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sumatee SatakaM

by baddena


Click here for the full transliterated text.



nArAyaNa Satakamu
(Full text)

kRShNa Satakamu
(Intro' & Samples)

sumatee Satakamu
(Full text)

kALahasteeSvara Satakamu
(Intro' & Samples)

dASarathee Satakamu
(Intro' & Samples)

Andhra nAyaka Satakamu
(Intro' & Samples)

narasimha Satakamu
(Intro' & Samples)

BhartRhari neeti Satakamu
(Intro' & Samples)

BhAskara Satakamu
(Intro' & Samples)

rAmalingESa Satakamu
(Intro' & Samples)






Authorship, Language and Fame

A Satakam in telugu is usually a set of one hundred poems all ending with a set makuTam. Over the centuries, several hundreds (or thousands) of these were written in various genres. The sumatee Satakam is perhaps the most famous Satakam of any genre in Telugu. It is a neeti (moral) Satakam. vEmanaís poems are equally well known, but, they do not come under the category of Satakam. The sumatee Satakam does not contain details about the identity of its composer. Many literary critics often refer to the author simply as sumatee Sataka karta. Although opinions about a more recent origin exist, it was reputedly composed by baddena (AD 1220-1280?). School textbooks also traditionally attributed the authorship to baddena. He was also known as Bhadra BhUpAla. He was a Chola (cOLa) prince and was a sAmanta rAju (vassal) under the kAkateeya empress rudrama dEvi (reign: AD 1262-1296) during the thirteenth century. He composed neeti SAstra muktAvaLi on the art of state craft. He was a pupil of tikkana, the greatest writer in Telugu. If we assume that the sumatee Satakam was indeed written by baddena, it would rank as one of the earliest Satakams in Telugu along with vRShAdhipa Satakam of pAlkuriki sOmanAtha and sarvESwara Satakam by yathAvAkkula annamayya. Along with Vemana's poems, the Sumatee Satakam is also one of the earliest Telugu works to be translated in to European languages. C.P. Brown rendered it in English sometime in the 1840s.

All through the centuries this Satakam has been extremely popular with parents and teachers trying to teach the right conduct and social values to young children. The language used is very simple, almost child like. Yet the poems have the musical quality of classical meters. Most of the words are acca telugu. The use of Sanskrit words is very limited. No deerGha samAsams (long compound words) have been included. There are hardly any words unfamiliar to modern readers. Words used in the Satakam that are not commonly found in modern journalistic telugu do exist in spoken tradition, e.g., "tulava," "palagAki" (both words indicate disapproval of a person), "maNiyamu" (adhikAramu, post of village head), "jagaDamu" (fight/shouting match), etc. The poems donít look anything like the sophisticated compositions using the highly cultivated language of prabandhams. Since the Telugu used by the author is so close to what the common people used, the poems look surprisingly familiar in their language. This is more due to the fact that there has been little fundamental change of spoken Telugu for more than a thousand years than due to the recent origin of the Satakam. It is only in the last century, that telugu, especially the journalistic variety of it borrowed English and several Hindi words on a whole sale basis. Even though the language is simple, the poems have an astonishing communication power. All the poems are in kanda padyam meter (Chandas) which is native to telugu (and perhaps to kannaDa). Being in short meter and being unconnected to each other, the poems are easy to remember. Many old timers in telugu nADu know the entire Satakam by heart. Every literate person (and some who are "illiterate") in Andhra knows at least a few of the poems which are quoted by young and old alike (appiccuvADu vaidyuDu....). Even if one doesnít remember the entire poem, it is commonplace to quote some gem like statements from the Satakam (e.g., "akkaraku rAni cuTTamu...," "tAnu valacinadi ramBha," "ittaDi bamgAramagune yilalO sumatee," "siri tA vaccina vaccunu," "Khalunaku nilivella viShamu," "balavamtamaina sarpamu cali ceemala cEta jikki cAvade," "kanakapu simhAsanamuna Sunakamu"....). Each generation of school children learns some of them during elementary and high schools. Parents teach them to even pre-school kids. Of late, quite surprisingly, this trend seems to be declining. The tirukkuraL may be much older and much praised by the tamiL people. But sumatee Satakam (and vEmana) padyAlu are no inferior in any sense. It is unfortunate that telugu people did not care (at least till now) to realize and project the greatness of the sumatee Satakam the way tamiLs cherish and promote the tirukkuraL.



