Kannada is one of the four main languages of south india, of Dravidian origin, and the eighth among the languages listed in the Constitution. The earliest Kannada inscription is of the 4th century A.D. A work of the 9th century, Kavirajmarga, quotes thirty-six earlier Kannada poets, and also mentions that kannada was the language of the people from Kaveri to Godavari.
Apart from Sanskrit, Jain religion and literature influenced Kannada writing. Among the Jain writers, Pampa (942 A.D.) is well known. His Bharata and Adipurana are immortal works, known widely, read and enjoyed even today by literates and illiterates alike, the latter, perhaps, by the ear. Ponna (950 A.D.) wrote the story of Rama in 14 chapters, Chavundaraya (978) stories of the 63 great Jain saints. Ranna’s Gada Yuddha (993) is being studied in the class room even today. Stories and romances abound. Nemichandra wrote in 1170 a romance entitled Lilavathi, in which lovers meet for the first time in each other’s dreams and then search out and marry after overcoming several obstacles in their path. Rajaditya (1191) wrote a treatise on mathematics. Many technical and scientific works were also written between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries on Ayurveda, poisons and antidotes, treatment of cattle diseases, on meteorological topics (entirely in verse) dealing with rainfall, cloud-formation, earthquakes, and underground water, thunder and lightning. In the 12th century, after the fall of (the later) Chalukyas, Kallachuris became dominant in Karnataka. Buddhism, Jainism and Vedic religions, were losing their dynamism; at this juncture, Basaveswara appeared on the scene with his Vachanas, terse and powerful epigrams, touching many aspects of philosophy and conduct, which created a new religious order; Kumara Vyasa (1400) has left an outstanding work in his Bharata. The musical compositions of the Dasas, Purandara Dasa, Kanaka Dasa and many others, wandering minstrels mainly singing the glory of God, are timeless in their appeal. The most popular at this time (as even today) are the Tripadis of Sarvajna. Sarvajna’s exact date is uncertain (about 1700). He adopted a life of wandering with a begging bowl in hand. His two thousand verses in Tripadi meter express a pragmatic philosophy aimed at the common man, attacking hypocrisy, bigotry, and superstition, and some are also reflective or lyrical. Tripadi is a verse form in three lines, suited to folk music, lullabies or for the expression of one’s longings and aspirations. The rhythm of Tripadi has an impact, which is immediate, universal and abiding. The poet’s words sank deep into the minds and hearts of people. It was indeed ‘mass communication’ at its best, achieved through the sheer potency of thought and expression, without any mechanical aids or talk of the ‘Media’.
With the 18th century, Kannada literature entered the modern period (and continuing today), with its numerous poets, novelists and dramatists who carried on the influence of the earlier traditions, mingled with the influence of Western literature, and who have managed to leave behind what may safely be termed ‘ Great Writing’, both in quantity and quality.