Kannada is one of the major Dravidian languages of India, spoken predominantly in the southern state of Karnataka. It is the 27th most spoken language in the world, with native speakers called Kannadigas (Kannadigaru) numbering roughly around 35 million. It is one of the official languages of India and the official and administrative language of the state of Karnataka.
Kannada is attested to by one of the earliest epigraphies in India. The first written record in the Kannada language is traced to Emperor Ashoka's Brahmagiri edict dated 230 BC. At present, a committee of scholars is seeking a classical language tag for Kannada based on its antiquity.
The Kannada language is written using the Kannada script. The other native languages of Karnataka, Tulu, Kodava Takk and Konkani are also written using the Kannada script. Contemporary Kannada literature is the most successful in India, with India's highest literary honor, the Jnanpith awards, having been conferred seven times upon Kannada writers, which is the highest for any language in India.
History and development
The Halmidi inscription at Halmidi village dated 450 CE. (Kadamba Dynasty)
Kannada is one of the oldest Dravidian languages with an antiquity of at least 2000 years.The spoken language is said to have separated from its proto-Dravidian source earlier than Tamil and about the same time as Tulu. However, the archaeological evidence would indicate a written tradition for this language of around 1600 years. The initial development of the Kannada language is similar to that of other Dravidian languages and independent of Sanskrit. During later centuries, Kannada, along with other Dravidian languages like Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, etc., has been greatly influenced by Sanskrit in terms of vocabulary, grammar and literary styles.
Bilingual Kannada-Devanagari inscription of Badami Chalukyas at Badami cave temple (6th. c.CE.)
The first written record in the Kannada language is traced to Emperor Ashoka's Brahmagiri edict dated 230 BC. The first example of a full-length Kannada language stone inscription (shilashaasana) containing Brahmi characters with characteristics resembling those of Tamil in Hale Kannada (Old Kannada) script can be found in the Halmidi inscription, dated c. 450 CE, indicating that Kannada had become an administrative language by this time. Over 30,000 inscriptions written in the Kannada language have been discovered so far. The Chikkamagaluru inscription of 500 CE is another example. Prior to the Halmidi inscription, there is an abundance of inscriptions containing Kannada words, phrases and sentences, proving its antiquity. The 543 CE Badami cliff inscription of Pulakesi I is an example of a Sanskrit inscription in Hale Kannada script.
Copper plates and Manuscripts
Examples of early Sanskrit-Kannada bilingual copper plate inscriptions (tamarashaasana) are the Tumbula inscriptions of the Western Ganga Dynasty dated 444 CE.The earliest full-length Kannada copper plates in Old Kannada script (early eighth century CE) belongs to the Alupa King Aluvarasa II from Belmannu, South Kanara district and displays the double crested fish, his royal emblem. The oldest well-preserved palm leaf manuscript is in Old Kannada and is that of Dhavala, dated to around the ninth century, preserved in the Jain Bhandar, Mudbidri, Dakshina Kannada district. The manuscript contains 1478 leaves written using ink.
Influence on other cultures and languages
7th century Old Kannada inscription on Chandragiri hill, Shravanabelagola
Badami Chalukya inscription in Old Kannada, Virupaksha Temple, 745 CE Pattadakal
The influence of Old Kannada on the language of the Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions from the second century BCE to the sixth century CE has been brought to light through observations made using grammatical and lexical analysis. The 9th century writing Kavirajamarga refers to the entire area between the Kaveri River and the Godavari River as Kannada country, implying that the language was popular farther north in present-day Maharashtra. Owing to its popularity in modern Maharashtra during medieval times, Kannada has had an influence on the neighbouring Gujarati language as well. The Charition mime, a Greek drama discovered at Oxyrhynchus and dated to the second century CE or earlier, contains scenes where Indian characters in the skit speak dialogue which appears to be in Kannada. Prior to and during the early Christian era, the Kannada-speaking cultural area seems to have had close trade ties with the Greek and Roman empires of the West. Greek dramatists of the fourth century BCE, particularly Euripides and Aristophanes, appear to have been familiar with the Kannada language. This is evident in their usage of Kannada words and phrases in their dramas and skits.
