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Bammera Pothana (1450 AD - 1510 AD)

Bammera Pothana

Bammera Pothana (1450-1510) was an Indian Telugu poet best known for his translation of the Bhagavata Purana from Sanskrit to Telugu. He was a Telugu and Sanskrit Scholar. His book is popularly called as Pothana Bhagavatham in Telugu.

Pothana was born into a Niyogi Brahmin family in Bommera Village, Warangal, Andhra Pradesh. His father was Kesanna and his mother Lakshmamma. There is a popular myth that he was related to Srinatha, another famous Telugu poet.

He was considered to be a natural Poet (sahaja Kavi), needing no teacher. He was known to be very polite and was an agriculturist by occupation. Though he was a great scholar, he never hesitated to work in the agricultural fields.

At an early age he wrote Bhogini Dandakam a poem wrote in praise of king Sri Singa Bhoopala's concubine Bhogini. This was his first poetic venture which had the seeds of his great poetic talents. Bhogini Dandakam is the earliest available Dhandaka (rhapsody which uses the same gana or foot all through) in Telugu. His second work was Virabhadhra Vijayamu which describes the adventures of Lord Virabhadhra, son of Lord Shiva. The main theme was the destruction of a yagna performed in absence of Lord Shiva by Daksha Prajapathi.

As a young man, he was a devotee of Lord Shiva. Later, Pothana became a devotee of Lord Rama and more interested in salvation. His conversion from Shaivism to Vaishnavism was triggered by an incident. One early morning during a lunar eclipse, on the banks of river Godavari, Pothana was meditating on Lord Shiva. At that auspicious moment, Lord Rama appeared dressed like a king and requested Pothana to translate Bhagavatam into Telugu and dedicate it to Him. This inspired him to translate Vyasa's Sanskrit Bhagavatam into Telugu.

The following story is a popular myth. The Padma Nayaka king of Rachakonda, Sarvajana Singha Bhoopaala , wanted Pothana to dedicate 'Andhra Maha Bhagavatham' to him. The king himself is a scholar and wrote many works including Rudranavasudhakara, a well known Sanskrit drama. But, Pothana refused to obey the king's orders and dedicated the Bhagavathamu to Lord Rama, whom he worshiped with great devotion. It is said that Pothana remarked, "It is better to dedicate the work to the supreme Lord Vishnu than dedicate it to the mortal kings." He was of opinion that poetry was a divine gift and it should be utilized for salvation by devoting it to the God. This story is highly unlikely and seems to have originated in the 17th century. It is known that Pothana was patronized by this king in his early career, Pothana dedicated his first great work to this king, the king himself was a scholar, his contemporary reputation was immense (vide Srinatha's poems). It was common practice for many poets of the time to dedicate their devotional works to God himself and not necessarily to their patron-kings. The poem containing the derision against the "Karanata Kiraata Keechakulu" is a chatuvu (apocryphal) attributed to Pothana with no proof that he actually wrote it. Even if he did, it is unclear who the Karanata villians were, very likely the rulers of Karnaata Samrajyam (the contemporary term for the Vijayanagar empire) who were raiding Rachakonda at the time. It should be noted that the Rachakonda kingdom was under intense turmoil at the time, under attack by the Bahamani's from the west, Karanata (Vijayanagar) empire from the south and the Reddy Rajas from the east. Rachakonda and it's king ceased to exist by the mid 1400's, absorbed into the Bahmani kingdom. It is more likely that Pothana composed his Bhagavatham, which is a late work, after this event.

He was quite fond of using rhythm and repetition of sounds giving a majestic grace to the style of writing. He was very skillful in using alankaras (figures of speech) like similes and metaphors. Potana imparted the knowledge of the divine to the Telugu people along with lessons in ethics and politics through Andhra Maha Bhagavatamu. He lived for sixty years.

Even illiterate Telugus readily quote verses from chapters 'Gajendra Mokshamu' and 'Prahlada Charitra' of his work, 'Andhra Maha Bhagavathamu,' the crown jewel of Telugu literature.

ala vaikuMThapuraMbulO nagarilO nAmUla soudhaMbu dApala......

This is a verse which describes the palace of Lord Vishnu in his divine abode (VAIKUNTHA), at the time the elephant king prayed for the Lord's kindness to deliver him out of the deadly grip of crocodile in a lake.

The story goes that Pothana wrote the first line of the verse, but could not continue (because he did not know how vaikuntha looks!). So he paused the writing at that point, and went to farm (he was a cultivator by profession). When he came back in the evening, he saw the verse completed.

He enquired his daughter about who wrote the other three lines. The daughter replied - "You yourself came in the afternoon and wrote some thing!". So Pothana understood that Lord Sri Rama himself came and completed the verse.

In fact, Pothana himself ascribed in the following poem, the purpose of his writing the Bhagavatam:

palikeDidi bhAgavathamata palikincheDivADu rAmabhadhrunData palikina bhavaharamagunata palikedavEronDu ghAdhapalukaganEla

Translated it means (approx. translation): "That which is spoken is the Bhagavatam and the one who enthuses this speech is Lord Rama, Himself . The result of speaking which is the ultimate freedom, the Liberation of life. So, let me sing it, since there is no other story as great as this (Bhagavatha)."


References:
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Last updated on Oct-2014

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