The major oral folk epics (ಜನಪದ ಮಹಾಕಾವ್ಯಗಳು) of Kannada are ‘Manteswamy Kavya’ and ‘Madeshvara Kavya’. They are dealt with in separate entries. But there are a number of others that deserve a special mention. This note gives a general introduction to this tradition and provides some basic information about a few important texts.

These epics did not have any place in Kannada literary studies almost till the eighth decade of the twentieth century although they were recited and cherished in the relevant religious communities and restricted geographical regions. Early research in folk literature concentrated on lyrics, ballads and stories rather than these epics. Pioneering efforts by scholars such as ji.Sham.Paramashivaiah and P.K.Rajashekhara were instrumental in unearthing these epics after a dedicated pursuit of respective singers. Even at this juncture the main stream literary criticism was hesitant to include them in their ambit. However, a sea change has taken place in the last twenty years and some of these epics are treated on par with the acclaimed classics of Pampa , Harihara and Kumaravyasa. They have lead to a serious study of the regional cultures encapsulated in these works. The Kannada University located at Hampi has published a number of these epics through its Tribal Studies department. Their literary merits have forced a re assessment of the literary cannons. Many modern writers have used this material to create poetry and drama of high caliber.

Most of these epics are built around the history and life patterns of a particular community. These communities which were essentially unlettered have found their own modes of preserving their culture and its historical antecedents. Some of them have used mythological means to authenticate their world view and rituals. They provide abundant raw material to study the divergent strands of the culture of Karnataka. This leads to a replacement of the hegemonic and monolithic models by pluralistic realities. Added to this, one is excited by the literary modes and tools adopted by these bards to preserve and propagate their cultures. These works continue to evoke admiration even after they are divorced from their religious and ritualistic context.

Folk epics are always in a state of flux and adopt themselves to altered realities. This is because of the freedom enjoyed by the singers. All they have at their disposal is a broad outline of the story and a number of formulaic patterns that help in the structuring of the texts. Consequently, every singer creates his own version of the text and even this undergoes changes from performance to performance. Certain motifs and modes bring together all these epics and a continuum is created. The oral epics of Kannada are no exception. A list of the important oral epics of Karnataka is furnished herewith.

Apart from the religious epics, many others are folk versions of the literary epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata. Some other folk narratives are based on romantic stories and they have their own modes of propagation.

A list of some important oral epics of Kannada is provided here with.


  1. Manteswamy Kavya’ edited by G.S. Paramashivaiiah
  2. ‘Male Madeshvara’ edited by P.K. Rajashekhara
  3. ‘Junjappa’ edited by Cheluvaraju
  4. ‘Kumararamana Kavya’ edited by K.M. Maitri
  5. ‘Krishnagollara Kavya’ edited by K.M. Maitri
  6. ‘Malingarayana Kavya’ edited by Gangadhara Daivajna
  7. ‘Myasabedara Kathanagalu’ edited by A.S.Prabhakara
  8. ‘Gonda Ramayana’ edited by H.C. Boralingaiah
  9. ‘Siri Paddana’ edited by A.V. Navada
  10. ‘Halumatada Mahakavya’ editeed by Veeranna Dande
  11. ‘Yellammana Kathana Kavya’
  12. ‘Mailaralingana Kavya’
  13. ‘Janapada Mahabharata’ edited by P.K. Rajashekhara
  14. ‘Arjuna Jogi Kavya’ edited by P.K.Rajashekhara
  15. ‘Soligaru Hadida Biligirirangana Kavya’ edited by K.Keshavan Prasad

References: 1. Male Madeshwara: A Kannada Oral Epic, as Sung by Hebbani Madayya and His Troupe, By Hebbani Madayya, Ke. Kēśavan Prasād, Si. En Rāmacandran, L.N. Bhat Published by Sahitya Akademi, 2001

2. ‘Strings and Cymbals’, Selections from Kannada Oral Epics, Ed. by C.N.Ramachandran, Kannada University , Hampi.


Links: 1. Indian Folklore Epics: Kannada

2. Indian Folk Epics: Introduction




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