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Jnanpith award

By Renata Nathania

Writers and literary figures who put more than just words and stories into literature are recognized and immortalised through laurels, which live on after them, passing from one generation to another, becoming parts of history. Every year, poets, authors, and eminent writers who have contributed to literature and language are chosen for the Bharatiya Jnanpith Award. Considered the most prestigious recognition of talent and intellect in the field of literature, the Jnanpith award propels its winners into a class of creative individuals who signal change.

In 1904, for the first time, the Kannada language was recognized as a field of literature within which resided such writers, when Kuvempu won the Jnanpith award for his work on the Ramayana. Sri Ramayana Darshanam, written across nine years is Kuvempu's take on the epic by Valmiki. It is a poet's vision of how humans evolve solely by cosmic intervention. Kuvempu, who is regarded as a pioneer of Kannada poetry, through this work, hailed a new era of Kannada poetry, and greatly added to its linguistic and cultural value.


Dattatreya Ramachandra Bendre was the second poet who was awarded the Jnanpith, nearly 60 years later. He brought about a renaissance in the literature of North Karnataka with his work Naaku Tanti (Four Strings). His writings reflected a complexity of adversity and great joy. He was sent to prison for three years owing to the controversial nature of his poem Narabali (Human Sacrifice). He translated the suffering of this period of his life into poetry that stands out for its inspiration and philosophy.

Shivaram Karanth was awarded the Jnanpith in 1978 for his work in the literary movement Navodaya. He was a man who was well-versed in all spheres of knowledge. Having written many encyclopedias, he was known as "Bhargava of the Coast", or "Mobile Encyclopedia". His poems and novels are regarded as modernist, as they are experimental and do not compromise in any way, on the truth he wants to convey. He is also regarded as the "Tagore of Modern India".

Chikaveera Rajendra by Masti Venkatesha Iyengar won the 1983 Jnanpith award. Masti (meaning "treasure") was called so because of how eloquent his poetry was. He initially began writing in English, and then switched to Kannada. He served as a civil servant for 26 years which influenced his writing. He was even honoured by the then Wadeyar ruler of Mysore in for excellence in Kannada literature. His highly academic writing is said to be challenging to the reader, fraught with intellectual complexity.

Masti initially began writing in English, and then switched to Kannada. Masti Venkatesha Iyengarwikimedia

Inspired by Bendre's works, Vinayaka Krishna Gokak's writing career took off on a very intellectual note. He had served in multiple academic capacities at various stages of his life, but his literary stint began when Bendre commented on his proficiency in English and how much it would benefit Kannada literature if he channeled it there. Since then, Gokak began writing in Kannada, and won the Jnanpith in 1990 for his epic Bharatha Sindhu Rashmi.

A pioneer in the Navya Kannada movement Anantha Murthywikipedia

A pioneer in the Navya Kannada movement, U. R. Anantha Murthy won the Jnanpith award in 1994. His works are renowned internationally for their unique style. He writes from the psychological perspective of his protagonists, posing important social questions as he unravels his stories. Towards the end of his life, he contested the elections for the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha which were unsuccessful. Since his work in Kannada has been translated in many other languages, his contribution extends to other cultures as well.

Girish Karnad's works are celebrated in Kannada literature, and he is remembered for being a stalwart in the realms of theatre and writing. He largely wrote mythical adaptations from the Mahabharata and Ramayana, adding his flavor of social conflict, and modernity. Hayavadhana has been translated widely in many European languages. Karnad was a polymath, eloquent in many languages. His lengthy film career and directorial tenure for many films stand testament to his love for language. He was awarded the Jnanpith Award in 1988.

Kadambara blends modernity into myth, Chandrashekhara Kadambarawikpedia

In 2010, the Jnanpith award was conferred on Chandrashekhara Kadambara, for his contribution to Kannada theatre and poetry. Like Bendre, Anantha Murthy, and Gokak, Kadambara blends modernity into myth, and uses the north Kannada dialect to do so. His plays are a mixture of folk and modern forms. He has made significant contributions to Kannada literature through his service in the Karnataka Legislative Council.

Keywords: Jnanpith, Kannada, Writing, Language


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