After I wrote my previous post on samasyA pooraNam, I was talking to one of my friends, and we were discussing samasyA pooraNam in languages other than samskRuta. Even though there are far more such examples in samskRuta, I know a few in kannaDa too, and I thought I should write about those. The riddles of kanti-hampa all belong to this category.

Kanti (ಕಂತಿ) was a poetess, said to have been in the court of HoysaLa king vIra ballALa in dvAra samudra (ದ್ವಾರ ಸಮುದ್ರ, ಹಳೇಬೀಡು) during the 13th century. So I can easily claim I am part of  Kanti’s heritage even though displaced in time by about 7+ centuries, since I come from the same region 😉 The picture at the top of my blog is the navaranga of the Hoysaleshwara temple in haLEbIDu (ಹಳೇಬೀಡು),  and in all probability, Kanti has walked in the same passageways you see in the picture! There are  some historians who doubt  if it was a real person or if the imagination of some other witty kavi. Either way, the kanti-hampa problems are worth taking a look.

Kanti is said to be a contenmporary of Nagachandra, also called Abhinava Pampa, who composed Ramachandra charita purana. If she really existed, she would be one of the earliest women to compose poetry in kannaDa, after mahAdEviyakka (ಅಕ್ಕ ಮಹಾದೇವಿ).

If one believes the stories, Kanti got her extra-ordinary scholarship by drinking in a special formulation called jyOtishmatI taila. The story goes like this: after Kanti drank this potion, she could not tolerate the the burning sensation it produced in her throat and she jumped into a deserted well. Apparently, there wasn’t enough water to drown her in the well, and she started composing poetry right there, till people came to rescue her. This, I call a real cock-and-bull story created by some men who were jealous of a learned woman! In fact, a very similar story is also told about Nacharamma, another extra-ordinary woman who lead a migration of about 1000 families from Tamilnadu in historical times. More about that some other time.

Most of the poems of Kanti, are take the form of riddles posed by Nagachandra, and the solved by Kanti. It is said that Kanti always critisized, and found fault with Nagachandra, and his poetry. To really know what she felt about his poetry, Nagachandra once spread a rumour that he was dead. Hearing this, Kanti was grief stuck and came to Nagachandra’s house,  and let out her feelings about his poetry, and what a great loss it would be for the world of poetry without him. This is a similar situaltion like the charamashlOka of King Bhoja, and we can’t be certain if it is true.

Some of what I am going to write, is from memory, so there could be lapses in terms of poetic meter, and some of the words may even be incorrect. However, they should be good enough to show the sparkle in Kanti’s poetry.

Once Nagachandra posed this question to Kanti.

ಸತ್ತವಳೆದ್ದು ತವರಿಗೆ ಪೋದಳೇನಿದು ವಿಚಿತ್ರಂ!

(What a surprise! The woman, long dead, got up and ran away!)

Kanti had a quick response.

ಅತ್ತೆಯ ಕಾಟವು ಅಧಿಕಂ ಮತ್ತಿನ ಸವತಿಯರ ಕಾಟ ನಾದಿನಿ ಬೈವಳು
ಪೆತ್ತಮಕ್ಕಳಳಲ್ಕೆ ಸಲೆಗಂಡ ದೂಸರಿಗಾರದೆ ಬೇಸತ್ತವಳೆದ್ದು ತವರಿಗೆ ಪೋದಳೇನಿದು ವಿಚಿತ್ರಂ?

Meaning: Woman who was fed up with wicked mother- in-law, scolding sister-in-law,  horrible co-wives, crying kids and an intolerent husband walked away to her mothers house. What is the surprise in it?

Once Nagachandra gave a collection of words which are unrelated and asked Kanti to compose a poem including those words. The words included ಮಸೆಕಲ್ಲು (churning stone), ಕುದುರೆ (horse), ಬಾಚಿ, ಕೊಡಲಿ, ಉಳಿ (different metallic implements used by farmers and carpenters) and ಪೊಸ (new). What an incongruous set of words. Right? Wrong, as Kanti proves:

ಮಸೆಗಲ್ಗಳಿ ಮಾಂಬಳಮಂ
ವಸುಧಾತಳಕುದುರೆ ಬಾಚಿಯೆತ್ತಿದಳೊರ್ವಳ್
ಶಶಿಮುಖಿಗೆ ಕೊಡಲಿಕೆ ಆಕೆ
ಪೊಸವಣ್ಣಂ ಸವಿದು ನೋಡಿ ನಸುವುಳಿಯೆಂದಳ್

Meaning: While the mangoes were dropping down on the ground, when hit with stones, a woman (probably the maid) collected them all. When the fruits were given to the moon-faced woman, she tried them and said they were slightly tart!

There are many such more witty poems of Kanti. In one the line given is ಇಲಿಯಂ ತಿಂಬುದ ಕಂಡೆ ಜೈನರ ಮನೆಯೊಳ್ ( I saw mice being eaten in a jaina household). Anybody who knows jaina tradition knows the kind of vegitarianism they follow. Kanti completes the verse making it “ಸರಸಿಜಾಕ್ಷಿಯರ ಹಸ್ತದೊಳ್ ತಿಲತೈಲದಿ ಮಾಳ್ಪ ಚೆಕ್ಕಿಲಿಯಂ ತಿಂಬುದ ಕಂಡೆ ಜೈನರ ಮನೆಯೊಳ್” – I saw chakkulis, prepared tastily by frying in gingelly oil by lovely women, in a jaina household. Similarly, another line “ದನಮಂ ಕಡಿಕಡಿದು ಬಸದಿಗೆಳೆಯುತಿರ್ದರ್” – Cattle were being slaughtered and stcked in a basadi ( a jaina shrine) becomes “ಸಚ್ಚಂದನಮಂ ಕಡಿಕಡಿದು ಬಸದಿಗೆಳೆಯುತಿರ್ದರ್” – “Fragrant sandle wood, cut into pieces, was stacked in the basadi.  ಇಸಮಂ ಸೇವಿಸಿ ಬಾಳ್ದರೇನಚ್ಚರಿಯೋ (What a surprise, they live even after consuming poison!) becomes a descripition of a delicious  pAyasa – “ಪಾಯಿಸಮಂ ಸೇವಿಸಿ ಬಾಳ್ದರೇನಚ್ಚರಿಯೋ!, and ಗಜಮಂ ಕಟ್ಟಿ ಪೊತ್ತರು ಪೆಗಲೊಳ್ ( They wrapped an elephant, and carried on the shoulder) becomes a description of a worker in the Palace office, how he tallies the accounts, and carries the  papers bundled on his shoulders to ends as “ಕಾಗಜಮಂ ಕಟ್ಟಿ ಪೊತ್ತರು ಪೆಗಲೊಳ್”.

We really have to regret that no other work of kanti has survived – except for these small snippets of her poetry. Whether she was a real woman, or concocted by someone later, these Kanti-Hampa riddles continue to entertain us even today.