Kannada is one of the major Dravidian languages of India that is spoken mainly in the Southern Indian State of Karnataka. Its native speakers are known as Kannadigas. There are about fifty one million speakers of the language. It is one of the national languages of India and the administrative and official language of the State of Karnataka. Kannada is the third oldest language of India after Sanskrit and Tamil.

Kannada has a special importance among the Indian languages that are regarded highly by the citizens of India. Kannada has brought prestige and honour to the Indian languages. It is the twenty sixth among the most spoken languages in the world.



Kannada has evolved through many phases. The linguists in India have outlined this evolutionary process into four phases. Many religious and social influences have defined this evolution.

Purvada Halegannada or Pre-Ancient Kannada – This is the initial phase of the Kannada language and also the first stage of its development. The famous `Halmidi’ scripture was written down in Kannada. The Kannada language which was used in these inscriptions had a huge influence of Sanskrit. The origin of Kannada can be traced back to these ancient scriptures in India. The first written record of Kannada language can be found in Emperor Asoka’s `Brahmagiri’ decree that is dated around 230 BC.

  • Halegannada or Ancient Kannada – This is the second phase of the language covering the centuries from the sixth to the fourteenth. It is during this period that Kannada language reached its height with distinct literary works. Several Jain and Saivite poets wrote many important works during this phase of the language. The origin of the Jain Puranas which are also known as `Virashaiva Vachana Sahitya’ were written during this phase of the Kannada language development. Ancient Brahminical literary works also abounded in this phase. By the end of the tenth century, prose works and poems were written in Kannada. One of the most important creations during this period was the `Kavirajamarga’.

  • Nadugannada or Middle Kannada – The third phase started from the fifteenth century and continued till the eighteenth century. In this phase, the Brahminical Hinduism had a big impact on the Kannada language and literature. Many ethereal poems were written, even by non Brahmin Hindu saints like Kanakadasa. The famous Brahminical saints of the Vaishnavi sect were Sripadaraya, Narahari and Jagannathadasa. Kanakadasa’s `Ramadhanya Charite’ is an outstanding work which is dealing with the class struggle issue.  The famous Jagannathadasa Sahitya influenced the process of early development of Carnatic music and also falls in this phase of the Kannada language development.

  • Hosagannada or Modern Kannada - This is the last phase of the Kannada language and literature. This phase begins post eighteenth century. The works in Kannada that were specifically written at the end of the nineteenth century were categorised as Hosagannada or Modern Kannada. Most distinguished works are those of the renowned poet, Muddanna. His works are considered as the dawn of Modern Kannada. Many experts also hold Indira Bai or `Saddharma Vijayavu’ written by Gulvadi Venkata Raya as the main literary work in the modern Kannada language development.



Kannada is a dual language with a sharp distinction between the spoken and the written forms. It has three genders – neutral or common, masculine and feminine. Spoken Kannada varies from region to region. There are about twenty dialects of Kannada. Principal dialect is Kodava which is spoken in the Coorg District.

Another dialect, Kunda, is exclusively spoken in Kundapura. Havyaka is spoken by the Havyaka Brahmanas of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi. Tulu is also one of the oldest dialects that exists in Karnataka.

The works written on Kannada grammar are prolific. There are numerous examples such as Nagavarman II’s `Karnataka Bhashabhushana’ written in 1145AD and Kesiraja’s `Shabhdhamanidarpana’ written in 1260AD. These are the oldest works in Kannada Grammar.

Kannada language has fifty two phonemic letters. The dependent vowels which are known as Swaras in Kannada are commonly used and depicted to the right of their consonant letters. Kannada, as a Dravidian language, has distinct structural differences at phonological, morphological, lexical, syntactic and semantic levels.

When a dependent consonant combines with an independent vowel, it gives form to an `akshara’. This rule helps in combining all the consonants or vyanjanas with the existing vowels or the matras to form the Kagunitha for the Kannada alphabet.



Kannada script is written with a syllabic alphabet in which all the consonants have an inherent vowel which can be changed to another vowel or it can be broken down by the use of diacritics. It is written from left to right. It has existed since the past two thousand five hundred years. It belongs to the Brahmi genealogy. It is used in the Southern Indian State of Karnataka. It is taken from the Old Kannada script and is a close relative of the Telugu script. Kannada script is also known as Kanarese. Like most other South Asian writing systems, the vowels that are following a consonant other than the default `A’ are written with extra strokes.

