to such a tragic end.
However, it is heartwarming to note that conducting programmes such as the 125th birth centenary celebrations of Appacha Kavi, is evidence enough that Kodagu still has art lovers and lovers of literature.
The Kodagu’s Sahitya Brahma, Rasika Raja, Maha Kavi Appacha’s works, compiled into a book, is now a sacred book for the Kodavas and can be found in each and every Kodava household! There cannot be a greater gratitude that the people of Kodagu can shower in honor of the greatest Kavi that Kodagu has ever produced!