DR B. RAMA RAJU
Professor and Head, Department of Telugu,
Osmania University, Hyderabad .
Viswanatha Satyanarayana, the Poet Laureate of Andhra Pradesh and winner of Jnan Pith Award, is undoubtedly one of the greatest scholar-poets of Andhra. An octogenerian with continuous and untiring literary activity extending over six decades, Viswanatha Satyanarayana has had the good fortune of living with and excelling writers of three generations.
The first generation of elders are his seniors in age at least by 20 years. They include his Gurus also. The second generation consists of contemporaries mostly of his age with a few others. The third generation consists of writers who are juniors to him by 20 to 40 years. These three generations represent writers of Puranic and Prabandhic style, moderns who wrote in the same style and those of the Bhavakavita school of poetry, and all the rest who tried to improve upon it or revolt against it. All these writers, whether they agree or disagree with Viswanatha, respect his unquestioned authority.
In scholarship and learning he can be classed with ancient scholar-poets. In tradition he is in line with Nannaya, Tikkana and Srinatha, the great masters of Telugu poetry. The ideal of his poetry is the nearest approximation to the prayer “Lokaah Samastaah Sukhino Bhavantu.” I may also add that it does not confine itself only to man but includes all living creatures. It reminds us of the Sanskrit benediction, “Samno astu dwipade sam tuahpade.” It can be stated without exaggeration that he tried very literary form and excelled in it in a unique fashion.
Born in 1895 at Nandamuru in Krishna District, Viswanatha had his primary education in his native place and nearby villages. He came over to Machilipatnam, the centre of literary activity in those days, for collegiate education and became a disciple of the great Chellapilla Venkata Sastri. Pingali and Katuri, the twins, were senior to him by one year. He too had his own poet companion in Kodali Anjaneyulu and some of the earlier compositions came out with the two in one name “Satyanjaneyakavulu” and the pen-name ‘Girikumara.’ He composed ‘Andhra paurushamu’ in 1916.
By 1920 Viswanatha’s fame began to take wings and gradually spread all over Andhra. During the Non-Co-operation Movement, Viswanatha Satyanarayana gave up his studies. He later joined the staff of the National College, Machilipatnam, and worked there during 1921-1926. He was also closely connected with Sahiti Samiti. Most of his lyrical works, patriotic poems and dramas, i.e., Kinnerasani Patalu, Girikumaruni Premagitalu, Kokilamma Pendli, Sringara Veethi, Andhra Prasasti, Nartanasala, Anarkali were composed during this period and Viswanatha by this time established a secure place by his own right in contemporary literature.
During his stay at Machilipatnam he came under the influence of Swami Vimalananda Bharati and steeped himself in the study of ancient Indian learning and tradition. He also joined hands with the late K. Ramakotiswara Rau in starting “Triveni” in English and he himself started “Jayanti” in Telugu. He completed his B. A. in 1927. He served for an year in the Hindu College, Machilipatnam, and two years at Guntur in the A. C. College. During his stay at Guntur he had an opportunity to study important Vedantic works under Swami Kalyanananda Bharati. He also acquainted himself with some foreign literature. In 1932 he lost his wife and job too. The agony and pain made him delve into the depths of his own self and he became an introvert. As a consequence he recouped all his talents and powers and surged forth as one committed to the art of sacred poetry.
During 1933 he wrote his famous novel Veyipadagalu and started his magnum opus, Ramayana Kalpavrikshamu. Varalakshmi Trisati, an elegy in lamentation of his wife’s death, is one of the best works of its kind in modern literature. Venaraju, Sasi Dutamu, Cheliyalikatta, Ma Babu, Veeravalladu, Jebudongalu, Trisulamu and similar novels came out in quick succession.
Ritusamharamu describing all the six Indian seasons was also composed during this period. These works earned for him popularity in the Telugu literary world. During the felicitations at Machilipatnam in connection with the best novel award for his Veyipadagalu the covetous title “Kavisamraat” was conferred on him. It was during 1938 that he settled in Vijayawada and became the Head of the Department of Telugu in S. R. R. and C. V. R. College. He also obtained his M. A. by this time. He completed the Balakanda of his Ramayana Kalpavrikshamu.
