Reading and Re-reading the Vasu-caritramu


David Shulman. 2019. “Reading and Re-reading the Vasu-caritramu”.


All readers of classical Telugu know that Bhaṭṭumūrti’s Vasu-caritramu (VC) is one of the hardest books to read in the entire literary corpus, in some ways harder even than its closest rival in this respect, Kṛṣṇarāya’s Āmukta-mālyada, famous for its complicated, non-native syntax and strange metrical effects. Nearly every verse in the VC presents the reader or listener with a challenge. Many, probably most, are bitextual, śliṣṭa, often in ways atypical of earlier paronomastic practices in Sanskrit and Telugu. Typically, such verses have to be deciphered, preferably with the help of a good commentary such as Tanjanagaram Tevapperumallayya’s, which can be shown to go back to eighteenth-century predecessors and thus to embody one traditional way of reading. It takes time to make sense of such verses; also, understanding them on the level of primary denotation is only the beginning of a much longer process of exploring meaning, for each verse is embedded in a sequence, or rather a set of interlocking sequences that make up the book as a whole, and it is never enough to make do with the singular momentary flash of illumination that a single poem provides. Like all the great prabandha texts of the sixteenth century—not only in Telugu but also in Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam, not to mention the Sanskrit works produced concurrently with these—the VC imparts a powerful sense of integrated composition. We need to ask about the particular form such integration takes in this particular work.
See also: David Shulman
Last updated on 05/25/2020