D.V. Gundappa: A Profile by Dr. S.R. Ramaswamy

This article is part 1 of 24 in the series DVG Profile by S.R. Ramaswamy
Note: This is the first part of the English translation of a series profiling D.V. Gundappa's life and legacy authored in the original Kannada by Dr. S.R. Ramaswamy, part of his essay collection titled "Divatigegalu."  

"Do you have a notebook?” asked DVG when I went to see him one evening. When I said “yes,” he made me write this verse:

अज्ञस्य दु:खौघमयं
ज्ञस्यानन्दमयं जगत् |
अन्धं भुवनमन्धस्य
प्रकाशं तु सुचक्षुषः||

ajñasya du:khaughamayaṃ
jñasyānandamayaṃ jagat |
andhaṃ bhuvanamandhasya
prakāśaṃ tu sucakṣuṣaḥ||

(To the blind, the whole world is darkness; to the one who has eyes, the whole world is full of light.)

DVG  (17 March 1887 – 7 October 1975) was the pennant of the grand mansion of Kannada literature. There is no doubt that his memory will remain for a long time in the minds of the Kannada people. He had earned the affection of people for a variety of reasons. On the one hand he indulged in the joyous sport of literature and poetry and profound philosophical contemplation on the other. On one side was his epicurean spirit of art and on the other was public service. His talent would sometimes turn towards political commentary and at other time, it would veer in the direction of social reform. It would sometimes proceed in the form of an independent and original discourse and in other instances, would spring forth as commentaries on the Vedas. DVG was an exception to the satirical note that “those who can’t understand philosophy will become poets.” He had penetrating scholarship in political science, economics, linguistics, Vedanta, and matching talent in poetry. His accomplishment was truly stunning. However, he never contorted his face with irritation in any work he did; he would laugh and make others laugh. Food, music, literature—DVG had digested the topmost quality in all these. Observing this, V. Sitaramaiah would frequently compare DVG to a giraffe: “Its neck is long. It eats nothing but the topmost foliage. It is beyond the reach of people like us!”

Precept and practice – DVG would constantly think about life situations in which there was a mismatch between the two. There are several people who are intelligent but are not virtuous; likewise, there are numerous people who are innately virtuous but lack knowledge of any subject.

DVG had a deep and genuine appreciation for the essence of the simple lives of villagers. His constant refrain: “Our Dharma has survived due to these simple people; due to the rustic devotees of ‘Munishwara’ who are unaware of urban sophistication.”

One of the great strengths of DVG was his vast connect with people. His firm conviction was that all that literature was useless which didn’t bring contentment and enthusiasm among people. He labored throughout his life to spread awareness among people.

On occasion, V.K. Gokak said this: “About fifty or sixty years ago when the entire country was mute, DVG spoke for the first time, he raised his voice. After that, others felt that even they should speak up. DVG first got inspired and then he became an inspiration himself.”

Acquaintance with Scholarship

DVG was inspired in his childhood by the speeches and writings of Swami Vivekananda, the pioneer and architect of India’s Dharmic  Renaissance, and those of Max Mueller. As a result, love for scholarship, and conviction in literature grew deep roots in him. He gave special emphasis on earning knowledge and sought the company of scholars and pandits. By a combination of divine providence and incessant self-effort, he obtained such company. Till the end of his life, DVG remembered with gratitude the traditional Dharmic scholars and pandits who gave a concrete shape to both his mind and vision of life.

Mulabagal Venkatarama Bhatta, Chappalli Visweshwara Sastri from Bangalore, Motaganahalli Shankara Sastri, Hanagal Virupaksha Sastri, and other towering Vidwans of their stature; exponents and connoisseurs of music and other art: DVG repeatedly said that all these eminences stood as his inspiration. We can say that this acquaintance with scholars and connoisseurs together with his astonishing study of a vast range of books was also the reason why he possessed a harmonious blend of mastery over various Sastras and an innate literary heart.

DVG assimilated within himself the full benefit of this association with scholars and Vidwans. The mastery he derived over Sastras as a consequence of this association gave both authority and clarity to his thought of which his body of writing is the clearest proof.

In January 1970, the Kannada Sahitya Parishad organized a seminar on DVG. Learned discourses were delivered on DVG’s personality and works by luminaries such as V. Sitaramaiah, T.T. Sharma and M. Mariyappa Bhatta. Masti [Venkatesha Iyengar] was the chairman of the seminar.

V. Sitaramaiah opened his speech as follows: “The name of this great man itself is ‘Gundappa.’ One characteristic of a round [Gundu=round] or circle – any point can become the center, anything can become a boundary! Which is the starting point or the ending point of a circle? This is the difficultly that confronts us when we begin to speak about Sri Gundappa. Where do we begin? Where do we end?”

T.T. Sharma: “Each time I think of Sri Gundappa, the picture that arises in my mind is that of a vast banyan tree. Both its branches and roots are endless.”

