Kannada: A Living Classical Language
Linguistic identity in
Colonial administration in
Classical Language: How it is defined
Linguists all over the world agree that a language is termed Classical when the literature written in that language is valuable but the language is studied only through the written documents because it ceases to have native speakers. Ancient Greek, Latin, Sanskrit are such Classical languages. There is abundant literature written in these Languages. It is valuable for mankind. But no one speaks these languages as his or her first language. These languages are second languages for many scholars through out the world. They learn these languages through the written forms of these languages. Many of the features attributed to a natural Language became inoperative in the case of Classical Languages because they don’t have a spoken variety. Changes, both diachronic and synchronic which are common to a natural language are not found in Classical language. ( Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (ed) Asher M.B, Vol. iii Pp) If we stick on to this definition of a Classical Language no Indian Language except Sanskrit fulfills the criteria for terming that language as a Classical Language.
But a debate is going on now. Sanskrit is being studied as a Classical language in many North American and
Classical Language: Need for a new definition
There is a need to redefine a Classical language. The government of
1. A language should be of great antiquity and should have its early texts dating back at least 1,000 years.
2. This language should also have a body of ancient literature and texts considered a valuable heritage;
3. Its literary tradition should be original and not borrowed from another speech or community, and its literature must be distinct from modern. However, there may also be a discontinuity between the classical language and its later forms or of its offshoots like Latin versus Roman, Sanskrit-Pali versus Prakrits, and Modern Indo-Aryan."
A new definition is made to accommodate Tamil in the list of Classical languages. In fact this debate began with a note from Prof. George L. Hart, Chair, Dept. of South and South Asian Studies,
The criteria adopted by the Central Government on the basis of a report from the central
A Case for Kannada
Kannada is one such language. It fulfills all these conditions.1) Kannada is an ancient Language. As a member of the Dravidian Language family its life span has crossed two thousand years. Kannada branched out from the proto-Dravidian family probably in 6-5 c. B.C. Scholars have proved that Kannada was the first major Language after Tulu to become an independent Language. Its oldest dateable recorded word ‘isila’ is found in the Brahmagiri inscription of Ashoka which is located in Karnataka.”it can be shown that the place name Isila occurring in the first line of the Brahmagiri edict of Asoka,where in his mahatmas resided,is a prakritization of the Kannada word esil whose Tamil cognate is eyil meaning fort of fortified town;the name Eyilnadu occurs in two Tamil inscriptions of Kolar district of Mysore state’ (Narasimhachar.D.L. Religion and society of Karnataka under the Satavahanas KTA.,
Gata sapthashati a work attributed to Hala, a Shatavahana king was composed in 1st cen.B.C. There are many Kannada words in this work. Attaa(ate+mother-in-law),tuppa(ghee),potte(belly)phalahi(hatti=cotton) are some such Kannada words.
Huang tsang and Fahiyan from
It is believed that Chan
Scholars have shown that some Greek plays of the early Christian era have Kannada words and sentences. The action of a Greek play of 2nd century A.D. takes place in coastal Karnataka. Few dialogues in this play are not in Greek. It is argued that these non-Greek words are from Kannada.
In the first millennium the northern border of Kannada speaking land was extended up to the river Narmada .The famous battle between Pulikeshi,(600 A.D) the second and Sri Harasha of Kanouj was fought on the banks of Narmada .There is a revenue taluk in Vidrabha region of Maharashtra with a name ‘Kannada’ .Rulers of many dynasties from Karnataka ruled many parts of northern and central parts of modern India. There are evidences to prove that the earlier rulers of
2) Kannada literature has an independent tradition. Critics have established that the uniqueness of Kannada literary tradition is that it has continuously strived to be different from Sanskrit literary tradition. Deviations from Sanskrit literary tradition are more important than concurrences. The very first Kannada work on poetics and grammar, Kavirajamarga (Poet’s royal path) clearly establishes the separate identity of Kannada language and literary tradition. This work(9th century) written by Srivijaya in the court of the Rashtrakuta king Nrupatunga identifies the hegemony of Sanskrit and tries to establish the cultural identity of Kannada language, land and the speakers of Kannada language. Srivijaya lists many literary works written in Kannada and mentions the name of writers who wrote in Kannada before his time. Most of these works are lost. But later writers and compilers have quoted extensively from these works. Sri vijaya names some of these writers. Vimalodaya, Candra and Lokapala are some such names. This work being a treatise on poetics cites Kannada Examples from contemporary works. It is interesting to note that Prof. Sheldon Pollok of
Literary tradition in Kannada took its root not through independent works from poets, but it in inscriptional compositions. We come across scores of inscriptions with compositions of high literary merit. The inscription of Shravanabelagola which praises a Jain saint who renounced this world and the inscription of Badami which extols the heroics of a leader are a case in point. These two inscriptions of 7th and 8th c. A.D herald the inbuilt traits of Kannada literature of the next three centuries.
