Thursday, November 5, 2009

Rice, Ragi and Kanakadasa


Today is a bank holiday in the state of Karnataka, India, and schools are closed. “Why do you have a holiday?” I asked a little fellow, readying himself for a day out on the road to play cricket. “Kanakadasa Jayanthi,” he answered criptically. “Who's Kanaka?” I asked, testing him. “Don't know,” he said.

Like him, thousands of school children know little or not at all about the 15th century poet, composerr and social reformer in whose honour they get a holiday on November 5. He was born Thimappa Nayaka and was a warrior. At one point, he stopped being a warrior and instead started composing songs with devotional and social messages. Since he had found this wealth of literature, he came to be known as Kanaka (gold in Kannada) Dasa. He composed over 200 songs in Kannada and Sanskrit. If you like Carnatic Music, you can find the words of some of his compositions here.

There is a popular story of Kanakadasa being prevented entry to the main temple at Udipi. He went around the temple and burst in tears of song, appealing to the Lord to give darshan. The idol is supposed to have turned round and made a slit in the wall, enabling Kanaka to see the idol.

One of Kanakadasa's famous works is Ramadhanyacharitre which is a story about an argument between two foodgrains, rice and ragi (millet). The two argue about who is superior. They go to Lord Rama, who sends them both to jail for six months. In some months, the rice rots, but the ragi survives, and gets blessed by Rama. The composition is an allegory on the conflict between the socially strong and weak classes of people.

At Pratham Books, one of the forthcoming titles is about vegetables arguing about who is the best. This is a popular folklore in India. On this Kanakadasa Jayanthi, we would be delighted if visitors to this blog would guess which vegetable wins in our story! To make the challenge a little easier, let me tell you that the contenders are Potato, Tomato, Onion, Carrot, Cabbage, Brinjal and Cucumber.
Tell us which vegetable wins, and tell us why. And, I really think we should include both ragi and rice in our diet, no?
Happy Kanakadasa Jayanthi!

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