Bammera Pothana is a well-known Telugu poet and devotee of Lord Rama. He was related to the poet Srinatha, who was a great devotee of Shiva. Bhakta (as he is often called) Potana translated the Bhagavatham from Sanskrit to Telugu. The works of Pothana, Srinatha and other great telugu poets enabled telugu-speaking peoples to learn and know the classics of sacred lore: the Bhagavatham, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
Bammera (Bhakta) Potana
circa 1410 – 1510
Bammera Potana (1450-1510) was born in Bammera, a village twenty miles away from Warangal, into a Niyogi Brahmin family. His father was Kesanna and his mother was Lakkasanamma. He was considered to be a natural scholar (sahaja panditha) without a teacher. Potana, who lived in the later part of the 15th century is believed to be the author of Narayana Satakamu (The Hundred Verses of Narayana), Veerabhadra Vijayamu (Tale of Victoroius Veerabhadra), Bhogini Dandakamu (The Poem of Bhogini) and also the great classic Andhra Mahabhagavathamu (The Mahabhagavatam of Andhra). This is a Telugu rendering of the Srimad Bhagvatham of Sage Vyasa. This book of Potana is known for its excellent narrative style and the art of versification. The significance of this lies in a simple Question. “Who made the world?” One answer can be found in the Bible, right at the very beginning. In India, you would look in the Bhagavatham to get the answer to this question. So Potana’s Bhagavatham, translated into Telugu, is called Andhra Mahaabhaagavatamu is the most popular religious and mythological text in Telugu speaking regions of India.. This work contains twelve chapters, of which 5th, 6th and 11th chapters were lost due to decay. These lost chapters were filled in by Gangana (5th ), Erchuri Singana (6th), and Veligandala Naraya (11th).
At an early age he wrote ‘Bhogini Dandakam’ a poem wrote in praise of king Sri Singa Bhoopala’s concubine Bhogini. This was his first poetic venture which had the seeds of his great poetic talents. His second work was “Virabhadhra Vijayamu” which describes the adventures of Lord Virabhadhra, son of Lord Shiva. The main theme was the destruction of a yagna performed in absence of Lord Shiva by Daksha Prajapathi.
As a young man, he was a devotee of Lord Shiva. Later, Potana became a devotee of Lord Rama and more interested in salvation. His conversion from Saivism to Vaishnavism was triggered by an incident. One early morning during a lunar eclipse, on the banks of river Godavari, Potana was meditating on Lord Shiva. At that auspicious moment, Lord Rama appeared dressed like a king and requested Potana to translate Bhagavatam into Telugu and dedicate it to him. This inspired him to translate Vyasa’s Sanskrit Bhagavatam into Telugu.
Bhagavatham is a Boon to Mankind
The Lord is believed to be Rasa-Swarupa i.e. full of sweetness. The Bhagavatham captures the sweetness of the Lord most magnificently. Although God is said to be beyond all description, beyond the scope of words, The Bhagavatham could capture the glory of the Lord. It is said that Lord Varaha after His fierce combat with the mighty demon Hiranyaksha whom he at last could destroy, was very exhausted and was sweating profusely. He wanted to wash and clean his body, but alas, being so huge in body which was of cosmic proportions, it seemed He found all the waters of the seven seas insufficient to wash His palms even! Whereas we see the same Lord (In the Avatar as Krishna) being bathed by Mother Yasoda with barely a few palmfuls of water, making Him lie in her lap. The Bhagavatham thus brings God close to the very doorstep of man, within his vision, within his grasp and reach almost. The Bhagavatham is one of the greatest boons given by Sage Vyasa to man, especially in the darkness of the Kali age.
Sage Vyasa even after collating the Vedas, after composing Vedanta Darsana (to supplement the Purva MuDiamsat Darsana of his disciple Jainuni), after composing all the great Puranas; all these for portraying and teaching the Sanathana Dharma to men — yet felt restless and was without peace. When he was thus seized with restlessness. Sage Narada is said to have come to him. Narada advised him that he should take to composing of The Bhagavatham, describing the glorious qualities and leelas of Lord in His various incarnations on the earth, and especially the story of Sri Krishna, which will irresistibly charm the heart of any and will instill love and bhakti and pave the way for man’s realisation of God. After writing The Bhagavatham only, Vyasa was said to have been filled with peace and to have gained a great sense of satisfaction and fulfilment.
Sukadeva son of Vyassa
Sukadeva, the son of Vyasa, narrated the Bhagavatham to King Parikshit during the duration of seven days immediately prior to his death. Just as the narration of The Bhagavatham ended, Parikshit met his death but attained mergence in Krishna, the Highest Godhead, due to the merit he earned by listening (S’ravana) of The Bhagavatham.
