Pampa enjoys the eminence of being the ‘Adi Kavi’ of Kannada literature. He is the first Kannada poet. His is the oldest Kannada work or the first Kannada work available in Kannada literature. This does not mean that there were no poets or works in Kannada prior to him. As their works are not available, Pampa stands out as the pioneering master of Kannada literature. Creating a new era, Pampa emerges as the torch-bearer for the next three centuries. To quote a poet, ‘for the spreading Kannada, there is only one ruler’ and he is Pampa.
The era of Pampa in Kannada literature is a fully developed era. It was a period when literary works of great substance were produced. Hence it is called the ‘Suvarna Yuga’, the golden period. Vigour and valor flow in the works of Pampa and his successors. The philosophy of Jainism flows in abundance. Their masterly works have brought pride and prestige for Kannada and Kannada literature.
The three poets, Pampa, Ponna and Ranna stand out as the trinities of Kannada literature, as the ‘Kavirathnas’ (poet-gems). Even today, they continue to be the ‘Kavirathnas’, the three gems, Pampa standing out as the ‘Makakavi’ among them.
The period of Pampa is ascribed to 941 A.D. His father was Bheemappayya. His ancestors belonged to Vengi Mandala, the region between the Godavari and Krishna rivers. They belonged to the Brahmin community. Though born in a traditional Vedic family, Pampa took to Jain philosophy. Leaving Vengi Mandala of the present Andhra Pradesh, he came to Karnataka and settled down at Banavasi. Pampa’s works are ‘Adi Purana’ and ‘Vikramarjuna Vijaya’.
Carried away by the beauty of Banavasi, Pampa glorifies that historic place in his poetical work, ‘Vikramarjuna Vijaya’. From Banavasi, Pampa later went to Vemalavada and became the court-poet of the King Arikesari. Comparing his Chalukyan prince, to the Mahabharatha hero, Arjuna, Pampa wrote ‘Vikramarjuna Vijaya’. Based on ‘Adi Purana’, Pampa is said to have been born in 902 A.D. His masterly works had brought him the titles of ‘Kavitha Gunarnava’ and ‘Saraswathi Manihara’. He was a master of poetry and a jewel of the Goddess Saraswathi. He had also earned many other encomiums.
Of the two great classics, ‘Adi Purana’ is his first work with 16 chapters and 1630 verses. Though the poet glorifies the Jain philosophy, the work has become popular among all sections of people. It deals with the life and spiritual progress of Vrishabhanatha or Adinatha, the first Tirthankara of Jain religion. ‘Vikramarjuna Vijaya’, the other master-piece of the immortal poet, is also popular as ‘Pampa Bharatha’. It is the earliest and most famous among the ‘Bharatha’ epics in Kannada. It consists of 14 chapters and 1609 verses.
In the second work, Pampa draws a parallel between the hero of his poem Arjuna and his benefactor and friend Arikesari. He calls his work ‘Lokapoojya’, worthy of worldly worship. It has remained so. His poetic style became a model for the subsequent writers, for several generations to come. It influenced their works. The later poets had to tread the ‘poetic path’ of the master of the Champu form. Even after a century, the Adi Kavi’s ‘Pampa Bharatha’ continues to be popular among the masses. Undoubtedly, it has been one of the greatest poems in Kannada literature.
The hero of Pampa Bharatha, Arjuna visits Banavasi during his pilgrimage. By bringing Arjuna to Banavasi, the poet creates an opportunity to glorify the beauty of Banavasi and Karnataka in his work. Pampa describes the beauty of Banavasi in a captivating manner:
sogayisi bamdha maamarane, thaLthelevaLLiye, poothajaathi sampageye,
kukilva kOgileye, paaduva thumbiye, nallaroLmogam
nagemogadhoL paLamchaleye kooduva nallare, nOLpodaava be
ttugaLoLaM aava namdhanavanamgaLoLam banavaasidhEshadhoL
chaagadha bhOgadhakkaradha gEyadha nottiyalampinimpuga
Lgaagaramaadha maanasare maanisar! amthavaraagi puttale
naagiyumEno theerdhapudhe? theeradhodam maridhumbiyaagi mEN
kOgileyaagi puttuvudhu namdhanadhoL banavaasidhEshadhoL
themkaNagaaLi sOmkidhodam oLnudigELdhodam, impanaaLdha gE
yam kivivokkodaM biridha malligegamdodam, aadhakemdhalam
pam keLegomdodaM maDhumahOthsava maadhodaM, enanembenaa
ramkusamittodam nenevudhenna manam banavaasidhEshaM!
‘If to be born, one should take birth in Banavasi. It is a virtue to be born in Banavasi as a human being. If by any chance, one cannot take birth as a human being, at least he should be born as a bee or a bird in the garden of Banavasi’. This is the land, the ‘Nandanavana’, the composer of ‘Pampa Bharatha’ has seen in Karnataka.
Of the other two gems of Kannada poetry of the 10th century, Ponna is the second poet. He was the poet in the court of his patron, Rashtrakuta King Krishna III (939 to 968 A.D.). Ponna also hailed from Vengi Mandala, the ancestral place of Poet Pampa. He was a writer both in Sanskrit and Kannada. Having mastered both the languages, he had earned the title, the ‘Poet-king of two languages’. Enjoying the royal patronage of the King, he became the ‘King of poems’. Appreciating his own mastery, Ponna claims himself to be far superior to the famous Sanskrit poet, Kalidasa, from whom he had borrowed freely for his works. Ponna was a great scholar in Jain philosophy and religion.