The fact that even after 700 years, most of the poems are refreshingly relevant to modern times speaks volumes about the composition. They may not always conform to current notions, but each poem hits the intended target right in the bullís eye. In the process, the absolutely minimal use of words is astounding! In spite of the various shades of derision, cautionary notes, admonishment, mischief, satire, comic relief, brutal honesty, introspection, self inquiry, objectivity, etc., within itself, the sumatee Satakam contains all the charm and sweetness telugu language is famous for. The author might not have indicated his lineage, but his intention is very clear. He wanted to tell a great many morals in an easy flowing manner (dhArALamaina neetulu) such that every one is bound to say "oh, wow!" (ArUDhiga sakala janulu aurA yanagan). And sure enough, people say "aurA!" even today. He also declared that he would compose mouth wateringly delicious poems (nOrUraga, cavulu puTTa, nuDiveda). And what a great delight they are!






Contemporary Life and Notions


We can get a good picture of contemporary life even if we stick to internal evidence in the Satakam without taking into consideration details about the author. To do this, we need to establish a critical edition of the Satakam. Since the Satakam is very popular, there are several versions of it. Ancient manuscripts have not been preserved. Perhaps part of the reason is its popularity itself. Since every one learned the poems by heart early in childhood, there was no reason to write them down and preserve the manuscripts. The poems are passed on through oral tradition. Because of this, one can notice many alterations and corruptions that crept into the poems over the centuries, e.g., "ceeTiki prANambu vrAlu" must be of recent origin. The reference to ceeTi can not be older than the so-called kumPhiNee yugam. Similarly, the reference to vaideeki is not likely to be 700 years old. So is the word rokkamu. But fortunately, most poems in different versions seem to be similar. Even if we discard possible corruptions, we can glean from the remaining poems many details about the state of society and social values of medieval telugu nADu. We can see that they were written at a time when the country was made of several kingdoms. Obviously there were sporadic wars. Opportunistic people were always out to exploit the situation arising out of conflict, and other peopleís misery and weakness. The average woman was not well educated. Society had patronized prostitution. Many people were ruining their perfectly happy lives because of it (in fact, the author was obsessed with pointing out the ills of prostitution and denouncing prostitutes). Extra marital affairs were not uncommon. Nor was pre-marital sex. The kingís officers and village karaNams wielded considerable power. As always, money talked. Greasing an officialís palm was helpful. Some people were getting caught in the cycle of loans and compound interests. Sons-in-law were just as bad as they are now! At the same time many people were righteous in their conduct. They were conscious of their moral and religious duties. Most people were clearly interested in preserving family units intact and they definitely showed regard for their spouses. Many had a good sense of etiquette. Women were not subjected to child marriages as was the practice in later times. Kings, their ministers and village heads were interested in law-and-order. As a result, the country was not lawless. The society was not impoverished. Signs of wealth were all around. Elephants, horses and other animals were common sight. People had rasikata. Ideas of romance ranged from one end of the spectrum to the other - from the most refined to the most bizarre. All in all, not a bad place to live at all. If one is careful that is! And the Satakam took upon itself the duty to instruct people on how to be careful and diligent! The poems are not just for children either. Many poems have explicitly adult themes. Yet they manage to convey certain universality.




