H S Shivprakash is a brilliant poet who writes in Kannada. He has been a premier poet and dramatist in Kannada for decades running. A poet of unique voice, he beats no trodden path, or perhaps he retraces the lost paths. Persistent in his search for alternative traditions to the hegemonic ones, Shivprakash has not hesitated to turn against the mainstream literary practices. Serving as a professor at JNU, Delhi, Shivprakash has also edited Indian Literature for some time. While he has a special liking for the vacana tradition, he has taken to explore the Sufi, bhakti, and other diverse mystic traditions in both life and letters. Shivprakash’s poems are not attempts to retrieve the bhakti form of writing poetry but that of bhakti spirit. More often Shivprakash’s poems explore the ‘narratives’ of the bhakti, sufi and other mystic personalities. Here again, he usually wanders far into the untrodden ways to steer away from the hegemonic fields. His poetry is a poetic rendering of the history of marginal forms of life.
Here is an excerpt from his article on Bhakti traditions “Transmutations of Desire and Power in Bhakti Expressions”.
One of the challenges associated with viewing India , as unified literary space is to trace continuities between creative practices in far-flung times and spaces of the many-tongued subcontinent. In this context, the study of various Bhakti movements assumes great significance for the simple reason that, as pointed out by Manager Pandey, Bhakti is the first and greatest pan-Indian literary and cultural movement across languages and regional barriers which altered cultures of people at large. The socio-historical and at times even the philosophical aspects of this pan-Indian movement have received sufficient scholarly and critical attention; at the same time, the literary and aesthetic dimensions of the movement have not yet received the attention they deserve. Because Bhakti mode of expressions dominated Indian creative psyche for well over a millennium, the study of patterns of continuities and divergences of the enormous body of literary and aesthetic practices relating to Bhakti can go a long way in helping us understand India as a common literary and cultural space.
A judicious mixture of synchronic and diachronic approaches is necessary to arrive at a comprehensive view of the achievements of Bhakti movements. The obstacles are many, however. As Manager Pandey pointed out again we do not have in India the likes of continental critics of the west – Rene Wedlock or George Steiner, for example – whose scholarship extends over several languages, classical and modern. This is true of literature on Bhakti, too. For instance, even an eminent authority like V Subramaniam, who has written the most comprehensive account of Bhakti movement from a comparative perspective, can be accused of lopsidedness. For his superb analysis of Tamil Bhakti in relation to North Indian Bhakti passes silently over Karnataka, the next door neighbour of Tamil Nadu. The Karnataka experiment pioneered the subaltern forms of expressions of urban artisan Bhakti that paved the way for Nirguna Bhakti of North and of Orissa. Neither does he say anything about Sakta Bhakti whose paradigms are considerably different.
Attempts made to synthesize Bhakti in classical Bhakti texts also suffer from shortsighted view. For instance the typology of Bhakti worked out in Narada Bhakti Sutra in the form of nine types of Bhakti, though it relates Bhakti to mundane ways of relating, ignores some forms of labour-centered expressions characteristic of artisan Bhakti.
Such lopsidedness results from a) the enormous volume and bewildering variety of Bhakti expression and (b) our own limited familiarity with this vast material.