He has composed ‘Shanti Purana’ and ‘Jinaksharamale’. He is also believed to have written ‘Bhuvanaika Ramabhyudaya’. The third one was a work on Sri Rama in 14 chapters. It was probably written to please his patron comparing him with Lord Sri Rama. He has composed ‘Jina Stotra’ (verse in praise of Jain saint) from the Kannada letter ‘Ka’ to ‘La’ in 39 poems in Kandha meter in ‘Jinakshara Maale’. Of his three works, only ‘Shanti Purana’ has survived.
Of his works, ‘Shanti Purana’ (950 A.D.) is famous. His fame stands on this popular work of Jain philosophy and religion. It describes the story of Sahnthinatha’s 12 incarnations. It is a work of 12 chapters. He has also called ‘Shanti Purana’ as ‘Purana Choodamani’. Though Ponna’s work is not as masterly as that of Pampa, Ponna has bestowed encomiums on himself and his work. In some portions of this work, Kalidasa’s Sanskrit work ‘Raghuvamsha’ is reflected.
The third of the three gems is the Poet Ranna. To quote Ranna himself:
pavithrarene negaLdhi pampanum ponniganum
kavigaL jinasamayadheepar peraroLarE
Among the poets, the three holy gems are Pampa, Ponna and Ranna, the three poets who enlightened on the tradition of Jainism. Can others (any other poet) do so?
This is a statement from ‘Ajita Purana’. The poet says that he has written ‘Ajit Purana’ in 993 A.D. When he wrote this, his age was 44 years. If he was 44 years when he wrote this work, Ranna must have been born in 949 A.D. On a stone at Sravanabelagola, the famous Jain pilgrim center in Karnataka, Ranna’s name has been carved as ‘Shree Kavi Rathna’.
The 10th-century poet has immortalized two works, ‘Ajithanatha Purana’ and ‘Sahasa Bheema Vijaya’. He has followed the path of Pampa and Ponna in his writings. Besides the two works, according to Ranna, he has written two other works, ‘Parashurama Chairtha’ and ‘Chakreswara Charitha’. However, they are not available. Ranna informs that he was born at Mudhol (Mudhavolalu).
He belonged to the caste of bangle-makers. He came to South to Sravanabelagola and after learning about Jainism from Ajithasenacharya, Ranna secured the patronage of King Chamundaraya. He has got his name inscribed at the Indragiri hills in Sravanabelagola, as a mark of his visit to that place. He worshipped the image of Lord Bahubali atop the hills. He had earned two titles, ‘Kavi Rathna’ and ‘Kavi Thilaka’.
Ranna wrote ‘Ajithanatha Purana’ in 993 A.D. for his patron, Attimabbe, who had the title of ‘Danachinthamani’ (the bestower of all that one begs of her). He gifted 1,000 copies of the work in honor of her. ‘Daanachinthamani’ Attimabbe, was the patron of the poet and she got the work composed by Ranna. In this Jain epic, the poet has praised the philanthropic qualities of Attimabbe. He not only held Attimabbe in great admiration by praising her noble qualities, but also named his daughter after her. Ranna identifies his two works as equal to those of Pampa and Ponna.
‘Ajithanatha Purana’ is a work of 12 chapters expounding Jainism, devotion, and renunciation in that religion. The poet takes to great heights the noble quality of renunciation, one of the great principles of Jainism. The work is based on the story of the second Thirthankara or the saint of Jainism. If Pampa wrote ‘Adipurana’ and Ponna the ‘Santipurana’, Ranna, the last of the trinity, composed the epic poem ‘Ajithanatha Purana’. All have become famous as Jain classics.
‘Sahasa Bheema Vijaya’ is on the lines of ‘Pampa Bharatha’. It highlights ‘Gadayudhdha’ fight, one of the major narrative parts of the epic Mahabharatha. Ranna dramatizes the great fight between the two heroes of the epic story, Bheema, one of the five Pandava princes, and Duryodhana, the Kaurava prince. Because of the masterly way in which Ranna has handled the mace-fight between the two princes, ‘Sahasa Bheema Vijaya’ has become popular as ‘Gadayuddhda’. It is one more masterpiece in Kannada literature, a ‘Mahakavya’. The poet handles the subject by adopting an excellent dramatic style.
Like Pampa and Ponna, Ranna also equates his poetic hero to his patron. He compares Satyasraya of the Chalukya dynasty to the epic hero Bheema. By praising Bheema, he gives immortal fame to the hero of his work. Not only he praises Bheema, the poet also transforms Duryodhana as a great hero of valor and character. Handling the fight between the two in his own dramatic style, Ranna emerges as one of the all-time greats in Kannada literature. He emerges as a gem among the scholar, as his name denotes.
With his great classic, he becomes a model for many writers and playwrights of the future. Here is an excellent description of the mace-fight between Bheema and Duryodhana:
dhoppaDhogappene dhiDhil buDhillene meygaL
thappadhe kadukaydhu poydharorvaranOrvar