Bendre and Dharwad

‘You give me pain, I will give you nectar’

There is an adage in Kannada: “Moorthi chikkadaadaroo keerthi doddadu”. A rough translation would be: Even if the figure is small, the fame is big. The adage aptly applies to Jnanpith awardee, poet laureate Dattatreya Ramachandra Bendre, popularly known as Da Raa Bendre.

One cannot imagine mentioning Dharwad without mentioning Bendre. Yes, the same poet. Being his mother, Ambika’s beloved child and a staunch devotee of deity Dattatreya, Bendre’s pen name was ‘Ambikatanayadatta’ which translates to Datta, son of Ambika.

Bendre's Very Rare Photos at Bendre Bhavan in Dharawad

Bendre and Dharwad are eternally entwined in the sense that they have influenced each other and helped each other earn name and fame. Born in Dharwad on January 31, 1896, at Dr Gunari’s house in Potnis Galli of old Dharwad, Bendre grew up in Shirahatti in the now Gadag district. After living in several different places as an adult, he returned to Dharwad to spend the rest of his retired life. The poet was inspired by the green environs and serene atmosphere of Sadhanakeri, Attikolla, Mugad, Kelgeri, and the quiet, but intellectually and culturally vibrant Dharwad.

Bendre was able to capture the natural beauty of Dharwad and the sylvan, unhurried landscape of his hometown in his poetry in such a way that his writings have earned a permanent place in Kannada literature. 

Sadhanakeri Lake

Today, the literary field and the people of the state are celebrating the 124th birth anniversary of Bendre, who was responsible for Navodaya (renaissance) in Kannada literature. It was in the year 1929 till 1932 that Bendre took up extensive literary activities in this part of the region. His efforts not only enriched Kannada literature, but the Navodaya Sahitya also gave rise to several poets and writers who added in great measure to the Kannada literary canon.

It was during this time that Bendre took up the cause of development of modern Kannada in Dharwad, while B M Shri undertook this initiative in Mysuru, and Govinda Pai, Mangesh Rai and Shivaram Karanth in Mangalore.

Bendre's Very Rare Photos at Bendre Bhavan in Dharawad

Recalling the contributions of Bendre, Dr Shamsunder Bidarkundi, his student, who has also served as chairman of the Dr Bendre National Trust in Dharwad, said that Bendre was one of the towering personalities whose only aim was to write and encourage others to read and write Kannada.

Bendre started his literary journey while studying at Ferguson College in Pune. Influenced by some of the Marathi poets, Bendre was keen to popularize some of his own work. With this objective, Bendre floated Sharadha Mandala, a group of likeminded litterateurs. The sole work of this group was to promote the cause of Kannada literature. Bendre has also translated the works of writers and poets of other states to Kannada.

After coming to Dharwad, Bendre introduced Geleyara Gumpu, another movement to promote Kannada literacy and literature.

Kulapurohit Alur Venkatrao too had encouraged Bendre to continue his work and enrich the language, says Bidarkundi.

Bendre's Very Rare Photos at Bendre Bhavan in Dharawad

Bendre always advocated the need for strengthening the three elements for the development of literature: the poet, the book and the reader.

This Geleyara Gumpu also encouraged Bendre to purchase Jaya Karnataka newspapers from Alur Venkatrao. In 1931, Bendre and his friends had purchased Jaya Karnataka for Rs 2,750. They went on to use this as a medium to popularise Kannada literature and also sow the seed of cultural patriotism for the unification of Kannada and Kannadigas.

Paintings of Da Ra Bendre at bendre Bhavan in Dharwad. Artistes from all parts of the State had taken part in the three-day camp held when slain scholar M M Kalburgi was the chairman of Dr D R Bendre National Memorial Trust.

Recalling his association with Bendre, senior writer Siddhalinga Pattenshetti said that writing poems and making people read them was what Bendre enjoyed the most. 

He was a fountain of inspiration to hundreds of budding writers who thronged his home every day to get tips on writing. His commitment was to Kannada and Kavana (poem). 

B V Keskar, who was the information minister in the Nehru government, had asked Bendre to become a programme producer at All India Radio. While Bendre was chosen for Dharwad AIR, Sriranga was appointed for Bengaluru AIR. True to his spirit, Bendre chose to work independently, requesting the minister to not deploy him as a full-time employee. At AIR, Bendre produced several programmes honouring the cultural and literary legacy of the region.

Paintings of Da Ra Bendre at bendre Bhavan in Dharwad. Artistes from all parts of the State had taken part in the three-day camp held when slain scholar M M Kalburgi was the chairman of Dr D R Bendre National Memorial Trust.

Bendre has also written as many as 16 dramas which have been broadcast on radio as also staged by noted theatre personality and director Yeshwanth Sardeshpande.

Sharing his association with Bendre, Yeshvanth Sardeshpande said that Bendre articulated several societal intricacies in a most simple and lucid language. He touched the hearts of Kannadigas through his poems and has carved a niche for himself in the field of Kananda literature.

To popularize Bendre’s dramas, a three-month long workshop was conducted at his home, Shri Matha, located at Sadhanakeri. Of all the dramas, ‘Sayo Aata’ (The game of death) remains the most popular, Sardeshpande said.

The iconic house 'Srimata' located at Sadhankeri in Dharwad was purchased by Da Ra Bendre in 1929.

Influenced by his writing, noted singer Sangeeta Katti has composed tunes around his poems. Sangeeta remembers that when she was eight years, she was given a chance to sing at a programme at Kadapa Maidhan in Dharwad. She chose to sing ‘Yako Kane Rudraveni’, a poem of Bendre’s. “An old man who was sitting in a corner came to me and expressed delight. He later asked me to sing his entire poem. After the programme, I realised that he was Bendre”.

Sangeeta says this was a turning point where she started to collect all his poems and sing them. In 2005, Bendre Geeta Yatre was staged in Mysuru, with U R Ananthamurthy inaugurating it. Some of the students who were trained here have emerged winners in several national-level music fests. Now, Sangeeta dreams of bringing in more young singers from the state and turning it into an even bigger event.

Bendre Bhavan- The poet's memorial

Recalling his association with Bendre, senior poet Chennaveera Kanavi said that the credit of transforming Dharwad into a vibrant literary hub goes to Bendre. Apart from enriching Kannada literature, Bendre also always nurtured young minds, and that is how Kannada literature’s horizons continue to grow and expand out.

To quote the Jnanpith awardee himself on his 124th birth anniversary: “You give me pain, I will give you nectar”. May the sweet nectar of his poetry and his ruminations about Sadhanakeri and Dharwad continue to resonate with all Kannada generations to come. 

Sadhankeri Lake

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