Sandeśa Kāvya

by | Sep 1, 2022

Sandeśa Kāvya

Seema K S

In Samskṛta language, sandeśa means ‘message’ and kāvya means ‘poem’ or ‘poetry’. Sandeśa kāvya deals with the sending of a message through the agency of a messenger. The idea of sending of a message, through a messenger, from one person to another was taken up as an independent theme for a poem first by Ghatakarpara and later on by Kālidāsa, Dhoyī, Udaya, Bhavabhūti and many other poets of note. There are about fifty five sandeśa kāvya-s (also known as dūta kāvya-s). Sandeśa kāvya belongs to the category of Khanḍakāvya. (Kāvya consisting one section or Khaṇda is called a Khaṇda Kāvya. It is different from a series of stanzas, or what is called as a Samghata. Khaṇda can employ themes much more freely and it usually narrates a story; or it might sometimes provide a background to the narrative. The classic examples are: Kālidāsa’s Méghadútam having about just over one hundred stanzas and Bilhaṇa’s Chauri-surata-pañcāshikā (fifty stanzas concerning secret enjoyment of love-act).)
Sandeśa kāvya-s usually consist of two parts; in the first part, the hero is presented, there appears the messenger and the route to the destination is described. The second part includes the destination, the house of the heroine, the heroine and her state of grief in separation, the message describing the hero’s own condition and a word of solace, with an identification mark mentioning some incident the hero and the heroine would know, to assure that the messenger is genuine. The messenger can be anyone – a person, a bird, a bee or a cloud or wind, and that messenger provides very interesting descriptions of cities enroute with palaces and temples, parks, houses and streets; the country parts and forests, hills and rivers, animals and birds, trees, creepers and flowers, cultivated fields, peasant girls and artisans. Love in separation is the chief emotion depicted in this type of lyrical poetry and there is a certain individuality in the treatment of the theme; this type of poetry is not found in any other literatureMandākrāntā meter, which is slow moving one, consists of a pāda of four lines each, with each line having seventeen syllables as in Kālidāsa’s poem Meghadūta. A line in Mandākrāntā has seventeen syllables, divided into three sections, each separated by a pause. Kāvya consisting one section or Khaṇda is called a Khaṇda Kāvya. It is different from a series of stanzas, or what is called as a Samghata. Khaṇda can employ themes much more freely and it usually narrates a story; or it might sometimes provide a background to the narrative. The classic examples are: Kālidāsa’s Méghadútam having about just over one hundred stanzas and Bilhaṇa’s Chauri-surata-pañcāshikā (fifty stanzas concerning secret enjoyment of love-act). The first section consists of four long syllables, the second of five short syllables and one long, and the third a mixture of long and short alternating, in this pattern
| – – – – | u u u u u – | – u – – u – x |
The metre characterizes the longing of lovers who are separated from each other, expressed in the Samskṛta word viraha meaning separation (of lovers), parting.
The fore-runner of sandeśa kāvya-s is a small poem bearing the title ‘Poem of the Broken jug’ which is a poem by Ghatakarpara on the message sent to the husband by a wife who was in grief on account of separation. It deals with the lamentation of the abandoned wife who does not address her lamentation to one person alone but to the monsoon clouds, her confidante, her distant husband and some trees but none of them entrusted with the task of carrying her message. The poem is of twenty four stanzas in five different metres.
Few popular sandeśa kāvya-s are summarized below.

Dhoyī, a poet in the court of the Sena king Lakśmaṇa who ruled Gauḍa (now Bengal) composed Pavanadūta or Wind Messenger during the latter part of the twelfth century CE. This was written as an imitation of Kālidāsa’s Meghadūta. Pavanadūta tells the story of Kuvalayavatī, a gandharva maiden from the south who falls in love with King Lakśmaṇa when she sees him during his victory tour of the world. She asks the south wind to take her message to the king at his court.
Dhoyin devotes forty eight out of hundred and four stanzas of Pavanadūta to describing the wind’s journey from Sandal mountain in the south to king Lakśmaṇa’s palace in Vijayapura in Bengal, he spends nearly as long a time (thirty eight stanzas) on the message, in which the lovelorn condition of Kuvalayavatī and the wonderful qualities of the king are described in detail.

Hansasandeśa or The Message of the Swan is a Samskṛta love poem written by Vedāntadeśika in the thirteenth century AD. A short lyric poem of hundred and ten verses, it describes how Rāmā, hero of the Rāmāyaṇa epic, sends a message via a swan to his beloved wife, Sītā, who has been abducted by the demon king Rāvaṇa. The messenger in this poem is referred to as a rājahaṃsa (royal haṃsa).
The poem is divided into two clear parts, in line with Kālidāsa’s Meghadūta. The first half, of sixty stanzas, describes how Rāmā sights and engages the swan as his messenger, and then describes to the swan the route he should take and the many places – primarily holy spots – he ought to stop on the way. The second part begins in Lanka where the poet introduces the reader to the Aśoka grove where Sītā is being held, the Śiṃṣūpa tree beneath which she sits, and finally Sītā herself in a string of verses. The actual message to Sītā consists of only sixteen verses, after which Rāmā dismisses the swan and the narrator completes the story of the Rāmāyaṇa. The poem ends with an autobiographical note by the poet.

