The Charioteer is Krishna (Devaraya) Himself

Writing about the recently-concluded Hampi festival, the SpIndian Express boldly asks:

Who’s the Charioteer?

The Hampi festival is an annual cultural extravaganza that began 15 years ago with the Hampi Ustav in 1995. This year’s festival holds a special significance because it marks the 500th year of Sri Krishnadevaraya’s coronation in 1509-10. But the festival per se is not what prompted this Indian Express piece. Among others, the real reason is that it is the BJP government that organized, oversaw, and ensured that it was a huge success. And it was a huge success no matter what the media wants you to believe. Thankfully, we’ve not yet reached a stage where we’re completely ashamed to even take pride in local traditions, heroes, and accomplishments to the extent that we disown them. Every tiny hamlet, village, boulder, hill, and cave in the remotest corner of India has what you call a sthala purana or local legend/tale/story. If you are the scholarly type, you typically dig into the authenticity, truth, historicity or otherwise of that sthala purana. But to the inhabitants of that hamlet, it is a living truth–it provides them the heroes they need, and gives them the values and ideals that guide their lives. To that extent, these legends, heroes, and artifacts are worship-worthy. You might with the might of your scholarship, prove that it is legend/tale/fiction but you can’t negate the real experience that’s wedded to the lives of these inhabitants. On the negative side, if your scholarship has ideological/political backing coupled with lung power, you’ll succeed not just in showing how amazing your scholarship is but, tragically, in destroying a generations-old value system that made people better people. It’s a different matter that your scholarship doesn’t provide an equivalent alternative.

Which is exactly what the Indian Express article sets out to do.

The Indian Express spin begins with

There is a Pancha Pandava feel to the legend-invoking festival, going by the number of sites that host a plethora of cultural programmes. Of the five venues at the Hampi Festival that host music shows, dance recitals, literary soirees and rural sports, four are relatively smaller compared to the main one. The major locale close to the famed Viru paksha temple of this historic north Karnataka city is a rather sprawling expanse — with its open-air feature further lit up by replicas of tastefully moulded exhibits that typify the aesthetics of the good old Vijayanagara Empire.

While it gives due credit to the arrangements, etc, we fail to understand what exactly is a Pancha Pandava feel. Nor does the writer of the piece care to explain. At the most basics, Pancha Pandavas means the five Pandavas or the five sons of Pandu. We fail to understand how this is anyway connected to either Hampi or the festival. But obviously, if you’re spinning, you typically massacre facts. After some hurried words about Krishnadevaraya’s coronation, he says,

And, to be fair to the organisers, the pomp and pageantry at the three-day fete that ended on January 29 did lend colour to the significance of the occasion. Top performing artistes — both classical and popular, and some of them from abroad — did add vivacity to the proceedings.Only that they could regale the evening audience after the political leaders and senior bureaucrats vacated the stage, ending a long series of speeches. [.] this happened on all the three days. The confluence of politicians at this place in Bellary district not only came as a suffocating surprise for the common visitors at the prestigious fest, but even the passerby on the road struggled, what with traffic snarls that any VVIP’s presence would painfully entail.

He glosses over the fact that it is no mean achievement to draw such top artistes to a festival held in a location where the dry heat throughout the year is quite unbearable. Also the fact that “festivals” like Kala Ghoda and other secular pomp shows routinely get far wider and slobbering coverage and accolades escapes his attention.

After this, the article pretty much disses the entire event. A reader looking for a factual reportage of the Hampi festival gets everything but that: from traffic jams caused by VVIPs and politicians, from foreigners treated shabbily, from rampant drug usage in Hampi, from the presence of corporate magnates to how the Hampi festival resembled a political show instead of a cultural event. Here’s the thing: a World Heritage site that is today the site for all forms of perversity imaginable should have fired up this reporter’s passions. Instead, his focus is on how it turned into a political circus. We wonder where Hampi was on his map before this festival happened. If anything, Hampi has become the haven for drug addicts, paedophiles, orgies, rampant prostitution, and wholesale land encroachment. Dargahs and mosques appear overnight in and around the premises of this UNESCO World Heritage site.

But then, we know the reason why the media reports on such events the way it does. In this case specifically, the government explicitly mentioned that the festival–usually held in November every year–was postponed to January 2010 because it wanted to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the coronation of Sri Krishnadevaraya, unarguably the greatest ruler of the Vijayanagar empire. And this sounded off alarm bells in the usual quarters. There was little opposition all these years to celebrate the Hampi Utsav. But when the BJP government announced the special significance of this year’s Ustav, these alarm bells shrieked deafeningly. Elsewhere, the same Indian Express quoted it as the “fest of the Sangh Parivar. (ha!)”

