The Gadayuddham (The Duel of the Maces) is a kavya composed in classical Kannada literary style at the turn of the eleventh century CE. It is written in campil, a genre that developed in the tenth century as a mixture of poetry and prose. Ranna's poem is remarkably dramatic in nature and is a meditation on the cost of war. Crisp dialogue, body gestures and imagery fill the poem. It is as if the poet were giving us directions for a play.
Ranna employs 'flashbacks', a technique called simhavalokana, that is, a lion turning casually to glance behind him. Ranna builds up to the duel through characters recalling episodes of injury or through lamentation. The duel occupies only a short space in the eighth canto, but Ranna takes this time to fill in past episodes and reflect on the impact of war. This thousand-year-old poem will interest scholars as well as lay readers.
R.V.S. Sundaram was Professor and Director of the Kuvempu Institute of Kannada Studies at the University of Mysore. He was also a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Ammel Sharon holds an M.Phil. degree from the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.
The Gadayuddham (The Duel of the Maces) is a kavya, composed in classical Kannada literary style at the turn of the eleventh century CE. Based on a single episode in the S'alya Parva, the ninth book of the Mahabharata depicting the decisive battle between the cousins, Bhima and Duryodhana, the Gadayuddham brings the great battle to an end. The poem bears another title, the Seihasabhimavijayam (The Victory of Daring Bhima).
However, we have chosen to call it by its popular name, Gadayuddham, which is also the name its poet Ranna uses when introducing his work in verses 1.32, 33 and 34. Further, the earlier printed editions also carried this title. The literary critic, T.N. Srikantaiah published an abridged version in 1949 called Gadc7yuddha Sarigraha. B.M. Srikantaiah called his adaptation for the stage, Gadayuddha Nataka. Seihasabhrmavijayam, on the other hand, is the attributed title because it appears in the colophon at the end of each agyclsa or canto that summarizes its respective theme. Since Pampa (902-75 CE), considered the c7dikavi or first poet of Kannada literature dedicated his work, Vikramarjunavijayam, to his patron Arikesari II, it is believed that the Sc7hsabhimavijayarn is patterned along the same lines. Yet Ranna portrays Duryodhana, the anti-hero as a heroic kshatriya, a loyal friend and a loving brother. Hence, the title Gadayuddha recognizes not one, but two formidable opponents and heroes.
Ranna identifies Bhima with his patron, the Western Chalukyan king, Irivabedanga Satyashraya who ruled between 997 and 1008 CE. In the second canto, he provides a brief genealogy (vamgavali). Here we observe an attempt to link the Western Chalukyas of Kalyana with the earlier Chalukyas of Badami to further an imperial vision that connects the Kalyana rulers to ancestors in Ayodhya (Narasimhachar 1911; Pollock 2006, p. 155). This link would soon be standardized in inscriptions and serves as a reminder that historical records or textualized history are not to be taken at face value but provide an insight into the changing nature of self-representation and a concern for shaping public memory.
Ranna was born in Muduvolal (now Mudhol) in present day Bagalkot district in 949 CE to a Jain family of bangle-sellers. Having studied Sanskrit, Prakrit and Kannada, he was patronized by a Ganga minister, Chavundaraya, and later appointed to the court of Ahavamalla Tailapa II (973-97 CE) where he earned the title kavi cakravarti (poet-emperor). He continued in the court of Tailapa's son, Irivabedanga Satyashraya (997-1009 CE) to whom he dedicates this work. Remarkably self-assured, Ranna pours scorn on pretend-poets and challenges readers to evaluate his work. Other works attributed to him are the Parascurama caritam, Cakres'vara caritam, Ajitapuriinam as well as a lexicon, Ranna-kanda. T.N. Srikantaiah speculates that the Cakre§vara Carite, a lost work by Ranna may have been dedicated to Tailapa II. The Ajitapuranam composed in 993 CE, is based on Ajitanatha, the second Tirthankara.
How might we understand the relationship between the Sanskrit epic and regional retellings of the Mahabharata? Are the early Kannada retellings a part of the Indo-European tradition of the hero? Are they discontinuities that disturb the imagined community of the primary epic, reshaping it towards 'new political ends'? (Hiltebeitel 2011, pp. 42-3). The period between the ninth and thirteenth centuries in the Kannada land was infused with the sentiment of vrra or heroism (Settar and Kalaburgi 1982). It is evident in literary compositions of the period as well as the density and spread of hero stone memorials that recorded warrior bravery and promised soldiers a place in heaven. Cynthia Talbot remarks that as the paradigmatic epic of war, the Mahabharata was usually the first Sanskrit epic to be adapted in regional literatures (Talbot 2016, p. 138).
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