Emeritus Professor of Telugu, Osmania University, Hyderabad ­


            The age of Krishnadevaraya in Telugu literature is generally considered as the Golden Age of Telugu literature. It is otherwise called the Prabandha Age because poets like Allasani Peddana wrote during this period Kavyas which are named and popularly known as the ‘Prabandhas’. If one wishes to enjoy the richness of imagina­tion, the unparalelled scholarship, the use of sweet and mellifluous words, and the grand ornate style of the Telugu poets, one has invariably to read the Prabandhas. In the extensive garden of Telugu literature the Prabandha age is a beautiful flower park wherein we come across at every step streams of flowery juice, platforms of pollen and abundant fragrance of innumerable flowers. It is no exaggeration to say that when people enter this park they forget themselves and feel as if they are in the heart of paradise.


            The word Prabandha is derived from the root ‘bandh’ with the prefix ‘pra’. It means a work or Kavya with dignified composition or arrangement of words. According to this, any work with such composition can be called a ‘Prabandha’. In Sanskrit the word Prabandha is more or less a synonym to Kavya. Thus we come across the compounds Gadya Prabandha, Padya Prabandha and Drisya Prabandha in Sanskrit. In Telugu also the word Prabandha seems to have been used in the same sense before the age of Krishnadevaraya. The famous poet Tikkana Somayaji who complet­ed the translation of the Sanskrit Bharata into Telugu by writing fifteen Parvas, beginning from the Virataparva, called the Parvas written by him as “Prabandha Mandali” which means a group of Prabandhas. In his opinion each Parva of the Mahabharata written by him is a Prabandha in itself. Yerrapragada of the Kavitraya or the Trinity of the poets has got the title ‘Prabandha­parameswara’. It means a master or an expert in writing a Prabandha. Here also the word Prabandha means Kavya in general. Some other poets who lived before the 16th century used the word Prabandha in the Gadyas of their works and they also meant by it Kavya in general. They never wanted to denote a particular sense by using that word.


            From the beginning of the 16th century the word Prabandha began to be used in a different connotation. The Emperor Krishnadevaraya was not only a great patron of letters but also a great poet in both Sanskrit and Telugu. He wrote a Prabandha by name ‘Amuktamalyada’ or ‘Vishnuchitteeyamu’ in Telugu and dedicated it to Lord Venkateswara. He patronised eight great poets who are called the Ashtadiggajas and carried on poetical discourses with them in his court which is popularly known as the ‘Bhuvana vijaya mahasabha’. These Ashtadiggajas were all poets of high order and vied with one another in writing Prabandhas and gaining approbation from the Emperor-poet. Allasani peddana is the foremost among them not only from the point of age but also from the point of scholarship and poetic talent. He wrote ‘Manucharitra’ or ‘Swarochisha Manusambhava’ in six Aswasas or cantos and dedicated it to his patron. He named it a Prabandha and this is considered as the first Prabandha in Telugu which is the model for all the Prabandhas written afterwards.


            Though Prabandha is nothing but a Kavya in general it attained a particular meaning or Roodhartha from the beginning of the 16th century. Its main characteristic features may be described as follows:


            The theme in Prabandha should be Prakhyata or well-known, i.e., it must be taken from the well-known Puranas or epics like the Mahabhrata and the Ramayana. There should be unity of plot in it. The main Rasa or sentiment in it should be Sringara and the hero a Dheerodatta. The eighteen descriptions that are round in the Sanskrit Mahakavya should be introduced into it. It must be divided into five or six cantos according to convenience. It is written in Champu form in a dignified stile with figures of speech of both word and sense. It has an Avatarika or the introductory portion in the beginning containing benedictory verses, praise of the ancient poets, censure of the bad poets, description of the lineage of the Kritipati or the dedicatee, the circumstances in which the work was begun and the Shashtyanthas or verses ending in the genitive at the end of each canto, all containing adjectives in the vocative case addressed to the dedicatee.


            Taking into consideration all the above characteristics it can be concluded that a Telugu Prabandha blends in it the characteristic features of the Sanskrit Padyakavya, Champukavya and the Nataka to some extent. According to Sanskrit Rhetoricians a Mahakavya contains the eighteen descriptions, a hero of the Dheerodatta type, and either Sringara or Veera as the main Rasa. Sahityadarpana is of opinion that even Santha can be described as the main Rasa in a Mahakavya. The Telugu Prabandha borrowed these characteristics with some modifications. The main Rasa in a Prabandha should be invariably Sringara and it contains only five or six cantos, whereas we find in a Mahakavya cantos numbering upto twenty or more, Generally the metre used in each canto of the Mahakavya is the same with one or two different metres in the end. Variety of metres inter­spersed with prose passages here and there are used in the Prabandha perhaps to avoid monotony and in this respect it can be compared with the Sanskrit Champukavya. The tradition of writing one or two Slokas with different metre in the end of each canto of the Mahakavya is found in the Prabandha also, but in a different way. The authors of the Prabandha write three verses at the end of each canto with rare and peculiar metres and with adjectives in the vocative case describing the qualities of the dedicatee.


