Kannada literature has a history dating back to at least 1500 years. This apart, the folk literature which began earlier, still runs parallel to the written form. Seygotta Sivarama’s ‘Gajashtaka’ is cited as an example of early folk literature. The oldest available work in Kannada is however, a book on poetics, called ‘Kavirajamarga’. Some controversy surrounds this work regarding the authorship, but the consensus is that it was written more likely by Srivijaya than king Nripathunga. The work not only discusses figures of speech like ‘rasa’ and ‘dhwani’, but also gives descriptions of the geographical boundaries
of Karnataka, as well as its life and culture.
Thumbalacharya is credited with having written ‘Chudamani’, a philosophical work, much earlier. But the earliest Kannada prose work is Sivakotiacharya’s
‘Vaddaradhane’ which even to this day is considered a masterpiece. It is a collection of 16 Jaina stories. These seem to have been based on an earlier
Prakrit commentary called ‘Bhagavathi Aradhana’.
Pampa’s ‘Vikramarjuna Vijaya’ based on ‘Mahabharatha’ and written in Champu style, which is a mixture of prose and poetry, unique to Kannada,is the earliest epic work in Kannada. Pampas influence on Kannada literature is so deep that T.N.Srikantaiah speaks of him as the Kalidasa of Kannada. Being a Jaina poet, he also wrote ‘Adipurana’ based on Jinasena’s ‘Mahapurana’.
Ponna who wrote ‘Shanthipurana’, and Ranna’s ‘Gadayuddha’ have earned them immortality as poets, were also Jainas. They lived in the 10th Century. Nagavarma II who belongs to the next century was also a Jaina poet and wrote ‘Kavyavalokana’, a book on poetics, and ‘Karnataka Bhashab hushana’ a Kannada grammar in Sanskrit. His ‘Vardhamanapurana’ was discovered only recently. Janna, a Jain poet again, wrote ‘Yashodhara Charithe’, a love story. Durgasimha, in llth century, wrote ‘Panchatantra’ based on Vasubhaga’s Sanskrit work, and it is a classic example of the ancient art of story telling. Rudrabhatta wrote ‘Jagannatha Vijaya’ based on ‘Vishnu Purana’, The last two were Brahmin poets.
The 12th century saw a sea of change in Kannada literature both in content and style. What caused this is the growth of Veerashaivism which was essentially
revolutionary in approach. It derecognised untouchability and saw women as equals. It liberated Kannada from the clutches of Sanskrit. The moving spirit behind this movement was Basaveshwara, who was a minister in the court of Prince Bijjala. His Vachanas which can be called prose-poems, have their moorings in folk-literature and folk-culture, and yearn to liberate man from the bondage of untruth and ignorance. They seek to provide happiness here and elsewhere. Allamaprabhu, Akkamahadevi, Channabasavanna, Siddarama, Madivala Machayya, Dohara Kakkayya, etc., were other Vachanakaras.
After Basavanna, the greatest influence on Kannada literature was Harihara, who used an innovative form called ‘Ragale’. His ‘Basavarajadevara Ragale’
and ‘Nambiyannana Ragale’ are the examples of this genre. His nephew Raghavanka introduced yet another form of poetry called ‘Shatpadi’ and apart from ‘Somanatha Charithe’ and ‘Siddarama Charithe’ and his ‘Harischandra Kavya’ is considered to be a masterpiece.
The Sixteenth Century saw Veerashaiva poets of extraordinary merit. Sarvajna who was real Vairagi in that he had no settled home, and no religion, wrote
“Sarvajna Padagalu’ in Vachana style. This work is really a compendium of wit and wisdom. Nijaguna Sivayogi who was a ruler, saint and scholar wrote
‘Viveka Chintamani’ an encyclopedia in Kannada.
Dasakoota or the Vaishnava movement was led by Purandara Dasa, who is also considered the father of Karnatic music. Through his Keerthanas, he propounded the Dwaitha Philosophy and gave an impetus to Bhakthi movement. Kanaka Dasa, though hailing from the Kuruba community, followed in the footsteps of Purandara Dasa.
