Kannada or Sanskrit - There is No First or Second Grade among Languages

In an interview to Vijaya Karnataka, a Kannada daily, last week, renowned Kannada litterateur S L Bhyrappa has advocated knowledge of Sanskrit as a necessary requirement for learning Kannada and for writing quality literature in the language. To justify his claims he not only mentions the examples of the poets of the yore like Pampa, Ranna, Janna and Kumaravyasa, but also cites the examples of the poets of the modern 'Navodaya' literature -who all had good knowledge of Sanskrit. He further goes on to say that Sanskrit grammar is pretty much similar to Kannada grammar and that possessing elementary knowledge of Sanskrit is a must.

This is not the first time that Bhyrappa has made such claims. In fact, just about a month ago, in a programme organized by 'Samskrita Bharati' in Mysuru he had claimed that it is impossible to write top grade Kannada literature without the knowledge of Sanskrit. With all due respects to the litterateur’s contributions to the flied of Kannada literature, it must be said that the above claims are not based on scientific facts.

Consider the languages like Latin, Greek, Persian, Arabic etc. These languages rose in prominence in different periods of history, and evolved mature literary traditions. There is also no dearth of scientific literature of the corresponding ages in these languages. In the same lines, in the modern era, languages like English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean etc have made great progress, be it in the field of literature or science. It should be noted that these languages, be it in the yore or in the modern era, did not require Sanskrit to evolve top quality literature.

If you take the instance of Kannada, it is said that the language came to be written about 2000 years back. It is undisputed that that first pieces of literature in Kannada were heavily influenced by Sanskrit. Kannada poets of those days, not only borrowed plenty of Sanskrit words but followed the Sanskritic poetic tradition too. But prior to this development, Kannada had evolved into a full-fledged language over a period of thousands of years, spoken across a large part of the Deccan. Such development and evolution of the spoken language did not require Sanskrit at all. It is well known and accepted that Kannada and Sanskrit evolved from different roots, and hence linguists classify them under different language families (Dravidan and Indo-European respectively).

Coming back to the subject of literature, by the time Kannada literature blossomed, Sanskrit literature was already at its zenith. So it is natural for the Kannada poets of that time to be heavily influenced by the Sanskritic literary tradition. Had there been another language in place of Sanskrit in those days, the Kannada poets would have undoubtedly been influenced by the poetic tradition of that language.

For example, many European languages have imbibed the literary tradition of Latin and not that of Sanskrit. Needless to say, such influences depend on cultural, geopolitical, commercial and religious factors prevalent in those times and in those territories. Hence the influence of Sanskrit literature on Kannada too should be seen in the light of cultural, geopolitical, commercial and religious factors prevalent in those days in the Kannada speaking regions. Considering Kannada as incapable or incomplete without Sanskrit is a mistake.

Can one consider the Vachana literature that developed at about the twelfth century as lacking in quality just because it developed natively, and did not follow the Sanskritic tradition? That is impossible. There are hundreds of folk songs and epics in Kannada, can they be considered lower rung or not of top quality because they are not in the Sanskritic tradition?

Looking at it scientifically too, any subject that can be expressed in one language can also be expressed equally well in another language. There is no evidence that suggests that one natural language is somehow better than another in expressive power. So, based on Linguistics science, there is no difference between languages that are considered to be classical and languages that are called as tribal.

For example, any subject that can be expressed in a classical language like Latin can also be expressed in a tribal language like Xhosa. One may consider Latin as more refined, but the concept of refinement is quite subjective. Hence one cannot, in absolute terms, consider Latin as somehow more refined than or superior to Xhosa. One can only say that both languages are equally beautiful and that they differ in the forms of beauty.

The advocacy of Sanksrit for learning Kannada, and considering Kannada incapable of superior literary expression without the support of Sanskrit arise from ignorance of the above facts. The beauty of a Kannada expression and the beauty of a Sanskrit expression differ only in kind and not in quality. Both are equally beautiful and one is not superior to the other. But only if one's opinion is heavily prejudiced in favour of Sanskrit, can one come to the conclusion that only Sanskrit is capable of top quality literature and that languages like Kannada require the support of Sanskrit.

