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Influence of pOtana on tyAgarAja

  • April 14, 2019
  • P. P. Narayanaswami and Vidya Jayaraman

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It is quite common for great artists to be influenced by earlier artists or other role models. Additionally, it is also not uncommon  that there comes a break point in time when the artist’s style changes into their own creative and distinctive style.  For example, this is evident in Beethoven’s compositions, when his earlier works was reminiscent of Mozart’s works, but then starting with the 5th symphony, Beethoven imprinted his own distinct stamp and signature. We see such transitions in van Gogh’s paintings etc.

Coming to tyAgarAja, do we see any influences on his compositions by his predecessors, and we do notice a break point, where his distinctive style – either in music or lyrics – begins to blossom? From what I am aware of, I do not believe that these topics have been deeply investigated and documented.

What IS known, based on a myriad of biographies and his own compositions, is that he deeply respected and regarded his predecessors, some mythical and some historical. For example, in several of his compositions, tyAgarAja reverentially refers to personalities such as nArada, vAlmIki, purandara dAsu, rAmadAsu etc. But we do not exactly know in detail whether this was simply an expression of his reverence or whether their works actually influenced tyAgarAja’s works in visible ways. Alas, even the question of a possible break point in his compositional style is made even more complex by the the fact that the chronology of his compositions is not known. The only exceptions are a few compositions, where the dates can be deduced from the anecdotes associated with them.

In some of tyAgarAja’s biographies, there are repeated  references to the fact that tyAgarAja was influenced by a 15-16th century Telugu poet, called bammera pOtana or briefly just pOtana. However, any detailed exposition of such an influence was not easy to come by. In this article, I attempt to dig a bit deeper into this topic and share my thoughts on the possible influence pOtana  on tyagaraja.

Who was pOtana?

I hope that the readers be tolerant as I devote a few lines to introduce pOtana and also state some interesting facts about his main literary work, SrImadAndhra bhAgavatam. While I do this for the benefit of the non-telugu speaking readers, I think that some of these details would interest even those telugu-speaking readers, who  may already be familiar with pOtana and his bhAgavatam to some extent.

pOtana and pOtana bhAgavatam are generally household names among Telugu speaking people in India and abroad. According to Wikipedia, pOtana’s time period was 1450–1510 AD, although a recent reference [1] argues that pOtana was born around 1372 AD and that he wrote bhAgavatam around 1400 AD. He hailed from a village called bammera, near the town of Warangal (which was referred to as Orugallu, Eka SilA nagaram etc) in the present state of Telangana in southern India.

pOtana is credited to have written 4 books, the magnum opus SrImadAndhra bhAgavatam, bhOginI danDakam, vIrabhadra vijayam and nArAyaNa Satakam. Of these, the first work, commonly referred to as “pOtana bhAgavatam” is the most popular and beloved work by the vast majority of the Telugu speaking people. Poems and episodes from this work are regularly recited in several households, taught in schools and lectured about in temples & other venues.

pOtana bhAgavatam has a total of 9005 poems as well as prose sections (called vacanam’s). It is organized into 12 Sections, called skandam’s. A fact that is not as widely known is that pOtana bhAgavatam was not written completely by pOtana alone!! pOtana wrote only 8 Sections, namely Sections 1-4 and Section 7-10. The remaining 4 Sections were written by gangana (Section 5), singana (Section 6) and veligandala nAraya (Sections 11&12)!

Furthermore, these details are revealed by the text in the bhAgavatam itself, which also exposes a rather special structure of these Sections. Each Section ends with a detailed paragraph in prose (gadyam), in which there are details of who wrote the Section and what the contents of that Section were! For example, the prose paragraph at the end of Section 1 says “idi SrI paramESvara karuNA-kalita kavitA-vicitra kEsana-mantri-putra sahaja-pAnDitya pOtanAmAtya praNItambaina SrI mahAbhAgavatambanu mahA-purANambu-nandu naimiSAraNya-varNanambunu, SaunakAdula praSnambunu, ……Sringi-SApabhItunDai uttarAnandanunDu gangA-tIrambuna prAyOpavESambunanunDi Suka-sandarSanambu sEsi mOkshOpAyamu aDuguTayu, anu kathalu-gala prathama-skanthamu” – meaning that it is the first section of  SrI mahAbhAgavatam containing stories such as description of naimiSAraNya etc.  and written by pOtana, son of kEsana-mantri & a natural scholar!

Similarly, the ends of Sections 5,6, 11-12 state that they were written by gangana singana and nAraya respectively! Another interesting fact is revealed in the way the last author nAraya was introduced. He is referred to as “pOtanAmAtya-priya-Sishya-velingandala-nAraya” – meaning veligandala nAraya, who was a dear student of pOtana!