3.Kokila Sandeśa
The Kokila Sandeśa or The Message of The Koel is a Samskṛta love poem written by Uddaṇḍa Śāstrī in the fifteenth century AD. A short lyric poem of one hundred and sixty two verses, it describes how a nameless hero, abducted from his wife’s side by mysterious women, sends a message to her via a koel. It is one of the most famous of the many sandeśa kāvya-s from Kerala.

Bhṛńgadūtam literally meaning Bumblebee messenger, is a minor poem of the dūta kāvya genre composed by Jagadguru Rāmabhadrāchārya. The poem consists of five hundred and one verses divided in two parts. Set in the context of Kṛṣṇa kāṇḍa of Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa, the poem describes the message sent via a bumblebee by Lord Rāma, spending the four months of the rainy season on the Pravarsana mountain in Kiskindha, to Sītā, held captive by Rāvaṇa in Lanka.

Other minor sandeśa kāvya-s are:

  • Candradūta, written by Jambukavi between eighth and tenth century AD.
  • Bhramara Dūta by Rudra Nyāya Pañcāna and the Abda Dūta of Kṛṣṇa Śrīcāndana Nabhi are two other sandeśa kāvya-s based on Rāmāyaṇa. Here the bee and the cloud are used to pass message from Rāma to captured Sītā.
  • Hanumad Dūta by Nityā Nanda Śāstri, Hanumān is employed as the messenger.In Vāta Dūta by Śrī Kṛṣṇa Nātha Nyāy Apañcānana, a northern-bound breeze used as messenger to Sītā.

Sandeśa kāvya-s in Tamil literature
Since Caṅgam age, the motif of a messenger is widely used in Tamiḷ literature. It is probably the Samskṛta dūta poetry which has a trigger effect on the ‘Tūtu’ (message) poems so that they developed into a full-fledged and productive genre, narrative and erotic, with many sub-types during medieval period. Later on, tūtu poetry influenced poetical and musical forms like padam, jāvaḷi and varṇam, the significance of which for dance is immense. Tūtu motifs also can be found in Kalampākam, Kōvai and Kuravañji literature.

1.Tūtu Motif in Akananūru
Akananūru is a classic Tamiḷ poetic work, also known as Netuntokai in one of the eight anthologies in the Caṅgam literature. In Akananuru 170, a love-lorn lady who had not seen her lover at the seashore addresses a hurriedly running crab in the following manner,

“Other than you, I have nobody else!
Oh crab, you should go to the lord of the shores,
where swarms of bees, buzzing on cool pollen of fragrant
waterlilies like eyes, become drunk and not able to fly”

2.Tūtu Motif in Kuruntokai
Kuruntokai meaning short poems in also a classic Tamiḷ poetry and the second of the eight anthologies in the Caṅgam literature. Kuruntokai 235 is a poem of longing, here the hero addresses North wind as envoy of his love to the heroine and says,

“May you live long,
O cold northerly wind!

My fine woman’s town
where marai deer herds
eat gooseberries from the
trees in front yards of huts
woven with grass, is near
the mountain
where pure, white waterfalls
drape down the summits
like hanging snake skins.

Please protect her.”

3.Tūtu Motif in Nāciyār Tirumoḻi
Coming to the Tamiḷ Vaisnavite literature, both Nammāḷvār and Ānḍāḷ have used birds as messengers in their verses. There are ten verses by Ānḍāḷ, in her Nāciyār Tirumoḻi, where she sends the clouds as messenger to the lord of Tirupati. In Pāsuram-s 545-555, Āṇḍāḷ talks about her yearning for the arrival of Her Lord. In one of the ten Pāsuram-s (548), she says:
“Oh Cuckoo, my bones have become thin due to separation. The eyelids of my spear like eyes have not been able to close. I am struggling to cross the ocean of separation because I do not have the boat of vaikunThanAtha for my help. You must be knowing well the grief of separation of the loved ones. Sing and bring my golden virtutous Lord who has the garuDa flag.”

