Sage Vemana is one of the four foremost Bhakta Kavis who had devoted the whole of their lives for writing on subjects of Bhakti (Devotion), Gnana (Wisdom) and Vairagya (Goal). They are “Pothana”, “Thyagaraja”, “Ramadas” and “Vemana”. All the four of them have enriched Telugu literature and their writings are extremely popular.
Vemana has distilled his experiences in verses which have an unaffected natural grace. The language is so simple and the similes are so homely that one begins to doubt whether he indulges in prose or poetry. Brevity is his forte, and in a few phrases he is able to compress a world of ideas. He is not without his infinite fund of humour. He employs words which are quite racy of the soil, and he wields the language spoken by the man in the street. All this is evident to one who pursues his writings which are marked by the prose rhythm of every day life. He avoids as far as possible Sanskrit words and phrases for preserving the purity of Telugu. There is nothing alien to one’s experience. All falls within the pale of truth and the mild concerns of ordinary life. He is brutally even to the extent of touching one on the raw. Some critics take exception to certain portions of his writings, which in their opinion are against their hallowed traditions. However, it must he said that there is not one Andhra either young or old who is not familiar with some slices of Vemana’s writings.
Modern critics hold that too much adherence to rigid rules of grammar may spoil the beauty and mar the elegance a language. They may even interfere with the majestic march of lofty ideas and sentiments. Vemana who has a touching faith in the tact that sublimity lies in simplicity will be held in esteem by them, for he steers clear of rules that stand as a stumbling block in the path of his poetic creations. He is a relentless critic of all systems of religion and philosophy; and in his pursuit of truth, he does not spare any of them. He does not believe in meaningless forms and ceremonies which really clog the clear stream of reason. Women too have fallen tinder the lash of his pen. He seems to have wandered in his loin cloth to every nook and corner of Andhra Desa and minutely observed all that happened around him.
He has not learnt anything at the feet of any master. Neither the Vedas, nor the Sastras, nor the Classics nor Grammar has been taught him by any teacher.
In his work Kavithva Tattva Vicharam, Chapters 10, 11, 12 the late Dr. C.R. Reddi, Vice-Chancellor, Andhra University, writes in the following strain about Vemana:
“He has absolutely no knowledge of books. Knowledge of Grammar and rhetoric is absent in his writings. Devotion to God too is not strong but in the matter of weeding out noxious Customs and beliefs, he has no equal. He puts everything to a searching analysis and there is none to equal him in the task of establishing truth with all the armoury of fine reasoning.’’ Ardent devotee of Siva that he is, he has no hostile attitude towards lord Vishnu. He believes that through YOGA alone one can march, towards the kingdom of God. Some are of the opinion that he has become a great poet through his yogic powers. Besides he has the art of transforming rusty iron into glowing gold. His belief in alchemy finds expression in several passages of his writings. Through this marvellous art, he may have gained the homage of the ordinary folk.
He does hot deal with any subject in a coherent manner ; he merely gives expression to random thoughts and reflections that flit across his mind. And so none can expect any sequence of thought in them. In several places he even contradicts himself. Occasionally he indulges in puns; and it makes us think that he too is not free from the traces of tradition.
Instead of allowing his thoughts to run into traditional grooves, he strikes out a new path for himself pursuing the bent of his own genius. One may find freshness and a novelty in his approach to any subject which he wants to handle. In the field of controversy his aim is not to triumph over his opponents, but to establish truth in all its nakedness.
With regard to his life there are two versions. Some think that he became an ascetic after having led a married life, while others hold that he entered the monastic order straightaway.
Ataveladi is the metre which Vemana employs almost throughout his writings.
Kandam Utpalam etc.,-these metres are occasionally used. SriNatha has a ruling passion for SeSa metre. Tikkana indulges in Kandam while Ataveldi of Vemana has a unique charm of its own. Some are under the impression that other metres are merely inter-
-polations. Some research scholars contend that some verses from Sumathi and Bhaskara Satakams have been skillfully woven into the text of Vemana’s writings. Vemana himself is not conscious of his own poetic creations, for so many are him countless verses.
With the aid of manuscripts so far available only 4,ooo verses have been unearthed and printed. In Bhandar, Madras, Berharnpur, etc., Vemana’s works have been published and his writings do not run under any name, but they are merely called “Vemana Padhyams”. They are random and occasional verses, which do not adhere to any particular pattern in the matter of order or sequence. The modern editors have classified his verses according to the theme and the subject matter. Vavilla and Sons have classified Vemana’s 2,728 verses into nineteen distinct sections and published them; but their classification too is not perfect, for even in to the sections so formed there has crept unrelated matter.
Dr. C.P. Brown (Madras Civil Service) during his services in Masulipatnam, Guntur, Nellore, Cuddapa, and Vizagapatnam, gathered all the Vemana manuscripts then available, eschewed all the verses which are of a controversial nature and chose only 700, and classified them under three headings, ‘ Religious, Moral, and Satirical’. He has rendered them into English and his edition was published in 1911 by Vavilla and Sons. The poems of Vemana have been enjoying wide popularity even in the Karnataka province. Sarvagnya Murthi, a popular Karnatic poet followed in the footsteps of Vemana and composed poems after the pattern of Vemana. There is a book called Sarvagnya Vemana Samvadam in which are found parallel passages of Sarvagnya Murthi and Vemana.
The poems of Kabir Das, a famous Hindi poet, merely echo the sentiments, feelings and ideas of Vemana. One who goes through Kabir Dhoha Vail may be convinced of the veracity of our statement. Like Vemana, Kabir too fulminates against meaningless customs and wooden traditions. Some believe that he must have found access to the Kura1; for in his writings too we come across the same patterns of thought and
Vemana’s life is shrouded in obscurity; and there is no authentic account regarding him. He is born of Kendaveedu Reddi family. He belongs to the Vema Reddi class, the members of which were petty princes. Tradition has it that he was born and buried in
the village of Katarapalli, Kadiri Taluq, Ananthapurarn district; and this tradition is strengthened by the autobiographic references in his verses. Members belonging to his families are the trustees of his Samadhi, and we hear that offerings are made at his shrine. He sings in praise of his own Kapukulam which he says, is as pure as milk. He too is not free from the love of his clan. He addresses himself in his own verses as Vema Reddi, Vema, Vema Bhupala and Verri Vemana and his real name is Vemana Reddi. The fourth foot of every one of his poems ends with this refrain Visvadhabhirama Vinura vema. We feel as though Vemana were addressing himself. But Dr. Brown is of opinion that he is merely addressing his elder brother who is the captain of the forces at. Ghandikottai. He says that he belongs to jangala caste of Veera saiva persuasion and that he is born in the South-western region of Telangana. He cites his own poems in support of his own chain of argument. Brown holds the view that he belongs to the 17th century (1652-1772) and Gamble and Maclean and others strengthen Brown’s view. Some assert that he must have belonged to the tenth century A.D, for grammatical rules had not then taken a definite shape. That he must have figured in the 15th and 16th century A.D. is the considered and definite opinion of Oriental Scholars.
S.N. Sriramadesikan has followed the edition of Vavilla &. Sons and translated the four sections Murkha, Dhambika, Vidvath and Artha into Sanskrit and Tamil. His translation contains 380 verses, and he believes that the rest will soon see the light of day. Sri Desikan also hopes that his renderings both in Sanskrit and Tamil will be a source of great help in the matter of understanding the mighty genius of Vemana from the sea-girt Kanya Kumari to the snow clad Himalayas.
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