As to why pOtana bhAgavatam had to be written by 4 authors, there are two possible accounts [1]. The first is simply logistical – time periods, death of pOtana etc. The second account was fascinating. It is well known that pOtana refused to dedicate his bhAgavatam to the local king and instead dedicated it to the Universal God SrIrAma (more on this important aspect later in this article). Apparently, the local king was angered by this and had the bhAgavatam buried! The story goes on to presume that when the work was recovered, some sections were damaged and had to be re-written!

Finally, there are a few details regarding the publishing of pOtana bhAgavatam in print. According to [1], pOtana bhAgavatam was first printed in 1848 by brahmaSrI purANam hayagrIva Sastri by vAviLLa publishers. Sastri gAru collected and consulted twenty copies of pOtana bhAgavatam available to him and produced the first print version. It would follow that any copy of pOtana bhAgavatam before 1848 would have to be a handwritten version, either on paper or on palm leaves. This will be relevant for us later in this article. Those interested in knowing more about pOtana and his bhAgavatam may refer to [2,3].

tyAgarAja, pOtana and bhAgavatam

The following details are presented in [4, pp. 118-119]. tyAgarAja was presented a hand-written paper copy of pOtana bhAgavatam by his prominent student vAlAjapET venkTaramaNa bhAgavatAr, on the occasion of tyAgarAja’s 60 the birth anniversary (shashTAbdipUrti). The copy was “possibly hand-written by the student himself and is now in the saurAshTra sabha in Madurai”, Tamil Nadu, India. Furthermore, “the paper on which the bhAgavatam is written bears the watermark impression: 1823, 1824 and 1825. In the water mark impression, we see the spade of Trade mark and also name of the firm: Wise and Co.”  

Figure below shows a picture of a page from this manuscript.

Paper notebook of Tyägaräja's klitis in the Saurashtra Sabha 
Collection, Madurai. ( Courtesy Marcia Plant Jackson)

Apparently, this copy of the bhAgavatam was used by tyAgarAja for his daily pArAyanam [4, pp. 118-119]. I would guess (no references are available on this) that tyAgarAja could have been reading/reciting pOtana bhagavatam poems even before this event (since that would have been a good reason for vAlAjapet venkaTaramaNa bhAgavatAr choosing to present it in the first place. In any case, it is written in most biographical accounts that tyAgarAja was fond of pOtana bhAgavatam. For example, P. Sambamoorthy  in [4, pp.144-145] says that Thyagaraja was “passionately fond of pOtana’s bhAgavatam” .

It is also referenced in tyAgarAja’s biographical accounts that his mother would sing songs of PD, Ramadas, Narayana Tirtha [5], but I was unable to find any references about his mother reciting pOtana bhAgavatam poems. This is surprising because several poems and several chapters of pOtana bhAgavatam are very popular in Telugu speaking families. For example, gajEndra mOksham, rukmiNi kalyANam, prahlada caritram are known by-heart by many housewives, students and scholars.


Now I will address in the categories of “Life Values, Ideas expressed in the Compositions and the Linguistic Style”, the central question of this article – what, if any, are the influences of pOtana and pOtana-bhAgavatam on tyAgarAja and his works.

Influence in Life Values:

·         rAma bhaktas:

Both pOtana and tyAgarAja were bhaktas of SrIrAma, amply evident from the numerous compositions of tyAgarAja addressing SRIrAma. pOtana was, in a dream, urged by SrIrAma to write bhAgavatam in telugu. In the following poem in the bhAgavatam, pOtana says that it is rAmabhadruDu who actually is making him say/write the bhAgavatam.

పలికెడిది భాగవతమట

పలికించెడువాడు రామభద్రుండట

నే పలికిన భవహరమగునట

పలికెద వేరొండు గాథ పలుకగనేల?

palikeDidi bhAgavatamaTa

palikinceDuvADu rAmabhadrunDaTa

nE palikina bhavaharamagunaTa

palikeda vEronDu gAtha palukaganEla?

It is interesting that pOtana was initially a Saivaite, and later became more liberal in accepting all forms of Gods as representing a single universal Truth. At this point, SrIrAma became his ishTa daivata and remained so. Similarly, it is written that tyAgarAja was originally devoted exclusively to SrIrAma and later in his life broadened his view to embrace all forms of the Universal Principle.

·         Simple Living:

Both pOtana and tyAgarAja led simple lives. tyAgarAja practiced unca-vrutti (practice of not accumulating, but asking for alms needed for the day). While it is argued by some that this may not have been literally true (considering that he had many students living with and learning from him), it is true that he disdained the value and accumulation of wealth. Perhaps the most well known example of this is the rejection of the gifts sent by the local king (more on this later in the article). Additionally, there are two anecdotes, where some money was being secretly given to him by his prosperous admirers, and which he promptly discarded when he came to know of them.  One is in the context of mundu-venuka kriti in darbAr rAga, and another was an anecdote attributed to Sundaram Mudaliar in Chennai.

pOtana was initially probably not such a simple man, since he did embrace the graces of local kings (in fact, dedicated his bhOginI danDakam to the local king), but later rejected the corruption of the rich and powerful, and led his life as a simple farmer.

