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Medieval Kannada literature covered a wide range of subjects and genres which can broadly be classified under the Jain, Virashaiva, Vaishnava and secular traditions. These include writings from the 7th century rise of the Badami Chalukya empire to the 16th century, coinciding with the decline of Vijayanagara Empire. The earliest known literary works until about the 12th century CE were mostly authored by the Jainas along with a few works by Virashaivas and Brahmins and hence this period is called the age of Jain literature, . The 13th century CE, to the 15th century CE, saw the emergence of numerous Virashaiva and Brahminical writers with a proportional decline in Jain literary works. Thereafter, Virashaiva and Brahmin writers have dominated the Kannada literary tradition. Some of the earliest metres used by Jain writers prior to 9th century include the chattana, bedande and the melvadu metres, writings in which have not been discovered but are known from references made to them in later centuries. Popular metres from the 9th century onwards when Kannada literature is available are the champu-kavyas or just champu, vachana sangatya, shatpadi, ragale, tripadi, and kavya.

The Jain scholars wrote mostly about the life of Tirthankars (Jain saints) and about princes and persons who attained sainthood. These writings are called Jain puranas. Virashaiva works centered on the Hindu god Shiva, his various forms and his saintly devotees. A unique and native form of poetry called Vachana sahitya was born in the 12th century CE, as a reaction to the rigid social customs prevailing at that time. This form of poetry in pithy prose was heralded by the Virashaiva saints and remains popular even today. Brahminical writings were on the Vaishnava Hindu epics, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata, the Puranas and subjects bearing on the Vedas. Another devotional movement, inspired by the teachings of Madhwacharya heralded by Vaishnava saints ushered in a form of Kannada literature called the Haridasa sahitya (literature of slaves of god) in the 14th century CE, and resulted in the production of a vast corpus of devotional compositions over the next four centuries. A vast amount of literature came to be written on non-religious subjects generally classified as secular literature. Secular literatures were on such subjects as grammar (sabdagama), logic (yuktyagama), philosophy (paramagama), poetry, romance, drama, rhetoric, prosody, lexicon, biography, history, medicine, veterinary science, mathematics, poetic inscriptions called kavya, cookery, fiction, astrology, meteorology, toxicology, eroticism etc.

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