Kannada is one of the most well known Dravidian languages of India. It is as old as Tamil, the truest language of the Dravidian family. It is spoken predominantly in the state of Karnataka in India. Though a significant number of Kannada speaking people can also be found in USA, UAE, Singapore, Australia and UK, all of which have migrated from India. On an average, there are about 35 million Kannadigas i.e. the Kanadda speaking people in the world, making it the27th most spoken language in the world. It is one of the official languages of India and the official and administrative language of the state of Karnataka in the country.
The early development of the Kannada language is very similar to that of other Dravidian languages and has been independent of the Sanskrit influence. However during later centuries, Kannada, like the other Dravidian languages like Telugu, Tamil, and Malayalam was greatly influenced by Sanskrit in terms of vocabulary, grammar and literary style. One of the old Ashoka Rock edicts of 230 B.C. also contains identifiable Kannada.
The early (pre 800AD) bits and pieces of Kannada literature are insufficient to lay claims to the literature’s origins. The oldest extant book is king Nripatunga’s literary critique Kavi Raja Marga (circa 840). Jainism being a popular religion at the time, there were some Jaina poets like Srivijaya and Guna Varman. A new trend began with the ‘Three Gems’ of Kannada literature, Pampa, Ponna and Ranna in the 10th century, where prose and verse were mixed with the campu style. The three poets extensively wrote on episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata and Jain legends and biographies. Chavunda Raya, Ranna’s elder contemporary then came up with an elaborate work on history of all the 24 Jaina tirthankaras (saintly teachers). The Chola kings of Tamil-land got too aggressive around the 11th century and fought wars. This meant a lean phase in literary activities except for the works of a few writers like Naga Chandra, known for his Jain Ramayana, the Jain poetess Kanti, the grammarian Naga Varman II who wrote Karnataka Bhasha Bhushana in Sanskrit sutras (aphorisms), and Kirtti Varman and Vritta Vilasa.
The middle phase of Kannada literature saw the power of Puranic Hinduism over Jainism. A very distinct phase of writing began in the second half of the 12th century in the Vira-Shaiva phase with Basava’s Vachanas. There was a spate of writers like Harihara, Raghavanka and Kereya Padmarasa writing fervently about Shiva in the 12th-13th centuries. Rebellion against the orthodox rituals came from the brilliant poetess Akkamahadevi, a harbinger of Bhakti poetry . The Jains, too, weren’t idle all this while; they composed legendary histories of various tirthankaras (ford makers). In all, the 13th century was chock-full with poems, literary criticism, grammar, natural science and translations from Sanskrit.
Kannada literature took a strong Hindu bend with the orthodox Vijayanagara kings (14th-15th AD). Some eminent names were Bhima Kavi, Padmanaka, Mallanarya, Singiraja and Chamarasa. The Bhakti movement also affected Kannada literature in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas were translated afresh using the folk meters satpadi and regale. Devotional songs of dasas or singing mendicants were compiled, which formed an important part of popular literature.
The next two centuries were a busy period with many rulers and kingdoms such as the Wodeyar kings, Bijapur Sultans and Mughals that led to much literary activity. Bhattakalanka Deva’s Karnataka Shabdaushasana (1604AD) on grammar, Sakdakshara Deva’s romantic campu- the Rajshekhara Vilasa (1657AD), the historical compositions of the Wodeyar period (1650-1713AD), Nijaguna Yogi’s Viveka Chintamani of Shaiva lore (mid 17th century), Nanja Raja’s Puranic works the Shiva Bhakti Mahatmya and Hari Vamsa (circa 1760), were some of the notable creations. The popular Yakshagana, dramatization of Puranic tales with much singing, was an innovation of the late 18th century. A good mass of folk poetry thus came to be written.
Modern education made a late entry in Karnataka as compared to other parts of India. Works based on Sanskrit models, like Shakuntala of Basavappa Shastri, continued till the late 19th century. With a little initiation from the Christian missionaries, the Academy of Kannada Literature was set up in Bangalore in 1914. Gradually modern literature gained tempo and translations were made from English, Bengali and Marathi. Kerur and Galaganatha attempted the first novels in Kannada, followed by a host of novelists like Shivarama Karanta, K. V. Puttapa, G P Rajaratnam, Basavaraja Kattimani, Nanjanagudu Tirumalamba (the first major woman writer in modern Kannada) and others. The short story too made its advent with Panje Mangesha Rao and Masti Venkatesha Ayyangar. A new trend in drama began with the use of colloquial language. Poetry, too, wasn’t left behind; B. M. Shrikanthayya took Kannada poetry to great heights with innovations like the blank verse. Literature in Kannada today is a big enterprise, with bustling centres like the University of Mysore, the Karnataka University at Dharwar and the Kannada Sahitya Parishad of Mysore.
Writing Style and Grammar
The script of Kannada language is syllabic. The language uses forty nine phonemic letters which are segregated into three groups- Swaragalu, the vowels, the Vyanjanagalu , the consonants and Yogavaahakagalu ,the two characters which are not vowel or consonant. The Character set is very similar to that of other Indian languages. The script is fairly complex as like other complex scripts it has also been derived from Brahmi script. As far as Kannada Grammar is concerned, it is a highly inflected language with three genders- the masculine, feminine and the neutral, there are two numbers-singular and plural. Kannada is inflect for gender, number and tense, among other things