Along with that scores of novels, radio plays and features critical and inflammatory speeches that he delivered wherever invited, roused jealousy as well as admiration in the Telugu literary world. His “Nannayagari Prasanna Katha Kalitartha Yukti” struck a new path in the realm of literary criticism. By this time Ayodhyakanda was also completed. As a result he stood aloft as a pillar of traditional poetry. Many writers, young and old, earnestly solicited his opinion on and forewords to their much-Cherished literary compositions. The opinions he expressed and the forewords he wrote stand out as masterpieces of criticism.
By 1950 “Jhansirani”, “Baddanria Senani”, “Dharma Chakramu”, “Pulula Satyagrahamu”, “Swarganiki Nicchenalu”, “Kadimi Chettu”, etc., were published. By 1956, Aranya, Kishkindha and Sundara Kandas of the “Ramayana Kalpavrikshamu” were published. In 1956, his Shashtipurti was celebrated. In 1958 he became a member of the A. P. Legislative Council. He served as the Principal of the Karimnagar College during 1959-’61. During 1960-’62 he not only completed Yuddhakanda but also composed ten Satakas in a rare metre, Madhyakkara. He wrote a dozen novels in the series “Puranavaira Granthamala” and many more critical appreciations like “Allasanivani allika jigibigi”, etc. During 1960-’62 a storm broke out vehemently criticising his magnum opus. As a result of this a group of fans, followers and admirers of Viswanatha also came into prominence. There were regular seminars and discussions conducted for the study of Viswanatha’s works in general and Ramayana Kalpavrikshamu in particular.
He won the Central Sahitya Akademi Award in 1963. The Andhra University conferred on him the title of “Kalaprapurna” in 1965. During his literary tours of North India he was honoured at many places. The title of “Padmabhushan” was conferred on him in 1970 and the Central Sahitya Akademi honoured him with a fellowship. By the translation of his “Veyipadagalu” into Hindi by Mr. P. V. Narasimha Rao, the Indian literary world was able to get a real glimpse of this literary giant. In 1971 his Ramayana Kalpavrikshamu won the Jnan Pith Award and during the tame year the Andhra Pradesh Government appointed him Poet Laureate. Some of the works which he wrote during this period are “Srikrishna Sangitamu”, “Bhramara Gitalu” and novels in the series of the History of Nepal and Kashmir, and a drama “Gupta Pasupatamu” in Sanskrit.
Viswanatha’s literary output in variety and quality is immense. He has written nearly 30 poems, 20 dramas, 60 novels, 10 critical estimates, 200 Khanda Kavyas, 35 short-stories, 3 playlets, 70 essays, 50 radio plays, 30 radio talks, 10 essays in English, 10 works in Sanskrit, 3 translations, 100 introductions and forewords and edited half a dozen works. Some of his poems, and novels in particular, were translated into English, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Urdu and Sanskrit.
Viswanatha studied under eminent scholars. If Chellapilla was his Guru in the art of poetry, he found his preceptors in Kambhampati Ramamurthi Sastri for Tarka and Vyakarana, Parimi Narasimha Sastri for Brahmasutra Bhashya, Swami Kalyanananda Bharati for Upanishad Bhashyas, Swami Vimalananda Bharati for Vedanta Pancadasi, Sanskrit Kavyas and dramas, Jandhyala Subrahmanya Sastri for Dhvanyaloka and other rhetorical works. He also studied the Vedas under Kuppa Lakshmaavadhani. Under such eminent preceptors and teachers he learnt the ancient Indian lore and realised his brilliant self which formed the bedrock for all his creative works. Worldly wisdom, Western literature and modern political thought created in him a new outlook of socialism with a deep and devout faith in God. This is the undercurrent of thought in all his works.