Karnataka culture reached its zenith during the Vijayanagara empire. Naranappa’s (Kumaravyasa) ‘Karnataka Bharatha Kathamanjari’ or ‘Gadugina Bharatha’ as it is popularly known is the finest example of the literature of this period. This was followed by Lakshmisha’s ‘Jaimini Bharatha’ which is also an immensely popular work. Chamarasa’s ‘Prabhulingaleele’ is another notable work of this period.
Post-renaissance movement saw a four-lined folk-metre called ‘Sangatya’ which was particularly suitable for singing. Nanjundakavi who wrote ‘Kumararamana Kathe’ proved its multi-dimensional application. But it was Rathnakaravarni who, in ‘Bharathesha Vaibhava’, explored its full potential. The Wodeyars of Mysore gave a boost to Kannada literature. Particularly noteworthy is Chikkadevaraja Wodeyar’s period from 1672 to 1704. He himself wrote ‘Chikkadevaraja Binnapa’. Tirumalaraya’s ‘Chikkadevaraja Vijaya’ has Mysore history as its theme and is in Champu style. Singararya’s ‘Mitravinda Govinda’, translated from Harsha’s ‘Rathnavali’ is considered to be the earliest Kannada play. Another noteworthy poetess of this period is (Sanchi) Honnamma who wrote “Hadibadeya Dharma’ in Sangatya metre.
Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar continued the tradition of his predecessor. empunarayana’s ‘Mudramanjusha’ deserves a special mention. Wodeyar also started the Raja’s English School (1833) and this along with the expansion of Missionary activities, increased the Western influence on Kannada literature. Chamaraja Wodeyar’s period saw a new era in Kannada literature. M.S.Puttanna’s ‘Madiddunno Maharaya’, D.Venkatachalayya and Dr.B.V.Venkateshaiyya’s detective stories like ‘Parimala’ and ‘Arindamana Sahasagalu’, Galaganatha’s social and historical novels, Kittel’s dictionary, Cha.Vasudevarayya’s ‘Bala Bodhe’ belong to this period. Muddanna’s ‘Ramashvamedha’ is an epic episode in prose. This has a tinge of modem writing. Translated novels by B.Venkatacharya and Galaganath, mostly historical made a deep impact on readers.
In 1921, Professor B.M.Srikantayya heralded the ‘Navodaya’ movement. His ‘English Geethagalu’ was a free rendering of some great English poems. Around this period, and unknown to him, K.V.Puttappa (Kuvempu) had switched over from English writing to Kannada and the culmination of his work was ‘Sri Ramayana Darshana’ written in blank verse. Puttappa’s social novels such as ‘Kanurusubbamma Heggadati’ and ‘Malegalalli Madumagalu’ are equally well acclaimed. Among the works of the thirties, D.V.Gundappa’s ‘Manku Thimmana Kagga’ stands out as a jewel. It is considered to be unique in the sense that it contains ethical principles, philosophic truths and experiences of life. Samsa wrote many plays in Halegannada, of which ‘Vigada Vikramaraya’ is the best example.
It is interesting to note that except U.R.Ananthamurthy and Girish Karnad, all the five of the seven Jnanapeetah awardees in Kannada, Kuvempu, Da.Ra
Bendre, Shivarama Karantha, Masthi Venkatesha lyengar and V.K.Gokak have been writing since the Navodaya period. Da.Ra. Bendre won the award primarily for ‘Naku Thanti’ a metaphysical poetic work but his popularity is based more on his writings drawn from folk culture. Shivarama Karantha’s writings range from encyclopedea to novels, essays, drama and poetry. ‘Marali Mannige’ is his oft-mentioned novel, but ‘Bettada Jeeva’ ‘Chomana Dudi’ and ‘Mookajjiya
Kanasugalu’ are also noteworthy. His works mirror the cultural ethos of Dakshina Kannada. Masthi Venkatesha lyengar is primarily noted as short story writer,
his ‘Chennabasava Nayaka’ and ‘Chikaveerarajendra’ are historical novels dealing with degeneration of monarchy, and ‘Subbanna’ is a long story which reaches
metaphysical heights. V.K. Gokak began as a Navodaya poet but his magnum opus is ‘Bharatha Sindhu Rashmi’ which seeks to find answers for the modern
man’s dilemmas in ancient epics. Significantly, Ananthamurthy’s ‘Bhava’ also seeks inspiration from traditional wisdom.
