Musical presentation of Kannada poetry

When British entrepreneur William Seighart founded National Poetry Day his intention was to promote poetry and recognize the works of talented poets. In his words,”They (poets) shouldn’t be embarrassed about reading their work out aloud. I want people to read poetry on the bus on their way to work, in the street, in school and in the pub.” National Poetry Day became a global phenomena. This year it was celebrated on Monday, the 21st of March. As we learn to appreciate poetry, let us look at the work of poets closer home in Karnataka and how their poems are being presented in musical forms. 

Vachanas are compositions of Shaivite saints of the 11th and 12 century. They are octets or eight lines of poetry and their simple words resonated with the common man. The vachanas are a call to the people to discard a life of luxury and focus on a spiritual path towards Lord Shiva. Here is a famous vachana Ullavaru Shivalaya of Bavannna sung by Hindustani vocalist Mallikarjun Mansur.

Dasa Sahitya are compositions of Haridasas or saints who worshipped Lord Vishnu or one of his avatars. The compositions are commonly referred to as devarnamas. Some of the well-known dasa saints during the 13th and 14th century are Purandaradasa, Kanakadasa, Vyasathirtha and Vadiraja. Their devarnamas which are devotional hymns and poems made a huge impact on the cultural heritage of Karnataka. Here is well-known carnatic vocalist M.S.Sheela of Bengalooru presenting the Purandaradasa composition Ranga Baaro Panduranga Baaro.

The freedom struggle in the early 20th century gave new impetus to vernacular artforms. Kuppali Venkatappa Puttappa, better known as Kuvempu, was one of many Kannada poets who transformed Kannada literature during this period. The state government honoured him with the title of Rashtrakavi (national poet). He was also awarded the Padma Vibhushan and the Jnanpith award for Kannada literature. Here is a Kuvempu composition being sung by Shankar Shanbhag as a bhavageethe (poetry sung as light music).

Kuvempu also composed the Karnataka state anthem Jai Bharatiya Jananiya.

Jayanth Kaikini is one of the most popular Kannada poets of modern times. He is also a lyricist for Kannada movie songs. One of his songs Anisuthide Yaako Indu sung by Sonu Nigam for the movie Mungaru Male became a superhit in Kannada cinema. 


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About Chitra Srikrishna 0 Articles
Chitra Srikrishna is a Carnatic vocalist and writer living in Bengaluru & Columbus. Chitra blogs for Sruti, runs the podcast Raga Ruminations and produces RaagTime, a radio show on Indian music. Her albums include devotional poetry of Tamil Alwars & Dasa kritis, & thematic compositions on Rama and Hanuman. She's the musical half of a multimedia performance duo HumRaag. Her program BHAKTHI explores the journey of the mystics of India. Her latest Antah Prerna -A Musical Telling of an Entrepreneur's Journey debuted at Bangalore International Centre in 2018.