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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Vacanas of Basavanna

Yesterday was the birth anniversary of Basavanna, a 12 Century Kannada poet-saint. Following are the two translations of his poems my friend Samvartha Acharya sent me.

The sacrificial lamb brought for the festival,

Ate up the green leaf brought for the decorations.

Not knowing a thing about the kill,

It wans only to fill its belly:

Born that day, to die that day.

But tell me:

Did the killers survive,

Oh Lord of the meeting rivers?

- Basavanna (Translation A.K. Ramanujan)

Iron dead-weight at my feet,
around my neck buoyant reed.
The dead-weight keeps me from floating,
the reed keeps me from drowning.
O Lord Koodalasangama, arbiter,
across this tumultuous sea, lead me.

- Basavanna (Translation Saket Rajan)


the 27th Sin said...

the first poem reminds me of william blake's lamb n tiger. here, the innocent n ignorant lamb is the lamb and the killers r the tigers or us, the humans.

Anil Pinto said...

Well, although I am fascinated by vacanas, I do not have any considerable reading on them. But to my knowledge lamb and killers are metaphors for the humans who suffer and the humans who inflict suffering on other humans. One of the tragedies of vacana readings in contemporary times has been tying to impose contemporary reading into them.

However, it might be a good attempt to make a comparative study of vacanas and Blake's poems, as mysticism is common to both - yet there could be distinction in the nature of mysticism pertaining to both.

Agent M said...

I'm really sorry, but I found these poems fascinating by itself... Without interpretation and metaphorical meanings...

I think it gives an insight into the kind of thinking and social ideas at that point of time...

Does Basavanna, in the first mentioned poem (vacana? - like vakhyanam in Malayalam? Meaning poetic discourse...) seem to be giving a slight nudge to religious ideas?

And its also fascinating to know that Kannada has such a long history! Sir, since when has Kannada been a language? When are the first known works in Kannada?

Anil Pinto said...

Mohan, out of town. Will respond next week when i am back. Appreciate your thoughts

Anonymous said...

Basavanna was a great saint, philosopher, religious teacher (Guru), social reformer and founder prophet for Lingayatism.
Lingayatism teaches and practices brotherhood of Human beings and fatherhood of GOD. It has high moral values and social services/charity/Human rights.
The Anubhavamantapa is considered to be glorious religious institution organized by Basavanna and other Sharanas and presided over by Allamaprabhu & the cradle for Lingayatism where they discussed aspects of Lingayatism. 12th century is also considered as the Birth of Vachanas literature era. Basavanna popularized his new movement by conveying the principles of religion in the language of the people, Kannada, which thus became the best means and medium of carrying conviction to them.Thus the Vachanashastra of Basavanna and Sharanas of 12th century as well as later centuries is the basic scripture of Lingayatism. Their meaning and value never diminish in any century since they tackle social, philosophical, religious, and economical problems of the society
for further reading about Basavanna and lingayathism please visit:,

Anil Pinto said...