Exemplars of Indian Wisdom: D.V. Gundappa

This article is part 6 of 15 in the series Exemplars of Indian Wisdom from Karnataka

Note: This is the full text of a lecture delivered at the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs as part of its lecture series titled Exemplars of Indian Wisdom from Karnataka jointly organized by Prekshaa Pratishthana.


To begin with I’d like to recall a very famous maxim. It is said that pride and honour cannot coexist but today,  it definitely coexists. Indeed, it is both my pride and honour to speak in this hallowed venue of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA) about Sri D.V. Gundappa. It is a venue founded and sanctified by DVG himself. Thanks once again to GIPA, Prekshaa, and especially to Dr. S.R. Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr Ganesh for conceiving this brilliant and much-needed series on the exemplars of Indian wisdom from Karnataka.

But before we can get to the actual topic, I think the briefest survey of the context is essential. In the previous episodes of this series, both DR. Ramaswamy and Hari Ravikumar have brilliantly set the backdrop for the exemplars of Indian Renaissance, so I will just add a few words here.

Beginning with the second half of the 19th century, for roughly the next hundred years, a gradual, steady and in many cases, irreversible transformation occurred in India. The latter fifty years of that century transformed India and specifically, the Hindu society and culture in a manner and at a pace never witnessed in the preceding thousand years. In fact, the Indian freedom struggle, which eventually became a mass movement, was only the political face of a deeper and far more profound struggle. This struggle was the struggle to recover the battered, bruised and wounded ethos of the ancient Indian civilization, which had attracted the entire world continuously for more than 2000 years as the global hub of education and culture and wealth.

The same period—i.e. from the mid 19th century to 1947, also witnessed the birth of an entirely new class of extraordinary intellectuals, thinkers, philosophers, spiritual masters, writers, artists, scholars, statesmen, and it simultaneously transformed our business class as well. This class began to chart a completely new process and a journey of re-evaluating and rediscovering its own roots using the tools introduced by the British, and the West, broadly speaking. Gradually, as more and more Indians began traveling to Europe, they got a first-hand experience of the society and other conditions out there, and were able to make comparative analyses with the Indian condition. One major finding was that the so-called “modern” and “progressive” British society was after all, not so progressive—the 19th and early 20th century British society was a deeply status-conscious society and London for example, was notorious for rampant teenage prostitution. Armed with these findings, this new class of the exemplars of Indian wisdom began broadcasting these foreign truths to their own countrymen.

The result was nothing short of an all-encompassing explosion of civilizational reawakening and cultural revival helmed by the brightest minds endowed with the most compassionate hearts that beat and bled for Bharatavarsha. This I think is a one-line description of the life and legacy of the exemplars of the modern Indian Renaissance.

Small wonder that these exemplars were household names in their own time across Bharatavarsha. For example, Jadunath Sarkar was primarily a scholar of history but he was also a household name because he was something far higher and profounder than a mere historian.

In a nutshell, these exemplars were real luminaries in the sense that they exuded a light which re-cultured the entire Indian society—both in parts and the whole. The other great feature of these stalwarts was the fact that they knew one another, appreciated each other’s good work, and actively sought out each other... what bound them all together was Bharatiya culture.
But at this distance in time, our tragedy is that barring a handful of people in the entire country… such as Dr. S.R. Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr Ganesh, where are such luminaries today? And why is our country unable to produce such stalwarts anymore? This point I think is what makes events such as this series more urgent, and infinitely relevant and timely. Those exemplars of Indian wisdom have been replaced today by that ultimate vulgarity: celebrity. If a Latin corruption can be coined, the current phenomenon can be called, celebritus vulgaris.


To begin my submission, I think it is befitting to invoke Dr. Ramaswamy’s memorable one line description of DVG: ಡಿವಿಜಿ ಅವರ ಸಹವಾಸ ಸಂಸ್ಕಾರಕಾರಿ: the mere company of DVG cultures and refines.  In fact, I can finish my entire submission today with just this quote.


Without making comparisons to anyone else, the one remarkable and perhaps unique feature of DVG’s distinction as an exemplar of Indian wisdom is the manner in which the people of Karnataka have owned him unconditionally because he was the physician who healed the souls of three generations while he was alive, and his legacy still retains the same therapeutic power. In this light, I find it difficult as to how to interpret the honorary doctorate that the Government awarded to this physician.

Throughout his life, DVG identified himself only as a journalist, which was entirely consistent with the natural tenor of his humility. However, he was not only a journalist, but an editor, chronicler, biographer, poet, dramatist, intellectual, litterateur, critic, scholar, philosopher, preceptor, statesman, legislator and freedom fighter. Above all, he was a selfless and honest witness of his tumultuous era: a witness who was also an intense participant who left behind the primary sources that enable us today, to accurately reconstruct the history of almost a century. Indeed, DVG was himself a primary source.

These are some of the facets of his all-encompassing legacy that we can examine during the course of this lecture.

To be continued



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.

Prekshaa Publications

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...