Praising God in “Wondrous and Picturesque Ways” Citrakāvya in a Telugu Prabandha

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Harshita Mruthinti Kamath



Focused on Nandi Timmana’s sixteenth-century Telugu epic poem, Pārijātāpaharaṇamu (Theft of a Tree), this article analyzes citrakāvya, a genre of poetry that includes various kinds of patterned verses, word puzzles, and figural poems. The seventeenth-century Telugu grammarian Appakavi outlines three genres of citrakāvya: 1) citrakavitvamu (verses with restricted syllables); 2) bandhakavitvamu (figural verses); and 3) garbhakavitvamu (verses with meters embedded in meters). Timmana employs all three genres of citrakāvya in Theft of a Tree 5.92–99, which are set in the voice of Nārada praising Kṛṣṇa as god. Rather than reading citrakāvya as simply a form of alaṅkāra (literary ornament), I argue that citrakāvya primarily functions as a form of stotra (praise poetry) in the context of Timmana’s Theft of a Tree. Shifting the flow of his rather fast-paced narrative, Timmana intentionally uses citrakāvya to praise and even capture god through the complex figuration of syllables and sounds. Timmana’s citras are essential to scripting a new layer of the pārijāta narrative, one that highlights the voice of the poet himself speaking to his god.

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