4.Viḍu tūtu
Viḍu tūtu or viṭu tūtu was another literary genre which was themed on stories of love and praise on the patrons emerged in the seventeenth to nineteenth century. It has two sub types

  • Kātal or love poems
  • Viraḷi viḍu tūtu – the viraḷi as messenger

In the Kātal poems, the heroine tells her friend about her love and sorrow of separation from her lover and narrates the entire story of the hero and her love for him. She sends her friend and messenger to the hero to ask him to return to her.
The main intention of Virali vidu tūtu poems is to eulogize the patron and his munificent gifts. In this kind of poems, Virali (female minstrel) is employed as messenger, and amorous sports (sambhoga Śṛṅgāra) are described in detail. This genre explicitly describes sexual union in its content.
Viḍu tūtu genre was rigorously patronized by local rāja-s, poligar-s, high officials of state and rich zamindār-s of the seventeen-nineteenth centuries, Since they gave scope of stories of love and sex as well as to praise of the patrons, it became a custom to write elaborate work of viṭu tūtu type. During this period Tūtu became a new literary genre.
The length of the poems grew and the objects of envoys grew in number as well.

  • A female companion or virāḷi (danseuse) traditionally served as messengers.
  • The animals as the swans, peacocks, parrots, cuckoos, the myna bids, dear, crow are employed. For example, there are pura vidụ tūtu, (message sent via dove) mān (deer) viḍu tūtu, mayil (peacock) viḍu tūtu, nārai viḍu tūtu (the crane or stork).
  • The unanimated objects as the clouds, the south wind (tenḍral), paddy, cloth served as mediators. In one of the tūtu poems, tobacco, a newly arrived commodity in the country, is utilized as the messenger.
  • The heart, mind was addressed to as messengers.
  • Tamil language itself was used as the messenger.

Cokkanāṭha Piḷḷai (or Palapaṭṭataic Cokkanāṭha Kavirāyar) was a pious Śaivite. He wrote many prabandhas and several tūtu poems. He lived during the reign of Tirumalai Nāyakar, between seventeenth and eighteenth century. He wrote Patmakirinātar tenḍral viḍu tūtu, Canpakanallurc killai viḍu tūtu, Civaperumān viḍu tūtu, Alakar killai viḍu tūtu, and Panam viṭu tūtu (composed between 1710 and 1715 AD). The hero of the last work is Mutu Vijaya Ragunāṭha Cetupati., who reigned over Rāmanāṭhapuram and was known for his generosity and philanthropy. This work gives description of his qualities, customs, habits and manners of his people. The heroine’s maid sends the message (money) on behalf of the former. The importance and role of money in human life are clearly pointed out in this poem (there are 36 terms by which money are called).
Deivacilaiyar virāḷi viḍu tūtu by Kumaacuvami Avatanti is one of the earliest virāḷi viḍu tūtu poems. It was composed in honor of Nāyaka agent in Tirunelveli about 1600 AD.
The most famous of this class of poems is Kulappa Nāyak Virāḷi Viḍu Tūtu composed by Supradīpa Kavirāyar (1680-1746) on Kulappa Nāyak of Nilakkōtai in 1720. He was a Vaisnava Brāhman from Śrīrangam, great Tamil scholar and teacher. He lived under the patronage of Kulappa Nāyaka of Nilakkōtai, the ruler of a fortress. The interesting moment is that, in this poem, the names of all rāga-s are given there along with complete sequence of dance performance.
Supradīpa had many imitators. The most outstanding among them was Cāvana Perumāl Kavirāyar (18th century) from Mutukulattūr (Rāmnāḍ district), one of the traditional poets of Ceṭṭinātu. He was the court poet of Mutturāmalinka Cetupati (2nd half of 18th century) and author of Paṇa viṭu tūtu or ‘Money as Messenger’.
Muvaraiyan Virāḷi Viḍu Tūtu was composed by Cirrambalak Kavirāyar of Mallaiyur (Rāmnāḍ district) in about 1650 AD.

 Influence of Tūtu poetry on later poetical forms used in dance
How can we show inner world of the hero or the heroine on the stage? How to portray her feelings, moods, emotions in subtle and suggestive manner characteristic for Bharatanātyam abhinaya? How to make her go out of herself and express how she feels? When a person is overfilled with emotions or find ourselves in difficult situation, without any hope for understanding and help from majority of the people, whom can one appeal to?
Those questions were answered many times by the poets. One of the ways is to communicate the problem to the messenger, the object of nature (universal mother) or even to some conceptual objects like mind, love, conversation, heart (metaphor of loving affection and life itself).
Instructing the messenger, the heroine is involved into a conversation, she allows herself to express and pour out her love, sorrow or dreams. How she selects the objects, how she gets in contact with it, how she communicates her problem and how she describes the recipient of the message – all those things are extremely useful for the stage performance of hidden drama of the heroine.
One more feature is that communication through the messenger is usually undertaken in strict secrecy, thus, it is observed that the most inner, hidden sides of emotional life of the heroine are portrayed. Varṇam-s, padam-s and jāvaḷi-s are centered on love relationships between the nāyaka and the nāyika, thus the theme of a mediator in form of a messenger inevitably arises in such musical and dance forms.


Recent Posts