An Advaitin by birth, a devotee of Siva by faith, Viswanatha firmly believed that the manifestation of the Universe is nothing but the Vaishnavitejas. And with this kind of conviction he upheld and promoted the multi-faceted Indian heritage and tradition in all his writings. The native culture and tradition almost shaken to its foundations as a result of the onslaught of Western ideas have been regenerated, commented upon in extenso and explained at length by his literary genius, thus presenting a correct image of Indian culture. It is an accident that he wrote in Telugu. But his genius is essentially Indian.
To a superficial observer some of his important works smack of obsolescence as they are based on religion, tradition and superstition. Some say his works are devoid of modern social awareness and progressive outlook. It is true, if modernism means atheism and political opportunism. Whether old or modern, his works stand for eternal truths and godliness clothed in various literary forms.
He is sometimes sharp, pungent, frank and very strong in his literary outbursts. It is this quality which has made him lose many friends. And it is this quality also which helped gather round him staunch followers and disciples. But in general his friends and foes alike agree on one point, that he has some superhuman, tempestuous and titanic poetic genius. In his own words he is a “Yogabhrashta.”
“Kinnerasani Patalu” among his lyrics, “Veyipadagalu” among his novels, “Madhyakkaralu” among his Satakas, “Varalakshmi Trisati” as a great elegy and his magnum opus “Ramayana Kalpavrikshamu” among Kavyas will survive and adorn Telugu literature for ages. Particular mention must however be made of his great novel “Veyipadagalu.” It is a rare experiment in structure, choice of theme and philosophy. Though a fiction, it may prove to be an authentic record of the change over in Indian society from Varnashramadharma to modern competitive existence as a consequence of the impact of Western ideas.
Viswanatha Satyanarayana has his own style and diction. Sometimes it is grand and robust like the flow of the Ganges. Sometimes it is sharp and vigorous like the Sivasamudram falls.
Viswanatha Satyanarayana who left his mortal coil on Oct. 18, 1977, has immortalised Telugu literature by his mighty contribution in all its vibrant branches. It is very difficult to assess his output and achievements qualitatively and quantitatively in a brief essay like this. Any literary critic gets wrapped in awe and amazement to find that the mastermind poet and great writer Viswanatha could bequeath such vast literature in one span of life which is beyond the comprehension of many a calculated critic of pure academics. It seems Viswanatha had some superhuman and divine qualities without which such marvels are impossible.
The immense literary treasures which Viswanatha left for the posterity may be divided into certain main branches as lyrical poetry, poetry in verse, drama, novel, short-story and criticism. Kinnerasani Paatalu, Kokilamma Pendli, Paamu Paata may be grouped under lyrical poetry. Poetry in verse has its variegated and kaleidoscopic forms as Khandakavya, Sataka, Song, Kavya and Mahakavya. Andhra Paurusham, Andhra Prasasti, Ritusamharam, Sringaraveedhi, Sasidutam, Bhrashtayogi, Kedaragaula, etc., are his Khandakavyas. Maswami, Varalakshmi trisati, Viswanatha Panchasati, Viswanatha Madhyakkaralu are his Satakas. Giri kumaruni Premagitalu, Bhramaragitalu, Gopikagitalu, Srikrishna Sangitam, etc., are his songs. Jhansirani, Sivarpanam, Kumarabhyudayam, Pradyumnodayam, Rurucharitram, Gopalodaharanam, etc., are his Kavyas. Srimadramayana Kalpavriksham is the singular Mahakavya that Viswanatha produced.
Under Drama, Duryodhanudu, Kiritamani, Nagamani and the like are his playlets. Venaraju, Nartanasala, Kavyaveda Harischandramu, Sauptika pralayamu, etc., are mythological plays. Trisulamu, Anarkali are historical plays. Dhanyakailasamu, Lopala boyata, Satyagrahamu, Antanatakame, Pravahamu, Tallileni pilla, Akasaraju are social plays. Avatara parivartanamu, Bhasmasura chayanamu are plays with political tinges.