Kannada inscriptions were not only discovered in Karnataka but also quite commonly in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. Some inscriptions were also found in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. As an example, the inscription at Jura 964 CE (Jabalpur), belonging to the reign of Rashtrakuta Krishna III, is regarded as an epigraphical landmark of classical Kannada literary composition, with charming poetic diction in polished Kannada metre. This indicates the spread of the influence of the language over the ages, especially during the rule of large Kannada empires. Because of coexistence with Kannada, Tulu, Kodava, Sankethi, and Konkani have also borrowed many words from Kannada.
Some early Kadamba Dynasty coins bearing the Kannada inscription Vira and Skandha were found in Satara collectorate. A gold coin bearing three inscriptions of Sri and an abbreviated inscription of king Bhagiratha's name called bhagi (390-420 CE) in old Kannada exists. Recent discovery of a copper coin dated to the fifth century CE in Banavasi, Uttara Kannada district with the inscription Srimanaragi in Kannada script proves that Kannada had become an official language by the time of the Kadambas of Banavasi. Coins with Kannada legends have been discovered spanning the rule of the Western Ganga Dynasty, the Badami Chalukyas, the Alupas, the Western Chalukyas, the Rashtrakutas, the Hoysalas, the Vijayanagar Empire, the Kadamba Dynasty of Banavasi, the Keladi Nayakas and the Mysore Kingdom, the Badami Chalukya coins being a recent discovery. The coins of the Kadambas of Goa are unique in that they have alternate inscription of the king's name in Kannada and Devanagari in triplicate, a few coins of the Kadambas of Hangal are also available.
Phases of evolution
9th century old Kannada inscription of Rashtrakutas at Navalinga temple in Kuknur, Karnataka
The written Kannada language has come under various religious and social influences in its 1600 years of known existence. Linguists generally divide the written form into four broad phases.
Poorvada Halegannada or Pre-ancient Kannada
This is the language of Halmidi scripture known to be from the fifth century CE. From available epigraphical evidence it can be concluded that the spoken Kannada language evolved much earlier than that of the Halmidi inscription. The language of the Halmidi inscription is said to be highly Sanskritized.
Halegannada or Ancient Kannada
From the ninth to fourteenth centuries CE, Kannada works were classified under Old Kannada. In this period Kannada showed a high level of maturity as a language of original literature. Mostly Jain and Saivite poets produced works in this period. This period saw the growth of Jain puranas and Virashaiva Vachana Sahitya or simply vachana, a unique and native form of literature which was the summary of contributions from all sections of society. Early Brahminical works also emerged from the eleventh century. By the tenth century Kannada had seen its greatest poets, such as Pampa, Sri Ponna and Ranna, and its great prose writings such as the Vaddaradhane of Shivakotiacharya, indicating that a considerable volume of classical prose and poetry in Kannada had come into existence a few centuries before Kavirajamarga. Among existing landmarks in Kannada grammar, Nagavarma II's Karnataka-bhashabhushana (1145) and Kesiraja's Sabdamanidarpana (1260) are the oldest.
Nadugannada or Middle Kannada
In the period between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries CE, Brahmanical Hinduism had a great influence on Kannada language and literature. Non-brahmin Hindu saints like Kanakadasa and Brahminical saints of the Vaishnava sect such as Purandaradasa, Naraharitirtha, Vyasatirtha, Sripadaraya, Vadirajatirtha, Vijaya Dasa, Jagannathadasa, etc., produced devotional poems in this period. Kanakadasa's Ramadhanya Charite is a rare work, concerning itself with the issue of class struggle. This period saw the advent of Haridasa Sahitya which made rich contributions to bhakti literature and sowed the seeds of Carnatic music.