Vachana literature has already proved that such opinions as incorrect, several centuries ago. At about the same time that Vachana literature bloomed, i.e., in the twelfth century, a Kannada poet by name Andayya showed that beautiful poetry can be composed without using Sanskrit words by writing 'Kabbigara Kavam'. In the twentieth century, Kolambe Puttanna Gowda's 'Kaaloora Cheluve' and 'Achchagannada Nudivanigalu' are shining examples of the beauty of native Kannada.

It is true that Sanskrit has a great literary tradition and there is a wealth of knowledge in the language. The study of the language and its literature should be, no doubt, encouraged. But words like 'Sanskrit is a necessary requirement for writing quality literature in Kannada' are far from truth and derogatory in nature.

Working on a Book on Challenges Faced by Indian Languages - Need Your Help

Dear Karnatique readers,

In Karnatique, we have always stood for linguistic rights of all language communities. The status of a language, with respect to the number of speakers, its geographical spread, its use in the fields of education, entertainment, administration etc should be immaterial when considering linguistic rights.

There are hundreds of languages spoken in the Indian Union. The status of each of these languages is different and the kind of challenges faced by each are quite unique. However, there are some challenges that are common to the language communities of India.
  • Education, especially higher studies
  • Violation of the linguistic rights by the Union Government of India
One of the major challenges is education. While it is possible to receive school education in many languages, higher education in Indian languages has still not been achieved. The work of building knowledge bases in Indian languages has not taken off. In Karnatique, we have always argued in favour of building higher education systems in the mother tongue and have discussed its benefits to the society, especially in the context of globalized knowledge-based economies of today.

Challenges in the use of languages in commerce and administration are also common across language communities of India. In the administration the Union government's language policy is a cause for concern. Article 343 of the Constitution clearly calls out Hindi, with Devanagari script as the lone official language of India. Succeeding articles, up till article 351, prescribe ways and methods to promote the language through law, administration and Union government controlled institutions - which is explicitly imperialistic in nature towards non-Hindi peoples.

In the past, several linguistic communities have protested against the Union's linguistic imperialism. The voices for linguistic equality in the Indian Union are being heard even today, and are only getting stronger. In fact, people belonging to different language communities are gathering at Delhi on the 21st of February, to demand for upholding of language rights. It is to be noted that 21st of February is observed across the world as the International Mother Language Day.

The states and Union Territories of India, having accepted the Official Languages Rules, and other so called goodwill schemes, like the three-language formula, have been suffering Hindi imposition for decades now. After the status quo following the protests in the sixties, the imposition of Hindi on the entire geography of India has continued to date.

People of various linguistic communities have not only come to realize the serious nature of such language issues in India, but have also come to appreciate the need for collaboration between language communities to fight against them. That several such initiatives involving multiple language communities across India have been kick started is proof of this rising awareness.

To take this further, we need to have a clear picture of the current status of various Indian languages, the evolution of the Union Government's language policy, its effect on all the non-Hindi language communities, and our future course of action to address the issues. This is important not only for people taking up the cause of language issues but also will help others understand the issues and better appreciate the efforts to address them. For this purpose, I, based on suggestions from friends and like-minded individuals, have decided to author a book on the subject of "challenges being faced by the languages of India".

But such a book needs a comprehensive understanding of issues of a large number of linguistic communities across India. Hence, an involved and long-term collaboration with all of them is needed for this effort to be successful.

Currently, I have begun to collate all resources available online, starting from the debates of the Constituent Assembly to the latest circulars / orders of the education boards of the state governments. If you are aware of any resource, document or research material that you think will help in this regard, request you to kindly share them.

Also, there may be many issues and incidents that may be specific to your state or language community and they may not be known everywhere across the other states. Request you to share such information as well. Many resources, including very crucial and informative ones, may not be available on the internet at all. Here too, your help is needed. Please write to me at sandeepkambiatgmaildotcom.