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Girish Karnad-a modern Kannada writer and theatre artistKannada has a long history of literature next only to Sanskrit and Tamil. Though Dravidian in its origin, Kannada has been considerably influenced by Sanskrit. And even the early literature bears witness to this phenomena. According to some scholars, the language flowered into literature as early as the 15th century A.D. Nripatunga of the late 9th century refers in his work Kavirajamarg to a number of predecessors who wrote prose and verse.

There were also important work on grammar and rhetoric. Though Sanskrit had a hold on the people as a religious and fashionable language, Nripatunga voiced the glories of his mother tongue. Works based on or inspired by the Sanskrit epics Ramayana and Mahabharata formed the earliest literature in Kannada. The three gems of earlier Kannada poetry Pampa, Ranna and Ponna (all born in the 10th century), rendered the epics in Kannada. The early writers were also the promoters of the Champu style and some of them have written about Jain Tirthankaras.

Kesiraja's Sabdamani Drapana (c. 1260 A.D.) is the first standard grammar of the Kannada language. Nagavarma II has written three works on language, literature and grammar, viz. Kavyalokan, Bhasabhusan and Vastukosha, a Sanskrit-Kannada glossary.

A great change took place in the Kannada literature when Basaveswara (12th century) introduced the Vachana style of writing which introduced a social revolution. The imagery in Vachanas belongs to the daily life of the ordinary man. Dignity of labour and equality of all members of the society were the cardinal points of the Basaveswara movement. Other important poets of the era are Harihara, Raghavanka, Rudrabhatta and Janna. Kumara Vyasa (15th century) comes a little later. His epic Kannada Bharata is very well known. Actually Panmpa and Kumara Vyasa are the giant genius figures in Kannada literature.

We may also mention in passing the names of the three great poets, Lakshmisa (c.1550), sarvajna (c.1600) and Sankaradeva (c. 1655). Jains, Virasaivas and Brahmanas have produced works on their respective religions and on various secular themes.


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