Lively Literature

The same difficulty confronts even those who wish to write about DVG: his multifaceted nature. Journalism, creative literature, social service, political debates – in this manner, DVG had earned the love and regard of people. His various facets compete with one another in significance. Equally, owing to his profound vision, divisions like politics-literature, and philosophical-social sound artificial. At the root of the variety of his accomplishments lies harmony and completeness.

ಅತ್ತಲ್ ಬುದ್ಧಿವಿಚಾರಮು- |
ಮಿತ್ತಲ್ ಲೋಕಪ್ರಸಕ್ತ ಹೃದ್ವಿಕಸನಮುಂ||
ಯುಕ್ತಮಿಹಾ ಸಂಸ್ಕಾರದಿ - |
ನಾತ್ಮದ ಸಾರ್ವತ್ರಿಕತ್ವಮನುಭವಮಕ್ಕುಂ ||

attal buddhivicāramu- |
mittal lokaprasakta hṛdvikasanamuṃ||
yuktamihā saṃskāradi - |
nātmada sārvatrikatvamanubhavamakkuṃ ||        

Journalism, creative literature, and dissemination of good literature – perhaps there are very few who have labored for such a prolonged period as DVG did in these and related areas.

Poetic joy was an inseparable part of DVG inner realm. A major portion of his poetry is a playful exposition derived from the circumstances of life, which gave rise to certain thoughts in his mind. A big reason for the immense popularity of his Mankutimmana Kagga is the fact that its sentences and similies create an echo of familiarity in the minds of its readers. DVG had given this aphorism in one of his discourses: “The mark of abiding literature is to offer an echo to the complaints, fights, and acrobatics in the daily life of humankind. Gestating heat generates poetry.”

Accordingly, he devoted substantial amount of energy to the creation and dissemination of good poetry (in the sense of literature). However, he devoted a hundredfold more energy to the study of subjects like politics and economics, constantly examined administrative policies and practiced the kind of journalism, which this sort of work demanded.

Writing about the musical quality of the Bhagavad Gita in his Gita-Tatparya work, DVG professes his philosophy as follows:

ಸತ್ಯಾನ್ವೇಷಣೆ ಶಾಸ್ತ್ರಂ |
ಹೃತ್ತೋಷಣೆ ಕಾವ್ಯಮ್, ಅಂತು ಮತಿಮನಗಳ ದಾಂ - ||
ಪತ್ಯದ ಫಲಮಧಿರಸರುಚಿ |
ಯಾತ್ಮಾನಂದಮದು ಶಾಸ್ತ್ರಕಾವ್ಯಾನುಭವಂ ||

satyānveṣaṇe śāstraṃ |
hṛttoṣaṇe kāvyam, aṃtu matimanagaḻa dāṃ - ||

patyada phalamadhirasaruci -|

yātmānaṃdamadu śāstrakāvyānubhavaṃ ||

(Sastra is the quest of truth. Poetry is the delight of the heart…)

Nationalism and literary work were harmonized within DVG in this manner.

“That beauty of the theme and that beauty of a lofty quality in the creation of a poet which gives us joy…that divine beauty, that effulgence…it must be the attempt of a statesman to bring all these in solidified form into the daily lives of the people.”

DVG has expressed this same opinion in the opening lines of his essay collection, Sahitya Shakti (Strength of Literature) memorably:

ರಾಮಣೀಯಕವೆಂದು ಬಿಸುಸುಯ್ಯಲದು ಕವಿತೆ |
ಭೂಮಿಗದನೆಟುಕಿಸುವೆನೆಂಬೆಸಕ ರಾಷ್ಟ್ರಕತೆ ||
ಆಮೂಲಮದರರಿವನ್ ಅರಸಲ್ ಅದು ವಿಜ್ಞಾನ |
ಸಮಗ್ರ್ಯದಿಂ ಕಾಣಲ್ ಅದುವೇ ದಿವ್ಯಜ್ಞಾನ ||

rāmaṇīyakaveṃdu bisusuyyaladu kavite |

bhūmigadaneṭukisuvenaeṃbesaka rāṣṭrakate ||

āmūlamadararivan arasal adu vijñāna |

samagryadiṃ kāṇal aduve divyajñāna ||

Poetry is that which evokes a sigh of joy at its beauty
Nationalism is that which makes a person to bring that beauty to the earth
Science is that which makes a person investigate it thoroughly
Divine Knowledge is that which makes a person regard all of these in a harmonious spirit.

To be continued




Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy is a renowned journalist, writer, art critic, environmentalist, and social activist. He has authored over fifty books and thousands of articles. He was a close associate of stalwarts like D. V. Gundappa, Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma, V Sitaramaiah, and others. He is currently the honorary Editor-in-Chief of Utthana and served as the Honorary Secretary of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs for many years.



Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

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