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MOLLA ATUKURI (16TH CENTURY)


Molla, surnamed Atukuri, was a mystic poet and singer. She was born to Kesava of Gopavaram, a village north of Nellore in Andhra Pradesh, a Virashaiva of the potter caste, and her mother died young. She was named Molla (jasmine) as it is the favourite flower of Shiva, and was also called Basavi. She wrote in Telugu, and was the second woman poet in the language after Tallapaka Tirumalamma, wife of Annamacharya. She translated the Ramayana into Telugu, an act of syncretism as Rama was an avatar of Krishna. Legend has it that a poet of Molla’s village was challenged by the court poet to write the Ramayana in five days, thus putting the entire village in danger of shame. Molla offered to write the epic and save the reputation of the village. She sat in the temple, writing furiously, and in five days it was done. Written in couplets, in a demotic Telugu far closer to everyday speech than was considered decorous in her time, the poem has a lucidity and energy that is engaging. It also focuses on the character of Sita far more than was usual. Her poetics are expressed in these lines:

As honey sweetens
The mouth readily,
A poem should make sense
Right away.
Obscure sounds and sense
Are no better than
The dumb and the deaf conversing.
 
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