In light of our Spotlight on the Telugu Bhagavatamu, it is only appropriate for us to spend a little time on the background of its author.
We continue our ongoing Series on Telugu Personalities with today’s post on Pothana.
Pothana Mahakavi may be famous for one thing, but he was known by many names. Also called Potaraju and later Potanamatya, he is a native of the town of the same name as his surname. Bammera Pothana was born some time in the first decade of the 1400s , in Nalgonda District of Telangana. While his exact birth year is not known, it is said that he lived between 1400 and 1475.  A minority school of thought has argued that his birthplace was in fact Vontimitta in Kadapa district.
Irrespective, it is known that his mother was Lakkamamba and his father was Kesana, who was of the Kaundinyasa gotra and attached to the Apastamba Dharmasutra. [1, 535] His elder brother was Tippana.
There is a beloved myth among Telugus that Pothana and Srinatha were brothers-in-law. In contrast to the spiritual and penurious Pothana, Srinatha lived an hedonistic life, and would periodically visit to poke gentle fun. Pothana is said to have always had a ready riposte to the Kavi Sarvabhauma’s gest and celebration of sensuality. However, Professor T.S.B. Narasaraju garu asserts that this tale of relation by marriage does not have any historicity to it. Nevertheless, comparison remain apt:
Pothana was honoured in his day for his purity, integrity and independence. In this he was a striking contrast to his brother-in-law, Srinatha, who lacked the subtle sense of self-respect. Srinatha basked in the sunshine of royal favour; Potana avoided kings and courts. Srinatha knew how to turn rhyme into rupees, Potana preferred poverty with honour [2, 63]
In any event, Pothana did marry and had one son named Mallana and another son named Kesava, who was also a great litterateur. He earned the title Praudha Sarasvati, and the entire lineage itself is said to be blessed with literary prowess. 
As for the man himself, he is thought to not only have been a self-made man,but self-taught as well, with little or no formal schooling. To what extent he was an auto-didact was not known, given his father’s own status as a Pandit, nevertheless, it speaks volumes not only about his dedication to the divine, but to learning itself.
A yogi name Jeetananda blessed him in his younger years, and that was said to be the origin of his later intellectual awareness and talent for poesy. [2, 64]
Potana’s Bhaagavatam, a translation of the Sanskrit Mahabhaagavatam, is his magnum opus. This great work also shared, for causes unknown to us, the same fate as the Bhaaskara Raamaayana. There is a traditional story current in the country that Potana buried his Bhaagavatam underground to save it from destruction at the hands of Sarvajna Singa III, to whom Potana refused to dedicate that work [1, 536]
Unlike his contemporary, Srinatha, Pothana didn’t stoop to ninda-stuthi (praise of men). Further Sarvajna, though a cultured ruler, nevertheless remains infamous in the annals of the Telugu history for his family’s alliance with the Turkic Bahmanis and betrayal of the Musunuri Nayaks, as well as his war with the Reddi Kings.
It only goes to show that while Dharma is the foundation of our Culture, it is possible for one to be cultured and adharmic. As such, despite writing on the Bhagavata Purana, which largely focuses on the life of Sri Krishna, the dedication was to Lord Vishnu’s 7th avatar:
Potana dedicated his Bhaagavatam to god Sri Raama. He had the title sahajapaanditya, which shows that he acquired proficiency in the Telugu language and poetics by his self-effort. Potana’s poetry is mainly devotional in character. He is at his best when describing a devotional episode. He intensely felt the emotions of a devotee whom he described and went into ecstasy, while singing the glory of god Visnu. [1, 536]
But perhaps the best commentary on this Saastriya Telugu Poet is one that shows how his life influenced and was in turn reflected in his art:
In his later life when he wrote his Bhaagavatam, Potana was a bhakta practicing bhaktiyoga. He was, therefore, able to add devotional fervour to Telugu poetry. [1, 536]
Pothana is credited with authoring 4 works: The Telugu Bhagavatam, Veerabhadra-vijayam, Narayana Satakam, and the Bhogini Dandakam.
Telugu Bhagatavam is in fact longer than the original Srimad Bhagatavam of Veda Vyasa. This is because, as stated by Narasaraju garu, Pothana’s translation style was a combination of Svatantra anuvada (taking liberties with the original) and Bhava anuvada (focus on the essence rather than word for word). That is also why Pothana is so celebrated. Rather than merely repeating word for word, Vyasa’s own work, the great Poet of Telangana added his own original thought, while holding true to the spirit of the Maharishi.
