Dramatic Tinges And Poetic Niceties in Gurajada’s Sarangadhara

-M Venkata Lakshmi

” The labouring dawn gave out the child of light
Whose infant became played O’ere the river’s breast.”
          That dramatic description of ‘early morning’, done by Gurazada Venkata Apparao in his long story-poem ‘Sarangadhara’, presents a glimpse of the poet’s immense capability of picturising the situations in a dramatic style. The poem also represents his humanity.
          Gurazada Apparao (1862-1915) is one of the greatest poets and playwrights that Andhra Pradesh has ever produced. He created a new style of poetry in the Telugu language, called ‘Mutyala Saralu’. He holds the titles ‘Kavi Shekhara’ and ‘Abhyudayakavita Pitamahudu’. His famous drama ‘Kanyashulkam’ is one of the greatest dramas on the stage and pages of World Literature for its magnificent display of human excellence in the field of Letters. Gurazada was an influential social reformer of his age through his writings in various forms viz., poetry, story and drama.
          Gurazada, who ushered in the modern era into Telugu literature, surprisingly started his writing career in 1882 as a poet, writing in English. In his previous ten years of his literary career Gurazada wrote several English poems. He is considered as one of the first Indo-English poets of India, preceding young Aurabindo, Tagore and Sarojini Naidu by decades.
          Gurazada was an Arts graduate with Philosophy, Greek & Roman literature and English as the subjects. He got qualified with First division in the subject English. He was an ardent reader and in the second half of 19th century he was one of the well-read persons in western literature. Brand Gurazada, best blend of old and new, took shape from the very first page of his literary works.
          It is a less-known fact that Gurazada Apparao liked and loved the niceties of English language and literature. That’s why, it is not just Sarangadhara, in his early twenties, he went on writing in English. The list goes like this: poem ‘Cuckoo‘, two prefaces to his magnum opus ‘Kanyasulkam ‘, a poem sarcastically addressed to Congress Sessions, some of the pages in his diaries, ‘The note of Dissent’ running into some two hundred pages in defence of the opportunity and an introduction to an English play Satya Harischandra.
          His famous long poem (padya kavyam) ‘Sarangadhara’, published in the ‘Indian Leisure Hour’ in 1883 at Vizianagaram of Andhra Pradesh , was well received. The Editor of that magazine ‘Gundukurti Venkata Ramayya’ encouraged him very much and brought popularity to it in and abroad. The Editor of the Calcutta based ‘Rees and Ryot’ and the wise man of West Bengal Sambhu Chandra Mukherjee read it and re-published it in his magazine. He said about Gurazada, ‘He has stuff in him’ . It was proved magnificently.
          The poem ‘Sarangadhara’ was based on an epic story during the reign of Rajaraja Narendra, ruler of the Vengi country with capital Raja Mahendri, i.e. present Rajahmundry . The story goes like this:
Rajaraja Narendra was ruling the Vengi country with capital of Rajamahendri. He had a son by name Sarangadhara. The king had a second wife Chitrangi and he was very much affectionate towards her. He had a bitter enemy, his step mother’s son by name Vijayaditya.
          One day Chitrangi, invited her step son Sarangadhara for feast. But as Sarangadhara was leaving for hunting he ignored the invitation. His step mother was very angry towards him and it was brought to the notice of Vijayaditya by the intelligence agency. Vijayaditya made bad propaganda of this accusing of an affair between Sarangadhara and his step mother with the sinister motive of creating conflict in the house of Rajaraja Narendra. Without proper inquiry, Rajaraja Narendra ordered the chopping off the hands and legs of innocent Sarangadhara. It was mandatory to obey king’s orders to and so the punishment was meted out to the prince in the mountain forest.
          Sarangadhara was lying in a pool of blood screaming in pain drawing the attention of Meghanadha a devotee of Shiva, who immediately rushed to Saranga- dhara and did whatever he could to alleviate the pain and advised Sarangadhara to pray to Lord Shiva and get his blessings. Lord Shiva, impressed by Sarangadhara’s prayer, gave his lost legs and hands and made him a handsome person.
          This historical story is moulded into a grand Epic-poem in the skilful hands of Gurazada. It was divided into three parts:
In the first one, while playing with pigeons on the river-bank of Godavari , the young and handsome prince Sarangadhara went into his stepmother Chitrangi’s palace, chasing his pigeon. Chitrangi, whose marriage was fixed with him before her marriage with Rajaraja Narendra, invited him into her room out of love and lust. Sarangadhara rejected her invitation and went away. She wanted to take revenge on him.
          In the second part of the poem, Rajaraja Narendra got tired of hunting and was in deep sleep under a tree in the forest. Symbolically, he saw his son in a pool of blood in his dream. Much frightened, he rode away towards his palace. There the furious queen Chitrangi abused his son of misbehaving with her. Without knowing the truth, the king ordered his men to chop off his son’s hands and legs. A saint saw him and sprinkled holy water on him. He brought back his hands and legs and made him again a handsome boy. He took him along with him into the forest.
          In the final part, the queen obtained repentance and started living in the forest. She kept on singing melancholy, requesting the King of Kings to live along with her in the forest as the prince would become the king. Gurazada had well brought out the dignity of family life and human values in this poem. From beginning to end, every incident of the story-poem was narrated in a lively manner with seeds of the greatest drama Kanyasulkam in near future in his literary career.
          For instance, when Sarangadhara enters her palace, Chitrangi says to him, expressing both her reverence to her husband and love towards the boy,
“The king is abroad to hunt and thou art fair
And in thy beauteous form
I see the king to lusty youth transformed”
When Sarangadhara escaped from the lusty arms of his step-mother Chitrangi, the writer described:
She caught Saranagadhara by his cloak,
Which he in haste to fly, left in her grasp
And through the park over the floor
And plant like whirl wind passed
And climbed the garden wall
And jumped down
          Further we can watch the entire story like a drama through significant words and phrases as: ‘Like one in trance mesmeric stood absorbed’; ‘A meaning look she cast him. But he ghastly looked returned and skipped’.
          In some places, we can find the traces of Milton and Spencer in his epic similes:
For instance, he says,
“The streamlet gurgled over the distant slope
And the butterflies, like the spirits of the woods
Among the folinge moved
We can see the king in front of our eyes in the following lines-
He woke in fright, hastily on to the tents
He cried to horse and rode away
The king speaks to his queen in a very natural way,
Is there no better bedding than a floor? Arise
And speak ! for me the riddle is hard to read
The queen makes him believe her words by saying,
This morn thy son, knowing you gone to hunt,
Came with the story of a pigeon field;
Desired to see my park, and in this place
This very place, laid violent hands on me;
While describing the miserable prince with severed legs and hands, the writer used the word ‘scene’.
          In the final portion of this fantastic poem, the poet’s skill reaches its heights. This is the way he depicts the queen :
“But who be she that like a goddess sat
Upon a rock that edged a noiseless stream
And shiplike rose amidst a leafy sea?
Long did she trace with thoughtful eye the evening evolutions
Of earth and sky, while each image that graced
Her orbs wooed back some relic of the past
Or golden thoughts that blossomed in her breast”
          Really, those lines are pioneers of the poet-writer’s humanity, positive attitude towards women and great ideals. The poet used universal Truths for empowering his opinions such as:
  Where love is strong there hearts may wed and In nature all is playful, all is mirth,
  And beauteous things to beauteous things are linked.
          There are many more examples for effective poetic devices and efficient imagery to think upon. Indeed the dramatic story-poem Sarangadhara by Gurazada Apparao is a master pencil’s word.


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