Oral Epics of Karnataka

Ramayana and Mahabharata are the Most popular epics in India. But there are numerous Epics in India ,Especially in Oral Tradition. Karnataka being the Spiritual centre of India for Ages is home to many. Let us see some of them.

Manteswamy Kavya
‘Manteswamy Kavya’ is one of the most important oral epics of Karnataka. Neelgaras, the professional singers of South Karnataka have kept the epic alive by centuries of performances in the districts of Mandya, Mysore, Ramanagara, Chamarajanagara and Bangalore.(Rural)
Manteswamy was a folk hero who lived during the fifteenth century.(approximately) Legends are built around his life and the shrines at Chikkelluru, Boppagoudanapura and Kappadi are related to personalities depicted in the epic. Manteswamy is a living tradition in and around these regions. ‘Manteswamy Kavya’ treats him on par with Allamaprabhu the Veerashiava saint of the twelfth century and does not distinguish between them. However this contention does not find many takers.
The epic begins with the arrival of Manteswamy in Kalyana, who makes a dramatic appearance on a dung heap at the entrance of the city, with the dead body of a calf and a gourd full of ‘kaLLu’. Basavanna’s wife arrives there and takes him to the palace and a confrontation between the sharanas and Manteswamy takes place. His greatness is proved equivocally and that heralds the victory of the lowly over insincere devotees.
After that, Manteswamy embarks upon a journey towards South Karnataka till he finds his permanent abode in Boppagoudanapura. This journey is punctuated by his efforts to acquire disciples. “Throughout the saga of Manteswamy, he picks up infants for his cause. This is symbolic. Each child represents a community that comes into the Manteswamy fold. Rachappaji, Doddamma of the Grove, Channajamma, Madivala Machayya, Phalaradayya and Siddappaji are his chief followers. How he brought them into his fold, through ritual, craft and magic, makes up the saga.”(S.R.ramakrishna) Baachi Basavayya who wants to become his disciple is reborn as Baala Kempanna and later acquires the name Sidapaaji.
The confrontation of Siddappaaji with the Panchalas (Blacksmiths) of Halaguuru is fraught with symbolic qualities. This represents a stage in civilization when technology had to be liberated from its hereditary practitioners. This incident is narrated very dramatically.
Finally Manteswamy acquires many followers in a number of communities and settles down at Boppagoudanapura. His ‘samaadhi’ is found in this place. Two of his important disciples have their shrines at Chikkelluuru and KappaDi.
‘Manteswamy Kavya’ and its cognate epics have many distinctive features. They have selected a language which is a dialect, both geographically and socially. This choice is remarkable in the context of literary texts. Secondly, the narrative style is a combination of the poetic, the dramatic and a simple narration in prose. This adds to the impact of the epic. Thirdly, it is episodic and each episode may be recited independent of its broader context. This work delineates the life of unlettered communities. Most of these epics have a theory regarding the origin of the universe and their community is usually found in the nucleus of the story. This gives a sense of identity and pride to these communities. Actually they depict different stages in the history of civilization.

Male Madeshvara
‘Male Madeshvara’ and ‘Manteswamy Kavya’ are the most renowned Oral Epics of Kannada. These epics have flourished for centuries even though they were marginalized by the main stream literature. ‘Male Madeshvara’ is a mythological-historical account of Madeshvara a tribal hero who is worshipped even to this day. His temple is situated in the Male Madeshvara Hills in Chamarajanagara district. The epic is an episodic cycle consisting of seven episodes usually referred to as ‘sAlu’ or ‘kavalu’. “The Madeswara epic consists of seven cycles, or episodes, depicting the life of a religious saint, or hero, called Madeswara. Each episode centers on one or more miracles performed by Madeswara. In each case, the miracle serves to demonstrate Madeswara’s religious power in the face of those who challenge or doubt it. As such, the Madeswara epic bears many resemblances to both oral tradition and literary puranic accounts of the exploits of deities. Indeed, Madeswara is regarded by his followers as an incarnation, or amsha, of Shiva.”(PeterJ..Clauss). The episodes are ‘tALugate’, ‘ShravanakumAra, ‘JunjEgouDa’, ‘sankamma’, ‘bEvina kALi’, ‘dEvamma’ and ‘saragUru mAdappa’. ‘tAlugathe’ narrates the dramatic appearance of Madeshvara as a Jangama and his confrontation with the seers of Suttur. He is asked to accomplish certain tasks to establish his powers and he proceeds to achieve them by his miraculous abilities. Seen from a historical point of view these episodes document the confrontations of the protagonist with established castes and communities. It is a process of acquiring domination and control. Madeshvara wins over his adversaries with his divine powers. They belong to Jainism, Kuruba community and those who are loyal to Biligiri Ranga. This hints at a process of expansion of a cult. ‘sankammana sAlu’ is particularly impressive because of the sufferings and perseverance of the female protagonist Sankamma. ‘Male Madeshvara Kavya’ is undoubtedly a literary work of art and it will survive even when divested from its religious associations. The description of nature as well human nature, creation of situations with dramatic power and a competent use of rural dialect to great effect are the strong points of this epic. It documents the plights and protests of the under privileged communities in their own language. The singers are familiar with the general outlines of the story and they have a number of formulaic patterns at their command. They are capable of creating the text that suits the context. Consequently each performance becomes a new creation. The listeners too are familiar with the general out line and they are emotionally connected to the performance. The epic acquires a different status when committed to writing even though some unique features are lost. A systematic study of this epic has begun recently.