Influence in Ideas

Now, we will investigate on some common ideas or concepts expressed by tyAgarAja in the lyrics of his compositions and poems of pOtana.

·         Spurning of wealth: An example of a common idea that is generally quoted in many tyAgarAja’s biographies is that of spurning the gifts and wealth offered by rich and powerful people.

It is a well-known anecdote in tyAgarAja’s life that the local king, sarabhOji, offered several expensive gifts to tyAgarAja, and that tyAgarAja refused them steadfastly despite tyAgarAja’s brother, japESa, pressuring him into accepting the gifts,. In this context, tyAgarAja was supposed to have composed the kriti “nidhi cAlA sukhamA?” in rAga kalyANi. In this, tyAgarAja debates whether wealth or the closeness of SrIrAma is superior.

ప. నిధి చాల సుఖమా, రాముని సన్నిధి సేవ సుఖమా, నిజముగ పల్కు మనసా

అ. దధి నవనీత క్షీరములు రుచియో, దాశరథి ధ్యాన భజన సుధా రసము రుచియో

చ. దమ శమమను గంగా స్నానము సుఖమా

కర్దమ దుర్విషయ కూప స్నానము సుఖమా

మమత బంధన యుత నర స్తుతి సుఖమా

సుమతి త్యాగరాజ నుతుని కీర్తన సుఖమా

p. nidhi cAla sukhamA rAmuni sannidhi sEva sukhamA nijamuga palku manasA

a. dadhi navanIta kshIramulu ruciyO dASarathi dhyAna bhajana sudhA rasamu ruciyO

c. dama Samam(a)nu gangA snAnamu sukhamA

kardama dur-vishaya kUpa snAnamu sukhamA

mamata bandhana yuta nara stuti sukhamA

su-mati tyAgarAja nutuni kIrtana sukhamA

Similarly, pOtana was apparently approached by the local king, sarvajna singa bhUpAla, for pOtana to dedicate the bhAgavatam to him. In the following famous poem, pOtana describes what happened then.

కాటుక కంటినీరు చనుకట్టు పయింబడ నేల యేడ్చెదో

కైటభదైత్య మర్దనుని గాదలి కోడల యోమదంబ యో

హాటకగుర్భు రాణి నిను నాకటికిం గొనిపోయి యల్ల క

ర్ణాట కిరాటకీచకుల కమ్మ త్రిశుద్ధిగనమ్ము భారతి.

kATuka kanTinIru canukaTTu payimbaDa nEla yEDcedO

kaiTabhadaitya mardanuni gAdali kODala yOmadamba yO

hATakagurbhu rANi ninu nAkaTikim gonipOyi yalla ka

rNATa kirATakIcakula kammatri Suddhiganammu bhArati.

Effectively, he says that the Goddess of Letters, sarasvati, appeared to him in a dream with tears flowing down to her breasts (kATuka kanTi nIru canukaTTu vayimbaDa), for the fear that pOtana might actually offer the bhAgavatam to the king. Seeing this vision, pOtana assures Her (O madamba! O hATaka garbhu rANi!) that he would never sell Her to evil cruel humans (karNATa kirATa kIcakula) and pleads Her (bhAratI!) to trust him.

Further, in the following poem, pOtana declares that he would dedicate his works to SrIhari, instead of offering them to corrupt human beings.  

ఇమ్మనుజేశ్వరాధములకిచ్చి పురంబులు వాహనంబులున్

సొమ్ములుగొన్ని పుచ్చుకొని సొక్కి శరీరముబాసి కాలుచే

సమ్మెటపోటులంబడక సమ్మతి శ్రీహరికిచ్చి చెప్పె నీ

బమ్మెర పోతరాజొకడు భాగవతంబు జగద్ధితంబుగన్.

immanujESvarAdhamulakicci purambulu vAhanambulun

sommulugonni puccukoni sokki SarIramubAsi kAlucE

sammeTapOTulambaDaka sammati SrIharikicci ceppe nI

bammera pOtarAjokaDu bhAgavatambu jagaddhitambugan.

Here pOtana is saying  (free translation): Instead of offering to such lowly human kings and receiving lands, carriages and wealth in return and subsequently suffering from them, this one bammera pOtarAju has decided to dedicate to SrIhari and is writing bhAgavatam for the benefit of the world.

The word that pOtana used to describe the rich, powerful and corrupt people is manjujEsvara+adhamulu (human kings + lowly people). tyAgarAja uses exactly this expression in the durmArgacara+adhamula (followers of bad paths + lowly people) in rAga ranjani. In fact, the meaning of this kriti comes even closer to the above cited poem of pOtana.

