Condemning bad taste

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It has become a practice among the classical Telugu poets to denounce bad poets and to condemn readers with bad taste. This tradition did not originate with Nannaya, the earliest major Telugu poet of 11th century. In stead of pointing at such unfavorable winds of taste, he appealed to the assembly of connoisseurs, the satsabha, to be of help to him in judging the merit of his work. And he also believed that the poets with a fertile heart (saramati), capable of appreciating poetry, would understand that he was successful in transcreating the epic. It was Nanne Chodadeva, the first Saiva poet , that had devoted a few poems to condemn bad poets and people with bad taste.

Nanne Chodadeva, one of the most original minds in Telugu poetry, whose date could not be settled with certainty, must have faced a problem from people with an inadequate sense of poetry, as he had initiated a new trend called the deshi type of poetry. He called his poetry vastu kavita. What he actually meant by vastukavita could not be decided by scholars in clear terms. One thing is certain. He is saying that forms of poetry should not deter the reader from appreciating the rasa, the juices of a poem.

If the traditions of marga and deshi seen in the light of modern anthropological concepts of the great tradition and the little tradition, we can understand the deshi tradition better as a local tradition. In an intriguing poem (Kumara sambhavam, 1:28), difficult to surmise its meaning in clear terms, he is probably denouncing those poets as bad poets who resort to the marga tradition without first understanding the local traditions. Two poems that followed denounce people with bad taste and the metaphors employed in both the poems are startlingly local and hence look modern.

Condemning bad taste

1

Not capable of appreciating a work
Of merit, the lowly hang on to the
Less juicy, as a cloud of flies swarm
Around a squeezed sugarcane.

2

If you want someone to like your poem
Go to one who knows, but not to the
Ignorant, as one checks the sheen of
Gold on touchstone, but not on lime.

Original from Telugu

1

నెరయ రసవంతమగు కృతి కెరఁగనేర
రల్పరసకృతి కెరఁగుదు రలుపు లెల్లఁ,
జెరకు విడిచిన రసమున కెరఁగి రాక
పిప్పి కరిగెడు నీఁగల పెల్లు వోలె.
(కుమారసంభవము, ప్రథమాశ్వాసము, 30)

2

తజ్ఞునందెర్గనగు కవితావిశేష
మజ్ఞునందేమి యెరుఁగంగనగు? సమస్త
కనకవర్ణోత్కర మ్మొరగంట నొరసి
చూచి కా కెర్గవచ్చునె సుద్దరాత?
(కుమారసంభవము, ప్రథమాశ్వాసము, 32)
6-8-2018

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