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SANCIYA HONNAMMA (17TH CENTURY)


Chikkadevaraya (1672-1704) of Mysore and was probably taught to read and write by one of the poets of the household. She had the duty of preparing paan (betel leaves wrapped around areca nuts, quicklime and spices) for Rani Devajamma and the royal household, for her nickname ‘Sanciya’ is derived from the word for ‘bag’ referring to the kit used in preparing paan. The royal couple came to know of Honnamma’s ability to compose poetry and suggested to a poet of the household, Aļahiya Singararya, that he take her as a disciple. Under his guidance she studied Sanskrit and Kannada classics, the Bhagavad Gita, smritis and shāstras. She wrote in Kannada, and her best-known work was the Shadibadeya Dharma (Duties of a Devoted Wife). Legend has it that she was favoured in court as a result of this work, and that the court poets praised it. Her songs are still sung today. Their content is traditional, upholding accepted values, but they show a sympathy and perceptiveness absent from many such moralistic writings. Here is a sample:

For money’s sake, for trust
And friendship’s sake
Don’t give a girl to a walking corpse
Bereft of virtue, youth and looks.
Don’t say, ‘we’re poor people, where
Can we get jewels from?’
Instead of spending on yourself
Provide your daughters with clothes and ornaments.

 
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