K.S. Narasimha Swamy’s ‘Mysoora Mallige’, a collection of poems with love and separation as the theme is a landmark of the Navodaya period. G.P. Rajarathnam’s ‘Rathnana Padagalu’ perhaps stands unique in world literature in seeing truth a beauty in drunken man’s gay gibberish. Pu.Thi. Narasimhachar’s ‘Gokula Nirgamana’ has Krishna’s separation from Radha as its theme.and this again reaches spiritual heights. Gorur Ramaswamy lyengar chose the easy form to portray the life of rural Karnataka his ‘Halliya Chitragalu’ is considered the supreme example of his writings. His tradition was continued by A.N.Murthy Rao in ‘Hagaluganasugalu’ and M.R.Srinivasa Murthy in ‘Rangannana Kanasina Dinagalu’.
The period also saw a spurt of literary critisism. Of these T.N. Srikantaiya’s ‘Bharathiya Kavya Meemamse’ is considered to be a classic. A.R. Krishna Shastry nurtured a whole generation of writers through ‘Prabuddha Karnataka’, a periodical brought out by the Kannada Sangha of the Central College and
later shifted the publication to Mysore University. S.V.Ranganna, an English Professor, who had by this time established himself as a Kannada writer through
‘Ranga Binnappa’, wrote on literary criticism in ‘Shaili’ and ‘Ruchi’. V.Sitaramayya’s output varied from ‘Hana Prapancha’, an economic treatise, to ‘Pampa Yathre’ a travelogue, to host of writings, from poetry to literary criticism. R.S. Mugali wrote ‘Kannada Sahitya Charithre’ succinct and balanced history of Kannada Literature.
In the mid-forties the Navodaya movement gave way to Pragathisheela Chalavali. A.N. Krishna Rao was the torch bearer for this. The movement brought writers from their ivory tower to the common man. Though Anakru’s short stories are better examples from this genre of writing, than his novels, he is mainly noted for his novels such as ‘Sandhya Raaga’, Udaya Raaga’, ‘Nata Sarvabhouma’, ‘Grihini’ and ‘Kanneeru’. Basavaraja Kattimani, hailing from North Karnataka, wrote ‘Nee Nanna Muttabeda’, ‘Shivadara Janivara’ and ‘Nanoo Polisanagidde’ portraying the netherworld behind the facade of Kaavi and Khaki. Ta.Ra.Su started as a progressive writer with novels like ‘Hamsageethe’, ‘Masanada Hoovu’ and ‘Munjavinda Munjavu’ found his forte in historical novels woven around his birth place Chitradurga, and ‘Durgasthamana’ is the finest example of his writing. Niranjana who was an active communist during freedom struggle wrote such down-to-earth novels as ‘Doorada Betta’ and ‘Rangammana Vathara’ as well as ‘Chirasmarane’ based on agrarian movement, but his magnum opus is considered to be ‘Mrityunjaya’, dealing with Egyptian history.
Chaduranga who inspite of his close relationship with the Mysore Royal family was a rebel and wrote ‘Sarvamangala’ and ‘Uyyale’ both dealing with xtra-marital love. Interestingly, his ‘Vaishaka’ writen many decades later also deals with extra-marital relationship in a rural setting. Among the women writers Triveni, whose novels like ‘Bekkina Kannau’, ‘Sharapanjara’ and ‘Mucchida Bagilu’ were essentially psycho-analytical. Anupama, who drew themes from her rich experience as a medical practitioner in stories like ‘Aranyadallondu Aragini’, and M.K.Indira whose forte was the protrayal of Malnad life in novels such as ‘Phaniyamma’ were all offshoots of the progressive movement.
