Desi colossus on a par with Yeats & Shakespeare

Rasave Janana,
Virasa Marana
Samarasave Jeevana

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: These evocative lines (meaning: rasa is birth, virasa is death, and harmony is life) in a world torn asunder by discord,  dissension, greed and avarice continue to be on the lips of every Kannada-speaking person even today.

Penned by Kannada’s poet-laureate, Da. Ra. Bendre, the literary colossus who strode on the firmament of modern Kannada literature for more than seven decades, they retain the same liveliness and relevance even after three decades of his passing.

“Bendre is an evergreen poet,” says the poet, Chennaveera Kanavi. “I don’t mind admitting that every time I read his poems, I acquire newer insights. The process of learning never stops.”

Better known by his pen name, Ambikatanaya Datta, Bendre, a recipient of the Jnanpith award, was a poet par excellence of a different genre. Though poetry was his first love, he was quite at home with other forms of literature like drama, prose, short stories and satire.

A poem for him was a nothing but the translation of his pangs and pains.  “It is the poet in me who speaks and I am a mere scribe,” Bendre used to say.

“Let the sufferings remain with me

But I give you the song of my life.”

What makes his poetries sparkle and appeal to the common man is that they are lyrical and are firmly rooted in desi Kannada of the Dharwad region, which was his home turf. With equal felicity and aplomb, he wields his magic wand of words to paint superb verbal images with a liberal sprinkling of colloquial idioms.

Besides being a poet, Bendre was a visionary and philosopher, and scientific thinker, too, who was far ahead of the time.

In last phase of his life, he had developed a keen fascination for the science of numbers. Bendre had made it clear as back as in the 1940s, while presiding over the Kannada Sahitya Sammelana in Shimoga, that he was a firm believer in the fusion of material science and literature as essential tools in the quest of truth.

Mere literature alone would not help realise the truth but it has to be judiciciouly tempered with material science.

His multidisciplinary approach and the amalgam of philosophical thoughts, scientific theories and the mathematical concepts reflected in his writings, often proved to be a riddle for the uninitiated in understanding his poetry.

Dharwad takkadi innoo tookaane aagilla. Horataava chakadi, hortaava chakadi…,” was his favorite observation about his works not being properly assessed or understood by the society.  The scale of evaluation of his poetry was to emerge, while cartloads of literature continued to be produced. (Takkadi is the scale used by the traders to weigh the material brought to the market.)

And the situation remained so when Bendre died in 1981. He bequeathed to posterity a rich legacy in literature in the form of published works and manuscripts waiting to see the light of the day. As a voracious reader, he had more than 16,000 books in his library, with jottings which had a whale of material for publication.

All these awaited being deciphered, analysed and interpreted. This arduous task,  stupendous by any standards has been bravely taken up by a two member-team  comprising Dr Vaman Bendre, his son, and  Dr K.S. Sharma, his close disciple.

By their close association with the poet throughout the life, both have developed a keen insight into the thinking, the philosophical strands and scientific concepts which prop up often in the language and literature of the poet.

Combining themselves in the name of the Bendre Research Institute, Hubli,  the duo, through their labour of love and indefatigable efforts have been able to bring out  more than 25,000 pages of literature  in the post-Bendre era.

It includes, six volumes of poems, two volumes on Aurobindo and Mother, and sakhi geete, a mini-epic; three volumes of dramas; Kavyodya, a prose volume on the aesthetics and philosophy in his poems; and 35 individual anthologies of poems, five selections of poems, 14  stage plays including the unpublished Taledanda relating to the life of Basaveshwara,  and 13 collections of Bendre’s poems with musical notations, a la Rabindra sangeet.

The latest work to come out of Bendre Research Institute is the 13th volume in the series of collected works of Bendre, viz Sahitya Yoga Sidhanta, a treatise on the aesthetics in Bendre’s prose, and Bendre Samagra Kaavya Nighantu, a dictionary of the words used by the poet, compiled by the leading linguist, Dr B.B. Rajpurohit, who incidentally had collaborated with Dr Nichida of Japan in bringing out a Kannada-English-Japanese dictionary.

The Sahitya Yoga Siddhanta comprises five parts: a) Theory of literary prose; b) Samvada, translation of his Marathi articles;  c) short stories, which Bendre would often describe as common man’s epics including transcreation of Chinese stories adapted to Indian settings ; d) Kadambari yoga, with  Bendre writing the finale of relay writing of the novel by eleven authors, in an unique  literary experiment undertaken by Manohar Grantha Mala, and e) ten satires.

The significance of the 170-page lexicon lies in the fact that it deals with only the words which are not found in other dictionaries which are used in the six collected poetry volumes brought out by the Institute already. There is  emphasis on the colloquial Kannada used by the poet, which is peculiar to this part of Karnataka, and a plethora of diglosia (words having more than one meaning) thrown therein.

Oh Manava, Bidu Durabihmanava/ Oh Daanava kodu Hridaya Daanavaa,” which could be loosely translated as, “Oh man, shun the ego/ Oh demon, donate your heart.” This is a typical example of diglosia found in the work of Bendre.  Both the words Maanava and Daanava have different meanings in the two contexts.

These books were released to mark the 30th annual memorial day of the poet the other day. Chennaveera Kanavi expressed the view that by using the Dharwad desi Kannada, Bendre had raised Kannada literature to cosmic heights. In a way Bendre  could be placed a  notch above the English poet, W.B. Yeats, who while being Irish, gave up the desi to start writing in English.

Said Dr K Raghavendra Rao, the Indo-Anglican writer who has translated several of works of Bendre including the Jnanpith award winning work “Naku Tanti” in English: “Bendre who had transcended the barriers of language deserves to be treated on par with Shakespeare and Yeats. No lexicon can help fully understand Bendre.”

