The reign of Sri Krishna Devaraya, the most famous of the rulers of the Vijayanagara empire, is hailed as a golden era by historians. Inscriptions speak of him as a monarch in the fields of war and literature (sahitee samarangana sarvabhauma).
Not only did he have eight court poets (ashta diggajas), he himself was a great poet, although doubts persist in certain quarters of the literary world about the authorship of the works attributed to him. However, internal evidences are cited to establish his authorship in the case of ‘Amuktamalyada.'
Story of Andal
Considered a masterpiece in Telugu literature, the epic poem, ‘Amuktamalyada' tells the well-known story of the daughter of Periazhvar, Goda Devi, who used to wear the garlands intended for Lord Ranganatha before they were offered to the deity, and hence the name ‘Amukta Malya Da' — one who wears and gives away garlands.
Sri Krishna Devaraya is believed to have written and dedicated the poem to Lord Venkateswara as ordained by God in his dream. Aptly, he sings in praise of the Lord and His divine weapons and pays obeisance to the Azhvars, the poet-saints of Vaishnavism. The work also speaks in some detail about Vishnuchitta (Periazhvar) and the arguments he put forth in support of Visishtadvaita and against other schools of philosophy. For this reason, it has come to be known also as ‘Vishnuchitteeyamu.'
It narrates several episodes that are relevant in the context of the propagation of the Vaishnava theology, although not directly connected with the story. To cite a few examples: the story of Yamanucharya; the legend of Keshadhwaja and Khandikya; and the story of a demon in argument with an untouchable Dasari.
Srinivas Sistla, the translator, has done a commendable job in presenting the difficult-to-comprehend epic poem in simple and lucid style and, at the same time, remaining faithful to the original. Sistla has studied in depth the two commentaries available in the publications of Vavilla (1869) and Vedam (1927), besides looking at related inscriptions, historical documents, and articles. Besides providing a translation of the poem in free verse, he has given a very useful and critical analysis in the introductory chapter. Care has been taken to give both the plain and the subtle meanings of the verses wherever warranted and, thoughtfully, an exhaustive bibliography is provided. Sistla, with a profound sense of modesty, says: “While presenting near-faithful version of ‘Amuktamalyada' in English, somehow I feel as though the debt I owe to Sri Krishna Devaraya in general and to Hampi Vijayanagara in particular has not been cleared completely.” The book should help in appreciating the literary values of ‘Amuktamalyada', and the merits of Sri Krishna Devaraya as a poet.