12 century Tikkanna pen stand proves Telugu age

An exquisitely carved sandal sheath which held writing implements used by great poet Tikkanna Somayaji in the 12th century is still carefully preserved by his descendant Paturu Harihara Sarma.

This is not just a precious artefact but also living proof of the classical status of Telugu, which the Andhra Pradesh government is lobbying hard for.

It is believed that Tikkanna used this iron stylus (Gamtamu) to translate the great epic Mahabharata on a mandap in the banks of the Pennar river.

Tikkanna, one of the trinity of poets who translated the Mahabharata, was born in Nellore in a Saivaite Brahmin family. He was known as Vikrama Simhapuri and lived in Paturu, a small village about 10 km from Nellore.

It was at the Siddeswara Swamy temple in this village that the poet composed parts of his great epic. Though a Saivaite, Tikkanna’s poems give the clear message that Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu are the same.

Unfortunately, no serious effort has been made by either the archeology department or the State government to preserve the memory of this great poet.

His favourite Siddeswara Swamy temple, for instance, is in a dilapidated condition now. The park in Nellore named after him and the mandap where he is believed to have composed his poems are also in disrepair.

Nellore is known as the city of statues, but it doesn’t have a single statue of Tikkanna.

The only symbol of his great services to Telugu is the sheath treasured by Mr Sarma, a retired manager of LIC.

Pictures of Lord Ganesh and Goddess Saraswati are carved on either side of the sheath. The exquisite carvings are instances of the skill of artisans eight centuries ago.

“This precious piece has been with our family for generations,” said Mr Sarma. “My grandfather gave it to my father and he gave it to me and asked me to guard it throughout my life.” Tikkanna lived during the period of the Kakatiya Empire, when Saivism and Vaishnavaism emerged as two powerful streams of Hinduism.

However, Tikkana’s vision transcended such divisions and he saw God as one. He was probably the first poet to use Telugu with a local flavour while writing his epics. He used lot of proverbs and colloquial usages in his verses which endeared him to the common folk. The responsibility of translating Mahabharata in Telugu was shared by three poets, Tikkanna, Nannayya Bhattaraka and Erranna. Tikkanna translated 15 chapters of the work during his lifetime. It was only a century later that the remaining part was translated by Erranna. Apart from this, Tikkanna also penned the Niryachanottara Ramanyanamanu which traces the life of Lord Ram and Sita after they return to Ayodhya.

The poem speaks about Sita’s banishment to the forest and the birth of the twins, Lava and Kusa.

Tikkanna was not just a poet. He was also the prime minister of King Manumasidhi and was known for his diplomatic and administrative skills.

“He also played a major role in constructing the Lord Hariharanatha Temple near the Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple,” said Mopuru Venugopalaiah, a scholar who has done extensive research on the poet’s works.

However, apart from the sheath treasured by his descendants, no trace of his memory remains in his native village or in Nellore. The only token remembrance is the birth anniversary celebrations of the great poet organised every year by the Tikkanna Vignana Kendra in the city.


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