Vastuka (vastuka=ವಸ್ತುಕ) and Varnaka (varNaka=ವರ್ಣಕ) constitute two important modes of poetic narration. Kannada poets and theoreticians have been discussing these modes right from the beginning of literary studies in the language. This discussion is unique to Kannada, even though the ideas have a universal relevance. A story can be narrated in a straight forward manner with out any frills and that mode gives no scope for description of any kind. On the contrary a story may go on and on giving minute details and making use of a number of figures of speech. A great writer does not think that these modes are mutually exclusive and uses them depending on the exigencies of the situation. But the discussion in Kannada tries to brand an entire epic as either vastuka or varnaka. Poets have declared that they have adopted one of these categories. For instance Ratnakaravarni makes it explicit that his epic Bharatesha Vaibhava is a varnaka kavya. Naturally this mode is very elaborate and does not require an intermediary to interpret it. Vastuka kavya on the other hand does not have much space for description and it does not become melodramatic.

vastuka kavi is referred to as kathAkavi by Kallinatha in his commentary on Sangita Ratnakara. This is a straight forward narration of the story. But there is another school that holds that vastuaka kavya is an epic that sticks steadfastly to all the rules that are prescribed for writing poetry. All the features of poetry such as eighteen descriptions (ashtAdasha varnane) and nine rasas (nava rasa) are present in such works. On the other hand a varNaka kAvya may not stick to all the rules that are stipulated even though description is its forte. For instance epics such as Kumaravyasabharata and Bharateshavaibhava are not rigid by any standard. If one compares Girijakalyana Mahaprabandha with Ragalegalu both written by Harihara, one finds a world of difference between the two. Girijakalyana is a trim composition that fits to the label of vastuka many desriptions not withsatnding. His ragales are very emotional and they meander along without following any stipulations.

This distinction could also refer to different poetic temperaments which may alternate within the work of one poet. For instance, Pampa switches over to Ragale or Piriyakkara, whenever the situation demands a descriptive and musical mood. Raghvanka brings out the pathos of the situation wherein Chandramathi laments over the death of her son Rohitashva, by taking resort to Ragale instead of Vardhaka shatapadi. It is possible that some meters are more amenable to one of these modes. Ragale is an open form without any restriction on the number of lines. This feature helps in maintaining the continuity of an emotion.

An impassionate study of the major epics of Kannada leads to a conclusion that the distinction between vastuka and varnaka is genuine with the provision that they may appear in the same work of art. Even in modern Kannada fiction writers switch from one mode to the other in a facile manner. Lyricists like Bendre, Kuvempu et al have made use of both these modes even in their narrative poems.

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