Where literary flag flies high

Poet D R Bendre reading his poem at poets conference in Bangalore_ Undated

Dharwad is the cradle of many literary luminaries who have made significant contributions to Kannada literature with their high-quality work.

Dharwad has also extended its stage for classical Hindustani musicians who have reached higher echelons in the world of music. Both the literary stalwarts and legendary musicians have acknowledged Dharwad’s tag of being a ‘Cultural Capital’.

The city, which has nurtured some of the best writers in Kannada, has many iconic places that bear association with the language and state’s culture. Some such places are, Sadhanakeri, and Varakavi D R Bendre’s house, Srimata, just opposite the serene lake from which the poet drew inspiration; the Karnataka Vidyavardhaka Sangha which played a crucial role in bringing literary enthusiasts together; the salubrious environs of Karnatak University, Karnataka College and Kelageri Lake that were the favourite places of writers and critics; Manohar Granthamala, the publishing house, where ‘friends of literature’ gathered regularly.

Dharwad had hosted the fourth Akhila Bharata Kannada Sahitya Sammelana in 1918, 1933 and 1957. This year happens to be the centenary year of the first literary fest held in Dharwad. The 84th Akhila Bharat Kannada Sahitya Sammelana will begin in Dharwad from January 4 to 6, and will set a new level of excellence in the literary realm.

Fiction & non-fiction

There are two circles of people who have made their contribution to the district’s literary realm. One, we have academicians, college and university professors who materialised their efforts with an academic approach. On the other, we see how other learned characters, known for their creative streak, have produced distinctive literature and have won readers’ recognition. Interestingly, both academicians and writers of the region collaborated providing a strong foundation to the literary sector.

While the literary activity was borne by private publishers and voluntary organisations in the pre-Independence era, the literary activity post-Independence is mostly patronised by the government through rewards and sponsorship.

Several publishers and literary organisations flourished in the salubrious climate of Dharwad. Balawantrao Jathar through his ‘Karnataka Printing Works’ printed several Kannada magazines that influenced literary works during 1930s. Jayakarnataka by Alur Venkatrao, Manohar Granthamala by G B Joshi and other such efforts nurtured Kannada writers. The large number of educational institutions in Dharwad even turned it into an ‘educational hub’.

Murugha Math published spiritual literature, while Jeevana Shikshana by Training College for Men published education-related literature routinely.

Ramakant Joshi of Manohar Granthamala, testifies how publishers struggled to tide over financial insecurities to print literature without losing hope. “It was only after the reorganisation of states in 1956 that the government’s support started coming in slowly,” he said.

The Karnataka Vidyavardhakh Sangha (KVS) became a launching pad for nurturing the literary aspirations of young enthusiasts and grooming them to become prolific writers. The KVS encouraged and provided ample space for writers to ink their thoughts and pitch their voice whenever injustice pervaded the region, its language and environment.

By holding literary programmes throughout the year, KVS soon became a hub of cultural and literary activities. It had become a destination for writers to spend at least one hour at KVS every day and exchange thoughts which helped to churn new literature.

Recalling his association with Jnanapith awardee Da Ra Bendre, poet Chennaveera Kanavi said that the credit of transforming Dharwad into a vibrant literary hub goes to the ‘gifted poet’. Apart from enriching Kannada literature, Bendre always nurtured young minds of what started as ‘Gelayara Gumpu’ — a peer group inclined towards the study of Kannada culture and literature. He insisted the young to think on a new horizon and compose literature on societal themes.

Geleyara Gumpu also won accolades not only in the local literary circle but also from writers in other parts of the State. This was a turning point in the art circle when the region was more influenced by Marathi language, and one of the two Dharwadiga was fluent in Marathi.

The Karnataka unification movement started in Dharwad also played a pivotal role in giving new dimensions to Kannada literature. Founded in 1890 by R H Deshpande, Karnataka Vidyavardhaka Sangha gave momentum to the literary activities and was also instrumental in conceptualising the state-level literary festival. Based on the call given by V K Gokak and others, the writers started to produce works essentially to create awareness about unified Karnataka among people, Kanavi added.

Dharwad has seen several women writers carving a niche for themselves with their innovative and thought-provoking literature. Recollecting her memory, senior writer Veena Shanteshwar observed that Dharwad has a history of women awareness and sensitisation. It had a rich history of upholding women and their identity. Shamala Belgaumkar was the first modern Kannada writer and her works on women empowerment holds great relevance hitherto.

She started the Mukti movement in the times when women were not allowed to venture out of the house and were suppressed. Despite such hard times, she stood up and took cause against the established tradition of the male-dominated society.

Carving a niche

“Many young women were influenced by the Mukti movement and thought of enlightening the women folk on equality and gender sensitisation. Such initiatives have rendered a touch of liberty and fraternity to Dharwad,” she adds.

In the 20th century, Shantadevi Malwad and Saraswati Goudar started producing works which greatly influenced the women folk. They not only wrote novels and poems but also incorporated social cause, she recollects.

Based on their ideologies, the women writers in Dharwad set a new forum known as Uttara Karnataka Lekhakiyara Sangha, in 1979. This collective has women writers not only from Dharwad but from all districts of North Karnataka.

The forum organises a women’s literary meet once in two years, where writers from others states namely Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu participate. Contemporary women writers are taking this forum to greater heights and generating awareness among the women through their works.

However, Veena feels that changing times have shifted the cause from society-centric to self-centric and career-oriented. The number of writers who worked against injustice and to create awareness is declining. Communalism and caste system have hamstrung the literary circle, she laments.

Dharwad is also a land where literature meets innovation. Sahitya Sambhrama, a three-day annual literary fest is conducted in the city for the last five years, attracting both young and old enthusiasts. Dharwad has numerous literary anecdotes, involving legendary personalities, who continue to inspire and guide a new breed of literature lovers.

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Where literary flag flies high

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