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Harishchandra Kavya – Kannada Poem Based On Story Of King Harishchandra

Harishchandra Kavya was composed by Raghavanka, a Virashaiva poet, in the 13th century CE. It is the Kannada poem based on the story of famous King Harishchandra. The greatness of this the Kannada classic poem is that it focuses on Karuna Rasa (sentiment of compassion). Harishchandra Kavya refers to incidents from the Mahabharata and Puranas, particularly Markandeya Purana.

Harishchandra, the embodiment of truth, is the central protagonist of this poem. He becomes the victim of a quarrel between Sage Vasistha and Vishwamitra. When Vasistha asserted that King Harishchandra was the most truthful person and that under no circumstances would he utter a lie, Sage Vishwamitra challenged him. Raghavanka describes this situation in a beautiful metaphor – if two bulls fight each other, the tree will be the target to show off their might.

Harishchandra had to sacrifice all his possessions on earth, including his wife and son, in order to uphold the truth. Throughout the poem, the poet establishes that Hara (God) is truth; truth is Hara (God). Harishchandra sacrifices everything he possesses in order to stick to truth.

Raghavanka penned the Kavya in Shatpadi metre native to Kannada prosody (chandassu). Raghavanka broke the existing pattern of Champu Kavya - a mix of prose and poetry - to employ Shatpadi.

The poet is well known for creating dramatic sequences in the poem. The episodes of dialogue between Sage Vasistha and Sage Vishwamitra, Vishwamitra and Harishchandra and Harishchandra and some damsels are a few examples of the dramatic skill of the poet. The whole poem is saturated with Karuna Rasa.

Harishchandra Kavya has been held up as the most fascinating and artistic presentation of the theme in Kannada literature.