SUBBANNA K.V., 1932-2005


Kuntagodu Vibhuti Subbanna (kunTagODu viBUti subbaNNa) (ಕುಂಟಗೋಡು ವಿಭೂತಿ ಸುಬ್ಬಣ್ಣ) was scholar with a creative bent of mind. His scholarship was a blend of the eastern wisdom and the western modernity. This note does not propose to give a comprehensive portrayal of this multifaceted personality. It is confined to the engagements of Subbanna with the ancient culture and arts of Karnataka. As usual a very brief biographical accompanies it. Subbanna, born in Heggodu a small village in Sagara talluk of Shivamogga district in an agriculturist family returned to his village after obtaining a B.A. (Hons.) degree in Kannada from the University of Mysore . He was not unduly swayed by the impact of modernization and was constantly probing in to ways and means of preserving Indian Culture with out its attendant evils. His engagement with the indigenous cultures of Karnataka was an off shoot of this concern.

Subbanna was well versed in the literary history of the main stream and he was pre occupied with the marginalized little traditions also. His adaptation of Sanskrit classics is not merely an act of translation. He was providing a new mode of approaching these texts and there by made them relevant to our times.

Subbanna has translated ‘Dasharupaka’ by Dhananjaya from Sanskrit. This goes well with his lifelong pre occupation with theatre. ‘Loka Shakuntala’(lOka shAkuntala) and Vidisheya Vidushaka’ (vidisheya vidUSaka) are trans creations of the original works by Kalidasa. He has translated ‘Bhagavadajjukiya’ another Sanskrit play as ‘Sule-Sanyasi’. Subbanna reinterpreted the story to create texts that were all together different.

His article on Pampa , the premier poet of Kannada opened up new grounds for discussion. His contention was that a great writer writes about his own times irrespective of the temporal antecedents of the original text. This insight which is axiomatic in the contemporary context was very bold and trend setting when it was first published. Of course Subbanna moves further and relates it to the concerns of our time. This creates a cultural continuum where in every work of art is born anew based on the cultural needs of the period.

‘Kavirajamarga mattu Kannada Jagattu’, an important book that fetched Subbanna a Sahitya Academy award is another attempt in looking at an ancient text in a very insightful manner. ‘Kavirajamarga’, which was till then considered as a text delineating Alankara Shastra with some local details thrown in, becomes a mile stone in the cultural history of Karnataka in Subbanna’s interpretation. Subbanna studies the text in the context of the history of Karnataka both in its political and cultural dimensions. Kavirajamarga was trying to find ways to negotiate the all pervading influence of Sanskrit. Subbanna’s contention is that Kavirajamarga was a text set in to motion with the tacit approval of the king. The king was interested in the standardization of the language at the cost of myriad dialects that were prevalent at that point of time. Kannada did not adopt the exclusivist policies of Tamil and Subbanna feels that it was a step in the right direction. For him, Sanskrit has not hindered the progress of Kannada and the closed door policy adopted by Tamil was detrimental to that language. He has given a detailed analysis of Kavirajamarga and delineates the modes in which that foundational text has shaped the consciousness of the Kannada community.

Another essay in this text is about a perennial favorite of Kannada people, ie the story of Punyakoti the truthful cow and its confrontation with Arbuta the tiger. Subbanna has thrown new light on this story and the philosophy that underlies it.

Subbanna is important in the context of ancient literature because his insights have given us ways of understanding the classics in the modern context. His ideas are polemical and need further discussion. Subbanna has won the coveted Magsaysay award and the Sahitya Academy award. ‘Namma Subbanna’ is the felicitation volume presented to him.




Links: 1. Of Many Worlds: Essays on Modern Kannada Literature‎ - Page 107

(Rajendra Chenni)


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