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Kuppali Venkatappa Puttappa (29 December 1904 – 11 November 1994),popularly known by his pen name Kuvempu, was an Indian novelist, poet, playwright, critic and thinker. He is widely regarded as the greatest Kannada poet of the 20th century. He is the first among Kannada writers to be decorated with the prestigious Jnanpith Award.
Kuvempu studied at Mysore University in the 1920s, taught there for nearly three decades and served as its vice-chancellor from 1956 to 1960. He initiated education in Kannada as the language medium. For his contributions to Kannada Literature, the Government of Karnataka decorated him with the honorific Rashtrakavi (“National Poet”) in 1958 and Karnataka Ratna (“The Gem of Karnataka”) in 1992. His epic narrative Sri Ramayana Darshanam, a modern rendition of the Indian Hindu epic Ramayana is regarded as the revival of the era of Mahakavya (“Great Epic Poetry”) in contemporary form and charm. His writings and his contribution to “Universal Humanism” (in his own words, “Vishwamaanavata Vaada”) gives him a unique place in modern Indian literature. He was conferred the Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India in 1988. He penned the Karnataka State Anthem Jaya Bharata Jananiya Tanujate.
Kuvempu was born in Hirekodige, a village in Chikmagalur district of the erstwhile Kingdom of Mysore (now in Karnataka),into a Kannada-speaking Vokkaliga family. His mother Seethamma hailed from his birthplace while his father Venkatappa Gowda was from Kuppali, a village in Thirthahalli taluk (in present-day Shimoga district), where he was raised.Early in his childhood, Kuvempu was home-schooled by an appointed teacher from South Canara. He joined the Anglo-Vernacular school in Thirthahalli to continue his middle school education. Kuvempu’s father died when he was only twelve. He finished his lower and secondary education in Kannada and English languages in Thirthahalli and moved to Mysore for further education at the Wesleyan High School. Thereafter, he pursued college studies at the Maharaja College of Mysore and graduated in 1929, majoring in Kannada.
Kuvempu married Hemavathi on 30 April 1937. He was forced to enter marital life on this faculty out of Ramakrishna Mission. Kuvempu has two sons, poorna chandra Tejaswi, and two daughters, kokilodaya chaitra and Tharini is married to k.Chidananda gowda the former Vice-Chancellor of Kuvempu University. His home in Mysore is called Udayaravi (“Rising Sun”). His son Poornachandra Tejaswi was a polymath, contributing significantly to kan nada literature, photography, calligraphy, digital imaging, social movements, and agriculture
Kuvempu began his academic career as a lecturer of Kannada language at the Maharaja’s College in Mysore in 1929. He worked as an assistant professor in the Central college, Bangalore from 1936. He re-joined Maharaja’s college in Mysore in 1946 as a professor. (group photo) He went on to become the principal of the Maharaja’s college in 1955. In 1956 he was selected as the Vice-Chancellor of Mysore University where he served till retirement in 1960. He was the first graduate from Mysore University to rise to that position.
Kuvempu started his literary work in English, with a collection of poetry called Beginner’s Muse but later switched to his native Kannada. He spearheaded the movement to make Kannada the medium for education, emphasizing the theme “Education in the Mother tongue”. To cater to the needs of Kannada research, he founded the Kannada Adhyayana Samsthe (“Institute of Kannada Studies”) in the Mysore University, which has since been renamed after him as “Kuvempu Institute of Kannada Studies”. As Vice-Chancellor of Mysore University, he pioneered the study of sciences and languages. He championed the publishing of Knowledge for the laymen with by G. Hanumanta Rao.
Kuvempu was more than a writer for his life was in itself a ‘great message’. He was against casteism, meaningless practices and religious ritual. Kuvempu’s writings reflect his resentment against these practices. The Shoodra Tapaswi (“untouchable saint”) was one such writing. Kuvempu who was from the Vokkaliga community gave a perspective to the ancient epic Ramayana that was quite unlike the portrayal of the characters by the original author Valmiki. Kuvempu’s version of the epic called Sri Ramayana Darshanam won him the prestigious Jnanpith Award. His epic underscores his vision of Sarvodaya (“upliftment of all”). The protagonist of his epic, the Hindu god Rama, personifies this when he tests himself along with his consort Sita by jumping into the fire.
The speech he made during the convocation ceremony of Bangalore University was published in the book Vichaarakranthige Aahwaana. It calls for a re-assessment of developmental policies. Though it was delivered in 1974, the message is still considered relevant to modern society. In the year 1987, The Government of Karnataka started the Kuvempu University in the Shimoga district, Karnataka. This is located in the Jnana Sahyadri campus, 28 km from Shimoga city.