ప. దుర్మార్గ చరాధములను దొర నీవన జాలర

అ. ధర్మాత్మక ధన ధాన్య దైవము నీవైయుండగ

చ. పలుకు బోటిని సభలోన పతిత మానవులకొసగు

ఖలులనెచ్చట పొగడని శ్రీకర త్యాగరాజ వినుత

p. durmArga carAdhamulanu dora nIvana jAlara

a. dharmAtmaka dhana dhAnya daivamu nIvaiyuNDaga

c. paluku bOTini sabhalOna patita mAnavulakosagu

khalulaneccaTa pogaDani SrIkara tyAgarAja vinuta

In this kriti, tyAgarAja uses powerful words to condemn the idea of serving corrupt people and those who offer their literary works to the like.  Effectively, he says:

·         I will not serve those that are the lowly among those that tread the path of vices.

·         When the Lord himself is the wealth and nourishment, I will not serve the lowly….

·         The wretched ones who offer their literary skills in the courts of kings to down-trodden humans, I will never acknowledge! Oh SrIrAma!

In another kriti, gaTTi gAnu ceyi paTTEdennaTikO in rAga bEgaDa, tyAgarAja elaborately laments about the futility of serving the rich and powerful, who are ignorant and degenerate.

ప. గట్టిగాను నను చెయి పట్టేదెన్నటికో

అ. పుట్టిన నాటనుండి ఇట్టి విధములే కాని

చ1. గొప్ప తనము మనదని మదమెప్పటికిని తలకెక్కి

తప్పు పలుకులాడుచు తానుప్పతిల్లుచును

తెప్పున ఇంగితమెరుగక మెప్పులకాశించుయా

చప్పని ప్రభువుల కడనను త్రిప్పటయేలరాయనుచును

చ2. వరమైన సజ్జనులను పరిచారకులనెల్లను

సరి జేసి దానమొసగి పరమెంచకను

కరి ధన మదములు కలిగిన నరులను పూజించెడుయా

తరమెరుగని ధనికుల అనుసరణమేలరాయనుచును

చ3. శివ పూజల మరియును మాధవ పూజలునొనరించుచు

భువి తా సరి జేసెడి వారెవరనుచునుయెంచు

అవివేక ధన మత్తుల శివ శివ వేడగ వద్దని

కువలయ దళ లోచన సువిభవ త్యాగరాజ వినుత

p. gaTTigAnu nanu ceyi pattEdennaTikO

a. puTTina nATanuNDi iTTi vidhamulE kAni

c1. goppa tanamu manadani madameppaTikini talakekki

tappu palukulADucu tAnuppatillucunu teppunayingitamerugaka meppulakASincuyA

cappani prabhuvula kaDananu trippaTayElarAyanucunu

c2. varamaina sajjanulanu paricArakulanellanu

sari jEsi dAnamosagi paramencakanu

kari dhana madamulu kaligina narulanu pUjinceDuyA

taramerugani dhanikula anusaraNamElarAyanucunu

c3. Siva pUjala mariyunu mAdhava pUjalunonarincucu

bhuvi tA sari jEseDi vArevaranucunuyencu

avivEka dhana mattula Siva Siva vEDaga vaddani

kuvalaya daLa lOcana suvibhava tyAgarAja vinuta

In the caraNams, tyAgarAja asks why he/one should follow those who become headstrong by their presumed greatness, speaking falsehoods, seeking quick praises, insipid lords, swollen with the pride of riches, ignorant people intoxicated by wealth…

The above examples hopefully convince the reader that both pOtana and tyAgarAja looked down upon material possessions and associated vanities, and conveyed these beliefs in their poems and kritis respectively.

·         P. Sambamoorthy, author of the authoritative and definitive biography of tyAgarAja [4] says “Some disciples were assigned the task of keeping a constant vigil night and day to wait for the moments when new songs would emerge from the mouth of the  composer, extempore. These new compositions usually emerged after his Parayanam of Valmiki  Ramayana  and Potana  Bhagavatham, every day. Sometimes these extempore songs came out at odd moments, like the dead of night.” Based on this, we can certainly infer that several of his compositions were triggered by what he read in pOtana bhAgavatam! In the following, I will try to find some concrete examples.

·         Krishna based compositions/works:

Although tyAgarAja was primarily a rAma bhakta, he did compose kritis on several other deities, such as Siva, pArvati, ganESa, narasimha, krishNa etc. Consider the compositions of tyAgarAja on krishNa such as sAdhincenE, vENugAnalOluni, etc. In addition, there is a full musical play naukA caritram, which is entirely based on a story about krishNa.

While the episode of naukA caritram is not found in pOtana bhAgavatam, the other musical play of tyAgarAja, namely prahlAda bhakti vijayam, has a prominent place in pOtana bhAgavatam.

The other popular parts of pOtana bhAgavatam are gajEndra mOksham and rukmiNI kalyANam. The ideas of gajEndra mOksham occur in more than one composition of tyAgarAja: vAraNarAjuni …in the very popular kriti kshIrasAgara Sayana in dEvagAndhAri rAga, nAmoralanu vini kriti in Arabhi rAga etc.

So, one could argue that, next to SrIrAma, krishNa gets the second most significant place in tyAgarAja’s compositions. Could this be because of the influence of reading pOtana bhAgavatam regularly (daily)? I would like to posit so.

