Shatpadi (ಷಟ್ಪದಿ) is arguably the most popular prosodic meter in Kannada. The variations of this meter can be found even in modern poetry written during the twentieth century, as demonstrated by the celebrated scholar T.N.Srikantaiah. Shatpadi has existed in some form or the other right from the beginnings of Kannada literature.
Shatpadi means literally ‘six lines’. (Shat= 6, Paada=Line) This is a meter where the first, second, fourth and fifth lines are equal to one another in terms of ‘Amsha’ or ‘Maatre’ the basic elements of Kannada prosody depending on the parameters that the poet has chosen. The third and sixth lines are 1.5 times longer than the rest and they are equal to one another. The second important condition that is imposed has to with the initial rhyming or ‘Adi praasa’ as it is usually called. Some more minor conditions are applicable to specific shatpadis.
Shatpadi was originally a part of ‘amshagana chandassu’ which has specific Dravidian roots. Here the basic modules are brahma gana, vishnugana and rudragana. Shatpadi in its original form was based on these units. Nagavarma gives the rules that govern the structure of a shatpadi in detail. This is usually called ‘muula shatpadi’. (The original shatpadi) This is used in sporadic instances and no literary work constructed entirely in amsha gana shatpadi is available.
However, there was a gradual movement away from the Dravidian roots and this is manifested in prosody by the shift from ‘amsha gana chandassu’ to ‘maatraa gana chandassu’. This transformation led to certain changes in the structure of shatpadi also. The basic units were changed to ‘maatre’s. (syllable) These are divided in to units of three, four and five ‘maatre’s. Shatpadis are written using various permutations and combinations of these basic units. Consequently, the ‘muula shatpadi’ gave rise to six different variations. They are called Shara, (shara) Kusuma, (kusuma) Bhoga, (BOga) Bhamini, BAmini) Parivardhini (parivardhini) and Vardhaka (vArdhaka). ‘Veereshacharite’ by Raghavanka is written in “Uddanda Shatpadi’ a minor variant. Some scholars have tried to derive two more shatpadis named ‘Tala Shatpadi’ and ‘Jala Shatpadi’. However, Bhamini and Vardhaka are the most popular shatpadis and they are used by many major poets of Kannada such as Raghavanka, Kumaravyasa, Lakshmeesha, Chamarasa, Kumara Valmeeki and Bhaskara Kavi. It is an interesting point to be noted that Shaiva and Brahmin poets have preferred this form and Jaina poets have hardly ventured to write in Shatadis. Shatpadi was the favorite meter among the medieval poets writing in ‘naDugannaDa’. The important Kannada works in the shatpadis are as follows:
1. Shara Shatpadi: None
2. Kusuma Shatpadi: None
3. Bhoga Shatpadi: a) Tirukana Kanasu – Muppina Shadakshari
4. Bhamini Shatpadi: a) Karnata Bharata Kathamanjari – Kumaravyasa
b) Prabhulingleele -- Chamarasa
c) Toraveya Ramayana -- Kumara Valmeeki
d) Nalacharite -- Kanakadasa
5. Parivardhini Shatpadi:
5. Vardhaka Shatpadi:
a) Harishchandra Kavya- Raghavanka
b) Siddarama Charite – Raghavanka
c) Somanathacharite - Raghavanka
d) Jaimini Bharata - Lakshmeesha
e) Bhavachintaratna - Gubbiya Mallanarya
Some Kannada works contain a combination of these six variations. ‘Mahadeviayakkana Purana’ (1550 A.D.) by Chennabasavanka is an interesting work because it makes use of all six shatpadis. ‘Kumudendu Ramayana’ also makes use of diffrent Shatpadis.
The shift from amshagana tripadi to maatragana tripadis resulted in a reduction of flexibility and musicality. The singing mode was replaced by the reciting mode. (Gamaka) However these works were communicated even to illiterate communities through various modes. T.N. Srikantaiah has shown in his writings that even twentieth century poetry contains shatpadi patterns, of course with out the the restrictive rules regarding rhymes.
‘Shatpadi’ is perhaps the most prevalent prosodic form in Kannada, considering the fact that ‘Champu’ is a combination of various ‘vruttas’ creating a space even for prose. On the contrary, shatpadi works contain literally thousands of poems running on and on with out causing monotony. This is so because it is possible to play with this form depending on the exigencies of the situation. It is possible to mould it for description, conversation and dramatic rendering. Great masters such as Kumaravysa and Raghavanka have shown the possibilities of this meter exhaustively.