Karṇāṭaka Sāhitya Pariṣad is one of the most prominent public institutions of our state. The key objectives of this organization as envisioned by its founders were to refine the Kannada language, develop Kannada literature, and make the language and its literature useful for various day-to-day transactions as well as to facilitate the promotion of education and culture.
An organization free from political interference, untouched by casteism or communalism, and unconsumed by factional rivalries was the founders’ expectation and during those days, there wasn’t even a hint of any such differences or divisions.
The Karṇāṭaka Sāhitya Pariṣad was established in the year 1915. Two to three years prior to this, people began thinking and discussing about how the organization should be and how it should function. These discussions would take place in an institution called the Mysore Economic Conference.
Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya became Chief Engineer of the Mysore State in 1909. He suggested to His Majesty, the Maharaja of Mysore (Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV) to establish the Economic Conference, a centre for resource development (and economic affairs). It was only after that the organization came to life. As a part of this, three committees were formed:
- Committee for Industries and Factories – this was presided over by Chief Engineer Visvesvaraya himself
- Committee for Education
- Committee for Agriculture (Land Cultivation)
H V Nanjundaiah was the president of the Committee for Education and V Subrahmanya Iyer was the secretary. Two major issues came up for discussion in the committee:
- Mysore University
- Karṇāṭaka Sāhitya Pariṣad
A Meeting Concerning the Pariṣad
The aforementioned Committee for Education organized a few lectures to learn the opinions of various scholars in the state about the formation of the Sāhitya Pariṣad.
One such lecture took place sometime during 1912-13 in the city of Mysore. The members of the Citizens' Representative Assembly (ಪ್ರಜಾಪ್ರತಿನಿಧಿ ಸಭೆ) of Mysore had come to the city for the Dasara Session. Deeming it an appropriate time, one fine morning a meeting was arranged on the rooftop of the district office building in Mysore’s Garden Park. At that time, even the Citizens' Representative Assembly session was being held there. This meeting concerning the Sāhitya Pariṣad was attended by many people of great eminence. M Venkatakrishnaiah, Ambale Annayya Pandita, and many other luminaries came there in their personal capacity. And amongst those employed by the government, Karpura Srinivasa Rao and K Krishna Iyengar were present. The lecture was from nine to eleven in the morning. Prof. B M Srikantaiah (B M Sri) was scheduled to deliver the lecture.
B M Sri’s Lecture
If my memory serves me right, it was on that day I first saw B M Srikantaiah. I had heard about him earlier. He was quite well-known as a great literary scholar and as a gifted lecturer and educator.
That morning’s lecture was in English. He read out most of his speech from a written essay that he had brought along with him. The audience was impressed by its style and structure. What he proposed that day can be summarized thus:
1. Kannada needs fresh literature.
2. The ancient literature is voluminous. Further encouragement is necessary to promote the serious study of classics. A thorough understanding of the language’s old vocabulary and usages is an essential preparation for all future writings.
3. That alone will not suffice. Anyone who ventures into writing new literature must be introduced to Sanskrit. Without the help of Sanskrit, it will not be possible to accumulate sufficient word power to create new literary material.
4. However, the new crop of literature should have limited usage of Sanskrit vocabulary. It shouldn’t be used as excessively as they have been used in our Haḻagannaḍa – i.e. classical Kannada – poetry.
5. Just as Sanskrit literature is imperative, so is English literature. We must gather fresh emotional perspectives and new thought processes from English. Our new Kannada literature should absorb and internalize the literary imageries, emotions, and thoughts from literary works across the world and thus become universal.
6. The new works in Kannada literature should possess the rasa-puṣṭi (nourished by a rich sense of aesthetic enjoyment), brilliance, entertainment, and purity of language of our classics, in addition to new metrical usages (in poetry), newly created words, and creatively constructed fictional story worlds – these should collectively make our literature a great (emotional) stimulant for people’s lives.
This, to the extent I remember, was the essence of Srikantaiah’s speech.
After the lecture, K Krishna Iyengar, one of the members in the audience stood up to criticise it. Krishna Iyengar was an engineer who had scaled to the highest position in his department. An extremely honest man. That apart, he had extraordinary scholarship in English literature. He had committed to memory hundreds of pages of historian [Edward] Gibbon’s giant treatise (The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) and was so familiar with it that he could instantly reproduce the same whenever needed. That’s how strong his powers of retention were! He could recite several of Milton’s poems the moment it was sought.
In addition to this, he had gained mastery over Sanskrit through the ancient method. He was born in a lineage of scholars. His elder brother, Vidvan Kandade Srinivasacharya was an eminent scholar. Krishna Iyengar had not only studied Sanskrit poetry elaborately, but also had learnt Sanskrit grammar in the traditional manner.
B M Srikantaiah’s opinions about Sanskrit didn’t seem right to him. Srikantaiah had mentioned that Sanskrit had been excessively used in the earlier Kannada poetic works. What does ‘excessive usage’ of Sanskrit mean? Can good things ever be excessive? Can anyone ever get enough of the Supreme and of Divine Grace? This was Krishna Iyengar’s line of thinking. By nature, he was prone to being easily agitated. Whatever he wanted to say, he said with sharpness and intensity – that was his habit. His face was turning red. In a fit of emotion he bitterly criticised Srikantaiah accusing him of having disrespected Sanskrit and said that his (B M Sri’s) criticism of Sanskrit was inappropriate and unfair.
Soon after that, I stood up and spoke a few words. “For me, Krishna Iyengar is worthy of worship in all aspects. It appears to me that he has not grasped the import of B M Srikantaiah’s words and has raised an objection, wrongly interpreting one of the statements made during the lecture. Srikantaiah is not a Sanskrit hater. Just like Krishna Iyengar, he too is an admirer of Sanskrit. However, if our impoverished Kannada has to prosper, it has to utilize its own material as much as possible. Feasting in the palaces of kings, one shouldn’t forget his own kitchen. Only after exhausting what one has in his own storehouse should he take refuge in Sanskrit for what he doesn’t have. This, I believe, was B M Srikanatiah’s opinion. It also appears agreeable to me.”
After I said this, a gentle smile appeared on Krishna Iyengar’s face. He said, “What’s this, man? Have you come here to dispense justice like a judge of a kangaroo court (Qāzi nyāya)?”
Srikantaiah, walking up to where I was standing, shook my hands and said, “Blessed are the peacemakers!” That was how our friendship started.
Thereafter, for a couple of years, whenever we met each other he would greet me with: “How do you do, Qāzi Saheb (referring to the kangaroo court judge)?”
In those days, people were not malicious at heart. They laughed instinctively when they felt like laughing and would be resentful when they got angry. When people made fun of someone, that person would allow them to tease him and himself would join them in laughter.
To be concluded.
This is the first part of a two-part English translation of the tenth essay in D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Volume 3 – Sahityopasakaru. Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh reviewing the translation. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.