And why?

So far, the Hampi Utsav was…well, just another cultural festival held in a World Heritage site. The “significance” was explained away with the usual epithets of “great sculptural beauty,” “exquisite carvings,” “rare architecture,” etc. This fell neatly in line with the Congress party’s dictum of not taking pride in our own achievements. And the government-sponsored history of the Vijayanagar Empire is the best proof of this. To most of us who learnt history in school, Krishnadevaraya was just another powerful king who occupied other kingdoms, planted trees, strengthened the economy, patronized arts, etc. Equally, the Vijayanagar Empire was just another powerful empire that was founded as a “rebellion” against Islamic invasion. And thus, lest the people think otherwise, Hampi Utsav was just another cultural event where the chic circles generally had a good time: ooh! the Veeroopaksha temple is sooo beautiful! And those nudes!? And so when Krishnadevaraya’s name suddenly came into focus, the Indian Express found it prudent to find the “other side” of the story. And who does it call upon? An old suspect, an ex-Vice Chancellor of the Hampi University, a gentleman named M M Kalburgi who’s famous for being on the buttered side of the bread. A known Hindu baiter, he says,

Krishna Deva Raya did “nothing” to promote Kannada language. “I would not hesitate to call him anti-Kannadiga. He suppressed our language by patronising Telugu poets in his court.” And, then a rejoinder: “Plus, he encouraged Tamils too. Today if you find large pockets of Tamilians living in Bangalore, it is because of Krishna Deva Raya.

Another way of looking at people with hundreds of academic acronyms and important-sounding titles affixed to their names is that the greater your qualification, the greater your chances of being guilty until proven innocent. M M Kalburgi epitomizes this phenomenon. But let’s give the devil its due.

The learned ex-Vice Chancellor forgets that there was no one state of Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh or Tamil Nadu in Krishnadevarya’s time. Besides, a host of inscriptions and praises by contemporary poets describe Krishnadevaraya variously as Kannada Rajya Ramaa Ramana (Lord Vishnu–Ramaa’s husband–of Kannada Kingdom) and Kannadaraya (The King of Kannada). Almost every other inscription of the time refers to the Vijayanagar Empire as Karnata Samrajya (Karnataka Empire). Krishnadevaraya patronized several well-known Kannada poets including Chaatuvittalanatha, and Gubbi Mallanna who in turn praised his generosity and his spirit of inclusiveness. Krishnadevaraya is one of the very rare kings who became the ideal hero and role model for two states simultaneously–people of both Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh till date remember him with fondness and respect. More importantly, he held Vyasaraya, one of the greatest exponents of Madhvacharya’s Dvaita philosophy, in great esteem, and made him the Raja Guru (official guru of the King). It was Vyasaraya who propagated the Haridasa movement in a far-reaching manner. Vyasaraya was the Guru of the celebrated Purandaradasa, the father of Carnatic classical music, and Kanakadasa, another Haridasa poet, singer, and saint. (Aside, casteist politicians spearheaded by the Congress party’s Siddaramaiah have tried to appropriate Kanakadasa because he hailed from the same Kuruba caste). All these saints are still widely revered in Karnataka–their songs are still sung in concerts and recited as poems in daily life. And all these men flourished under Krishnadevaraya’s rule. And all these were thoroughbred Kannadigas. Besides, in Krishnadevaraya’s time, Telugu literature had reached its peak compared to its Kannada counterpart. Now if the learned ex-Vice Chancellor wants to blame even this on Krishnadevaraya, we have no option but to recommend that he’s in dire need of lobotomy.

In light of this–sample, but significant–evidence, the eminent ex-Vice Chancellor should tell us how he can reconcile these historical facts with his narcotic-induced statement that Krishnadevaraya was “anti-Kannadiga.” In addition, M M Kalburgi’s statement that Krishnadevaraya was responsible for “large pockets of Tamilians living in Bangalore” is so sodden that he’ll slip and hurt the region of his anatomy where the sun doesn’t shine. In Krishnadevaraya’s time, Tamilians were largely concentrated in the Thanjavur and adjoining belts. However, being the true connossieur of fine arts and tolerant of all faiths and philosophies and languages, Krishnadevarya had a number of Tamil poets in his court. During the Vijayanagar times, Bangalore was but a very very small hamlet kind of place with little population of Tamils. Tamilians migrated to Bangalore chiefly during the British rule, who force-employed poor Tamils as labourers in the Bangalore cantonment–these Tamilians were drawn predominantly from areas adjoining Kolar. The second wave of migration of significant numbers of Tamils happened when Seshadri Iyer was the Diwan of Mysore (under the British). M M Kalburgi stretches the limits of logic in the realm of both time and space–from the 16th Century to today and from Hampi to Bangalore.