·         In the kriti ennagAmanasuku rAni in rAga nIlAmbari

ప. ఎన్నగ మనసుకు రాని పన్నగ శాయి సొగసు పన్నుగ కనుకొనని కన్నులేలే కన్నులేలే కంటి మిన్నులేలే

చ1. మోహముతో నీల వారి వాహ కాంతిని కేరిన శ్రీ హరిని కట్టుకొనని దేహమేలే దేహమేలే యీ గేహమేలే

చ2. సరసిజ మల్లె తులసి విరువాజి పారిజాతపు విరులచే పూజించని కరములేలే కరములేలే యీ కాపురములేలే

చ3. మాలిమితో త్యాగరాజునేలిన రామ మూర్తిని లాలించి పొగడని నాలికేలే నాలికేలే సూత్ర మాలికేలే

p. ennaga manasuku rAni pannaga SAyi sogasu pannuga kanukonani kannulElE kannulElE kaNTi minnulElE

c1. mOhamutO nIla vAri vAha kAntini kErina SrI harini kaTTukonani dEhamElE dEhamElEyI gEhamElE

c2. sarasija malle tuLasi viruvAji pArijAtapu virulacE pUjincani karamulElE karamulElEyI kApuramulElE

c3. mAlimitO tyAgarAjunElina rAma mUrtini lAlinci pogaDani nAlikElE nAlikElE sUtra mAlikElE

·         I would like to bring your attention the rhetorical questioning style: Why those eyes (kannulElE) that cannot see (kanukonani) the beauty (sogasu) of vishNu (pannaga Sayi)? Why those hands (karamulElE) that do not worship (pUjincani)? Why that tongue (nAlikElE) that does not praise (pogaDani) SrIrAma (rAmamUrti)?

There are at least a couple of poems of pOtana that have similar ideas.

కమలాక్షు నర్చించు కరములు కరములు; శ్రీనాథు వర్ణించు జిహ్వ జిహ్వ;

సురరక్షకుని జూచు చూడ్కులు చూడ్కులు; శేషశాయికి మ్రొక్కు శిరము శిరము;

విష్ణునాకర్ణించు వీనులు వీనులు; మధువైరి దవిలిన మనము మనము;

భగవంతు వలగొను పదములు పదములు; పురుషోత్తముని మీది బుద్ధి బుద్ధి;

దేవదేవుని చింతించు దినము దినము;

చక్రహస్తుని బ్రకటించు చదువు చదువు;

కుంభినీధవు జెప్పెడి గురుడు గురుడు;

తండ్రి హరి జేరు మనెయెడి తండ్రి తండ్రి.

 kamalAkshu narcincu karamulu karamulu; SrInAthu varNincu jihva jihva;

surarakshakuni jUcu cUDkulu cUDkulu; SEshaSAyiki mrokku Siramu Siramu;

vishNunAkarNincu vInulu vInulu; madhuvairi davilina manamu manamu;

bhagavantu valagonu padamulu padamulu; purushOttamuni mIdi buddhi buddhi;

dEvadEvuni cintincu dinamu dinamu;

cakrahastuni brakaTincu caduvu caduvu;

kumbhinIdhavu jeppeDi guruDu guruDu;

tanDri hari jEru maneyeDi tanDri tanDri.

In this, pOtana says:

Only those hands (karamulu) that worship (arcincu) vishNu (kamalAkshu) are (real) hands;

Only the tongue (jihva) that describes (varNincu) vishNu (SrInAtha) is (a real) tongue;

Only the sight (cUDkulu) that sees (cUcu) vishNu (sura rakshaka) is (a real) sight;

Only the head (Siramu) that prostrates to (mrokku) vishNu (SEshaSAyi) is (a real) head;

Only the ears (vInulu) that listens to (AkarNincu) vishNu are (real) ears;

Only the heart (manamu) that is attached to (davilina?) vishNu (madhu vairi) is (a real) heart;

Only the mind (buddhi) that rests on vishNu (purushOttama) is (a real) buddhi;

Only that day (dinamu) when thinking about (cintincu) vishNu (dEva dEva) is (a real) day;

Only that education (caduvu) that expounds about (prakaTincu) vishNu (cakra hasta) is (a real) education;

Only the teacher (guruDu) that teaches about (ceppeDi) vishNu (kumbinIdhava) is (a real) teacher;

Oh a father! Only the father (tanDri) that tells one to reach hari is (the real) father;

It may interest the reader to know that this poem (as well as the next one) are from prahlAda caritram part of the bhAgavatam, when prahlAda is talking to his father about the value of dedicating ones life to the pursuit of vishNu. Indeed the last line clearly suggests it.

It is true that the meaning of the above poem is in the “positive” (that is, he says what a real hand/eye/. Should be) unlike the meaning in tyAgarAja’s above kriti which is in the “negative” (that is, he says that hand/eye…that does not worship/see/… is not a real hand/eye/…).  However, I do think that the overall thought structure is similar.

