Monday, April 21, 2014

Historical Saga of Chitradurga by Ta.Ra.Su. - Part 1: Kambaniya Kuyilu

History was just a 'subject' when I was growing up.  The history of Karnataka was limited to the few pages in standard text books that recounted briefly the names, years of reign and key achievements of prominent kings of the dynasties that ruled Karnataka.  The stray Amara Chitra Katha comic on one or two such rulers (largely restricted to the very famous such as Krishnadevaraya) added slivers of information.  Names of the dynasties, starting with the Shalivahana and Ganga and ending with the Wodeyars and the names of one or two famous kings in each completed the cumulative knowledge of Karnataka history.

In recent years, the stray thirst for information was whetted by wikipedia which needless to add is quite basic.  Unfortunately, the glory of Karnataka's history is lost to most kannadigas themselves.  The dormant thirst to understand our past glory surfaced while reading books by Bhyrappa (Aavarana) as well as the well researched and outstandingly presented popular work of historical fiction on Genghis Khan - the Conqueror series by Conn Iggulden.  It was with a sense of shock I realised that there is little available history, leave alone historical fiction on the antiquities of kannada heritage.

In that pervading vacuum, Ta.Ra.Su. stands tall as a beacon of light.  In addition to the well known eight volume historical fiction series on the paleyagars of Chitradurga, he has also penned historical novels on Amoghavarsha Nrupatunga (titled Nrupatunga) of the Rashtrakutas, on Vishnuvardhana (titled Hoysaleshwara Vishnuvardhana) of the Hoysalas, as well as novels on Chavundaraya (titled Shilpashree) who commissioned the monolith statue of Bahubali at Shravanabelagola.  He is also the author of Hamsageethe, on the life of a singer in Chitradurga when it passed from the paleyagars into the hands of Haider Ali.

Ta.Ra.Su. as he is popularly known is Taluku Ramaswami Subba Rao's pen name. A giant in kannada literature, he has penned over 60 works, many of which have been made into critically acclaimed and commercially successful movies. Naagarahaavu, Hamsageethe, Chakrateertha, Chandavalliya Thota are just a few of his novels that have been made into popular movies.

Hailing from Chitradurga district in Karnataka, a place with a long history, many of Ta.Ra.Su's novels including those with contemporary social themes are based in Chitradurga. A prominent writer of the pragathisheela style of writing started by Aa.Na.Kru., Ta.Ra.Su. was an early master of the historical fiction genre. The pinnacle of his writing career was Durgastamana, based on the last Madakari Nayaka who died defending Chitradurga against Haider Ali. That novel got Ta.Ra.Su. the Sahitya Akademi Award posthumously. Durgastamana is the culmination of a 8 volume series on the paleyagars of Chitradurga. The first in the series is Kambaniya Kuyilu.

Literally meaning 'Harvest of Tears', Kambaniya Kuyilu narrates the events that occur after the death of the second Madakari Nayaka in 1674 C.E. The events that follow the death of Madakari Nayaka II occupy about four lines in the chronicles of Chitradurga's history. Ta.Ra.Su. himself mentions in the foreword that he has used this little information to weave the tale narrated in Kambaniya Kuyilu.

The plotline itself is straight forward. Madakari Nayaka II is the youngest of his father Kasturi Rangappa Nayaka's three sons. Since his elder brothers pre-deceased his father, he ascends the throne, bypassing his brother's sons. This creates dissatisfaction among the dalavayi's i.e., the commanders of the army. The dalavayi's want the successors of the eldest son Sarjenayaka to ascend the throne since Sarjenayaka was a brave warrior who had fought alongside the dalavayi's in prior wars. They feel slighted that neither the royal family nor the ministers consulted them in choosing a successor.

Some twenty years later, Madakari Nayaka II dies without an heir. Ideally, Sarjenayaka's eldest son Lingannanayaka should have ascended the throne. However, Madakari Nayaka II had suspected that the dalavayi's were conspiring to increase their own power and Lingannanayaka would only be a puppet ruler in their hands. Therefore, he intends to adopt his youngest wife's brother Obannanayaka. However, for certain reasons, he does not complete the adoption formalities. Before dying, he expresses his wish in private to his youngest queen and Bhuvanappa, his chief minister, that Obanna should be the next king. However, in the absence of an express statement or will, it is not an easy wish to execute, in the face of opposition from the Dalavayi's who have reared their head again.