The first major poet of Kannada,
Bhakti movement in south
Vacana writing was a part of social activism. These writers were fighting for a cause. Social equality was their aim. It is interesting to note that of the 350 plus Vacana writers documented from that period many belong to the lower strata of the society. They upheld the dignity of labour. The main tenets of this Bhakti movement centers round the concept of social mobility. This culminated in an inter caste marriage between an untouchable boy and a Brahmin girl. This event created an unprecedented chain of events witnessed in the History of Karnataka. The monotheistic agenda which they proposed was an instrument to overcome the evils of caste system. These poets were not mere Social activists; they were scholars in their own right. They quote extensively from various sources on Philosophical discourse. The Vacana literature was the experiment in fusing art with social commitment . Allamaprabhu had his training in Natha cult.But he became the intellectual leader of this movement .He is the de facto chairman of the virtual assembley of these saints called Anubhava Mantapa. Basavanna was an administrator .He played a leading role in this socio-religious Movemnt.
Vacana movement is unique in many ways. It brought forth the concept of gender equity. It called upon to do away with the discrimination on the basis of gender. Many (more than thirty five) women writers wrote Vacanas espousing the social equality. Akka Mahadevi who like Meera or Godha considered God (Chenna mallikarjuna)as his life partner and came out of the wedlock with the king Kaushika. This rebellious deed echoes in her Vacanas. Kalavve one of these women writers was a dalit women.
It is interesting to note that translations from Vacana Literature are included in various anthologies representing World Literature. A.K.Ramanujan has translated a selection of Vacanas into English and published under the name ‘The speaking of Shiva’. Kamil Zvalebil a Dravidian Linguist of high repute has recently rendered a few Vacanas into English. Scholars from various European Languages have found an interesting international site in Vacana literature and working on various translations. There are scores of European websites which are dedicated to give information on Vacana movement and Literature.
A parallel Bhakti movement took shape in Vijanagara period. Vaishnava (Haridasa=Servents of Vishnu,the god) saints wrote keertanas. This keertana tradition gave birth to a singing mode which is now called Karnataka Sangeeta. Purandara dasa of this Haridsa tradition is considered the forefather of Karnataka sangeeta. Kanakadasa was poet of high repute. He allegorizes the rift between the haves and have-nots in a story which depicts a tussle for supremacy between Ragi( a staple food of the poor) and Rice. Haridasa tradition is live and vibrant even to this day. People from all walks of life, including women, irrespective of their caste barriers follow the tenets of this creed. There are even Muslim saints in this tradition.
Bhakti movement influenced the main stream poets to a great extant. Their poetic idiom
Another main feature of Kannada writing tradition is the abundance of works which canonize various knowledge sources. Apart from works on grammar, poetics, metrics there are scores of independent works dealing with many aspects of human life. Works on Medicine, Mathematics, Horse breeding, Culinary art are some such sources. There are encyclopedias giving information on many subjects.Viveka Cintmani (15th C) is one such work.
There is one more aspect of Kannada Literary tradition which is both interesting and important for the scholars of Indian Literature. Stories of Pancatantra are passed on in two distinct traditions. Of these two traditions one attributed to Vasubhaga bhatta is completely lost in Sanskrit . Literatures of various Indian Languages do not retain this tradition of stories except Kannada. Durgasimha of 13th c. A.D. in his Kannada Pancantra follows the Vasubhagabhatta’s tradition. This literary work in Kannada is the only Indian source for this lost tradition of Vasubaga bhatta.
3) Kannada literature is vast. It comprises of both oral and written components. Its epigraphical material is abundant and is full of cultural elements. Karnataka has a record number of inscriptions. Over 25,000 of these inscriptions written in Kannada language and script are found in various parts of Karnataka,
The First dateable inscription in Kannada script is from 450.A.D. This is found in a small village, Halmidi in Hassan district of Karnataka. It extols the deeds of a hero and mentions land grant made to him. The name of this place (palmidi) is retained in tact even to this day except for the sound change of word initial ‘p’ to ‘h’
Kannada script is derived from Brahmi. Apart from Siddha matrika script of Gupta period no other Indian script except Kannada script has such long history of writing. The corpus of writing in Kannada script produced during in these centuries runs for several volumes of printed material. The artistic nature of this script is appreciated many scholars. ‘The Courier’ ,the official document of UNESCO,writing on Asian Scripts(1964,p16) records Kannada script as one of major scripts of world, on the authority of David Derringer, a great scholar.The document even reproduces an inscription from the Hoysala period(13th c.A.D)
Kannada literature is rich in the sense that it is not mere creative literature but contains canonized local knowledge systems. There are books on grammatical tradition, Dictionaries, Encyclopedias and books on veterinary science, agriculture, medicine all these facts indicate that Kannada is a fit candidate to be declared as a Classical Language.
There is a need to look at this issue from a different perspective. Languages like Tamil, Kannada have lived a long life. If we take the time frame of the writing systems of the world a few have survived to see the third millennium. Apart from Hebrew only Chinese writing system has history of three millennia. If we consider the case of modern Indian languages only Tamil and Kannada have a long history of writing. Both have written records dating from the first millennium. No other modern Indian language has such an unbroken history of writing. If we extend this probe in to global level Kannada claims its place among the first ten languages with a history of continuous writing system of all the living languages of the world.
Languages like Tamil and Kannada have stood the test of time. They were languages of the people in the first millennium. They continued to be the media of expression in the new world. Now they are in the third millennium holding their fort against all the onslaughts of the technology. These criteria should be included in the definition of a Living Classical Language.