The only negative point about the Satakam from a modern view is the easy manner in which the author paints stereotypes. There are some outdated notions. Statements like "nammakumee vAmahastun^" are plainly ridiculous. It must be warned that there are caste-based references that are pure anathema to modern readers. But one should remember that the poems were written in a society that was essentially stable (in spite of wars) for many centuries. In a stable (and unquestioning) society, it was easy to attribute stereotypical behaviour. Besides, there were inevitable superstitions. All most all ancient writers in all languages, however open minded they may be, had such opinions. The much tom-tomed tirukkuraL is not an exception either. Such attitudes are much more a reflection of the society and the times than the author. If some of the attitudes discernable from the Satakam are a reflection of all the castiesm, male chauvinism, and other ills of the society of a bygone era, then we better "ífess up!" and be open about it. After all, the first step towards reconciliation between different partners of the society is confession! The author may be guilty of engaging in chauvinism, but he definitely absolves himself of it through his sharp barbs at every other ill of the society. Even though he was a feudatory ruler, his attack of kings and their employees stands out unmistakably. If one can keep this in mind and is willing to put oneís own notions of political correctness, liberal tradition and empathy with particular sections of society aside, the Satakam can educate and enthrall one and all. It is a very important part of Telugu heritage. And so we take it the way it is-the good, the bad, and the indifferent included.




Editorial Changes


The version below has textual differences with other printed works. Many such editions are available. The text I used lists Rs.0.20 as the price! I also looked at a partial listing from another version. I am not sure whether any one attempted the preparation of a critical edition of the Satakam for publication. I am also not sure whether any major research study was taken up from literary or sociological point of view. There were some studies on the Sataka vAj~nmayam as a whole.



Minor changes pertaining to typos in the original were made in the version below. They are usually restricted to adding or dropping the arthAnusvAramu (arasunnA) when I thought that the printed work has a mistake. Also, the character transformation due to sandhi was looked at in a cursory manner. At a few places minor changes meant a significant improvement in meaning, e.g., Poem #63 was listed in print with "nammaku magasAle vAnin." It does not make sense to warn somebody against trusting a "male weaver!" Weavers were largely male in those days. So, there is no point in the "male" reference. Also, there has never been any social stigma attached to being "sAle." In fact, they are called as dEvAngulu in rAyalaseema, meaning that they clothe the Gods. Instead of "magasAle," it makes eminent sense to change it to "nammaku mogasAla vAni," given the intrigues that went on at antahpurams or the inner chambers of kings and chieftains. "mogasAla vADu," in this context was the doorman. Even today, in rAyalaseema and north circar districts, "mogasAla" represents the main door of a large house. Other changes are of similar nature.




Text in RIT/RTS format


Warning: As pointed out earlier, readers should note that some of the poems have caste and gender based remarks and prejudicial references. They may be disturbing to modern readers. A few of the poems are downright shocking. Their inclusion here does not mean that we endorse such views. In fact, we are including them with considerable trepidation. The Sumati Stakam enjoys a very high profile in telugu nADu. Hence, it has a significant historical and sociological value in addition to moral, educational and literary value. It is hoped that the so-called "sensitive and/or objectionable" poems help us realize several things about our past. They tell us where we, as a society, have been and remind us where we will return to if we are not perpetually vigilant. Perhaps the best defense invented to date against such problems is openness and empowerment of all sections and individuals of the society.


Opinion requested: We would like to develop an index to the Satakam (any volunteers?). It could have the usual subject words and the corresponding poem numbers, e.g., women [37, 43, 44Ö], son-in-law [8]. Do you think that creating such an index to the Satakam is a useful idea?


Click here for the text of the poems is in RIT 3.0 transliteration format. Except the first one, all the poems are arranged in Telugu alphabetical order. Click here for poems in Telulgu Lipi font.


Seshu Madhava Rao Adluri
First posted: Feb. 1998, revised: May 1998.
Corrections including typos, suggestions, and additions to the above will be gratefully appreciated.
Kindly contact:

Acknowledgements: I typed the first half of the Satakam before discovering that a large selection of poems from the Satakam was earlier posted by Sri Sanka Ramakrishna. These poems are found by clicking here. There are other poems of interest at his site. You might want to look around. I made use of many of his Sumatee Satakam poems with minor modifications (indicated above in green numbers).
Many thanks are due to Sri Sanka Ramakrishna.

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