SRIKANTAIAH B.M., 1884-1946

            B.M. Srikantaiah (bi.em. shrIkanTaiah) (ಬಿ.ಎಂ. ಶ್ರೀಕಂಠಯ್ಯ) or ‘Bi.em.shrI.’, as he was fondly called by his disciples and admirers is foremost among the scholars who laid a strong foundation for a study of Kannada language, literature and culture during the first few decades of the twentieth century. His contribution is significant not merely because of his personal writings, but due to the sense of direction and commitment that he gave to a generation of scholars. He was responsible for building a dedicated band of creative writers and scholars who thrived hard to realize his dreams and added many new dimensions to his ideas. This is particularly true with respect to the princely state of Mysore. He was saddled with the twin responsibilities in a given historical context. The first was the task of creating an abiding interest in the literary tradition of Kannada in the face of stiff competition from English and Sanskrit. Secondly, he had to absorb the British and continental influences and use them to create a modern literature for Kannada. The fact that he could accomplish these goals although with strong support from his contemporaries speaks highly of his caliber and commitment.       

            B.M.S. hailed from a small village named Belluru in Tumkur district. He studied at the Central College, Bangalore and the Maharaja College, Mysore. He obtained B.A., (1906) M.A. (1909) and B.L. (1907) degrees from the University of Madras. He started his teaching career as a lecturer in English at the Maharaja College in 1909 and rose to become the Professor and Head in the same department. He was also the first Professor of Kannada appointed by the University of Mysore. He served as the Registrar of the University for four years during 1926-1930. He was the Vice-President of the Kannada Sahitya Parishat during 1938-42. He accepted the Principalship of the Arts College, Dharwar in 1944 and served in that position till his premature death in 1946.

            This is not the place to discuss the role played his seminal publications such as “English GitagaLu’ or ‘AshvatthAman’ in the genesis and rise Modern Kannada Literature. However it is appropriate to mention that he converted, ‘sAhasa BImavijaya’ the famous tenth century epic by Ranna in to a play and published it under the title ‘gadAyuddha nATakam’. His erudition in Greek Tragedy must have prompted him to recognize tragic elements in the Kannada classic.

            B.M.S. wanted to create a modern and secular context for Kannada literature by severing its connections with religious dogmatism. He wanted a unified approach to Kannada literature including the oral tradition as much as he was spurred by a desire to unify Karnataka in a geographical sense. His ideas and plans for Kannada were motivated by this desire. “Kannada KaipiDi’, a text created by B.M.S. and his students is virtually a coordinated study of literature, language, prosody and poetics from the same platform as it were. One gets an idea of the togetherness of these disciplines by pursuing this volume. The second volume of this venture, ‘Kannada sAhitya caritre’ written by B.M.S. himself is an impassioned study of ancient Kannada poetry. ‘KannaDigarige oLLeya sAhitya’ is virtually a blueprint for the development of Modern Kannada literature. The idea of publishing abridged editions of acclaimed Kannada classics with abundant supplementary material explicating the text  was spurred by a desire to make them ‘secular’, ‘humane’ and easily accessible. He was also behind the project of publishing the history of Karnataka in three volumes. (Kannada Sahitya Parishat) Some of these ideas, even though some of them are debatable in an altered context, guided the pedagogy of Kannada from the school level to Post doctoral research for more than six decades.

            Another important contribution of Srikantaiah was his abiding interest in the Dravidian culture and its impact on Kannada literature. His pioneering effort to trace the origin of Kannada prosodic forms to Tamil is very relevant even to this day. He was one of the few scholars who initiated a comparative study of Dravidian languages in the disciplines of prosody and grammar. Some of his important publications are listed below.

1.      ‘A Hand-Book of Rhetoric’, 1919

2.      The Improvement of Kanarese’, 1915

3.      ‘kannaDa BASeya vicAragaLu’ 1913

4.      ‘gadAyuddha nATaka’, 1926

5.      ‘kannaDa Candassina caritre’, 1936

6.      ‘kannaDigarige oLLeya sAhitya’, 1948

7.      ‘kannaDa sAhityada caritre’, 1947

8.      ‘English gItagaLu ‘, 1921

9.      ‘ashvatthAman’, 1929

10.  ‘Sri sahitya’, 1983, Complete Works

 

B.M. Srikantaiah was in the chair of the 14th Kannada Literary Conference held in Gulbarga in the year 1928. He was honored with the title ‘rAjasEvAsakta’ in 1938. ‘SamBAvane’ (1941) and ‘SrInidhi’ (1983) are the felicitation and centenary volumes presented to him. A.N. Murthy Rao has written an illuminating biography of B.M.S.

B.M.Srikantaiah is one of the handful of persons in Karnataka who was responsible for a cultural renaissance and he ushered an era of modernism in Kannada literature.

 

Further Readings and links:

1.      en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Srikanthaiah (A photograph)

2.      ‘B.M. Srikantaiah’ by A.N. Murthy Rao, 1991(Reprint) ( Sahitya Academy, New Delhi.

 

 

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