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Potana - Dussera

Potana - Dussera

This is the time of "daevee navaraatri" (the nine nights of the goddess), aka dasaraa, the celebration of the goddess's triumph over mahishaasura. Telugu people take this opportunity to worship all the diverse forms of the goddess during these ten days, including Sarasvati and Lakshmi. In the temples dedicated to the Goddess across the land, the deity is decorated in a different form each day. This week, we pay tribute to the three forms of the goddess, Sarasvati, Lakshmi and Durga, through the pen of Bammera Potana.

The poet: Potana (pronounced poetana) lived in late 15th century in the village Bammera, near the town of Warangal. He is best remembered by Telugu people for the translation of "bhaagavata puraaNa" of Vedavyaas from SamskRtam into Telugu. While living in the times of heavy royal patronage of all arts, he shunned such honors and dedicated his "aandhra bhaagavatam" to Sree raama, his favorite deity. Being naturally devotionally inclined, he expanded greatly and imaginatively on themes of devotion from the original. Even today telugu people derive great pleasure from Potana's aandhra bhaagavatam.

The poems I post today are from the introductory invocation (naamdi - stuti) part of the epic. If just the invocatory poems are so beautiful, one can imagine how wonderful the actual epic may be.


Goddess Sarasvati:
Saarada neeradaeMdu ghana saara paTeera maraaLa mallikaa
haara tushaara phaena rajataacala kaaSa phaNeeSa kuMda maM
daara sudhaa payoedhi sita taamara saamara vaahinee subhaa
kaarata noppu ninnu madi gaanaga nennaDu galgu bhaaratee !!

The poet lists a series of things which are famous for their "whiteness" and compares the fairness of the goddess to these and invokes her blessings. Oh Goddess Sarasvati (bhaarati), when will I get the good fortune of realizing you in my heart, you whose graceful form is
radiant like ..
Saarada neerada = Autumn clouds, imdu = Moon , ghanasaaramu = Camphor , paTeeramu = Sandal wood tree , maraaLamu = Swan, mallikaa = jasmine,
haara = pearl necklace of 108 strands, tushaara = snow, phaena = froth or foam, rajata+ acala = silvery/ white mountain = kailaasa, kaaSa =
(a kind of) reed flower, phaNeeSa = king of snakes = aadiSaesha, kumda = a kind of wild jasmine , mamdaara = one of the 5 celestial trees ,
sudhaa payoedhi = milky ocean , sita taamarasa = white lotus, amara vaahinee = heavenly river, gaMga

Notes: This meter is called "utpala maala", perhaps the most ubiquitous meter in Telugu epics. Each line has the rhythm of - laalala laalalaa lalala laalala laalala laalalaa lalaa - The second syllable of each line bears the same consonant (may be different vowel), in this case, ra - this is called praasa. Tenth syllable in each line is the same as or bears a close relation to the first syllable - this is called yati. Apart from these required features, one can note the repeated use of the syllable 'ra' which produces a pleasing sound effect.
This technique is called 'anupraasa' and Potana is well known for its dextrous use.

A story: There is an interesting legend about Potana and Goddess Sarasvati. When he started the work on bhaagavatam, Potana wrote that he was commanded to the task by none other than Sree Rama. The word spread about the beauty of this work and the many local kings aspired to be "recipients" of this great epic, which is sure to make them live forever in history. Potana was of the mind that this work is a fit tribute only to Sree Rama himself! However, the kings brought a lot of pressure on Potana, trying to tempt him with great wealth and other perks.
After speaking to one such emissary, Potana goes into pooja room, to think about how to reject the offer. As he sat in meditation, he saw in front of him Goddess Sarasvati, shedding copious tears - she is sad that this epic poetry may be sold to the highest bidder. That sight is enough to strengthen Potana's resolve - he consoles the Goddess in the following poem, swearing that he will not sell his work to please unworthy kings.

kaaTuka kaMTi neeru canu kaTTu payiMbaDa naela yaeDcedoe
kaiTabha daitya mardanuni gaadili koeDala yoe madaMba yoe
haaTaka garbhu raaNi ninu naakaTikin goni poeyi yella ka
rNaaTa kiraata keecakulakamma triSuddhiga nammu bharatee !!

So that tears from collyrium (kohl)-darkened eyes fall to your breasts, why do you weep, Oh beloved daughter-in-law of Vishnu*, Oh my
mother, Oh wife of Brahma**? I shall not, out of hunger, sell you, neither in thought word nor action^, to these meager kings of Karnataka,
uncouth and bullying they are, trust me, Bharati!
Notes: This also is an "utpala maala".
*literally means the suppressor of the demon Kaitabha, vishNu
**the one born in a lotus, Brahma
^triSudhdhi or trikaraNaSudhdhi - by the three deeds of thought, speech and action - supposed to be required for completion of any task successfully. Typically used in taking a vow.

Goddess Lakshmi:
harikin baTTapu daevi punnemula proe varthambu pennikka cam
duru toebuTTuvu bhaaratee girisutal toenaaDu pooboeNi taa
maralam dumDeDi muddaraalu jagamul mannimcu nillaalu bhaa
suratan laemulu vaapu talli siri yiccun nitya kalyaaNamul

The consort of Hari, a mass of good virtues, magnificent abode to all wealth, the one born alongwith Chandra, the delicate one accompanied by Sarasvati and Parvati, the maiden who recides in lotuses, the housewife (lady) honored by all the worlds, the mother who in radiance removes scarcity, Lakshmi, may grant us good fortunes always.
Notes: This meter is called "mattaebhamu", a bull elephant. This also has praasa (second syllable same in each line). I think the 14th syllable is yati. From the expression "born with Chandra" to the end, notice the progression of her age from birth to being a mother!

Goddess Durga:
This one is a personal favorite of mine as I am from Vijayawada whose presiding deity is Goddess Kanaka Durga. This poem is inscribed in stone on the entrance to the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. I feel as if Potana wrote this poem especially for the goddess of Vijayawada - she is powerful - she's wielding the trident, riding the lion and trampling over the demon - yet the smile lighting up her face is most benevolent and reassuring to the devotees seeking her blessings!

ammala ganna yamma, mugurammala moolapuTamma, caala pe
ddamma, suraarulamma kaDupaaraDi puccina yamma, tannu loe
nammina vaelpuTammala manammula nuMDeDi yamma, durga maa
yamma kRpaabdhi niccuta mahattva kavitva paTutva saMpadal

The mother of all mothers, the mother who is the source of the three goddesses (sarasvati, lakshmi and paarvati), very noble mother, the mother who caused heartburn to the mother of gods' foes (she's a slayer of demons), the mother who recides in the heart of all divine women that believe in her, Durga, our mother, in her sea of compassion, may grant us the wealth of great poetic prowess!
Notes: This too is an "utpala maala". However, in contrast to the first poem, this is almost entirely in pure Telugu, with some wonderful Telugu usages. The expressions "ammala ganna yamma" and "maa yamma" bring a ring of "familiarity" while referring to this powerful Goddess, as if the Goddess is very close to the poet. Also notice the anupraasa on the 'mma' syllable.