An Introduction to Kannada Sahitya

India is a country of many languages. Languages have grown according to the distinguishing culture of each area. They have in turn contributed to the cultural and literary richness of those places. Making such unique contribution in their respective areas, they have become an integral part of the cultural richness of the country and the backbone of its unity. The diversity in languages has never been a cause for any division among the people or their cultural identity. Instead, it has brought the people of different areas and regions together. It has brought about unity and understanding, making the nation rich and vibrant in its different cultural fields. At the same time, these several languages have also maintained their identity and their unique features.

This diversity of language and culture necessitated the formation of states on language basis. After Independence, language became the criterion for the formation of states. In order to retain and further the unique and diversified cultural and linguistic features, states were reorganized on the basis of the language spoken by the majority. The contribution made by the language largely spoken by the people of that area to their unique cultural identity and region was recognized and in order to preserve those unique aspects, reorganization of States became a necessity.

As a result of the formation of linguistic states on November 1, 1956, those regional languages have today not only retained their identity but are also contributing to the unity and integrity of the country. This has been possible because people of one State are becoming aware of the cultural and literary strides of the other States. The writers of one State are being recognized by the other States. Their works are being translated and made available in various other Indian languages. Perhaps never before in the Indian history such an understanding of different states, their richness in culture, language and literary diversities has been possible. Through translations of masterpieces people of one state are able to understand and appreciate the richness of the other states and its people. This has been a great contribution to the unity and integrity of the country in the recent years. In fact, this has been one of the great benefits of Independence. It is necessary to know this background, while understanding the literary history of Kannada and Kannada language.

As already stated India is a country of multiple languages. Some of them do not have a script. They are just spoken languages. They are being spoken by the people of a particular area or region. However, they too have been making their own contribution to the cultural growth of the country. Some other languages have grown well over centuries. They have their own script, developed over several decades. They are supporting the minor languages of their region. Though States have been reorganized on the basis of the language of the majority of the population, many minor languages are in use in those places. These minor languages have retained their unique features in respect of both language and culture. For example, the Kodava language of the Kodagu district people in Karnataka, the Konkani language of the coastal areas of North and South Kannada districts. Similarly, there are several such minor languages. They have become rich because of the influence of other languages. On account of the languages of the neighboring areas, these minor languages have developed their own unique features.

Out of several hundreds of languages in use in India, 15 languages are recognized at the national level. Out of those 15 leading languages, Kannada is also one. This shows the greatness of Kannada language. Standing on par with other languages, Kannada is making its own unique contribution to the cultural richness of the country. Thus Kannada is in no way inferior to any other language. It is as rich as any other language. We can thus identify the individuality of Kannadigas and the greatness of their language. When we turn the pages of literary history of Kannada, we can proudly trace this richness. From it we can learn, how rich is Kannada language. How it is unique in its own way. How it has made its own contribution to the cultural heritage of the country. It is necessary to know the literary history of Kannada from this point of view also.

Kannada is the language of the people living in Karnataka, who number about four crore. It is also the official language of the State. It was the Kannada literary stalwarts who had dreamed of unification of Karnataka. They had aspired that all Kannadigas should come under one region. Aware of the cultural heritage of Kannadigas, they made great sacrifices for the unification of Karnataka. They not only dreamed of such a state but also fought for a unified state of Karnataka. Karnataka, whose frontiers were known to extend from Cauvery to Godavari rivers, was splintered and its areas were divided in other provinces during the British regime. Several parts of Kannada-speaking areas were parts of the then Bombay, Madras and Hyderabad regions.

As a result of their united effort, the dream was realized when the States were reorganised on November 1, 1956 on the basis of languages. Kannadigas came under one State, which was then called Mysore State. As a result of this reorganization of the States, Mysore State became double in its size and population. Kannadigas became one within one boundary and administration. Another milestone in the history of the State after unification was its renaming. ‘Mysore State’ was rechristened as ‘Karnataka’ on the ‘Rajyothsava’ day of November 1, 1973. This was also another dream of the Kannada litterateurs and the people of ‘Karunadu.

The name ‘Karnataka’ can be traced in many great literary works and historical records. Next followed total importance to Kannada in all spheres. Kannada was declared the official language of the State. As a result of all these steps, Kannada language and literature has grown in strength, with due recognition. While studying Kannada literary history, it is necessary to trace these historical milestones, as it reveals the progress of Kannada language and its people and also it brings forth their prominence and greatness in the cultural and literary glory of India.

It may not be proper to divide the literary history of Kannada on the basis of period, like years and decades. Hundreds of writers have made contribution to Kannada literature, which has a history of over a thousand years. With their scholarly works, they have made Kannada literature rich and meaningful. In their works, some of these poets, however, have not revealed their period. Some of them have just given an indication of their period in an indirect way. Some others have mentioned the names of the rulers or Gurus of their period. The period of such authors and their works have to be assessed on various factors.

Therefore, it would be difficult to say precisely that their works belong to a particular year. On account of this reason, many of the writers of Kannada literary history have resorted to classification on the basis of religion, instead of a division on the basis of a particular era or period. Some other writers have divided the Kannada literary history on the basis of their literary style like old Kannada (Halegannada or classical tradition), medieval Kannada (Nadugannada) and modern Kannada (Hosagannada). A few others have classified their historical description depending upon the pattern of the poetical works like Champu, Shatpadhi and Saangathya. But a majority of the writers have classified Kannada literature on the basis of religion or Dharma, as this is more precisely evident from the literary works. However, one does not find this reflection of religion in the modern Kannada works. The upsurge of nationalism and the influence of English literature had its impact on literary creativity. Various other factors came to the forefront than religion or Dharma. As a result, some new paths evolved in literary writings.

Like all other literatures Kannada literature too has several branches like poetry, prose, drama, short stories, fiction, reviews, biographies, autobiographies, translation, essay, songs general works, including science, and others. In all these spheres, Kannada literature has made abundant contribution. Diversifying into different branches, it has grown rich and wide. In all these branches, there are notable writers, many of them securing laurels and awards for their distinctive contribution. The fact that Kannada stands in the forefront of the ‘Jnanpeeth’ awardees itself is an example to the richness of Kannada literature. As on date as many as seven Kannada litterateurs have been honoured with this prestigious award. This does not mean that classical literature has disappeared. Even the illiterate and the poor in the villages enjoy singing epic works of the great poets like Pampa or Kumara Vyasa.

Similarly, folklore traditions have added to the beauty and richness of the life and literature of Karnataka. It has been deservedly recognised today as one of the important branches of Kannada culture and literature. However, of all these literary branches, poetry has been in the forefront, being the oldest literary form. Almost until modern writing, poetry, in particular the classical style has received greater prominence. In a way, literary history meant the history of classical writings. This was because poetry was the first form of literary work. It came in abundance for a long period. Then followed prose writing and plays. We can trace the growth of Kannada literary history in this order.