Showing posts with label Original Telugu story-poem. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Original Telugu story-poem. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 23, 2023


‘Bāṭasāri’, as some literary commentators erroneously believed, was not a translation of Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘Traveller’. Ādibhaṭla Nārāyaṇa Dās’ himself dispelled the misconception in his preface to the 1933 edition of the book, which had gone through several editions during his life time: 

“In writing this small poetical work my main object had been to present to the Telugu reading public an attempt at something original as to plot, coupled with vividness of natural descriptions told in easy Telugu devoid of all the artificialities of the usual ornate style.” 

Significantly he did not name the protagonist. He was just Bāṭasāri (traveller), who gets separated from his family in a shipwreck. In fact, none of the characters were named. The author did not find it necessary to name them. He specified that his poem was “an allegory of human life which begins in sheer ignorance and ends in perfect knowledge”. The story was about man’s travails through the sea called life.

Nārāyaṇa Dās wrote Bāṭasāri when he was twenty-four and dedicated it to Panappākkaṃ Anaṅdācāryulu, an advocate and a member of the Madras Legislative Council. Anaṅdācāryulu was a connoisseur of arts and a Sanskrit scholar of repute, who earned the title ‘Vidyāvinōdi’. 

The Story 

The ship in which Bāṭasāri was travelling with his wife and son was wrecked when it hit a mountain. The tides carried them in different directions. Grieving the separation from his wife and son he wandered along the shore to reach a stream flowing by a mountain. Lying down on the bank of the stream he woke up at night to find the moon up. Roaming in search of his wife and son, he walked into a forest, which came to its night life with buzzing insects and roaring tigers. He emerged from the forest to reach a pointed hill. Exhausted, he fell asleep to wake in the midmorning. On waking up he saw a valley on the other side of the mountain. He walked through the valley to find a pond. He bathed in the pond and offered oblation to the Sun god. He found some tubers with which he satisfied his hunger and rested under a beech tree. As a herd of elephants approached the pond, he climbed a banyan tree from where he could see the peak of a tall building. Happy to find a human dwelling in the vicinity at last, he climbed down and walked towards it. Crossing a beautiful garden, he entered a seven-storied palace and marvelled at its resplendence. The palace stood on a single pillar and was in the shape of a lotus and approximately a mile in diameter. It had seven rooms on the first floor, six on the second and so on till just one on the top floor which was used as a prayer room. 

While he was soaking in the beauties of the palace a bell sounded and lights came on in the building. The master of the palace, a king who had just had a bath and his daily ritual prayer, entered along with his female attendants. Seeing the naked Bāṭasāri, who lost his clothes in the shipwreck and his perambulations, the king asked him, “Who are you? How did you reach this palace? Why are you weeping? Where from did you come?” After arranging clothes for him the king listened to his painful story and assured him, “Do not worry. Just as you are alive, your wife and son too must have survived and must be living somewhere.” The king having ordered Bāṭasāri be put up left the place. Women frolicking in the moonlight brought back memories of happier days for Bāṭasāri, memories of days spent with his wife and son and the pain of missing them hit him.

The next day the king invited Bāṭasāri to join him in a hunting expedition for wild boars and tigers. Accompanied by hunting dogs, they rode horses carrying guns, bows and arrows and spears and long spears as their weapons. Impressed by Batakari’s hunting skill, the king invited him to remain in his kingdom. The king asked him to make a round of his capital. Bāṭasāri did so but could not enjoy the sight-seeing. He returned to the king and wailed “Oh noble king, you have been kind to me but your efforts are as in vain as is a feast for a sick man. You are indeed a friend in my hour of grief. How can I survive without your succour. At the same time how can I forget my wife and son?”  

The king replied that he had good news for the Bāṭasāri as the search party he sent out came back to inform him that his wife and son were alive. On hearing this Bāṭasāri was beside himself with joy. The king further informed him that his wife wrote something at the base of the tower clock and took him there. Bāṭasāri was happy to recognize the script and that it was indeed his wife’s, hearing a description of the woman who wrote it. He was again consumed by pain wondering how he could convey his well-being to her. The king consoled him and having spent some time in recreational activities took Bāṭasāri alone to his garden.  