Actually, the next poem in the same prahlAda caratram of pOtana is in the “negative”, making it more aligned with tyAgarAja’s thought construction.

కంజాక్షునకుగాని కాయంబు కాయమే? పవనగుంఫితచర్మభస్త్రిగాక,

వైకుంఠుబొగడని వక్త్రంబు వక్త్రమే? ఢమ ఢమ ధ్వనితోడి ఢక్క గాక,

హరిపూజయులేని హస్తంబు హస్తమే? తరుశాఖనిర్మితదర్విగాక,

కమలేశుజూడని కన్నులు కన్నులే? తనకుడ్యజాలరంధ్రములు గాక,

చక్రి చింత లేని జన్మంబు జన్మమే? తరళ సలిల బుద్బుదంబు గాక,

విష్ణుభక్తి లేని విబుధుండు విబుధుడే? పాదయుగముతోడి పశువు గాక.

kanjAkshunakugAni kAyambu kAyamE? pavanagumphitacarmabhastrigAka,

vaikunThubogaDani vaktrambu vaktramE? DhamaDhamadhvanitODi Dhakka gaaka,

haripUjayulEni hastambu hastamE? taruSAkhanirmitadarvigAka,

kamalESujUDani kannulu kannulE? tanakuDyajAlarandhramulu gaaka,

ckari cinta lEni janmambu janmamE? taraLa salila budbudambu gAka,

vishNubhakti lEni vibudhunDu vibudhuDE? pAdayugamutODi paSuvu gAka.

Here pOtana says:

Is the body (kAyamu) that does not belong to vishNu (kanjAksha) a real body?….

Is the mouth (vaktram) that does not praise vishNu (vaikunThu) a real mouth?…

Is the hand (hastam) that does not do hari pUja a real hand?…

Are the eyes (kannulu) that do not see vishNu (kamalESa) real eyes?…

Is the life (janmamu) without thinking about (cinta) vishNu (cakri) a real life?….

Is a scholar (vibudhuDu) that does not have vishNu bhakti a real scholar?… 

·         naukA caritram

 tyAgarAja composed a musical play called naukA caritram, which is a playful account of gOpikas taking krishNa out on a boat ride. Subsequently, they get caught in a storm, pray to krishNa and are saved.The musical play consists of 35 songs and is a delightful description of joy, mischief and playfulness. It is one of the rare works of tyAgarAja where devotion etc do not play a major part and the work can be enjoyed as a secular musical work.

While there is no corresponding account in pOtana bhAgavatam, there are elaborate and equally delightful accounts of rAsakRiDalu, which describes the playful incidents of krishNa and gOpikas (daSama skandam – pUrva bhAgam, episodes 38-39-40).

Is it possible that some of the ways in which tyAgarAja narrated his playful accounts were suggested by similar ones from pOtana. However, this question merits deeper research.

Linguistic Style

Finally, let us consider the linguistic styles of pOtana and tyAgarAja.

·         Simplicity:

It is widely recognized that both tyAgarAja and pOtana’s styles are generally simple.  It should be noted that even though this is a general characterization of their works, both have composed highly complex works. For example, the ghana rAga pancaratna kritis of tyAgarAja would fall in this category.

There are numerous examples to illustrate the simplicity of the linguistic styles of tyAgarAja and pOtana, and here are just a few.

pOtana bhAgavatam poem examples:

కలడందురు దీనులయెడ

కలడందురు పరమయోగి గణముల పాలం


కలడు కలండనెడి వాడు కలడో, లేడో?

kalaDanduru dInulayeDa

kalaDanduru paramayOgi gaNamula pAlam


kalaDu kalanDaneDi vADu kalaDO, lEDO?

This is a poem of pOtana in the gajEndra mOksham episode, where the elephant is tired and almost giving up praying to vishNu, wondering whether He is really exists or not!

నీ పాద కమల సేవయు

నీ పాదార్చకులతోడి నెయ్యమును, నితాన్-

తాపార భూతదయయును

తాపస మందార, నాకు దయసేయగదే

nI pAda kamala sEvayu

nI pAdArcakulatODi neyyamunu, nitAn-

tApAra bhUtadayayunu

tApasa mandAra, nAku dayasEyagadE.

This is a poem from the introductory sections, where pOtana is praying to his favorite deities and asking for good qualities, such as serving the Lord, friendship with His devotees and piety to all living beings.