Junjappa Kavya
Junjappa ( is a glorified cow- herd, and is taken to be a later incarnation of Sri Krishna. Just like the hero of Bhagavata, he had also to tight against the jealousy and the wicked machinations of his maternal uncles. He is said to have been born by breaking through the back of his mother, a method which is popularly believed to be still seen in scorpions.One his uncles planned to infect his cattle by burying a live bull calf infeotel with rinderpest in a tank to which Junjappa's cattle were going to drink. The cattle appro- ached the tank sniffing the air and would not drink. He suspected some foul play and calling out his favourite bright eyed cow which answered to the name of Uhikka- Rambha, directed her to find out what the matter was with the water. She dived under the water and succeeded in lifting on its horns the calf still alive from the mire. It was tended with care and cured of its disease, and it repaid its new benefactor with docile submission and unswerving faithfulness. It was named IJettanna, became strong and spirited when it grew up. It once killed seven bulls out of a herd owned by the uncles, and came back with seven of the best cows. When in revenge they harried the flocks of Junjappi's brothers and carried away this Bettanna and bound it with chains, to a boulder, he had only to mount to a hill top and call his favourite by name, when with a shake of his body he snapped the chains
as if they were mnde of straw and ran to his side.... so goes the Narrative

Kumararamana Kavya
The Epic of about 7000 lines is about a prince of same name, who falls victim to the passions of his young step mother, who being in love with the son is tricked to marry his father. This incest theme is similar to Hyppolytus story of Greek myths and the famous play phaedra of Racine.

Krishnagollara Kavya
The Epic running 14000 lines is about Nomadic tribe called Kishna Gollaru. The Praotagonist of the narrative is a prince called sarabandha, who undertakes a long and perilous journey to get special medicine to cure his father.

Malingarayana Kavya
This epic is about 5500 lines , the story is about exploits
of Malingaraya (or Malappa).

Siri Paddana
This Siri cult epic in Tulu running to more than 16000 lines said to be the forerunner to the Pattani cult practised in Srilanka and India also core to the Silapathikaram
. Analogy between the Siri paDdana and the story of Kanaki in Silapathikaram suggests that both epics were two different regional versions been built on the same story element. As noted by Peter Claus “there are some tantalizing similarities between the Siri cult and that of Pattini, and also between the Siri legend and that of Kanagi (Pattini)”.The similarity of story element in the Sangham Kanaki and Tulu Siri, leads us to conclude that the composition of Silapathikaram was based on the cult of Siri Paddana. The Silapathikaram acknowledges Folk artists from Karnataka performing.

Halumatada Mahakavya
This epic belongs to Kuruba or Haalumathas.

Mailaralingana Kavya
The Cult epic runs to 10,000 lines. The epic narrates exploits of cult hero , Mailaralinga, who is said to be the divine incarnation of Shiva . Most of the narratives is concerned with Mailaralinga wooing and finally winning over a kuruba girl called Komale.
Janapada Mahabharata

Myasabedara Kathanagalu

Gonda Ramayana

Yellammana Kathana Kavya

Arjuna Jogi Kavya

Soligaru Hadida Biligirirangana Kavya

Periyapattanada Kalaga




Kordabbu (Tulu)


Oggu Kathas

and many more. More will be added as I find more , you can suggest more by comments.

Male Madeshwara By Hebbani Madayya, various, Ke Kēśavan Prasād, Si. En Rāmacandran, L.N. Bhat

Tulu Research


  1. This is the most precious and important treasure of karnataka and kannada. One of the finest and open attempts i have seen.. please keep up the good work, I will try to interact more here after.

  2. Some One need to dig up history and find the history as it seems they are not just mythological characters. They walked on this land and had cultural revolution in their own way.

    Unfortunately ignored by main stream religious leaders.

    If I get enough money I want to do a movie on Siddapaji not based on 'pavadas' rather as real human with immense abilities.

  3. True to the blessings of Shri Manteswamy, this is wonderful blog to keep the world aware of all these profound Gurus. Request more information with history detailing to be updated if possible. God bless you for this.

  4. ನಾನು ಮಂಟೇಸ್ವಾಮಿ ಮಹಾಕಾವ್ಯ ಅನ್ನುವ ಪುಸ್ತಕ ಬರೆಯುತ್ತಿದ್ದೇನೆ. ಇಲ್ಲಿನ ಅನೇಕ ವಿಷಯಗಳು ನನಗೆ ಸಹಕಾರಿಯಾಗಿವೆ. ಧನ್ಯವಾದಗಳು.


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