Rashtrakavi Kuvempu

  • By K S Somesvara
  • February 17 2022
  • Read about the life and achievements of Rashtrakavi Kuvempu of Karnataka.

Kuppalli Venkatappa Puttappa, better known as Kuvempu, was a gifted writer of Kannada literature. Born on December 29, 1904 in a small village in Shimoga district, he spent his early childhood in Malnad region. The natural beauty of this place had a great impact on him as is evident in his writings. He was also influenced by the regular recital of the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Vachanas.


He entered the literary field quite early in life. When only in high school, as part of Padma Patra association, he critically analysed poetry and the writings of Swami Vivekananda. While studying English literature, he wrote Beginner’s Muse, a collection of poems, in 1921. However, an Irish poet, James Cousins, advised him to write in his mother tongue, Kannada.


First published in Journal of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.


During his college days he was patronised by great writers like T.S. Venkannaiah, B.M. Srinivasaiah and A.R. Krishna Sastry. Bommanahalli Kindari Jogi, a long verse written in Kannada, made him a household name during that time. Though it seemed like a mirror image of Robert Browning’s The Pied Piper of Hamelin, the native influence is very evident in this poem. Later, he wrote many romantic lyrics like Prema Kashmira, Jenaguva and Chandramanchake Baa Chakori, to name a few. 


Kannada Ene Kunidaaduvudennede Kannada Ene Kivi Nimiruvudu.”


These lyrics by Kuvempu are often hummed in several households of Karnataka. It also indicates his fervour to work for Kannada nadu and Nudi i.e. the land and language of Karnataka. Kuvempu believed that a unified Karnataka with the regional language being used as the medium of education and as the language of state administration alone would advance the development of the language.


When he was Vice-Chancellor of Mysore University, he introduced Kannada as a medium of instruction at the college level. He believed in the two-language formula in a country of multiple languages. He believed that with this formula, Kannada or any other regional language could flourish. He played a crucial role in building Manasagangotri (meaning ‘eternal flow of the mind’), the main campus of Mysore University. 


Kuvempu’s literary works are nothing short of amazing. He dabbled in different genres like poetry, stories, novels, drama and epics and achieved a high level of excellence in each of these literary categories. His intellectual depth, natural talent for words and his rich life experience are evident in his works.


His forte, however, was poetry. He wrote as many as 68 works, more than half of which comprise poetry. Kolalu, Navilu, Panchajanya are some of his best poetic creations. Other famous works include Amalana Kathe, a collection of narrative poems, and the epic poem Shri Ramayana Darshanam, a retelling of Valmiki’s Ramayana. Though Kuvempu was influenced by elements of western literature, each of his works bears a distinct stamp of his own culture.


One of Kuvempu’s greatest assets was his emphasis on rational thinking. He never believed in superstitions, blind beliefs and divisions of society based on caste, creed and other groups. This is obvious to anyone who is familiar with his literary works. He condemned superstitious beliefs and other social evils, promoted scientific temper and propagated rationalism among his readers.


Like most writers, Kuvempu was inspired by many different authors and thinkers. He was greatly influenced by western writers like Wordsworth, Shelley, Milton, Tolstoy and others. He was also influenced by the preachings of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda. Gandhiji’s philosophy of non-violence (ahimsa) and his struggle for Indian independence also shaped Kuvempu’s personality.


Another great influence on Kuvempu was nature in all her beauty. Right from childhood, Kuvempu had a great affinity towards natural surroundings. He believed that one feels spiritually elevated in a natural environment.


Kuvempu wrote as many as 14 dramas. This includes Jalagara, Beralge Koral, Smashana Kurukshetra, Shudra Tapasvi. In Jalagara, he emphasised on the need to develop a society where work is worship. Some of the famous dialogues in this drama are: “Nanageke Shivagudiya Yatre, Karmave Aaradhane.” These lines emphasise his commitment to building a healthy society. 


Kuvempu’s magnum opus Shri Ramayana Darshanam won him the Jnana Peetha Prashasti. It remains an immortal work of art Here, Kuvempu recreates Valmiki’s Ramayana in an unorthodox manner, giving all the different characters whole new dimensions. 


Kuvempu’s novels Malegalalli Madumagalu and Kanuru Heggaditi present a moving picture of the life and culture of the people of Malnad region where he was born and influenced. 


In the field of Indian literature, Kuvempu’s depiction of nature stands unique. Acharya Vinoba Bhave, the champion of the Bhoodan movement, during his visit to Mysore, addressed Kuvempu as an ‘Emperor of the Literary World’ and also as a ‘Modern Valmiki’. According to him, Kuvempu’s Sri Ramayana Darshanam was ‘the epic of the era’. 


Kai Mugidu Olage Ba, Idu Sasyakashi’ (meaning ‘Bow and enter, this is Mother Nature’s divine place’) is a notation that is prominently displayed at the entrance of Lalbagh, a famous botanical garden in Bangalore. This beautiful saying was Kuvempu’s idea. 


Kuvempu was honoured with many awards and recognitions. He was the chairperson of Sahitya Sammelan, held in Dharwad in 1957. He was presented with the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1955 and the Padma Bhushan in 1958. The Jnanapith Award was conferred on him in 1964. He was referred to as ‘Rashtrakavi’ (national poet) and also as the ‘Wordsworth of Kannada’. The universities of Mysore and Bangalore in Karnataka have conferred him with doctorate degrees on different occasions. His death in November 1994 created a void in the world of Kannada literature. 


In the words of notable Kannada poet Da Raa Bendre (D.R. Bendre): “Kuvempu is a poet of the world and also poet of the era.”


This article was first published in the Bhavan’s Journal, 30 November 2021 issue. This article is courtesy and copyright Bhavan’s Journal, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai-400007. eSamskriti has obtained permission from Bhavan’s Journal to share. Do subscribe to the Bhavan’s Journal – it is very good.


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