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Raghavanka – Kannada Poet – Biography – Details About Literary Works

Raghavanka was a famous Kannada poet of the late 12th to early 13th century CE. He was a poet in the Hoysala court and is credited for popularizing the use of shatpadi meter (six line verse). He was a nephew and protege of the noted early 12-century Kannada poet Harihara.

Four long poems of Raghavanka, written in the shatpadi meter are extant. These are – Hariscandrakavya, Viresacarite, Siddharma Charitra and Somanatha Charitre. Two other poems, Sarabha Charitra and Harihara Mahattva are also attributed to him, but they are not available now.

Raghavanka engaged vardhaka sapadi, a six line meter for the first time in Kannada language. The meter is best suited for long narratives, as it is possible to contrive variations in rhythm, and medieval Kannada perfectly flows in it.

Hariscandrakavya is Raghavanka’s best known work. As the title indicates, it is about the struggles of King Harishchandra to prove this truthfulness. The king is put to hardships of all kinds by supernatural powers. The poet’s aim in writing this work is to demonstrate to the world that God is truth and truth is God (haranembude satya, satyavembude haranu). Apart from this, there is the undercurrent of a set of social ideas, such as the basic equality of human beings, the shallowness of the caste system and the meaninglessness of the practice of untouchability, as set for the by 12th century Saranas. Raghavanka brings out the clash of personalities with lively dialogues; between Sage Vishwamitra and sage Vashishta, between Harishchandra and Vishwamitra and between Harishchandra and the dancing girls. Also narrated is Harishchandra's fidelity to truth against all odds and the redemption of Harishchandra after being rescued by an untouchable he had once rejected.

Viresacarite is the story of Virabhadra destroying the sacrificial ceremony performed by Daksha. Though this is a short piece, its style is vigorous, which is in consonance with the tenor of the poem.

Raghavanka’s poetic abilities are again at the forefront in Siddharama Caritra. This is about the life and work of one of the well known contemporaries of Basavanna, namely Siddharama. The gradual emergence of a rather naive-looking Siddharama into a great teacher is powerfully depicted in this work. As a reformer and a religious pontiff combined, Siddharama is a bridge between the world herein and the world hereafter. He is depicted to be curt with the erring but merciful towards the needy.

The last of the extant works of Raghavanka, Somanatha Caritra, is a story of a militant follower of Virasaiva. Adayya, the hero of the work, is a merchant from Saurashtra, who comes to Puligere in Karnataka for trade, and falls in love with a damsel named Padmavati and marries her. However, in the heat of love, he failed to observe that his wife was a Jaina by faith. His mission of converting the Jainas into the Virashaivism fold starts and, for that, he transforms all bastis (shanties) of the town into Shiva temples.