Viswanatha has to his credit nearly sixty novels. I am told, he never wrote down his works. He used to simply dictate. Sometimes he used to engage three to four scribes for writing down while he narrated three to four novels at a sitting. What a rare feat! It seems Srimadramayana Kalpavriksham is the only Mahakavya which he literally wrote. As far as his novels are concerned, Antaratma, Aru Nadulu, Moodutaralu, Mroyutummeda, Veyipadagalu, Haha Huhu, etc., are his cultural novels. Devatala yuddhamu, Viravalladu, Mababu, Cheliyalikatta, Swarganiki nicchenalu, Punarjanma, Terachiraju, Nila Pendli, Pariksha, Sarvarinundi Sarvaridaka, Banavati, Kunalunisapamu, Ganguli premakatha, Jebudongalu, etc., are his social novels. Virapuja, Chandavolurani, Dharmachakramu, Kadimichettu, Pralayanayudu, Baddanna Senani, etc., are based on Andhra history. While Ekavira and Snehaphalamu are created from South Indian history, Bhagavantunimida paga, Nastikadhumamu, Dhumarekha, Pulimruggu, Chandraguptuni Swapnamu, Nando raja bhavishyati, Aswamedhamu, Nivedita, Helina, Vedavati, Nagasenudu, Amritavalli, Yasovati, Mihirakuludu, Kavalalu, Patipettina nanemulu, Bhramaravasini, Sanjivakarani, Dindukinda pokachekka, Chitlichitlani gajulu, Saudamini, Dutameghamu, Lalitapattanapurani, Dantapu duvvena, etc., are created out of history of Northern India. Pulula Satyagrahamu, Samudrapudibba, Vallabhamantri, Damayanti Swayamvaramu, etc., fall under the category of political novels. Vishnusarma inglishu chaduvu is ironical fiction.
Viswanatha wrote more than thirty short-stories, out of which Allake fakir, Kapardi, Jamindaruni Koduku, Mugguru bichchagallu, Kalidasuni apakirti, Doragaru–Diwanji, Makli durgamlo kukka, Velugumetlu are the best specimens of his skill in this field.
Viswanatha is as deft a critic as he is a creative genius. He is a great Kavyamimamsaka. Nannayagari prasannalathakalitarthayukti, Allasanivani allika jigibigi, Okadu Nachana Somanna, Sahityasurabhi, Kavyaparimalamu, Srimadramayanamu-Silpadrishti, Viswanatha Sahityopanyasamulu, Sakuntalamuyokka abhijnanata, Kavyanandamu, What is Ramayana to me (English) have laid foundations for altogether a new outlook in the field of literary criticism.
Poems like Sivapanchasati, Devitrisati, Guruprasadam, Saradachandramauli Suprabhatam, and dramas like Amrita Sarmishtham, Guptapasupatam, Asaninivasam highly speak of his mastery over Sanskrit.
I should like to close this epilogue with a few remarks on his magnum opus, Srimadramayana Kalpavrikshamu–a fruit of great penance. A fallen Yogi (Bhrashtayogi) and an ornament of the Goddess of Muse (Brahmibhushana) was born for this sole purpose. He did his severe penance, obtained its fruit, dedicated it to the posterity and finally became one with the Satchidananda. Tough yet delicate, stiff yet mellifluous, artistic and replete with Rasa and Dhwani, this Mahakavya is a rare work of art not only in Telugu but also in many languages. It will last as long as mountains stand and rivers flow. And it will last as long as there are enlightened elite who can comprehend and rejoice the grandeur of a language and the highlights in its poetry. As the poet himself has said, “It is full of ambrosial pourings with many an artistic trend of story-telling, fragrant with pious and aesthetic thoughts. It is a piece of art that rubbed my heart with Srirama and Siva.” This Mahakavya alone is suffice to place Viswanatha among the galaxy of world poets and it has already served for the attainment of his salvation. This was the chosen path for great poets like Tikkana and Potana for the attainment of their salvation also.
In the envoy to his Mahakavya Viswanatha says, “O Lord Ramachandra, I have made this offering of all spontaneous and concerted poetic talents to you. Believe me, my Lord. Put an end to the eternal cyclic recurrence of the Life Monad. Shed Thy heartening light on me!” This was his last prayer. Amen!