The terms ‘maarga’ and ‘dEsi’ (ಮಾರ್ಗ ಮತ್ತು ದೇಸಿ) hold a special place in any discussion related to ancient Kannada literature. These are two modes of literary communication enunciated by the early theoreticians and poets of Kannada. It is possible to create literary works, making use of one of these modes exclusively. On the contrary an artistic work could be a combination of these two modes. This predicament was present right from the beginning of Kannada literature because its confrontation with Sanskrit made it mandatory to choose viable options. It should not be construed that the difference between these two was limited to vocabulary and syntactic patterns. The distinction between ‘vastuka and varnaka’ is inextricably linked with these two categories. ‘vastuka’ and ‘marga’ are bundled together and ‘desi’ and ‘varnaka’ are treated as one module. But this distinction need not be true because a ‘marga’ composition may have descriptive passages and vice versa. Great poets like Pampa were aware of this fact and they averred that it is appropriate to begin in the marga mode and then switch over to the desi patterns whenever neccessary. This shuffling is decided by the subject matter which is being presented. An epic which is encyclopedic in nature has to create many situations where details of various kinds are presented whether demanded by the situation or not. U.R.Ananthamurthy takes on these concepts to the modern situation also and puts up a strong case for a combination of these modes. “His (Pampa ) genius lay in the sensitive and telling combinations he made of Marga and Desi- not just for aesthetic structuring; it had implications for the treatment of his themes as well. The universal truths celebrated in Sanskrit literature were not only given a "local habitation and a name", but they became pulsatingly alive in Kannada, cohabiting with the folk imagination. The two worlds of the front and the back have ever since been meeting creatively in our literary works.” (U.R.Ananthamurthy)

At another level, ‘maarga’ is a linguistic style which is suffused with Sanskrit words and by and large adopts prosodic patterns that are borrowed from Sanskrit. They do not constitute the layman’s cup of tea. Only scholars can enjoy the nuances of the poetic expression. They do not take to singing or recitation easily. Public rendering of such works is not the done thing. Most of the literary works that belong to the Champu genre are ‘maarga kaavyaas’.

On the contrary works that prefer Kannada to Sanskrit, favour recitation and musical renderings, make use of indigenous prosodic meters and are communicable by their very nature are known as Deshi works. Works by poets such as Kumaravyasa, Harihara, Chamarasa and Lakshmeesha belong to this category. Folk literature is desi by its very definition.

The terms marga and desi have musical connotations as well. There are ragas that are described as maargi and those that have a nomenclature related to desi. “Margi music was part of religious ritual and it was rigid, rule bound and practiced seriously by a few who were initiated into it. Marga ragas had names like Vajpeyika, Agneshtika etc. Desi music was the music of the masses. All regional melodies, folk songs etc. were grouped under this category.” This definition is similar to the remarks made earlier about desi kavyas and maarga kavyas.

These concepts are in a state of flux because they are not merely of historical and academic interest. They are inextricably connected with a poet’s world view and his attitudes about realizing his genius in his language.




References: 1. ‘Marga mattu Desi’, Narayana K.V., (In ‘bEeru kAnDa ciguru’ 1997)

Links: 1. Articles - Marga and Desi in the sphere of Raga -

2. Literature in the Indian Bhashas: its front yard and its back yard ...


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