Turning to tyAgarAja, I include two examples, wherein there is a similar sense of linguistic simplicity:

nA moralanu vini (rAga Arabhi),

ప. నా మొరలను విని ఏమరవలెనా పామర మనుజులలో ఓ రామ

అ. తోమర నారాచములై మనసుకు తోచెనా భక్త పాప విమోచన

చ1. ఇభ రాజేంద్రుడు ఎక్కువైన లంచమిచ్చినదేమిరా

సభలో మానము పోవు సమయంబున సతియేమిచ్చెనురా ఓ రామ

చ2. భాగవతాగ్రేసర రసికావన జాగరూకుడని పేరే

రాగ స్వర యుత ప్రేమ భక్త జన రక్షక త్యాగరాజ వందిత

p. nA moralanu vini EmaravalenA pAmara manujulalO O rAma

a. tOmara nArAcamulai manasuku tOcenA bhakta pApa vimOcana

c1. ibha rAjEndruDu ekkuvaina lancamiccinadEmirA sabhalO mAnamu pOvu samayambuna satiyEmiccenurA O rAma

c2. bhAgavatAgrEsara rasikAvana jAgarUkuDani pErE

rAga svara yuta prEma bhakta jana rakshaka tyAgarAja vandita

nanu pAlimpa (mOhana)

నను పాలింప నడచి వచ్చితివో నా ప్రాణ నాథ

వనజ నయన మోమును జూచుట జీవనమని నెనరున మనసు మర్మము తెలిసి

సుర పతి నీల మణి నిభ తనువుతో

ఉరమున ముత్యపు సరుల చయముతో

కరమున శర కోదండ కాంతితో

ధరణి తనయతో త్యాగరాజార్చిత

p. nanu pAlimpa naDaci vaccitivO nA prANa nAtha

a. vanaja nayana mOmunu jUcuTa jIvanamani nenaruna manasu marmamu telisi

c. sura pati nIla maNi nibha tanuvutO uramuna mutyapu sarula cayamutO

karamuna Sara kOdaNDa kAntitO dharaNi tanayatO tyAgarAjArcita

Of course, it is hard to further quantify this idea of simplicity, except to say that the words chosen are not heavy and complex words. Their sounds are also not complex and tongue twisting, but rather easy to say and hear. For example, there are few compound sounds (involving more than one consonant per phonetic unit). Counting, the four pOtana poems have 1 of 51 and 2 of 46 compound phonetic sounds respectively. Similarly the four tyAgarAja compositions have 11 of 130 and 5 of 99….compound phonetic sounds respectively.

·         prAsa

prAsa is a linguistic construction wherein there is a repetition of similar sounding words in a poem. pOtana revelled in the use of this technique, as evidenced by many examples. We see that also tyAgarAja’s lyrics, which I hope to illustrate with these two examples:


అడిగెదనని కడువడి జను

అడిగినడను మగుడ నుడువడని నడ యుడుగున్;

వెడవెడ సిడిముడి తడబడ

నుడుగిడు నడుగిడదు జడిమ నడుగిడు నెడలన్!

aDigedanani kaDuvaDi janu

aDiginaDanu maguDa nuDuvaDani naDa yuDugun;

veDaveDa siDimuDi taDabaDa

nDugiDu naDugiDadu jaDima naDugiDu neDalan!

Here we see the sound Da repeats itself several times. Incidentally, it is a poem from ganEndra mOksham episode, wherein pOtana is describing how hurriedly vishNu is leaving vaikunTha to save the elephant. The fast repeating Da sound suggests the hurry and anxiety too.

For tyAgarAja, I would like to suggest yOcana kamala lOcana in rAga darbar. Here the sound ‘cana’ repeats often.

ప. యోచనా, కమల లోచన, నను బ్రోవ

అ. సూచన తెలియకనొరుల యాచన సేతుననుచు నీకు

తోచెనా, ద్యుతి విజితాయుత విరోచన, నన్ను బ్రోవనింక

చ. కేచన నిజ భక్త నిచయ, పాప విమోచన కల బిరుదులెల్ల కొని,

నన్నేచనా, కృత విపిన చర వరాభిషేచన, త్యాగరాజ పూజిత

p. yOcanA kamala lOcana nanu brOva

a. sUcana teliyakanorula yAcana sEtunanucu nIku

tOcenA dyuti vijitAyuta virOcana nannu brOvaninka

c. kEcana nija bhakta nicaya pApa vimOcana kala birudulella koni

nannEcanA kRta vipina cara varAbhishEcana tyAgarAja pUjita

Linguistic phrases:

I conclude this essay with linguistic phrases that I found to have been used by both pOtana and tyAgaraja. Of course, I looked for such phrases that would not be very common in poetry. Yet, I would hasten to admit that I cannot solidly infer that tyAgarAja did indeed borrow these phrases.

·         Consider the expression “nanu kanna talli nA bhAgyama” used by tyAgarAja in his kEsari rAga composition. There is a poem by pOtana which also starts as “nanu kanna tanDri, nA pAli daivama”.

nannu kanna talli nA bhAgyamA nArAyaNi dharmAmbikE |

నన్ను గన్న తండ్రి, నాపాలి దైవమ,

నా తప:ఫలంబ, నా కుమర,

నాదు చిన్న బడుగ, నా కులదీపిక,

రాగదయ్య, భాగ్యరాశి వగుచు

nannu ganna tanDri, nApAli daivama,

nA tapa:phalamba, nA kumara,

nAdu cinna baDuga, nA kuladIpika,

rAgadayya, bhAgyarASi vagucu.