            There are ten Rupakas in Sanskrit and the Nataka is the most popular among them. The Telugu Prabandha contains some characteristics of the Nataka also. The Nataka is written in dialogue form and can be considered a Champukavya as it contains verses and prose pieces also. Though the Prabandha is a narrative poem we find in it beautiful poetic dialogues and prose pieces here and there, of course, not as frequently as in the Nataka. The theme is Prakhyata and the hero Dhirodatta in both. The main Rasa in the Nataka is either Sringara or Veera whereas in the Prabandha it is Sringara alone. The Nataka generally contains five to six acts and the Prabandha five to six cantos. Though they have similar characteristics as stated above they differ from each other as one is mainly a Drisyakavya and the other a Sravyakavya, and in the matter of style also they are more dissimilar than similar. The Nataka is generally written in simple style so that the audience may understand and enjoy it even at the first hearing, whereas we find in the Prabandha highly ornate and pedantic style understandable to learned scholars alone.


            The appearance of the Nataka in Telugu is very late, due to many causes, and the first Nataka has been written in the middle of the 19th century. No doubt, many Drisyakavyas called the Yakshaganas were written in the 17th and 18th centuries in the south but they are Rupakas of the indigenous type and can not be called Natakas in the strictest sense of the word. Some Telugu poets felt the absence of the Nataka in their language and tried to translate a few Sanskrit Natakas in the form of Sravyakavyas as they could not maintain the same dramatic form due to several reasons. The Prabandha poets also might have borrowed some characteristics of the Sanskrit Nataka and introduced them in the new literary form which they were trying to evolve to compensate for the absence of the Nataka. They might have satisfied themselves for the time being with reading the Prabandha which possessed some Lakshnas of the Nataka.


            Some Sanskrit Puranas were translated into Telugu in the period between the 11th and the 15th centuries and the poets who translated them were no doubt experts in the art of poetry. But the extensive nature of the Puranas, the lack of unity of plot and the supernatural element in them, encouraged the poets of the 16th century to invent a new literary form which generally maintains the unity of plot which, as it is smaller in size, can be read in a few hours and which can give the highest poetic pleasure to the readers. The time was also favourable for the emergence of such an exhilarating novel literary form as in the benign rule of the Emperor Krishnadevaraya the country was free from external danger and the people were happy enjoying all kinds of pomp and prosperity. The generous patronage given to the poets by the scholarly emperor attracted many first-rate poets to his court and prompted them to compose beautiful Prabandhas trying to excel one another in a spirit of competition.


            Nannechoda, the first Saivite poet in Telugu who lived in the 12th century, wrote a Kavya by name “Kumarasambhava” in which he described the marriage of Siva and Parvati, the birth of Kumaraswami and his victory over the demon Taraka. It has twelve cantos and contains all the characteristic features of later Prabhandha and truly speaking it deserves to be called the first Prabhanda in Telugu. But unfortunately it remained in darkness for more than seven centuries and owing perhaps to the religious creed followed by the poet and to the independent attitude taken by him in the use of language, neither the poets nor Lakshanikas mentioned his name in their works. In this way it could not gain popularity and remained almost obscure. The “Nrisimhapurana” of Yerrapragada is in fact a Prabhandha notwithstanding its name but the main Rasa in it is not Sringara. The “Uttaraharivamsa” of Nachana Somanadha contains some character­istics of the Prabandha but it lacks unity of plot. Sreenadha’s “Naishadha” has got all the qualities of a Prabandha but it is not reckoned to be so as it is a mere translation of the Sanskrit Naishadha Kavya. Pillalamarri Pinaveerabhadra’s “Sringara Sakuntalam” lost its eligibility for being the first Prabandha in Telugu as it is not completely original, many of the verses in it having been borrowed or translated from Kalidasa’s “Abhijnana Sakuntalam.” No doubt all the works mentioned above helped the evolution of Prabandha in Telugu to a great extent but the credit of being the first Prabandha in Telugu goes to “Manucharitra” or “Swarochisha Manusambhava” written by Allasani Peddana the favourite poet of the Emperor, Krishnadevaraya.


            Many good Prabandhas were written during the 16th century and the most prominent among them are “Manuchritra” of Allasani Peddana, “Parijatapaharanamu” of Nandi Timmana, “Amukta­malyada” of the Emperor Krishnadevaraya, “Vasucharitra” of Bhattumoorthy, “Kalapurnodayamu” and “Prabhavatipradyumnamu” of Pingali Surana. “Rajasekharacharitra” of Madayagari Mallana is another Prabandha written in the same period but it is not very popular. “Sreekalahastimahatmyamu” and “Pandurangamahatmyamu” of the famous poets Dhurjati and Tenali Ramakrishna are also called Prabandhas and are widely read by the scholars put really speaking they belong to a separate type of Kavya called the Kshetra Mahatmya. They describe the greatness of a particular Kshetra, its presiding deity and the stories of several devotees who attained Moksha by dint of the sanctity of the Kshetra and of the grace of the deity presiding over it. They combine in them the characteristic features of the Purana and the Prabandha. They are Puranic in theme and Prabandhic in style.


