THE UNKNOWN SANSKRIT POETS OF THE PALLAVA, PANDYA AND CHOLA PERIODS

It was a general practice of issuing royal charters and recording on stones whenever a ruling monarch donated lands or the revenue of the villages to a certain temple or to the Brahmins for their wellbeing. It is mentioned in Tamil as sembilum silaiyilum vettuvittukkolvirakuka (the donees are requested to engrave on the copper plate and on stone). In almost all the cases, the charters were issued only when the donations were made by the royal personages. For all other cases, those endowments were recorded either on the walls of the temples or on the stone plank, or on a rock. Though the details of the donations had been engraved both on the copper-plate and on the stone, it seems that they had given more importance in engraving on the copper-plates as the copper-plates were portable and could be in the personal possession of the donee as well as in the official record room. There is also another significant factor that the copper-plates were bi-lingual, the first part being in Sanskrit while the second part was in the regional language.

It appears that the Sanskrit language had the privilege of occupying the position of court language among some dynasties and some dynasties seem to have felt proud of issuing copper-plates in Sanskrit. Hence, all the ruling monarchs seem to have appointed court poets who were well versed in Sanskrit and the regional languages. These poets were asked to prepare the donatory information in poetical form. The Sanskrit poets had been requested to eulogize the achievements of the issuer of the copper-plates and his ancestors while the Tamil poets were asked to give the details of the location of the gifted land and the names of the donees and their lineage (gotram).

While the Pallava and Chola rulers had followed the above system. The Pandya rulers had adopted the method of Sanskrit portion of the Pallava charter both in Sanskrit and Tamil portions. Hence, the historical information can be culled out both from Sanskrit and Tamil portions of Pandya’s copper-plates while from Sanskrit portions only of the Pallava and Chola copper-plates.

The copper-plates are more useful than the lithic records for understanding the political history of those periods. The Sanskrit poets of Pallava, Chola, and Pandya periods and the Tamil poets of the Pandya period were eminent scholars both in literature and history.

The earliest reference to a court poet comes from the Pallankoyil copper-plate of Simhavarman who ruled during the 6th century A.D. One Medhavi is mentioned to have composed the eulogy of the grant. He is described as one “who was immersed in all sciences (sastras), very respectable and was like Dhisana (Brahaspati) in intelligence”. The Udayendiram plates of Nandivarman II mention the poet Paramesvara of the family of Medhavi (an obvious reference to the Medhavi of Pallankoyil Charter). It is evident that certain offices in the Pallava administrative organization were held hereditarily by some families. Tandantottam plates of Nandivarman II were composed by Uttara Karanika, son of Parama Uttara Karanika. Hence, it is evident that Karanika (Madhyasta) also would have drafted the prasastis or the poet would have held the office of Karanika. Manodhira is mentioned as the composer of the prasasti of Velurpalayam plates of Nandivarman III. Kavi Kumara and Nayasan are referred to as the composer of Citrur plates and Bahur plates of Nripatunga respectively1. The composer of Velangeri copper-plates of Aparajitavarman was one Podini Mahadeva Bhatta.

Prasasti and Prasastisesha of the copper-plates of Pandyas had also guised poets. Prasasti is the Sanskrit part while the Prasastisesha is the Tamil part. The prasasti part of the Dalavaipuram copper-plate of Parantaka Viranarayanan was composed by Madavi Kavi, a poet, and an orator. Srivallabhamarigalam Vasudevan is mentioned as the composer of larger copper-plates of Sinnamanur of Rajasimha Pandya. He is described as a friend of Madhukuara and the elder brother of Vishnu. The Prasasti portion of Sivakasi copper-plates was composed by the King’s preceptor Parthivakesari who was the son of Vishnutrathar. Vishnutrathar was a versatile person of all sciences and the grandson of Ravi. He was comparable with Brhaspati and a repository of reputed verses. The composer is said to have hailed from a village known as Antam2.

Though the Cholas did not use Sanskrit as their court language as did the Pallavas, they had also patronized Sanskrit to a certain extent and appear to have felt proud in using Sanskrit for composing prasasti in their copper-plates. The Sanskrit prasasti found in Larger Leiden Plates3 of Rajaraja I is said to have composed by a Brahmin, Ananta Narayana, resident of Kottaiyur, who hailed from the Vasishta lineage (gotram). The Sanskrit section of the Thiruvalangadu grant of Rajendra Chola I4 was also composed by Narayana, the son of Samkara. The Sanskrit portion of the Karantai plates of Rajendra Chola5 also had been composed by Narayana, son of Sankararya and a resident of Parsvagrama. It is evident that the composer of the above three plates was one and the same poet Narayana. He appears to have served as the court poet under Rajaraja, the Great and his illustrious son Rajendra I who is said to have conquered over the Ganges and Kadaram. The Sanskrit part of the recently discovered Esalam grant6 of the same king Rajendra I was also composed by the poet Narayana Kavi, son of Sankara and the resident of the same Parsvagrama. From the above narration, it is obvious that the court poet was the composer of the copper-plates and he played the role of a historian as he gave the details of the pedigree of the issuer of the grant.

The Sanskrit section of the copper-plates is the most significant from the historical as well as the literary point of view. In the beginning, it would invoke the Gods and Goddesses. Then it would give the mythical lineage of the king and follow the historical ancestors of the issuer of the grant comparing them with the mythical gods and delineating their achievements in the battlefields and the annexation of the countries of their enemies. Then it would describe the valour of the ruling monarch and the ruling year in which the charter was issued. Finally, it would illustrate the details of the endowment made, its location, the recipients of the gift, the names of the officers who executed the grant, and the signatories.

Besides these, it would also issue a warning to the public as well as the future rulers that the donated object should not in any way be taken back or damaged in the future and narrate the sins they would meet if they did any harm to the endowed object, unmindful of the caution.

According to these above copper-plates, there were reputed Sanskrit Poets from the 6th century A.D. These poets are not known to the literary world of our period. Those eminent poets could have written some poetical works also. They have not been traced so far. The present Sanskrit scholars should try to find out the literature left by those poets of copper-plates fame.

References

  1. Dr. T.V. Mahalingam, ‘Inscriptions of the Pallavas’, ICHR, New Delhi, 1988.
  2. Natana Kasinathan, ‘Copper-plates and Inscriptions’, Tamilnadu History – Pallava Pandya period, 1st Volume (Tamil), Tamilnadu Government Publications (1990), p. 67.
  3. Epi. Indica, Vol. XXII, p. 222.
  4. S.I.I. Vol. III, (Pub 1920), No. 205, pp. 383-439.
  5. K. G. Krishnan, Karandai Tamil Sangam plates of Rajendra Chola-1, MASI, No. 79, p. 53.
  6. R. Nagasamy, Bulletin De 1′ Ecole Francaise D Extreme – Orient, Tome LXXV1 (1987), p. 11.

Natana Kasinathan
Director of Archaeology, (Retd.)
Government of Tamilnadu.

Source: Journal of Indian History and Culture, March 2000.


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