In modern literary histories of Telugu literature, no period shines as bright as King Kṛṣṇadevarāya’s reign (1509–29). This period is noted for its bustling literary court from which a significant part of the Telugu canon emerged. These works, commonly referred to as the prabandhas, are often characterised as the Telugu counterpart of the Sanskrit mahākāvya/court poem and within this context, Kṛṣṇadevarāya’s reign is called ‘the golden age’ of Telugu literature and the ‘age of prabandha’. Close examination of the prabandhas indicates that despite common influences from Sanskrit and Telugu literature, each of the prabandhas, takes a radically different approach to poetry, convention, and language, and is innovative in extremely diverse ways. As a case study, this article uses Kṛṣṇadevarāya’s own celebrated Telugu poem, the Āmuktamālyada. Though Kṛṣṇadevarāya uses many of the conventions associated with Sanskrit courtly culture in general and with the mahākāvya in particular, he does so in unconventional ways. He gives everyday life a new, prominent role (previously unavailable to it in mahākāvyas) and is able to do so by creating a new type of division of labour between Sanskrit and Telugu. He also integrates new poetic realms such as the village and temple into the so-called courtly settings, creating a new mode of narration. Thus, examined outside the context of the golden age of the Telugu prabandha, the Āmuktamālyada emerges as a work in which previous schemes of power are inverted: the periphery and so-called margins—social, geographic, linguistic, and religious—create a new core which in turn, reflects Kṛṣṇadevarāya’s unique personal and political worldview.
- classical Telugu literature
- court poetry