Why do Kannada writers have more Jnanpith Awards in spite of the fact that Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, and Tamil have more speakers than Ka…

Why do Kannada writers have more Jnanpith Awards in spite of the fact that Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, an… by @adikulk

Answer by Aditya Kulkarni:

Jnanpith Award is awarded by the Bharatiya Jnanpith organisation, which was established by Sahu Jain family in 1944 for research in ancient Indian languages such as Sanskrit, Pali, and Prakrit across various subjects. The award is to recognise the author for their outstanding contribution towards literature in any language included in the list of scheduled languages in the Constitution. Refer Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India.

Kannada is in that list so that criteria is satisfied. The selection committee consists of seven to eleven numbers of high repute and integrity. The committee members of various linguistic backgrounds and evaluate all the recommendations of various language advisory committees across the country.

Nowhere does the population of a particular matters and on most occasions, the committee is very much impartial. So Kannada has deservedly won 8 awards despite the population of Kannadigas being much lesser compared to those for whom the native language is Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, and Telugu, whose populations are higher.

Out of the 8 winners, Kuvempu, D. R. Bendre, Masti Venkatesha Iyengar, Vinayaka Krishna Gokak, and K. Shivaram Karanth were literary giants. I unfortunately don’t have much idea about Chandrashekara Kambara’s works though I’m sure that he must be an exceptional writer and hopefully I can get the time to follow his works. I don’t have a positive opinion about URA and Girish Karnad, so I won’t comment on them.

But Kuvempu, DaRa Bendre, Masti Venkatesha Iyengar, VK Gokak, and Shivaram Karanth were undoubtedly the best writers of their era and yes, we can say that they were superior to their contemporaries in other languages. What distinguished these 5 writers was that they could analyse complex topics like Ramayana and Mahabharata, simplify them, and also give their own interpretations so that the common man could understand them better. This skill is very rare. Kuvempu’s best known work is Ramayana Darshana, which was his interpretation of Valmiki’s Ramayana and is considered to be a classic, which shows his great skill.

Another point common to Bendre, Iyengar, Gokak, and Karanth were that they were polyglots who didn’t just know other languages, but rather they were masters in them. That is again a rare commodity. Apart from Kannada, these writers were masters in other languages as follows.

  • Bendre: Marathi, Hindi, English, and Sanskrit. Bendre was actually an accomplished Sanskrit scholar and had established a Geleyara Balaga ("Group of Friends") in 1922 which included not just him but also some of the biggest names in Kannada and Sanskrit literature like Shamba Joshi, Pandhareenathachar Galagali, and VK Gokak also.
  • Iyengar: Tamil and English. He had a MA degree in English literature.
  • Karanth: English. Karanth was a master of Yakshagana too, the state dance form of Karnataka and he wrote two books on that subject.
  • Gokak: English, Marathi, and Sanskrit. He was educated in Oxford, England and was a scholar in English. Like Bendre and other members of the friends group, he was proficient in Sanskrit too. There were two movements that were revolutionary as far as Kannada and Karnataka are concerned. First was the Ekikarana movement, led by Aluru Venkata Rao and the second one was led by Gokak and in fact is named after him, Gokak agitation.

Kannada literature also benefited enormously by the Navodaya movement which traces its origin to pre independence days and it started with the literary giants like D. V. Gundappa or DVG, B. M. Srikantaiah, Aluru Venkata Rao, T. P. Kailasam. Later we had the likes of DaRa Bendre, Kuvempu, Karanth, and Gokak, A. N. Krishna Rao or ANaKru and T. R. Subba Rao or TaRaSu. This era also saw the emergence of a young and dynamic S. L. Bhyrappa. All of these writers were truly exceptional and although only 5 of them won the Jnanapeetha award, it doesn’t matter. They were all brilliant and Kannada language owes them a lot.

Navodaya perhaps was the best time in modern Kannada literature because this was when we had a great bunch of writers, starting from DVG, BMS, AVR, TPK, and later, Kuvempu, Gokak, Bendre, Iyengar, Karanth, along with the likes of TaRaSu, ANaKru were active and a little bit later, SLB joined them. Just like Bendre and others, SLB is a master in various languages apart from Kannada. He is proficient in English and Sanskrit as well as in Western and Indian philosophy. I hope that he wins the Jnanapeetha award in the future like his esteemed predecessors.

To conclude, Kannada has had so many Jnanapeetha award winners ahead of other languages despite having lesser number of speakers because population doesn’t matter and the selection committee consists of various persons of different linguistic backgrounds and who have maintained high standards of integrity so that favoritism is avoided. Also, the Kannada writers who have won the award were either gifted like Kuvempu or master of different trades like Bendre, Iyengar, Gokak, and Karanth. Kannada literature has been fortunate to have so many esteemed writers carry its flag and that is why, Kannada language has won so many Jnanapeetha awards.

Why do Kannada writers have more Jnanpith Awards in spite of the fact that Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, and Tamil have more speakers than Ka…


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