Kannada, Kannadiga, Kannadigaru, Karnataka,

Kannadigarella ondaagi Kannadavannu ulisona, kalisona and belesona

History of Kannada Literature

History of the Kannada Literature – I



by Dr. (Mrs) Jyotsna Kamat
First Online: May 23,2000
Last updated on : November 01,2006

Kannada is the language predominant in the state of Karnataka in India.  In this special feature at Kamat’s Potpourri, Dr. Kamat who is an authority on medieval and ancient Kannada literature,  traces the history of the Kannada Language. The first of the series covers the earliest texts and determines the origins. She then covers the great Jain and Veerashaiva works. – Ed.
History of Kannada Literature
Early History | Jaina Works | Medieval Kannada
Vachana LiteratureDasa Sahitya | Epics | Modern Kannada

Early History

Perhaps being the oldest language next to Sanskrit, Prakrit, and Tamil, Kannada country and language have a rich heritage. ‘Kavirajamarga’ () of king Nripatunga (9th century A.D.) is believed to be the earliest literary work in Kannada. It is a treatise on poetics or a guide to poets indicating that Kannada was a fully developed literary language when Kavirajamarga  was composed. It refers to earlier linguists and poets whose works are not forthcoming. But from epigraphical evidence it can be surmised  that the spoken Kannada language evolved much earlier than the Halmidi inscription (c. 450 A.D. ). Belonging to the Prto-Dravidian group it has close affinity with the Tamil language, prevalent now in the neighboring Tamil Nadu. But the language of the Halmidi inscription is highly Sanskritized.

A Banavasi Inscription in Old Kannada

By the 10th century Kannada had its greatest ancient poets like Pampa (born 902 A.D.), Ranna ( born 949 A.D.) and special prose work like Waddaradhane () (c. 930 A.D.) indicating that classical Kannada literature had fully evolved at least one or two centuries earlier, back to ‘Kavirajamarga’. But since none of the earlier works have survived, we have to stick to the established norm that written Kannada came into vogue by the 5th century A.D.

Three Phases

For the sake of the convenient study of  Kannada language and literature, the pundits have divided the development of Kannada language into three phases; The  Old Kannada Phase, The Middle Kannada Phase, and The Modern Kannada Phase.

The verse-form being the most popular all religious texts, scientific treaties like elephant love, horse love, or science of rains, mathematic, poetic, and literature works were composed only in verse- form. India has had oral system of education through the ages and the verse form fit this system very well. The subjects were thought through chanting and reciting and great stress was laid on memorizing, oral reproduction, and application. The verse-form helped to recite easier and to memorize better!

Most of the works in literature and secular sciences mentioned in reference books like Kavirajamarga are still not to be traced. But works of later centuries mention now extinct works on various topics. Thus, Chudamani (a 96,000 verse-measures), a commentary on logic ( Tatwarthamahashastra) by Tambulacharya belonged to the 7th century. Naturally, no shastra (science) treatise could be written so voluminously unless the language in vogue is not fully developed. Epigraphs prove the antiquity of the Kannada language.

The students of Kannada language are familiar with the eulogy of Kappe Arabhatta, a hero remembered as Kaliyuga Vipartitan.

Good to the good, sweet to the sweet,
This exceptional man of Kaliyuga
Is a veritable Madhava himself (to the distressed).

This rock stone inscription of  Badami in archaic Kannada letters is ascribed to the 7th century. The three liner Tripadi  ( which by itself is as old as the Gayatri Mantram )  type of literature was later popularized by the poet  Sarvajna in his ‘Vachanas‘.


November 2, 2006 - Posted by | EKAVI COORG-KODAGU, History of Karnataka

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