Sukadeva was a born-jnani and a total renunciate. There is a Sanskrit sloka saying, that like a parrot-packed fruit which will become much sweeter, The Bhagavatham, as narrated by Sukadeva (Suka also meaning parrot) is said to have become even more sweeter than his father’s original composition. In Sri Potana’s Telugu-rendering of The Bhagavatham, it is said to have acquired even far greater sweetness than even in Sukadeva narration. Potana has enriched and endowed it with an exquisite fragrance by his superb and mellifluous poetry, surging with bhava and devotion, thus the Telugu Bhagavatham is deemed as the divine nectar itself, so writes one sacred author.
The rendering of Potana’s Bhagavatham is so superb and excellent that no one has ever attempted again to do another rendition. This is no wonder because it-is said that Potana undertook the writing of his The Bhagavatham at the command of Lord Sri Rama Himself and therefore it could not be different from what it is. God Himself inspires it.
Sathya Sai Speaks:
The senses are like life principles for every man. Once you rein your senses, your life will be peaceful. You should not only avoid evil talk, but should also talk less. Your speech should be short and sweet. Sages like Valmiki, Vyasa and great devotees like Potana composed sacred texts and sanctified their lives. Emulate their ideals and make your life exemplary. Read sacred texts composed by such noble souls. Guru Pournima Discourse, 2001
Potana will only serve Divinity
The king of Warangal, Sarvajna Singa Bhoopala, wanted Potana to dedicate Andhra Maha Bhagavatamu to him. But, Potana refused to obey the king’s orders and dedicated the Bhagavatham to Lord Rama, whom he worshipped with great devotion. It is said that Potana remarked, ‘it is better to dedicate the work to the supreme Lord Vishnu than dedicate it to the mortal kings.’ He was of opinion that poetry was a divine gift and it should be utilized for salvation by devoting it to God. at this point Potana declined to work any further for remuneration from mere mortals.
Thereafter, a new urge in life surged forth in Potana, that he should seek only the Eternal Reality. When he was feeling thus restless, a miracle happened. There stood before him Lord Rama and his consort Sita in their effulgent divine forms. It was a certain lunar eclipse day and it was on the bank of the river Godavari when he was engaged in meditation. Lord Rama endearingly told him that he should render The Bhagavatham into Telugu and do an eternally beneficial service to the people. He further said that the Book is to be dedicated to Him alone when completed. Blessing him, the divine Eternal couple disappeared from his sight. It was unbelievable but as the Vision was so vivid and as the Lord’s words were still ringing and reverberating in his ears, his heart leapt with joy.
Exhilarated and inspired by Sri Rama, Potana set out on his work, invoking Rama’s grace to guide him in this effort, and surrendered himself totally at His feet. A magnificent work had emerged out of the labours of his devotion. In the rendering he brought in new beauties and embellishments, and the effulgence and glory of Lord reveals itself more abundantly and more vividly in his presentation than even in the original.
With simple native language, sweet lyrical poetry and sincere transparent devotion, this work is indeed unparalleled. ‘Prahalada Charitram’, ‘Gajendra Moksham’, ‘Rukmini Kalyanam’ and ‘Sri Krishna leelas’ are some of the most enjoyable episodes in this classic work.
Potana and his brother in law, Srinatha
Kavi Sarvabhauma Srinatha who enjoyed great royal patronage in those times, was a close relative of Potana. They were actually brothers-in-law. While Srinatha was revelling in his luxuries, Potana on the other hand, was leading the life of a peasant, tilling a small holding of land, but nevertheless most contented. Srinatha was feeling sorry for his brother-in-law’s poor state of living, and was wishing that he should also seek royal patronage by dedicating his poetry to royal patrons and live a luxurious life. To advise and induce him to do this, Srinatha, with his large retinue once set out to the village of Potana. Srinatha had some mystic powers gained through certain yogic disciplines. He wanted to display them and impress upon Potana his own superiority over the latter and hypnotise him into agreeing to his persuasion.
At the time of Srinatha’s approaching the village, Mallanna, son of Potana, was tilling the land with his bullock-plough near the outskirts of the village. Potana was also there, but he was steeped in his meditation at that time. Srinatha asked the palanquin bearers on the front side to Step aside, leaving the palanquin. The bearers did so, but the palanquin kept on moving. Mallanna told Potana about this wonder. Potana nonchalantly said, “you untie the bullock on one side of the plough.” As Mallanna did so, the plough was also moving on, on level. Srinatha felt embarrassed, but still wishing to show off his powers, asked the bearers on the other side of the palanquin also to step aside. Lo! the palanquin was still moving on, without any bearers. When Mallanna told this to Potana, the latter asked him to untie the bullock from the second side of the plough also – even then the plough was moving on – on the field. While Srinatha’s were powers of yoga, Potana’s powers were those arising out of devotion and surrender to Divine Power.