“Hence, his work, Bhaagavatam may be aptly termed as a devo-tional lyric. Potana had such a mastery over the language that sabdaalankaaras, like yamaka and anupraasa and others, crept into his poetical lines without effort. In spite of these sabdaalankaaras his poetry has a fine finish and an innate beauty about it, characterised by its sweetness and melody. The flow of his poetry is smooth, and his style vigorous and supple. Potana’s imagery is superb. He can make us realise the spirit conveyed in his poems intensely. He pressed the figures of speech in to service so as to make his imagery perfect…” [1, 536]
His style of Telugu was also rich in Sanskrit, making him the litterati’s delight. At the same time, the work is so popular, that large sections are famous even among the unlettered masses. Such is the impact the Telugu Bhagavatam has had on Telugu culture.
Veerabhadra Vijayam is an interesting work. According to legend, Pothana is said to have written it as atonement for writing the section of Bhagavatamu where a Rakshasa insults Lord Siva. Coming from a staunchly Saivite family, the Poet of Bammera felt the need to expiate himself for repeating the words in translation.
A third work of interest in the Narayana Satakam. The least known of the 4 credited to Pothana.
The last is in fact said to be his first, and is a work with rati as the sthayibhava, though this remains subject to much debate. There are those who argue that Pothana, like Srinatha, initially lived a more materialistic life in his youth before fully dedicating himself to traditional austerity. But it is also important to note that the orthodox do not accept this asserting that in marked contrast to Srinatha, Pothana lived according to traditional observances his whole life and did not write this text, known as Bhogini Dandakam. [1, 89]
“The first work, Bhogineedandakam, furnishes the clue to settle the date of Potana. He wrote that work on a vesya of his patron Sarvajna Singa Bhoopaala. Some Telugu scholars contend that the author of this Bhogineedandakam could not have been Potana for the simple reason that, as he was a great devotee, he could not have stooped to write this work on a courtesan.” [1, 535]
Historians will have to settle the matter. For now, however, it is better to focus on the composition of his that most reflects his character and his contribution to our Culture:
The state the Telugu Bhagavatamu is found in is very much a commentary on the state of Telugu society.
decay of some of the portions—the fifth, sixth, eleventh and twelfth skandhas—which were later on comple-ted by some Telugu poets, namely, Gangana, Ercoori Singana and Veligandala Naaraya, a pupil of Potana himself. [1, 536]
Pothana was disgusted with material life, and did not publish the Telugu Bhagavatam himself. Believing the people of the time too be too engrossed in material worldliness, he felt them to be unworthy of his work. He passed it on to his other son, Mallana, instructing him to give “this Pearl of Great Price…to a pure man who had devotion in his heart.” [2, 65] Interestingly, Mallana never opened the box, and when he gave it to Veligandala Naarayya, the manuscript was found to be partly diminished by worms. The sections that were destroyed were later re-translated by Erchoori Simganna and Velingandala Narayya.
Pothana himself was later emulated by Haribhat who translated parts of the Srimad Bhagavatam in 1660. There is also the Baala-Bhagavata of Koneru Kavi, and the Devi Bhagavata translated by Dammanodara and later Srirama Pantulu and Mulugu Paapayya. [2, 65]
Pothana’s entire collection of works can be accessed here for free.
To read Bhagavatamu in Telugu, click here.
Those of you who wish to read in English can download T.S.B. Narasaraju garu’s translation of Telugu Bhagavatam’s Dasama Skandha on our article here.
Those who wish to buy book versions can go to online publishers such as these:
There is much dividing the modern states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. However, Mahakavi Pothana is, without a doubt, one of the many things uniting the Telugu people, on both sides of the Polavaram.
There was a movie in 1942 featuring Chittoor Nagaiah and Hemalatha, called Bhakta Potana. Here is a lovely clip from it here:
The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) sponsored a Serial on his life, with a title by the same name.
Pothana’s work is said to be rhythmic with beauty and alliteration, so much so that it is said to be best savoured through music.
As such, we will end with a poem from the Prahalada Charitam of Srimadandhra Bhagavatam written by Bammera Potana.
Kamalakshu narchinchu karamulu karamulu
“The hands that worship the Lotus-eyed One are the real hands. The tongue that speaks Srihari’s language is the True Tongue. The looks that absorb the protector of the worlds are the right and precise eyes. The head that bows to the sleeper on the snake bed is the great head. The ears that hear Vishnu, the all-pervading one, are perfect ears. The feet that guide one to the almighty are the truthful feet. The thought that revolves around Him is the noblest thought. The day that praises the Lord of Lords is the best day. The studies that reveal the wheel holder is the true learning. The teacher who tells about the master of the earth is the real teacher. The father who bids his son to reach Hari is the perfect father.” 
- Malampalli, Somasekhara Sarma.History of the Reddi Kingdoms.Delhi:Facsimile Publ. 2015
- Bhujanga, Chenchiah P. A History of Telugu Literature. Vol.2. London: Forgotten Books.2015
- Narasaraju, T.S.B. Potana. Dasama Skandha of Potana’s Telugu Bhagavatam. http://www.andhraportal.org/excerpt-dasama-skandha-ii/