Gabbilam: A Dalit Epic – Gurram Jashuva
Translated from the Telegu by Chinnaiah Jangam.
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Gurram Jashuva is considered the father of Dalit literature in Telugu. He wrote using the Sanskrit meter in classical Telugu to prove himself an equal to Brahmin pandits.
In Gabbilam, Jashuva challenges the dominant Sanskrit and Telugu literary sphere by choosing the bat, known as Gabbilam in Telugu and believed to be a bad omen, as it is considered neither a bird nor an animal, to reflect the existential status of untouchables.He subverts the classic Meghaduta, and instead of using swans, parrots, peacocks, and clouds as messengers like the Savarnas, he uses the stigmatized bat, that hangs upside down in temple towers, to send his message of suffering to the god Shiva.
Gabbilam presents a Dalit man as the hero and protagonist perhaps for the first time in the classical verse-epic tradition of Indian poetry, and is the earliest text to highlight the oppression, exclusion, and dehumanization of untouchables in casteist Hindu society. It occupies a pre-eminent position in the Telugu literary sphere, not just for the depiction of Dalit suffering but also for bringing the language of ordinary people into the classical medium. In its English translation for the first time, this Dalit epic can now be read and relished by a global audience.
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