Masti Venkatesha Iyengar - The Person and his Approach to Literature

Poetry in Hosagannaḍa

Masti, who was inspired by the Hoysaḷa sculptures, wrote his early poems in Hosagannaḍa. Upon seeing this, T S Venkannayya remarked, “It has been more than three hundred years since something this original has been composed in Kannada.”

Masti’s lucid poetry—such as Binnaha—which can be categorized as ‘devotional songs,’ bring to our minds the stalwarts of yore. He was also probably the first poet who attempted at writing ‘Blank Verse’ in Kannada. In his anthology titled ‘Aruṇa,’ the arrangement and presentation of the names of various places, the story of Aruṇa becoming a charioteer to Sūrya, and other narrative poems are as attractive as the storyline. His poetic creativity was further enhanced with the composition of Tāvarè, Cèluvu, and the collection of Aṣṭapadī poems titled ‘Malāra.’ There’s hardly anyone who hasn’t nodded in appreciation upon reading Gauḍara Malli.

Inspired by The Canterbury Tales, Masti thought, “Why not we have something similar in Kannada?” and this gave birth to his Navarātri anthology of poetry, where again he was a pioneer of that genre in Kannada. The strong desire that all genres of literature should find representation in Kannada flowed in Masti’s blood. This dedication was as the root of all activities that he undertook. The Navarātri anthology, which started by portraying the stalwarts who were his contemporaries, was later expanded by the addition of several historical and mythological narrative poems: Yadu-vijaya, Kappè Cannigarāya, Jini (Joan of Arc), Rāmapriya Udanta, Nāradara Anubhava, the story of Ruru and Pramadvarā, etc. He derived inspiration and borrowed from Geoffrey Chaucer only in matters of plot and style of narration; the rest of it was all his own creativity. And unlike Chaucer, the characters and events in Masti’s creation were largely inspired from real life.

A generation usually spans some forty years and therefore for a literary work to appeal across generations is very significant. And so, it is noteworthy that even among today’s youth [c. 1999]—including the ones who have little introduction to literature—are aware of Navarātri and find it interesting.

Once when Ram. Sri. Mugali was performing a vācana[1] of verses from Mallamma, the connoisseurs in the audience couldn’t hold back their emotions and burst into tears; to the extent that they slipped out of the hall unable to bear the intensity of emotion any longer!

Masti holds a great place in Hosagannaḍa literature. Without doubt, the thousands of pages of writings that he left behind as his bequest, no less, will survive for years.

Approach to Literature

One of the primary features of Masti’s writings is simple language that is free of ostentation. He emphasized values that were outside the ambit of simple words. Although he was a writer, he knew the limitation of words

In his writings, never did he veil the negative aspects of life or whitewash the problems of people. Instead he nourished the practical view that ‘life has to be managed.’ He often used the word ‘òḻḻèyadu’’ (that which is ‘good’) in his writings. In fact, we can hail Masti Venkatesha Iyengar as the distilled essence of such goodness.

For him, literature and life were not divorced from each other. It is nearly impossible to find in other writers the perfect blend we see in him. His life was profound and free from internal dichotomies. His thoughts, words, and actions were perfectly aligned. Just as he was greatly devoted to tradition, he was also open-minded with regard to modern ideas.

Today there is a great deal of discussion about feminism. Years ago, Masti contemplated upon and investigated this topic in the conversation between Yaśodharā and Buddha; in his novel Śeṣamma, we find a subtle analysis of this topic; Prof. A R Mitra has given examples for such instances in Nijagallina Rāṇi and other short stories.

The series of lectures that he delivered on different occasions culminated in valuable literary contributions. Ādikavi Vālmīki, Popular Culture in Karnataka, Sri Ramakrishna, and so on serve as excellent examples for this.

Although Masti was essentially a littérateur, he constantly engaged himself in the socio-political arena. Without any external motivation or instigation he became a socio-political commentator. The editorial notes he wrote for Jīvana are gold standards for independent and objective thinking as well as the ethics of journalism.

Gopalakrishna Adiga said about Masti – “Even after a century and a millennium, you shall remain here! In the garden of Kannada literature, you will eternally remain here as the pride of Kannada as well as the great star of Kannada literature. This is without doubt!”

Masti: The Person

Masti never compromised on his values for petty privileges like money or position. He was not a person to please his superiors at work. It is probably because of his straightforward nature that he did not rise up to positions that he truly deserved. Although there were several such disappointments in his life, he never compromised on his straightforwardness or integrity.

Once, several people from Bangalore University had come to meet him. While they were discussing about a certain point, Masti said, “Those officers behaved in such-and-such a manner because of sectarian feelings.” Today, although such things are evident, nobody dares speak in this straightforward manner.

As far as Masti was concerned, straight speech and upright conduct, were natural to him. But as a counterbalance to this, he was endowed with another quality: one can call it ‘Saundarya-dṛṣṭi’ [loosely, ‘the perspective of aesthetics’]. He would always identify what was good, what was generous, what was noble, and what was profound and propagate them enthusiastically. This was so natural to him that many critics and commentators opine that Masti Venkatesha Iyengar doesn’t seem to observe anything that is evil.

If anybody objected to this, he would smile and say, “This is how I am, my dear fellow!”

He was what he looked. Although the world around him changed, he didn’t change his habits, principles, and methods of working. Notions such as ‘In today’s world, one has to speak with great sensitivity and diplomacy’ were totally alien to him.

There were several instances of modern life that he found distasteful. But he never criticized them or spoke ill of them, for that would raise his blood pressure and pollute his tongue. He merely said, “This is not nice,” and remained silent thereafter. He would instead reiterate the values that he was firmly convinced about and he never became tired of doing so.

If someone questioned his traditional approach, he replied, “These lāñchanas [symbols, traditional insignia] are merely meant for our protection [i.e., for the protection of the traditional values and emotional welfare]. They are not an opposition to any other person or ideology. If one wants to live an organized life, a few fundamental principles are inevitable.” In this manner, there was no turbulence in his mind about such practices.

He was a man at peace with himself.

To be continued...

The current article is an English adaptation of the Kannada original by Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy. Full form of the article is a part of 'A Tapestry of Pen Portraits' published by Prekshaa Pratishtana in December 2020.

[1] Recitation of classical poetry, typically set to classical rāgas (often followed by a scholarly exposition of the same, which largely includes creative appreciation of the poem).




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.



Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh


Hari is a writer, translator, editor, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, education pedagogy design, literature, and films. He has (co-)written/translated and (co-)edited 25+ books, mostly related to Indian culture and philosophy. He serves on the advisory board of a few educational institutions.

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...