‘Champu’ is a mode of literary composition which is unique to Kannada. Scholars are of the opinion that even Sanskrit has borrowed this mode from Kannada. The word ‘Champu’ means a combination of poetry and prose. One may replace the word poetry by the word verse because ‘Poetry’ has broader connotations. Ancient Kannada poetry favoured this mode right from the beginning, because it gave ample scope for variety and experimentation. The advantages of using a combination of prose and verse are manifold because one is at liberties to use a number of prosodic forms. The Champu tradition of Kannada poetry which began probably even before Pampa, the first extant poet of Kannada continued for almost one thousand years even though it was challenged by other forms. However the golden age of Champu coincides with the dominant days of old Kannada and it assumes secondary importance after the advent medieval Kannada. (Nadugannada) Kannada poets such as Nemichandra, Rudrabhatta and Shadaksharadeva chose to write in this form even after the rise of Nadugannada. But it was considered high brow literature and did not find the favour of the common man.

The major poets who made use of the Champu form are Pampa , Ponna, Ranna, Nagavarma, Nagachandra, Durgasimha, Nayasena, Nemichandra, Rudrabhatta, Harihara and Shadakshari. “Adipurana’, ‘Vikramarjunavijaya’, ‘Sahasabheemavijaya’, ‘Ajitapurana’, “Karnataka Kadamabari’, ‘Ramachandracharitapurana’, ‘Girijakalyana Mahaprabandha’, ‘Jagannathavijaya’, Leelavathi’ and ‘Shabarashankaravilasa’ are some of the major epics written in the Champu form. Majority of these poets are Jains and all of them have composed their works in the form of an epic.(Maha Kavya) All of them have used Sanskrit extensively both at the level of vocabulary and syntax. These epics are essentially meant to be read and recited and they do not have much to do with the oral tradition. They use prosodic forms such as ‘Vrutta’ and ‘Kanda padya’ which are adapted from Sanskrit. These forms are built on the precepts of ‘Aksharagana Chandassu’ which again is not close to the Dravidian tradition. Of course, ‘Kanda’ is based on ‘Matragana Chandassu’ which was gradually replacing the meters that had purely Dravidian origin. In a state of flux like this great poets like Pampa who wanted to have the best of both the worlds molded the Champu form to suit their specific needs. Pampa uses Dravidian meters such as ‘Piriyakkara’,’Madanavati’ and ‘Ragale’ with as much ease as he uses Sanskrit meters like ‘Champakamala Vrutta’ and ‘Utpalamala Vrutta’. It is possible for him to alternate between a vocabulary which is highly Sanskritised and one which is suffused with pure Kannada words. The poet is allowed to switch between poetry and prose based on the demands of the story. In the early stages of the Champu tradition, prose was confined to lengthy and uninspiring descriptions and poetry was the preferred mode for highly charged emotional, lyrical and dramatic situations. Of course one has to admit that prose took upon greater responsibilities with the passage of time. Harihara for instance alternated between prose and verse in succeeding chapters in his well known ‘Nambiyannana Ragale’ and ‘Basavarajadevara Ragale’.

But Champu could not keep pace with the changes that were taking place in the language and the inevitable expansion of the reader base. Native prosodic forms such as Ragale, Shatpadi and Sangatya had their own means of reaching the public which were akin to those of oral literature. Champu which flourished essentially as erudite court poetry died a slow death. However the quality of Classics produced during it’s hey days is beyond doubt and some of the Champu poets are the best in the language.


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