The king said. “Just as a philosopher’s spirits lift when he sees a new treatise, my spirits lifted when I heard your story.” And then narrated the story of his family. He pointed to a man approaching them and said he was his brother’s son. The family had a strange custom. The king’s brother ruled the family for a while and handed it over to him. He would to give it to his brother’s son who would later transfer it to the king’s son. The kingdom where Bāṭasāri’s wife was spotted was ruled by his brother’s brother-in-law. He had a feud with his brother-in-law (the king’s brother) as he did not like the ways of his brother-in-law’s family. The king’s nephew (his brother’s son) loved his uncle’s daughter but because of the family feud, unable to marry her. The young couple pined for each other and were in intense grief because of the obstacles that came in the way of their union. 

The king requested Bāṭasāri to accompany his nephew to the neighbouring kingdom where he planned to meet the princess. The trip would also give Bāṭasāri a chance to meet his wife and son there. There is a hint that the king hoped Bāṭasāri would be able to persuade the girl’s father to agree for the union. He said, “Both of you meet your respective women and come back with them.”  He added that after their return he would hand over the kingdom to his brother’s son as per prior arrangement and asked Bāṭasāri to join him in vānaprasthaṃ—the third phase in a man’s life according to the saṇātana dharma. With that the king saw them off at the port.  

In the ship the young prince told Bāṭasāri about a love letter he received from the princess and grieved about their inability to unite. Bāṭasāri consoled him and as it was approaching midnight suggested they should retire to bed. However, he himself could not sleep as he mused about his wife and son. The ship reached the destination at daybreak. As they came off the ship, the princess’ lady in waiting met them. She brought a ring as an identification and informed that the princess wanted her cousin to stay in the (two-storied) building in the flower garden. As the ladies in waiting served the prince, it was the turn of Bāṭasāri to agonize over his own separation from his wife and son. The prince consoled him. As they moved to the building the sky turned overcast with clouds and started to rain. In the meantime, a woman clutching a boy to her bosom approached them.  Bāṭasāri and the woman recognized each other. The boy was his son and the woman the boy’s nanny. She informed him that his wife was consumed with grief and not being able to bear their separation was considering suicide. She took the boy on a stroll and ran to the building because of the sudden rain. Bāṭasāri cuddled his son, showed him to the prince and expressed his joy about the coming reunion with his family. He asked the nanny to rush back to inform his wife about his arrival and told the prince “[For me the separation was like] a drowning man losing his breath but thanks to you and your uncle, I feel like the man floating on the water to regain his breath.” As he was saying this, the nanny returned with his wife. The prince discreetly moved aside to let them enjoy their reunion. 

Bāṭasāri and his wife could not contain their joy as they embraced to celebrate their reunion. Chastened by the lessons of life learnt during separation, loneliness and reunion he told his wife, “Let’s forget the unsavoury past and enjoy the moment. Here is the prince that brought us together.” Saying thus he introduced the prince to his wife. The prince in turn had good news of his own to convey. His uncle agreed to marry his daughter to him and also to celebrate the marriage in the prince’s own city. The princess arrived, “glowing like a flowerpot [that sprays silver flower sparkles] amidst wick lamps”. Bāṭasāri with his wife and son, and the prince and princess crossed the sea to return to the prince’s city. The king was joyed to see the to-be-wedded couple, and the reunited couple.  

The Allegory 

The narrative is straight–forward. In fact, the story is so simple that the author summed it up in a single verse at the beginning of the narrative. In order to help readers unravel the philosophical core of the allegory, he provided a guide, also at the beginning. 

