Articles and Reviews

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Indian Folk Epics: The Story of Madeshwara

There are two very long and most widely sung naratives in Kannada: Male Madheshwara and Manteswamy. Both these can be called cult epics to differentiate them from historical/fictional narratives.

The first scholar to collect Male Madheshwara was Dr. P.K.Rajashekhara in 1972. He, having the first Kalevala as his model, gathered different versions from multiple narrators, chose the 'best' parts from each, and arranged them in a particular chronological order. His published version in two volumes (Mysore University, 1972) ran to more than 30,000 lines. Recently, Dr. Keshavan Prasad, Dept. of Tribal Studies, Kannada University, collected a single-narrator version, sung by the great artist Sri Hebbani Madayya. This version, published by Kannada University, Hampi (1997) contains, approximately, 20,000 lines, besides a good introduction and an extended interview with the singer. I have translated this entire text into English with a critical introduction and glossary. It is published by Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi; pp. 444, price Rs. 220.

Similarly, though there had been multiple-narrator versions earlier, the second epic, Manteswamy, (single-narrator version) was collected by Dr. Hi.Chi. Boralingayya in 1997 ( Kannada University, Hampi) Kannada University has brought out single-narrator versions of many other long and popular narratives such as Junjappa, Kumara Rama, Siri, etc.
Male Madheshwara narrates the adventures and achievements of a spiritual hero of the Veerashaiva sect. Probably he lived in the 14th century. The text refers to him as one who came from the north; but this may merely refer to the north of Karnataka, probably the city of Kalyana.

The professional singers of this epic are called 'Devara Guddaru'( God's children) and 'Kamsaleyavaru' (those singers who keep time with 'Kamsale" --bronze cymbals). They are initiated into this profession very early in their lives; and after initiation, they are required to lead a very discipllined life as prescribed by tradition. Normally, there are three to five in a group of whom one is a lead singer and the others join him in chorus. In this context, 'sing' perhaps is not a very appropriate term; 'performance' could be more suitable. What happens is that after each line, the secondary singers fill in with such words of reinforcement as 'yes,' 'yes, sir' 'what?' etc.; and, at the end of each unit (of about 10 to 15 lines) the secondary singers sing in chorus the particular refrain of the particular part of the epic. (Each part has a different refrain.)

The outer structure of the epic resembles the pan-Indian Ramayana : Shiva incarnates himself on earth as Madeshwara to destroy an evil king called Shravanasura ('The Hero as Saviour' motif). The epic has seven parts; and, normally, only certain parts are sung as dictated by the taste of the audience or patron. However, the entire epic is sung by pilgrims on their way to the annual fair on the Madheshwara -hill; and it may last for seven consecutive nights.

The epic (single-narrator version) has seven parts. After traditional invocation, the first part narrates the immaculate birth , childhood, and instruction of Madeshwara. The second part narrates the ways through which Madeshwara gets a wealthy farmer, Junje Gowda, as his devotee to build him a temple on the Seven Hills. The next part is devoted to the destruction of the evil king, Shravanasura. Next we have the longest and most moving episode called Sankamma. This episode dramatises the suffering of a proud woman called 'Sankamma,' and the ordeals that she successfully undergoes in order to retain her dignity as a virtuous wife. The fifth episode, slightly comic in tone, depicts the rise and fall of a vainglorious and miserly woman, called 'Bevinatti Kalamma.' The last but one episode narrates how Madeshwara gets two simple and god-fearing people, Moogayya and his wife, as his devotees. The concluding part, besides traditional ending with benediction, gives a brief summary of the entire epic.


Dr.C.N.Ramachandran

1 comment:

Basavanna M said...

It is well written and informative. Thanks to the author

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