Next to the progressive movement was the Navya movement. This was influenced mostly by the post-war writers like T.S.Eliot, Auden, Ezra Pound, D.H.Lawrence, Sartre and Camus. Gopalakrishna Adiga was the foremost exponent of the Navya movement and his ‘Bhoomi Geetha’ is said to have been influenced by T.S.Eliot’s ‘Waste Land’. P. Lankesh’s collection of stories ‘Kurudu Kanchana’ and his absurd play ‘Teregalu’, Srikrishna Alanahalli’s long story ‘Kadu’, Shanthinatha Desai’s ‘Vikshepa’, Poornachandra Tejaswi’s ‘Nigoodha Manushyaru’, Nisar Ahmed’s poem like ‘Masthi’, ‘Ramanu Sattha dina’, U.R. Ananthamurthy’s stories like ‘Prashne’ and ‘Clip Joint’, Yeshwanth Chittala’s ‘Shikari’, Vyasaraya Ballala’s ‘Bandaya’ are some examples of the new writing in Kannada. Chandrashekara Kambara and A. K. Ramanujam widened the frontiers of Navya poetry. Kambara has a good command on the diction and tunes of the folk poetry, like Bendre, but who used them to embody the tensions of life caught between tradition and a new culture. He has made a mark as a poet, a novelist and a dramatist. His ‘Jokumara Swamy’ besides
other awards, has won the prestigeous Kamaladevei Chattopadyaaya Award. It is a hit play, with liveliness, good song and gaiety. A.K. Ramanujam, a remarkable poet, presented clear, vivid pictures with an apparent casualness. S.L.Byrappa who shot into fame with his ‘Vamshavriksha’ is one writer who has scrupulously avoided confining himself into any frame. Some of his celebrated works are ‘Anveshane’, ‘Grihabhanga’, ‘Thabbaliyu Neenade Magane’, ‘Daatu’, ‘Sartha’, ‘Mandra’ and ‘Thanthu’.
Post-Navya writing is sometimes called as Navyotthara Sahitya or Bandaya Sahitya, or even Dalita Sahitya. The writers belonging to this movement are
of the firm view that only Daliths can authentically write about their trials and tribulations, and anything written by others, however, impressive it might
be, will still remain second-hand experience. Still, it is interesting to note that Devanuru Mahadeva who does not like to classify himself into this or
that group or ‘ism’ has given some of the finest Dalit literature. His ‘Odalala’ and ‘Kusuma Bale’ have won many laurels. Chennanna Valikar and
Siddalingaiah are another notable Dalith writers. B.T. Lalitha Nayak, Aravlnda Malagatti and Geetha Nagabhushana are other important writers who are
identified with their notable Dalith works. G.Venkataiah of Maddur Taluk had written some books in 1940 itself highlighting the pains and pleasures of
Dalith people even before there was any such movement.
The Feminist movement began after the Dalit movement. Women writers started writing independently about their own experiences that had quite a different dimension. They not only questioned the male supremacy in society but also tried to bring about equality with men. The works of R. Kalyanamma, who published ‘Sarswathi’ a montly for 42 years, Nanjanagudu Tirumalamba who published ‘Sathi Hithaishini’ and then ‘Karnataka Nandini’. Sarawathi Bai Rajawade (Giri Bale) who had new attitude and a vision of modern education for women, Kodagina Gouramma, Belagere Janakamma, Shyamala Devi Belagaumkar and the like, gained prominence in 80’s and after, through the feminist writers of this movement. ‘Phaniyamma’ by M.K. Indira, ‘Itigeetike’ by Vijaya Dabbe, ‘Gandasuru’ by Veena Shanteshwar, ‘Sahana’ by Sara Abubakar, ‘Seetha Rama Ravana’ by H.V. Savitramma are some such quotable writings. The ‘Karnataka Lakhakiyara Sangha’ a feminist writers organisation founded in 1978, played an important role in giving a feminist touch to social values and also in mirroring them in the writings of women. ‘Streevani Praveshike’ edited by B.N. Sumitra Bai and N. Gayathri is noteworthy. Many women writers wrote books on different fields from a womens’ points of view. Among them mention may be made for their writings and related activities of Hemalatha Mahishi (Law), H. Girijamma and Leelavathi Devadas (Health), Vijaya and S. Malathi (Theatre), Namichandra (Science and Fiction) and Vaidehi (Fiction). B.N. Sumithra Bai, Vijaya Dabbe and many others are good feminist critics.