The youngest queen convinces the chief queen Obavva Nagati not to commit sati and to ensure that Obanna ascends the throne. All other queens commit sati on the dead king's pyre. Obavva who until then had remained aloof from the politics of the palace, takes on the responsibility to fulfil her dead husband's wish. She is helped by the chief minister Bhuvanappa. In the meanwhile, the dalavayi's led by Desanna and Muddanna are restless, since they fear that even this time, their wishes will not be considered. They want to see Linganna on the throne.

Anticipating opposition from the dalavayis, Bhuvanappa advises Obavva that as the chief queen, she has the right to complete the adoption formalities and the son so adopted will have the legal right to ascend the throne. He also advises her to have an open chat with Linganna. Obavva takes Linganna into confidence and deftly convinces him to relinquish his right to the throne in favour of Obanna. She also asks him to guide Obanna who is only 16 years old, in ruling the state. This he accepts and in return, Bhuvanappa relinquishes his position as chief minister in favour of Linganna.

A public announcement to the effect is made and this time, Obavva seeks the opinion of the dalavayis. Desanna airs his opinion that they would prefer Linganna to ascend the throne, but accepts Obanna when Linganna himself declares that he has relinquished his inheritance in favour of Obanna. This satisfies Desanna.

However, the junior dalavayi Muddanna is not happy. He is ambitious and bloodthirsty. His plans to make Linganna the puppet ruler foiled, he renews his claim that if Linganna relinquishes, it is his younger brother Chikkanna who should inherit the throne. Unlike the wise Linganna, Chikkanna is easily swayed and accepts Muddanna and his henchmen's support. This angers the elder Desanna, who is ultimately assassinated by Muddanna. Muddanna is declared a traitor and a prize put on his head.

Muddanna and Chikkanna hatch a devious plot and under the pretext of surrendering to the new king and accepting his overlordship, Muddanna assassinates Obanna. Unable to bear her failure to execute the wishes of her dead husband, Obavva commits suicide. Bhuvanappa is also killed in the melee alongwith other palace loyalists. The book ends on this sad note.

In line with the pragatisheela style of writing, Ta.Ra.Su. uses simple language in an almost poetical way. The text and narrative is crisp and evokes the emotions that the characters undergo. For example though they all agree that it is proper for Linganna to ascend the throne, their anxiety to see Obanna ascend the throne in fulfilment of the last king's wishes, is portrayed in a convincing manner. The conversation that Gauravva, the youngest queen has with Obavva, the chief queen convincing her not to commit sati, but instead live on to fulfil the dead king's wishes is poignant. Obavva's seeking Linganna's promise to forfeit his right to the throne and Linganna's promise are heart-touching. Kasturi Nayaka, Obanna's personal bodyguard and Girija, Obavva's hand maiden entrusted with the task of protecting Obanna, the bravery with which they carry out their task, Kasturi Nayaka's disappointment at having failed in his task of protecting Obanna, ultimately driving him to commit suicide, are heart rending scenes. The calm demeanour with which Obavva single handedly accosts the rebelling army and humbles them when they ask for more gifts makes one wonder at the sagacity of the woman who grew into her role so well, even without any prior exposure to politics! The savagery of Muddanna, even when he is having an apparently normal conversation with Desanna, is blood curdling.

All this is the magic woven by the pen of Ta.Ra.Su. He recreates the scenes so vividly, without resorting to extensive descriptions, that the reader is transported to the world of Chitradurga, in the sixteenth century! He makes the reader experience every event, the emotions, the fears and the anxieties that the characters go through. Character construction is excellent - the author brings out the inner strengths and frailties of each character, in a manner that the reader understands and empathises with. The plot itself is taut and does not sag at any point, a sure page turner.

A must read for every lover of kannada literature and history. Unfortunately, there are no translations available. Hopefully someone inspired by the magic of Ta.Ra.Su.'s pen will take up the onerous task. Until then, this treasure will unfortunately be limited only to the kannada readers, who I hope, will re-discover this classic.

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