Hosagannada or Modern Kannada
The Kannada works produced by the end of the nineteenth century and later are classified as Hosagannada or Modern Kannada. However, till the beginning of the twentieth century there were Kannada literary works that could still be classified under the heading of Middle Kannada. Most notable among them are the poet Muddana's works. His works may be described as the "Dawn of Modern Kannada". Generally, linguists treat Indira Bai or Saddharma Vijayavu by Gulvadi Venkata Raya as the first literary works in Modern Kannada.
Literature and poetry
Main articles: Kannada literature, Medieval Kannada literature, and Kannada poetry
Old Kannada inscription at the base of Gomateshwara monolith in Shravanabelagola (981 CE. Western Ganga Dynasty)
Old Kannada Hoysala inscription of 1220 CE at Ishwara temple Hassan district
The oldest existing record of Kannada poetry in tripadi metre is the Kappe Arabhatta record of 700 CE. Kavirajamarga by King Nripatunga Amoghavarsha I (850 CE) is the earliest existing literary work in Kannada. It is a writing on literary criticism and poetics meant to standardize various written Kannada dialects used in literature in previous centuries. The book makes reference to Kannada works by early writers such as King Durvinita of the sixth century and Ravikirti, the author of the Aihole record of 636 CE. Since the earliest available Kannada work is one on grammar and a guide of sorts to unify existing variants of Kannada grammar and literary styles, it can be safely assumed that literature in Kannada must have started several centuries earlier. An early extant prose work, the Vaddaradhane by Shivakotiacharya of 900 CE provides an elaborate description of the life of Bhadrabahu of Shravanabelagola.
Kannada works from earlier centuries mentioned in the Kavirajamarga are not yet traced. Some ancient texts now considered extinct but referenced in later centuries are Prabhrita (650 CE) by Syamakundacharya, Chudamani (Crest Jewel-650 CE) by Srivaradhadeva, also known as Tumbuluracharya, which is a work of 96,000 verse-measures and a commentary on logic (Tatwartha-mahashastra). Other sources date Chudamani to the sixth century or earlier. The Karnateshwara Katha, a eulogy for King Pulakesi II, is said to have belonged to the seventh century; the Gajastaka, a work on elephant management by King Shivamara II, belonged to the eighth century, and the Chandraprabha-purana by Sri Vijaya, a court poet of King Amoghavarsha I, is ascribed to the early ninth century. Tamil Buddhist commentators of the tenth century CE (in the commentary on Nemrinatham, a Tamil grammatical work) make references that show that Kannada literature must have flourished as early as the fourth century CE.
The Middle Kannada period gave birth to several genres of Kannada literature, with new forms of composition coming into use, including Ragale (a form of blank verse) and meters like Sangatya and Desi. The works of this period are based on Jain and Hindu principles. Two of the early writers of this period are Harihara and Raghavanka, trailblazers in their own right. Harihara established the Ragale form of composition while Raghavanka popularized the Shatpadi(six-lined stanza) meter. A famous Jaina writer of the same period is Janna, who expressed Jain religious teachings through his works.
The Vachana Sahitya tradition of the twelfth century is purely native and unique in world literature, and the sum of contributions by all sections of society. Vachanas were pithy poems on that period's social, religious and economic conditions. More importantly, they held a mirror to the seed of social revolution, which caused a radical re-examination of the ideas of caste, creed and religion. Some of the important writers of Vachana literature include Basavanna, Allama Prabhu and Akka Mahadevi. Kumara Vyasa, who wrote the Karnata Bharata Kathamanjari, has arguably been the most famous and most influential Kannada writer of the fifteenth century. His work, entirely composed in the Bhamini Shatpadi meter, is a sublime adaptation of the first ten chapters of the Mahabharata. The Bhakti movement gave rise to Dasa Sahitya around the fifteenth century which significantly contributed to the evolution of Carnatic music in its present form. This period witnessed great Haridasas like Purandara Dasa who has been aptly called the Pioneer of Carnatic music, Kanaka Dasa, Vyasathirtha and Vijaya Dasa.
