Prosody is an integral part of poetry and versification in any language. The rhythm patterns of a language are determined by different criteria indigenous to the distinctive features of that language. Influences of other languages are capable of both enhancing and inhibiting the possibilities of receiving language. A historical survey of the evolution of the metrical forms in Kannada demonstrates this phenomenon clearly.
Kannada is a Dravidian language sharing many common characteristics with its cognate languages such as Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. The earliest oral literature in Kannada must have adopted proto Dravidian metrical forms as is evident in Tamil. Kannada texts on prosody do mention forms like ‘ELe’, gItike, madanavati etc which are based on indigenous patterns. However one does not find full length poetical works using these forms.
Kannada prosody is based on syllabic patterns rather than stress patterns. The time interval a particular sound/syllable is the basic unit in this system. The most fundamental unit is called a ‘mAtre’. A set of ‘mAtres’ is known as a ‘gaNa’. There are three modes of calculating the metrical patterns. They are ‘akshara gaNa’, ‘mAtrA gaNa’ and ‘amsha gaNa’. Of these amshs gaNa which is more musical and flexible is native to Kannada. ‘mAtrA gaNa’ has adapted itself very well to Kannada. Aksharagana is more suited to a vocabulary replete with Sanskrit words. There are ‘gaNa’s consisting of three, four and five units. These three and internal combinations constitute the basic rhythm patterns of Kannada. They are utsAha, (22.214.171.124....) mandAnila, (126.96.36.199....) lalita (188.8.131.52....) and BAamini (184.108.40.206 3.4 ...)
functional relationship exists between the historical evolution of a language
and its metrical choice. Early oral compositions of Kannada before the
invention of a script and before an intense contact with Sanskrit possibly made
use of ‘amshagana’ meterics. However there was a proliferation of prosodic
forms such as ‘kanda padya‘and
based on ‘aksharagana’ at the beginning of written epics.
The transformation of old Kannada (haLagannaDa) to medieval Kannada (naDugannaDa) resulted in a shift towards the ‘mAtrA gaNa’ meters. Interestingly even prosodic forms such as ‘tripadi’ and ‘shaTapadi’ which were of ‘amshagaNa’ origin veered towards ‘mAtrA gaNa’. Shatpadi, ragaLe and tripadi are the important forms that use these patterns. There are sub divisions in each one of them. (For details, see the relevant entry)
There are certain forms like ‘sAngatya’ which have stuck to the original ‘amshagana’ pattern. A special mention must be made of ‘vacana’ and ‘keertane’ which do not stick to any fixed prosodic form and are inclined towards free verse. Of course, it is not to say that they do not have rhythm patterns. They have variable patterns and hence give room for experimentation.
Kannada folklore which is essentially oral has retained a panache for prosodic forms based on ‘amshagana’ and consequently they are more amenable to musical rendering. ‘Gamaka’ is a mode of rendering medieval epics. This is an oral rendering of a written text based on its prosodic patterns. However, ‘gamaka’ is not a musical performance.
As in any other language, the prosodic forms of Kannada permit the poet to indulge in a number of experiments with in the confines of their prescriptive rules. Great poets like Pampa, Harihara, Raghavanaka and Kumaravyasa have created lyrical, dramatic and descriptive passages in their works depending on the contextual needs. Use of a given prosodic form in thousands poetic stnazas has not led to monotony. Even modern Kannada poetry has made remarkable progress by a combination of familiar rhythm patterns and new stanzaic patterns.
Some basic texts that could help in a more detailed and systematic study of Kannada prosody are as follows:
Chandassamputa’, L. Basavaraju, 1974, Geetha Book House,
2. ‘Kavyavalokana’ by Nagavarma
3. ‘Kannada Kaipidi’, Part 1, Mysore University.
4. ‘Kannada Chandovikasa’ By D.S. Karki
1. ‘Kannada Chandassu’ By T.V. Venkatachala Shastry, 1970, Mysore.
2. ‘Kannada Chandassina Charitre’ edited By C.P. Krishnakumar, Institute of Kannada Studies, Mysore University.