(The list is not exhaustive.) Feminist poets are large in number. Following this movement, discussions, seminars, workshops and conferences were held
on the questions of women and feminism at all levels in the State. ‘Women Studies’ was introduced as a subject for students of degree level, first in NMKRV
College, Bangalore and then in almost all Universities of the State. Any survey of Kannada literature would be incomplete without the mention of some writers, who while not specifically representing this or that school were still successful in drawing enormous number of readers towards them. Krishnamurthy Puranika is one such. At one time, his novels like ‘Dharmadevathe’ which faithfully depicted the middleclass life of old Mysore or Hyderabad Karnataka or Mumbai Karnataka were a rage among women readers. Likewise, N.Narasimhayya who wrote detective stories under the series ‘Patthedara Purushotthamana Sahasagalu’ was so successful that the series exceeded one hundred. He was never seen in any literary meet, it is doubtful if he ever got invited, nevertheless his books did inculcate the reading habit in school boys. Ma.Ramamurthy of Mandya District continued such type of writing of detective novels.
At the other end of the spectrum, we find the B.G.L.Swamy who blended humour and science writing so effectively that his ‘Hasiru Honnu’ about the botanical wealth around us, remains a classic many decades after its publication. His ‘Kaleju Ranga’ and ‘Kaleju Tharanga’ are master peices of humour, dealing
with his experiences as college teacher. ‘Thamilu Thalegala Naduve’ is a scholarly work which takes in its sweeps subjects like archaeology is veneered with
In the sphere of drama, Girish Karnad’s plays and performances are worth encore. His ‘Tugalaq’ and ‘Nagamandala’ with all its dramatic elements and high thoughts, made a big impact. ‘Hayavadana’ and ‘Agni mattu male’ are also notable plays. Karnad has given many plays drawing profusely from history,
folk lore and epics. Along with the above plays, ‘Yayati’ also may be cited as an example for this.
Similarly there are writers like C.K.Nagaraja Rao, Ma.Na.Murthy, Devudu Narashimha Shastry and K.V. Iyer who have scholarly novels like ‘Pattamahishi
Shanthala’, ‘Shanthala’, ‘Mahabrahmana’ and ‘Mahakshatriya’, and ‘Rupadarshi’. Travelogues are far too many even to make a brief mention. However
Shivaram Karanth’s ‘Apoorva Paschima’, A.N. Murthy Rao’s ‘Apara Vayaskana America Yathre’, Goruru’s ‘Americadalli Gorur’, popular detective story writer
T.K.Rama Rao’s ‘Golada Melondu Suttu’, N. Lakshminarayan’s ‘Nirdeshakana Videsha Yathre’, D. Javere Gowda’s ‘Videshadalli Nalku Vara’, Krishnananda
Kamat’s ‘Naanoo Americakke Hogidde’, Navarathna Ram’s ‘Pyarissininda Preyasige’, K. Anantharamu’s ‘Udaya raviya nadinalli’, Susheela Koppar’s ‘Paduvanada Pathramale’ may be cited as examples.
This can at best be only a cursory glance or bird’s-eye view of Kannada literature through many centuries. Omissions will be far too many. Nevertheless,
what has been given encompasses some of the best reading in Kannada language.*