Modern Kannada in the twentieth century has been influenced by many movements, notably Navodaya, Navya, Navyottara, Dalita and Bandaya. Contemporary Kannada literature has been highly successful in reaching people of all classes in society. Works of Kannada literature have received seven Jnanpith awards, which is the highest number awarded for the literature in any Indian language. It has also received forty-seven Sahitya Academy awards.
There is also some distinction between the spoken and written forms of the language. Spoken Kannada tends to vary from region to region. The written form is more or less constant throughout Karnataka, however. The Ethnologue identifies about 20 dialects of Kannada. Among them are Kundagannada (spoken exclusively in Kundapura), Nadavar-Kannada (spoken by Nadavaru), Havyaka (spoken mainly by Havyaka Brahmins), Are Bhashe (spoken mainly in the Sullia region of Dakshina Kannada), Soliga, Badaga, Gulbarga Kannada, Dharawad Kannada, Chitradurga Kannada, and others. All of these dialects are influenced by their regional and cultural background.
Kannada is mainly spoken in Karnataka in India, and to a good extent in the neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Goa, as well as in sizeable communities in the USA, the UK, and Singapore.
Kannada is one of the twenty-two official languages of India and is the sole administrative language of the State of Karnataka.
Main article: Kannada script
A Kannada language sign board
The Kannada language edition of Wikipedia.
The language uses forty-nine phonemic letters, divided into three groups: Swaragalu (thirteen letters); Yogavaahakagalu (two letters, ?? and ??); and Vyanjanagalu (thirty-four letters), similar to the vowels and consonants of English, respectively. The character set is almost identical to that of other Indian languages. The script itself, derived from brahmi script, is fairly complicated like most other languages of India owing to the occurrence of various combinations of "half-letters" (glyphs), or symbols that attach to various letters in a manner similar to diacritical marks in the Romance languages. The Kannada script is almost perfectly phonetic, but for the sound of a "half n" (which becomes a half m). The number of written symbols, however, is far more than the forty-nine characters in the alphabet, because different characters can be combined to form compound characters (vattaksharas). Each written symbol in the Kannada script corresponds with one syllable, as opposed to one phoneme in languages like English. The script of Kannada is also used in other languages such as Tulu, Kodava Takk and Konkani. Simply put, the Kannada script is syllabic.
Extinct Kannada letters
Kannada literary works employed letters ? (transliterated '?' or 'rh') and ? (transliterated '?', 'lh' or 'zh'), whose manner of articulation most plausibly could be akin to those in present-day Malayalam and Tamil. The letters dropped out of use in the twelfth and eighteenth centuries, respectively. Later Kannada works replaced 'rh' and 'lh' with ? (ra) and ? (la) respectively.
Another letter (or unclassified vyanjana (consonant)) that has become extinct is 'nh' or 'inn'. (Likewise, this has its equivalent in Malayalam and Tamil.) The usage of this consonant was observed until the 1980s in Kannada works from the mostly coastal areas of Karnataka (especially the Dakshina Kannada district). Now hardly any mainstream works use this consonant. This letter has been replaced by ?? (consonant n).
Kannada script in computing
Several transliteration schemes/tools are used to type Kannada characters using a standard keyboard. These include Baraha (based on ITRANS) and Quillpad (predictive transliterator). Nudi, the government of Karnataka's standard for Kannada Input, is a phonetic layout loosely based on transliteration.
Kannada is a highly inflected language with three genders (masculine, feminine, and neutral or common) and two numbers (singular and plural). It is inflected for gender, number and tense, among other things.
A German priest, the Reverend Ferdinand Kittel, composed the first Kannada-English dictionary, consisting of more than 70,000 words.
Ferdinand Kittel has also written a book on Kannada grammar called "A Grammar of the Kannada Language: Comprising the Three Dialects of the Language".