Srinatha felt a bit humbled; nevertheless he was still bent on causing embarrassment to Potana. He was wondering how Potana would be able to entertain him and his huge retinue with food. He had brought along with him enough provisions to be used in case of Potana’s failure to entertain him. But as guest is God Himself as per Hindu faith and tradition, Potana came forward greeting the guests, and requested them to take their bath and refresh themselves for a while, by which time food would be made ready. Srinatha and his people went to the river for bath. But there were no provisions at all in the house of Potana. He prayed to Mother Saraswati that she alone had to save him from this difficulty. The Holy Mother instantly appeared and assured him that he was not to worry at all and she would provide everything for the guests.
As the guests were seated for food, vessel after vessel, preparations after preparations, delicacies after delicacies were appearing near the shrine, being supplied from behind the curtain of the shrine. Never in his life, in spite of all his regal way of living, had Srinatha ever tasted such delicious food. His party also were overwhelmed with the hospitality of the poor peasant, Potana.
After the feast and rest, Srinatha drew Potana into conversation and tried to persuade him into seeking royal patronage for the Bhagavatham which he had just completed, and be a little more worldly-wise, at least for the sake of his wife and children. Potana was in no mood to be tempted away. But even so, Saraswati, as a young girl, appeared to him, with tears running down her cheeks and was pleading “Do not sell me away for money to anybody.” Potana clearly told Srinatha that he would never sell his work on the Bhagavatham even if it cost his life, to any mortal being and that he would dedicate it only to God and to none else. Thus Srinatha realised that Potana could never be persuaded into trading for money his gift from Goddess Saraswati.
Potana spurned all worldly wealth and courted poverty and was the staunchest votary of Mother Saraswati, Goddess of Knowledge, learning and wisdom. He offered his life’s monumental work at the Feet of Lord Sri Rama and earned an eternal wealth of name and fame in the world, to be remembered by generations and generations of people for all time to come, and making an eternal place for himself at the Feet of the Lord in Heaven. His Andhra Maha Bhagavatamu is the ladder from earth to Heaven for us all too, for all aspirant souls.
Sathya Sai Speaks on Potana and Srinatha
Yesterday, you witnessed a play on Bhakta Potana. He did not feel bad, in spite of criticism and belittling from his brother-in-law Srinatha, also a great poet. Since Potana was a great devotee of Rama and surrendered himself totally to the Lord, Rama Himself composed the great epic Bhagavatham on his behalf. Potana always believed that his poetry, his life, and even his very existence were all the gift of Lord Rama. He was a true devotee.
When Potana was suffering from acute poverty and finding it very difficult to make both ends meet, his brother-in-law advised him to dedicate his works to the King and make a comfortable living with the money and jewellery gifted by the King. Potana refused to do, so saying that he would take refuge only in Lord Rama. Instead, he decided to live by cultivating his small piece of land.
One day, while Srinatha was going by the side of the fields in a palanquin, he saw his brother-in-law Potana working in his field. He derisively passed a comment on Potana, addressing him as “haalika!”, meaning, “Oh farmer! Are you Ok?”
Potana gave an apt reply saying, “How does it matter if I am a farmer? I feel it is better and nobler to make a living by farming than dedicating my poetry to earthly kings and living upon their charity. That gives me great satisfaction!” Makara Sankrathi Discourse, 14 Jan 2009
TELUGU BHAGAVATA POEMS
Kamalakshu Narchinchu Karamule Karanuilu. …….
The hands that worship the lotus-eyed Lord
are alone the merited hands,
The tongue that sings prayers to the Lord of Lakshmi
is alone the merited tongue,
The eyes that feast on the Beauty of Lord
are alone the merited eyes,
The ears that yearn to listen to the glories of Vishnu
alone are the merited ears,
The mind that yearns for the destroyer of the demon
Madhu is alone the merited mind,
The feet that go around (circumambulate) the Lord
are alone the merited feet,
The buddhi that is fixed on Purshothama — the
supreme Person — is alone the merited budhi,
The day spent in contemplating upon God of Gods
is alone the day properly and well spent.
The education that dwells on One with the Discus
in His hand (Chakradhari) is indeed alone the
The Guru who teaches about Lord of the earth
(Consort of Bhudevi) is alone the true teacher,
The father who puts his son on the Godward path
is alone the true father.
He is in the Air,
He is in the Skies,
He is in the Regions below,
He is in the Fire,
He is in all the corners of. the World,
He is in the Day,
He is in the Night,
He is in the Sun,
He is in the Moon,
He is in the Omkara,
He is in the Trimurthis.
He is in all beings and things.
God is everywhere if we but look for.
O never give room
for such doubts that
He may be there but He is not
here and the like.
God is everywhere and wherever you look,
you will find Him there itself.