The Vachanas and Poets of Karnataka

Karnataka is a home vibrant with consciousness and Kannadigas cherish and love their ancient language.

Kannada is one of the oldest languages of India and has a continuous literary tradition, that is diverse, dynamic and powerful in form and content. Though we have been under British rule and hence impressed by English writers, we have been able to maintain a distinct identity of our own.

Literature in ancient Karnataka is rich and full of variety. Halegannada is quite uniform and shows refinement and finesse. A few of the words have been Sanskritised. Among the poets in the 11th and 12th century, Nagaverma I and II, Durgasimha, Nayasena and Brahmashiva carried forward the classic tradition in Halegannada.


The tradition of medieval Karnataka probably started with vachana literature. The vachana writers had the extraordinary gift of transforming peoples’ word itself into an oracle. Famous among them are Basavanna, Jedara Dasimayya, Akka Mahadevi, Molige Marayya and Siddarama. Even women vachanakaras existed in those times itself.Vachana 090

Vachanas had a wide range of interest with an inclination to bring about a good in society, soul searching, criticism of life, emotion in husband wife relationship etc.

Basavanna was a great devotee of God Kudalasangama, so much, so that he acknowledged no one as his master, though he worked as a treasurer for King Bijjala. Basavannas’ vachanas are sophisticated expressions of a wide range of spiritual experiences, wrestling with fickleness and weaknesses of his own mind.

e.g. kombeya melana markatanantenna manavu nintalli nillaleyadenna……
(Meaning: My mind leaps about like the monkey on a branch. It is restless and does not stand still.)

Some of his vachanas show an internal evolution as his thoughts change. The other equally important vachanakaras were fearless and hypocritical of the society. Akkamahadevi’s vachanas express an iron will. The modern literature too has derived a lot from the ancient vachanas.


The vachanakaras were followed by poets, some of whom were devotees of siva, and sought to propagate the greatness of the Lord. These poets were more conscious about the form and mechanics of their composition. This formed the foundation for the Champu tradition of poems.

The poetic age started with Harihara era. He gave rise to unique style of poems Shivaganada Ragalegalu and came to be known as a ragalekara. (ragale was new metre he employed). He chose to highlight the greatness of Lord Shiva. At the age of thirty, he composed the epic Girija kalyana. He also composed shatakas-poems of a hundred stanzas each.

Raghavanka followed the steps of Harihara, being his nephew and disciple. In contrast to Harihara’s ragale he started his own from of poems called the satpadi-six line stanzas.

Raghavanka set up an example for poets like Kumaravyasa, Chamarasa and Lakshmisha who used satpadi as efficiently.

The Champu tradition, however, was carried over by poets like Nemichandra and Rudrabhatta. Yashodara Charitra, a Kannada rendering of the original Sanskrit work by Vadiraja, was produced in these times by Janna. He also wrote Ananthanatha Purana, the story of the fourteenth Jain Tirthankara.

Andayya, the poet of kabbigana kavya, which highlights the religious tolerance of Karnataka, sought to exclude Sanskrit words from his composition.

Kumaravyasa penned the Kumaravyasa Bharatha, which is based on the first ten Parvas of Mahabharatha. He is intensely human and has a fine sense of humour. His poem reconciles the omnipotence of Lord Krishna with individual freedom.

This period is noteworthy for its attempt to collate and study the vachanas.

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