National Seminar on

Vakh and Vacana: the Pearls of Wisdom

DATE:  4th & 5th March 2013

Venue: IGNCA, Auditorium, C. V. Mess, Janpath, New Delhi 110 001

Silver Jubilee Celebration

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Concept paper of the national seminar on

Vakh and Vacana:     The Pearls of Wisdom


The word Vacana “speech, parole” is formed from the Sanskrit root vac “to speak”. Kannaḍa is the language, both official and spoken, of Karnataka state. This language has a long history right from the 8th century, if not from the 5th century. Although the word Vacana means speech or parole, it has a specific meaning in Kannaḍa. It stands for a genre littéraire and denotes the speeches of Śaraņa, devotees of Śiva. These devotees of Śiva lived in the 12th century A. D. and preached the devotion to Śiva through the accomplishment of one’s own duties towards the society. They did this through a simple language understandable to all, from the Pandit to the pāmara. These compositions are in such a language that they can either be sung or recited in prose.

From the 7th century onwards Karnataka came under the influence of Lakulīśa Pāśupata Śaivism which emphasised the devotion to god through building temples, endowment of lavish donations for the perpetuity of rituals. Lakulīśa Pāśupata Śaivites also encouraged to have the acts of donees engraved on stone stelas. Consequently a good number of temples, big and small raised their heads all over Karnataka and were endowed with lengthy inscriptions in Kannaḍa and Sanskrit poetry following all intricacies of the prosodies of both the languages. These inscriptions were set to music and there were specialists to interpret them. This epigraphic poetry is another genre littéraire par excellence in Kannaḍa.

As the building of temples and huge donations led to the emptiness of the ruling monarch’s treasury, because the donors were exempted from taxes paying, as a result, he king became financially weak and a financially weak king loses his power. That is what happened in the middle of the 12th century when Someśvara of Kalyāņa Cālukya stock lost power and his minister Bijjala of Kalacūri family took the reins of power in his hands. He appointed Basaveśvara as his finance minister, who found a via media to enrich the king’s treasury.

The initiator or the guru of Lakulīśa-Pāśupata mata at the time of an initiation of a disciple gives an effigy of a Śivaliṅga in the hands of the sādhaka, the initiated. Besides, the Guru advises the sādhaka, for the daily rituals, to install the given liṅga either in a temple or at a sacred place where a diagram of a lotus is drawn on a platform made out of unhusked rice.

Basaveśvara boosted this point in his own way. He did not forbid others from building new temples but he drew attention on the fact that the body is a temple; legs are pillars, head the golden pinnacle. He also warned that the liṅga immobile is subject to perish whereas not the jaṅgama.  Here the jaṅgama stands for both the liṅga mobile and the devotee who wears it. He means to say that the devotion of a devotee is not perishable. He advocated also and propagated another important adage kāyakave kailāṣa: the accomplishment of one’s own duty is the best means of expression of devotion to god. He spoke these thought provoking ideas in simple words and phrases called “vacana”.  His slogan of kāyakave Kailāsa attracted many persons from different nooks and corners of India and each one expressed his/her ideas through Vacana. Each vacana ends with the name of the god of election of the author.

All these Vacana were codified in the 15th century when Devarāya II of Karnataka (so called Vijayanagara) Empire was on the throne. The collection of Vacana came out under different headings: Śūnyasaṃpādane, Ekottaraśatasthala etc. Since then Vacanasāhitya is considered as the genre littéraire par excellence of the Kannaḍa language.

This is the special feature of the Kannaḍa literature and it does not exist in any other language except in Kashmiri where we find the compositions of the poetess Lalleśvarī. A plethora of legends related to the birth, life and adventures of Lalleśvarī or Lal-Ded can be obtained from the sources of Kashmiri literature, language and history. Scholars of Kashmiri literature ascribe Lalleśvarī to the 14th century A. D. It is generally held that although she was married, she silently suffered the torturous treatment meted out to her by her mother-in-law. Finally, one day, she renounced not only the household but also her clothes. She then exhaled herself in Yogic practices and started roaming about singing songs of the mystic experiences called Lal-Vakh in vernacular. These Lal-Vakhs were replete with terse concepts of Kashmir Sivaism and through these Vakhs, she shared her illuminated mind with one and all, cutting across the lines of caste, creed and gender. Her Vakhs, full of symbolic meanings, form the backbone of this genre of Kashmiri literature. Lalleśvarī, the Sivaite Yogini fondly called Lal-Ded(the grand mother Lalla) is regarded as the originator of this kind of Kashmiri literature, which was enriched in the following centuries by her contemporaries like Sheikh Baba Nasr-ud-Din and philosophic successors like Sheikh Nur-ud-Din(Nund Rishi) and others. Her mystic interactions with these saints and mystics are mentioned in the Old Persian sources titled the Nur-nama and Rishi-nama. However, the Vakhs are generally influenced by the Kashmir Sivaism school of Indian philosophy.

Similarly, the Vacanas of Kannaḍa are mostly influences by the Veda, Upaniṣad, Bhagavadgītā and the Vātulaśudhākhya tantra. A comparative study of Kannaḍa and Kaśmīri Vacana is worth undertaking.

The aforesaid seminar along with performances may be organized under the aegis of the ‘Workshops/Seminar/Meetings head of AAP 2012-13’(item no. 067:iv) titled ‘Workshop on Traditional Knowledge Systems’ of the Kalakosa Divison of the IGNCA. The project may begin with a two-days preliminary and exploratory seminar along with performances. This seminar will open new horizons for the study of Vacana Sāhitya in Kannaḍa and Vakh literature in Kaśmīri. On each day of the seminar, the evenings may be dedicated to the music and dance performances based on these Vacanas andVakhs, by accomplished artistes.



Dr. Vasundhara Filliozat

Dr. Sushma Jatoo


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