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.


Shravan said...

The more native the language and the influence, the better the poetry!

ಆದರ್ಶ್ ಭದ್ರಾವತಿ ಮಹಾರುದ್ರ said...

ಒಳ್ಳೆಯ ಲೇಖನ.

Unknown said...

ಸಕ್ಕದಮಂ ಪೇಳ್ದೊಡೆ ನೆರೆ
ಸಕ್ಕದಮಂ ಪೆರ್ಗೆ ಶುದ್ಧ ಕನ್ನಡದೊಳ್ ತಂ
ದಿಕ್ಕುವುದೇ ಸಕ್ಕದಮಂ
ತಕ್ಕುದೆ ಬೆರೆಸಲ್ಕೆ ಘೃತಮುಮಂ ತೈಲಮುಮಂ
- ನಯನಸೇನ

Arunan said...

I have seen from History many such statements about writing in Tamil by some motivated few in early 20th century. They didn't succeed.

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