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16 Responses to “Desi colossus on a par with Yeats & Shakespeare”

  1. sunitha betkerur Says:

    Thanks for such a thought provoking article about Bendre.

  2. Bengalooru Haida Says:

    No idea whether he was colossus and such..but many of his poems were absolutely exhilarating. Magic in words and the sheer joy they brought to one’s mostly silly, boring existence.

    Nee heenga nodabyada nanna..nee heenga nodidara naa hyanga nodali ninna..

    Whatay man!

  3. copernicus Says:

    On par with Yeats? Different culture and style. On par with Shakespeare? Over the top, typcal India loose talk, again different cu;ture and time. Above Ku Vempu? Certainly.

  4. Mankutimma Says:

    “In a way Bendre could be placed a notch above the English poet, W.B. Yeats, who while being Irish, gave up the desi to start writing in English”

    Irish was not widely spoken then and not now. Irish people spoke English then and speak English now. Yeats was Irish nationalist and his Nobel Prize in literature was more to support his Irish roots than the literary quality of his poems. Please do not compare Bendre with even Kalidasa, as the latter was really great. Shakespeare? Mr Rao is talking nonsense.

  5. niranjan Says:

    A nice piece of article. Congrats!!

    With so many universities in our state, easily this type of work (studying Dr. Bendre’s comments on specific topics) could have served materials for at least a couple of dozens graduate student research. I can not see even one being materialized (Correct me if wrong).

    No scope for such creative ideas, right. Its always easy to do some copy-paste research. (See what even directors of our top science research institutes do: )

    We Kannadigas as a mass do not have an iota of respect for our literary giants. Just do some grand celebration during Nov 1 and that is all. This outside show-off without true feelings and respect would take us nowhere, and we clearly deserve this.

  6. Yella Ok Says:

    His poems were really evocative. Needed – a rediscovery of bendre’ poems through contemporary music. heard raghu dixit was attempting that. waiting …..

  7. twistleton Says:


  8. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Mankuthimma, thank you. Very appropriate and timely. I fully agree with your comments.

  9. Faldo Says:

    Nice article on Da Ra Bendre though the last two paragraphs seem out of place.
    @Mankuthimma. Thanks for bringing some perspective here.

  10. gjlraj Says:

    @Mankuthimma, copernicus doddi buddi et al., I think you are missing the point. What Mr Rao is talking about is a normative judgement made by him, He is not stating a universal law. Please take such statemenets with a pinch of salt and focus on the larger theme of the write up. By harping on to one statement you are either missing the larger point of the write up or trying to project your intellect, which might not necessarily stem from your understanding of either DaRa Bendre or Yeats. I dont know if at all you read kannada and if you can; have read any of Da Ra Bendres works other than what was precribed in school.

  11. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Ree Gjlraj!

    Based on my reading, I have an informed opinion on the merits of Ambikatanayadatta’s works. If Dr. Rao makes a statement bordering on “a scorpion-bitten mad dog’s” view of Da RA Bendre’s works, surely we cannot be faulted for providing some perspective here. In fact I surrender to Dr. Rao’s insightful observation: “…No lexicon can help fully understand Bendre.”

  12. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    The interesting thing is that both Bendre and Yeats grew up in former British colonies. Yeats has his universal acclaim because he spoke English and wrote in it. For Bendre, however, English was an acquired language and what he wrote in it, for historical and cultural reasons could not gain the kind of currency that Yeats’s work acquired. Yeats was also a tireless self promoter who was aided by Ezra Pound to whom T. S. Eliot also owes his recognition by the reading public in English speaking and English aping countries. The two situations are not really comparable.

    For us, Bendre is first and foremost a great Kannada poet. Yeats cannot matter as much to us, ever.

  13. gaby Says:

    I am not sure I agree with you- Bendre is first and foremost a great poet. It is only our good fortune that he wrote in Kannada and brought us so much of ‘rasa’. Think off Paraa shara roopa and Devudu.

    I too think that the comparison act is a stupid one. If MMM indeed intended to do some comparative literature analysis he might have been better off looking at Bendre and Anna Akhmatova or Patrick Kavanagh. But alas he had to drag in the slightly silly Yeats .

    As far as the the good ol’ Bard – Bendre and he are like gasegase payasa and Single malt- both are gorgeous drinks in their own right but not compared by any sensible person.

  14. Somebody Says:

    Some interesting topic to debate amongst all kinds of trash around us – corruption, mayhem, loot, crime, misrule, nanga naach of the socalled pillars of democracy.

  15. Pulikeshi the Last Says:


    I agree that Bendre uses language magically, as all great writers do. I am always thrilled by the way he makes one poor word rich by making it yield a cartload of meanings.

    In the last couple of days, I have been a bit troubled by a big similarity between Bendre and Yeats–their love of fascism. Shivarama Karantha returned his Padmashri, where as our Datta praised Indira Gandhi as Durga when she imposed emergency rule on us.

  16. gaby Says:


    Yeats did have a dalliance with Fascist politics and his writings- both poetry and letters indicate a tendency ( Orwell’s brilliant words and not mine) anti-democrat and possibly even an anti-humanitarian. Isnt there something somewhere to suggest that even DVG did not really like electoral democracy.

    The example you give of D R Bendre shows a similar tendency to welcome a tyrant’s embrace but would you call it a disposition to fascism? Unfortunately my reading of Bendre is limited and that too only to poetry.

    I do wish someone on Chrumuri would write something on these topics rather than the hagiographies to the Kings of Mysore or expositions on the failings of the current rulers of Karnataka.

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