Kota Shivaram Karnath

Shivaram Karanth was born on 10 October 1902, in Kota near Brahmavara in the Udupi area of Karnataka to a Kannada-speaking family.

The fifth child of his parents Shesha Karantha and Lakshmamma finished his primary education in Kundapura and Mangalore.

Shri Shivaram was extensively influenced by the principles of Gandhiji and took active participation in the Indian Independence movement when he was in college.

His love for his motherland and his participation did not allow him to complete his graduation and as a result, he had to quit his college.

He canvassed for khadi and swadeshi in Karnataka steered by Indian National Congress leader Karnad Sadashiva Rao, for five years till 1927. By that time, Karanth had already begun penning fiction novels and theaters.

Karanth commenced writing in 1924 and shortly released his first book, Rashtrageetha Sudhakara, an anthology of poetry.

His initial novel was Vichitrakoota. Subsequent works like Nirbhagya Janma (“Unfortunate Birth”) and Sooleya Samsara (“Family of a Prostitute”) echoed the sorrowful plight of the impoverished.

His magnum opus Devaddhootaru, a hoax on modern India, was published in 1928.

Karanth was an intellectual and environmentalist who made noteworthy contributions to the art and culture of Karnataka.

He is contemplated as one of the most significant novelists in the Kannada language.

His novels Marali Mannige, Bettada Jeeva, Alida Mele, Mookajjiya Kanasugalu, Mai Managala Suliyalli, Ade OOru Ade Mara, Shaneeshwarana Neralinalli, Kudiyara Koosu, Svapnada Hole, Sarsammana Samadhi, and Chomana Dudi are widely read and have earned crucial recognition. He wrote two books on Karnataka’s ancient stage dance-drama Yakshagana.

He was involved in operations in the procedures of printing for some years in the 1930s and 1940s and published his own novels, but incurred monetary losses.

He was also a painter and was deeply worried about the issue of nuclear energy and its impact on the environment.

Even at an old age, he did not leave his passion behind, at the age of 90, he wrote a book on birds (published in 2002 by Manohara Grantha Mala, Dharwad).

He was so versatile that he wrote, apart from his forty-seven novels, thirty-one plays, four short story collections, six books of essays and sketches, thirteen books on art, two volumes of poems, nine encyclopedias, and over one hundred articles on various subjects.

There are numerous proofs of his versatility as many of Karanth’s books have been deciphered into other Indian languages. Marali Mannige got translated to English by Padma Ramachandra Sharma, has been conferred the State Sahitya Akademi award.

The renowned novelist and writer received many awards for his persistence like,

  • Jnanapith Award – 1978
  • Sahitya Akademi Fellowship 1985
  • Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship 1973
  • Padma Bhushan
  • Sahitya Academy award – 1959
  • Karnataka state Sahitya Akademi Award
  • Sangeet Natak Award
  • Pampa Award
  • Swedish Academy award
  • Tulsi Samman (1990)
  • Dadabhai Nauroji Award (1990)

Honorary Doctorate from Mysore University, Meerut University, Karnatak University.

Karanth wedded Leela Alva, a student in the school that Karanth taught dance and directed plays in. Leela belonged to the Bunt community and was the daughter of a businessman, K. D. Alva. They married on 6 May 1936. The couple thereafter captivated ridicule from people in the region over their inter-caste marriage; Karanth belonged to an orthodox Brahmin community. Leela, who had her early education in the Marathi language, re-learned Kannada after marriage and translated the Marathi novel Pan Lakshat Kon Ghetto into Kannada.

She participated in Karanth’s operas. The Karanths had four children together: sons, Harsha and Ullas, a conservationist; and daughters, Malavika and Kshama.

The family dwelled in the Puttur town of Dakshina Kannada, a region in the South Karnataka region, before moving to Saligrama, a town 2 miles from Karanth’s birthplace Kota, in 1974. A few years prior to this, their eldest son Harsha died leaving Leela to suffer from “depression and hallucinations”. Leela died in September 1986. It was also the year that Karanth’s last novel was broadcasted.

Karanth was admitted to Kasturba Medical College in Manipal on 2 December 1997 to be treated for viral fever. He endured a cardiac respiratory arrest two days later and slipped into a coma.

On 8 December, his kidneys started up to fail and subsequently developed serious acidosis and sepsis, coming after which he was put on dialysis. Feats to revive him ceased to function and he died at 11:35 a.m. the following day, aged 95. The government of Karnataka declared a two-day mourning in the State as a mark of honor.

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