            Peddana’s “Manucharitra” and Sreekrishnadevaraya’s “Amukta­malyadaa” also lack unity of plot to some extent but the rich imagery of the poets, their extraordinary power of description, their skill in characterisation and delineating the Rasas, their scholarship and observation of nature have raised them to the highest place which they deservedly occupy. “Parijatapaharanam” of Timmana is famous for characterisation and sweetness of language. Bhattumoorthy’s “Vasucharitra” is a perfect Prabandba having all the qualities and stands unique among the Prabandhas of the age on account of the all-pervading qualities of Slesha and Dhwani, of the unprecedented dexterity in the use of sweet and meaningful words and by the un-paralelled scholarship exhibited by the poet. Surana’s “Prabhavatipradyumnamu” is a Nataka in the form of Prabandha and has attracted critics and scholars by the beautiful dramatic situations described in it. Special mention may here be made of “Kalapurnodayamu” of the same poet. In speciality lies in the theme which is as interesting as it is complicated and which is entirely invented by the poet. While all the other poets of the age have taken Prakhyata themes for their Prabandhas, he is the only poet who ventured to weave and develop an original theme making a dancing girl as the heroine in it deviating from the established tradition. It is generally called a poetic novel and has some accidental resemblance with the story of the “Comedy of Errors” of the great English dramatist William Shakespeare. It is surprising to note that both of them lived in the same age, though in different countries, without any chance of knowing each other. His skill in narrating the story is superb and his power of creating interesting dialogues excellent. Bhattumoorthy remarks in the introduction of his “Vasucharitra” that “invented stories are artificial diamonds, old stories are unpolished diamonds and mixed stories are polished diamonds of the highest quality”. This is perhaps an aspersion thrown at Surana who invented the story in his Prabandha. This kind of criticism might have discouraged Surana to continue his new experiment as he himself resorted back to Prakhyata theme in his “Prabhavatipradyumna” which he wrote afterwards. In spite of all this his “Kalapurnodayamu” enjoys unique popularity and is extolled by all critics for its novelty, originality and for the many other poetic qualities.


            Telugu poets continued to write Prabandhas even after the fall of the Vijayanagar Empire till about the beginning of present century. But many of them are mere imitations of either Manucharitra or Vasucharitra and have little or no originality in them. “Vijayavilasam” of Chemakura Venkatakavi (1620) “Rasikajanamanobhiramamu” of Kuchimanchi Timmakavi( 1730) “Kavijanaranjanamu” alias “Chandramatiparinayamu” of Adidam Surakavi (1740) and “Kavirajamanoranjanam” of Abbayamatya (1760) are considered to be the best among the later Prabandhas. The last two are called “Pilla-Vasucharitralu” (miniature Vasucharitras) as they imitate and resemble it in many respects. Quality of the Prabandha gradually deteriorated as the later poets were satisfied with mere imitation and resorted to Sabda-chitra and Sabdalankaras. Late Kandukuri Veeresalingam Pantulu, one of the pioneers of modern Telugu literature, described the various aspects of this deterioration in his small poem “Saraswati Narada Vilapamu”. This decadence prompted the young Telugu poets in the beginning of the present century to write new type of poetry which is called ‘Bhavakavitwam’ or romantic poetry on the lines of the English romantic poets.


            While the Prabandhas are rich in many poetic qualities they are poor in the story element which appears to be stereotyped as it lacks in variety. The skeleton of the story in the Prabandhas may be described as follows:


            The hero goes for hunt and hears the sound of music while returning. He goes to the spot from where the music is coming and sees the heroine with her female friends. He falls in love with her and the heroine also loves him in return. They leave each other and return home only to suffer from the pangs of separation. This state of Viraha of both the hero and the heroine is described at length in all the Prabandhas. Through the mediation of friends on both sides they meet and their marriage is performed with pomp. The Prabandha ends with the description of Sambhoga Sringara. The Prabandha poets managed to introduce the eighteen kinds of descriptions in the course of the story and these descriptions, rich in imagination, observation and figures of speech, occupy a major portion of the Pradandha. Anandavardhana and others are of opinion that “the construction of the plot should subserve the sentiment and that a plot device is certainly to be condemned whether it be in a play or an epic poem if it does not contribute to the development of Rasa.” We can say that the Prabandha poets in Telugu, at least some of them, are indifferent in this respect.


            In spite of the absence of an interesting story, the Prabandhas are considered as ornaments to Telugu literature and occupy a significant place in it. They are the treasure-houses of Telugu scholarship and poetic talent; they are repositories of the sweetness and the idiom of the Telugu language and they are shining mirrors which reflect not only the social and cultural conditions of the age but also the discriminating, appreciative taste of excellence and beauty of the people. They are charming and graceful though small in size and full of feelings and sentiments though abstruse in style. They are a veritable feast to the discerning reader and make him enjoy the richness, sweetness and the elegance of Telugu literature.

21st December, 1973