And then the Indian Express spin consults similar “experts” who amazingly claim that

Krishna Deva Raya…was partially responsible for the influx of “migrants” into the territory that is now part of Karnataka.

This is unbelievably mind-numbing and leads us to ask this question: given the sickening Kannada chauvinism of Kalburgi & Sons, was Krishnadevaraya required to predict that his kingdom would someday in future be split up on linguistic basis to form Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh & Tamil Nadu and thus, it was his responsibility to prove his Kannada-lover credentials by preventing non-Kannada people from encroaching on the future Karnataka? And does Indian Express recruit its journalists based on how many negative points they score in logic? Also, for all his chest-thumping about Kannada, Kalburgi & Sons need to yet demonstrate their service to Kannada.

Elsewhere, Kalburgi & sons cry hoarse about secularism, multiculturalism, and tolerance. But here is Krishnadevaraya, a devout Vaishnavite, who welcomed, encouraged and patronized people of all sects, beliefs, faiths, and opinions, and he’s the made the villain of the piece. And then we have Paramashiva Murthy, another “expert” who, under substance-abuse says,

“Why does the government single out Krishna Deva Raya as the ideal ruler of Vijayanagara? Is he the only person responsible for what the mighty Vijayanagara was once?” He observes many other kings contributed to Vijayana gara’s prosperity between the 13th and 15th century. “In fact, Prouda Deva Raya did more to encourage Kannada.”

Simply because Krishnadevaraya was the greatest/ideal ruler of that empire. His military success was unmatched either by his predecessors or successors. None of the hostile Islamic kingdoms surrounding Vijayanagar dared raise its voice against him. Under him, the Vijayanagar empire held sway over the largest swathe of geography than his predecessors or successors. He maintained law and order, delivered justice & security to his subjects, and took prosperity to the highest levels. The West hankered to do trade with him and wrote glowing accounts of the economic prosperity of Vijayanagar under his rule. He instilled a sense of cultural refinement and encouraged the arts. He was well-versed in music, could play musical instruments, wrote poetry–Amuktamalyada–and other forms of literature. At best, Proudha Devaraya had one stellar poet, Kumara Vyasa (Gadugina Narayanappa) who wrote the amazing Karnata Bharata Katha Manjari. However, that doesn’t automatically make him a Kannada lover or absolve him of shortcomings, whatever his other merits. Paramashiva Murthy’s soporific yardstick to measure the greatness of a king of the Vijayanagar empire seems to rest on how much they loved/patronized Kannada. I suppose these stoned experts would’ve been mightily thrilled if the stone-pelting warriors of the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike had ruled the Vijayanagar Empire.

And then the spin suddenly takes a mysterious turn by mentioning the powerful Bellary mining barons and the government’s lack of rehabilitation efforts in the wake of last year’s floods in the region. Not to mention a certain Joshi guy who cribs about not being able to gorge on a “grand Deccani feast.” Deccan (or Dakkan), by the way, is a term Muslim rulers used to refer to South India. We wonder what place such “issues” have in a report about a cultural festival.

In the end, the actual reason for the Indian Express’ angst and anxiety is not Krishnadevaraya per se but what he symbolizes: a powerful testimony to what heights a fully-awakened Hindu society is capable of attaining in a short span of time. A government that explicitly honours such a king will get people asking uncomfortable questions starting with: who is/was Krishnadevaraya? Really bad for secularism, no?

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51 comments for “The Charioteer is Krishna (Devaraya) Himself

  1. January 18, 2012 at 2:21 AM

    The word kannada means mirror….so literally its a mirror image of telugu(resembeles) in its script ,pronounciation and also the geographical location looks like mirror image.i have just started research aiming the origin of both languages…..up to me i strongly belive telugu is first and kannada was derrived frm telugu……also KRISHNADEVARAYA.S liking towards telugu is because of infinite gramatical potential(refers to deep and beautiful grammer regarding alankaras and related stuff)……..it was also said that he was reponsible for the saying “Dheesa bhasalandu Telugu lessa”…which means “telugu is the sweetest of the nations languages”…..it was just that , so saying him an anti kannadiga was absolutely a miss conception. Thanks. Shrikanth chowdary

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