·         Consider the beginning of the rItigouLa rAga kriti “jO jO rAma” by tyAgarAja.

ప. జో జో రామ ఆనంద ఘన

చ1. జో జో దశరథ బాల రామ, జో జో భూజా లోల రామ

చ2. జో జో రఘు కుల తిలక రామ, జో జో కుటిల తరాలక రామ

p. jO jO rAma Ananda ghana

c1. jO jO daSaratha bAla rAma jO jO bhUjA lOla rAma

c2. jO jO raghu kula tilaka rAma jO jO kuTila tarAlaka rAma


·         There is a poem by pOtana that also is structured similarly:

జో జో కమల్దళేక్షణ,

జో జో మ్రుగరాజమధ్య, జో జో క్రిష్ణా

జో జో పల్లవ కరపద,

జో జో పూర్ణేందువదన, జో జో యనుచున్

jO jO kamaldaLEkshaNa,

jO jO mrugarAjamadhya, jO jO krishNA

jO jO pallava karapada,

jO jO pUrNEnduvadana, jO jO yanucun.

·         Consider the tyAgarAja kriti “mATi mATi ki telpa valenA” in rAga mOhana.

ప. మాటి మాటికి తెల్ప వలెనా ముని మానసార్చిత చరణ రామయ్య నీతో

అ. సూటిగొక్కటే మాట చాలదా నాటి మొదలుకొని సాటి లేని నీతో

p. mATi mATiki telpa valenA muni mAnasArcita caraNa rAmayya nItO

a. sUTigokkaTE mATa cAladA nATi modalukoni sATi lEni nItO

There is a poem by pOtana that starts with the same phrase “mATi mATiki vrElu maDaci…”

మాటిమాటికి వ్రేలు మడచి యూరించుంచు నూరుగాయలు దినుచుండు నొక్క-

డొకని కంచములోని దొడిసి చయ్యన మ్రింగి, చూడు లేదని నోరుసూపు నొక్క-

డెగు రార్గుర చల్దు లెలమి బన్నిద మాడి కూర్కొని కూర్కొని కుడుచు నొక్క-

డిన్నియు దగంబంచి యిడుట నెచ్చెలితనమనుచు బంతెనగుండులాడు నొకడు,

క్రిష్ణుజూడు మనుచు గింకురించి పరు మ్రోలి

మేలి భక్యరాశి మెసగు నొకడు

నవ్వు నొకడు, సఖుల నవ్వించు నొక్కడు

ముచ్చటాడు నొకడు, మురియు నొకడు

mATimATiki vrElu maDaci yUrincuncu nUrugAyalu dinucunDu nokka-

Dokani kancamulOni doDisi cayyana mringi, cUDu lEdani nOrusUpu nokka-

Degu rArgura caldu lelami bannida mADi kUrkoni kUrkoni kuDucu nokka-

Dinniyu dagambamci yiDuTa neccelitanamanucu bantenagunDulADu nokaDu,

krishNujUDu manucu ginkurinci paru mrOli

mEli bhakyarASi mesagu nokaDu

navvu nokaDu, sakhula navvincu nokkaDu

muccaTADu nokaDu, muriyu nokaDu.

It is also interesting to note that this in this poem, pOtana beautifully describes how krishNa and his male friends are having fun playing, eating etc: stealing food from each other’s plates, sharing pickles, stuffing themselves with delicious items, laughing, making others laugh, etc.


It is often written in tyAgarAja’s biographical accounts that he was influenced by pOtana and pOtana bhAgavatam. However, details and specifics were hard to come by. In this article, I  provided an informal analysis of the similarities and feel that the claims are now reasonably well substantiated. Any comments are most welcome and may be sent to


Firstly, I would like to thank Vidya Janakiraman, who first posed this topic of detailed comparison of tyAgarAja and pOtana, which led this fascinating study for me. I would also like to thank my friend, William Jackson (author of several popular and detailed books on tyAgarAja), for providing insights and guidance in the preparation of this article. The scripts for tyAgarAja kritis were taken from and the telugu transliteration was done with the help of 


[1] “pOtana SrImahAbhAgavatam”, originally written by pOtana-gangana-singana-nAraya and published by unnava rAmamOhana rAo, publisher “nava ratna book house, vijayavADa, 2013. Including a critical essay “Andhra bhAgavata vimarSamu” by sEshAdri ramaNa kavulu, “SrI bhAgavata mudraNamu – 1948” by niDadavOlu venkaTa rao.

[2]  Website for downloading pOtana bhAgavatam in 12 skandas and their word-by-word meanings

[3] TTD Website for downloading pOtana bhAgavatam in 8 volumes

[4] P. Sambamoorthy, “Great Composers – Volume 2: Thyagaraja”.

[5] Kalluri Virabhadra Sastri “Thyagaraja Kirtanas: viSesha vivaraNam” (in Telugu).

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