The Kannada script has influenced other local neighbouring languages like Tulu and Konkani. The Telugu script has also been adopted from the old Kannada language script. The script is taken from the old Brahmi writings which are quite complicated like most other Indian languages because of the presence of various combinations of half-letters or symbols that are linked to several letters similar to diacritical marks like a grave or a cedilla in most of the Romantic languages. As far as written symbols are concerned, they are many in character as they can be combined to form Ottaksharas. Each written symbol in the Kannada script is related with one syllable as opposed to one phoneme like in the English language.

Many transliteration schemes are being used to type Kannada characters by using a standard keyboard. These include `Baraha’ which is based on iTrans and `Nudi’ which is the standard for Kannada transliteration as adopted by the Government of Karnataka.



The oldest book existing is the King Nripatunga’s literary critique, `Kavi Raja Marga’. During the early Christian era, the Kannada speaking cultural area had close trade ties with the Greek and Roman empires of the West. Greek dramatists of the fourth century like Euripides and Aristophanes were familiar with the Kannada language which is clear in their usage of Kannada words and phrases in their skits and dramas. Kannada literature took a strong Hindu turn with the orthodox Vijayanagar Kingdom.

Another early work of literary significance in Kannada is `Vaddhardhana’ written by a Jain Sivakotyacharya around 920 AD. Pampa was the most renowned poet of Kannada who was in the court of the Chalukya King Arikesan II. Pampa wrote two great classics, `Adi Purana’ dealing with life of Vrishaba which is the first Jain Tirthankara and `Vikramarjuna Vijaya’ which is an adaptation of Vyasa’s Mahabharatha into Kannada.

In 950 AD, Ponna, another great poet, wrote `Shanti Purana’, `Bhuvanaika Ramabhyudaya’ and `Jinaksaramale’. Ranna wrote `Ajita Purana’ and `Sahasa Bhima Vijayam’ in 993 AD. Nagavarman I converted Banabhatta’s `Kadambari’ into Kannada. Durgasimha is renowned for his translation of the Panchatantra into Kannada in 1031. Nagavarman II systematised the Kannada grammar in his Karnataka Bhasha Bhushana. He wrote poetry in works like `Kavyavalokama’ and also compiled a lexicon called `Abhidhana Vastukosa’.

A new religious movement started by Basava in 1150 AD had a great impact on the Kannada literature. In the thirteenth century, Harihara made many changes in the metre and introduced the Ragale metre in Kannada literature. He used it extensively in his works like `Basavarajadevara Ragale’, `Nambiyannana Ragale’ and `Pushpa Ragale’. Another poet, Raghavanka, introduced a new metre called `Satpadi’ and wrote great works like  `Harishchandra Kavya’, `Somanatha Charita’ and `Siddharam Charita’.

Andayya’s `Kabbigarakava’ is the best example of a pure Kannada work without using any Sanskrit words. Nijaguna Sivayogin compiled the first encyclopaedia in Kannada with his `Vivekachintamani’. This was the first encyclopaedia written in India. It was later translated to Sanskrit under the name of `Shivatatvaratnakara’. Singaraya’s ` Mitravinda Govinda’ was the first drama in Kannada. Honnamma, Giriyamma and Celuvambi were the three most important women poets during the Vijayanagar Kingdom period.

Kempu Narayana wrote `Mudramanjusa’ in 1823 which is the first historical romance written in prose in Kannada. Basavappa Sastri was a pioneer in bringing European literature to Kannada by adopting Shakespeare’s `Othello’. Srikanthayya was a pioneer of modern poetry in Kannada. Srikanthayya invented several new metres and translated some of the best English poets into Kannada.

Sivarama Karanta was an outstanding novelist of Kannada literature who wrote the great epic novel `Marali Mannige’. Some other great novels were Sitarama Sastry’s `Daulat’ and Devudu Narasimha’s `Mahabrahmana’. Venkatesa Iyengar introduced short stories into the Kannada literature. Some of his famous short stories are `The Last days of Sariputra’ and `The Rani of Nijagal’. Narasimhachar was the pioneer of Kannada opera. He composed many operas like `Gokula Nirgamana’ and `Hamsa Damyanti’. Murthy Rao and Prahlad Rao are some of the well known essayists in Kannada.

The highest literary award in the country, the prestigious Jnanpith Award, has been conferred a great number of times on Kannada writers for their literary masterpieces in Kannada language.

Article Posted By : tahnaklView All Articles

Tahseen Nakavi Juror

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Keywords :
Kannada , Karnataka


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