The protagonist, Bāṭasāri, wanted to emancipate from the hellish illusion of a previous life. The wife and son were education and wisdom. The sea was the family life of human beings with all its attendant trials and tribulations. The mountain that wrecked the ship represented man’s evil deeds. The pointed hill was nature. The river and its environs were the three states of consciousness, wakefulness, dreamful sleep and dreamless sleep. The seven-storied lotus–shaped palace with twenty-eight rooms represented the seven elements of the human body[i]; the seven techniques used to achieve goals in temporal transactions[ii]; the six enemies of the mind[iii]; the five layers or kōśas of the soul[iv]; the four moral values[v]; the three psychological states[vi]; the two paths to mōkṣa[vii] and attainment of the supreme consciousness[viii]. The pillar supporting the building symbolized meditation; the royal couple symbolised knowledge and renunciation, and the royal attendants symbolised the eight limbs described in the science of yoga[ix]. The first capital city symbolised the present temporal world and the second capital symbolised the ‘other’ world. The tower or pillar in the clock tower symbolised karma[x]; the writing on it śastraṃ[xi]; the new couple bhakti and śraddha; the love letter, the Upanishats; the reunion of Bāṭasāri with his wife and son, the attainment of mōkṣa; the horse, the intellect; the weapons (sword, gun, spear and long spear), the four sequential practices or pillars of knowledge[xii]; the boar and the tiger, rāga and dvēṣa; the hunting dogs, holy practices; the seat, dedication; the nanny, cultural practice; the clock, life; the ring, recognition; the rain, blessing of the gods; the uncle, teacher and the cousin (the prince) the lover. In the philosophy of sanātana dharma, ātma has no death. It wanders, finds a body for a while, is released from it and keeps repeating the process in an endless cycle.  


Regaining consciousness after dark after the ship wreck and finding himself on the edge of a mountain near the seashore, Bāṭasāri soliloquises, “Where did I come from? Why am I unable to see anything. What is the roar I hear?” Beyond the context, these questions reflect man’s eternal quest to find his bearings! 

Literary Values 

The kāvyaṃ consists just 195 verses. The storyline is concise. The philosophical meaning of the story is deep. For the general reader, there is nature. Describing the variegated splendour of nature in the universe, and the infinite nuances of human nature are the author’s forte. There are vivid descriptions of the splendours of nature, hot summer (verse 12), sunrays (verse 21), moonlight (verse 14), frolicking in the moonlight (verse 56), dawn (verse 61), midnight (verse 135), pre–monsoon showers (verse 163) etc. It is difficult to combine appreciation of the beauties of nature and the pangs of separation from the loved ones in a single poem but the author did it in long form poetic metre known as sīsaṃ in two verses (35 & 113). The language is both ornate and simple without being highfalutin or pretentious. 

Ādibhaṭla Nārāyaṇa Dās’ penchant for experimentation made him create two new poetic metres which he called cakkera and nattuvu

Bāṭasāri marvels at the beauty and structural symmetry of the palace, when he first entered it. He finds nobody and wonders whether it was a dwelling of Gods. Who did the chores? Could it be some mechanical devices rather than living beings? In allowing his poetic imagination to roam did Ādibhaṭla Nārāyaṇa Dās unwittingly presage robots and artificial intelligence as we know them today?  

Ādibhaṭla Nārāyaṇa Dās used to recite poems from Bāṭasāri, which he wrote at a young age, in his Harikatha performances. Probably for the benefit of his non–Telugu–speaking audience, he translated the poems into English prose. The full text is unavailable; a few snippets from the work are quoted by literary commentators.

[i] The seven types of tissues described in Āyurvēda are rasa, rakta, māṃsa, mēda, asthi, majja, śukra.

[ii] The four commonly quoted techniques are sāma, dāna, bhēda, daṃḍa. According to moral philosophers there are three more—māya, upēkṣa, iṅdrajālaṃ―less commonly used techniques.

[iii]The six enemies of the human mind are kāma, krōdha, lōbha, mōha, mada, mātsarya.

[iv] The five layers of the soul are annamaya, prāṇamaya, manōmaya, vijñānamaya, ānaṅdamaya.

[v] The four puruṣārthas are dharma, artha, kāma, mōkṣa.

[vi] The three psychological states also known as triguna vikāras, known as sattva, rajas, tamas.

[vii] The two paths to mōkṣa are pravṛtti and nivṛtti.

[viii] Reaching the ultimate consciousness or attaining Brahma jñanaṃ.

[ix] The eight limbs or aṅgas described by Patañjali are yama, niyama, āsana, prāṇayāma, pratyāhāra, dhāraṇa, dhyāna, and samādhi.

[x] The spiritual principle of cause and effect.

[xi] Any religious or scientific treatise.

[xii] They are vivēka, vairāgya, ṣatsaṃpat, mumukṣutva as described in Jñāna Yōga.