The Progressive Literary and Cultural Movements in
Karnataka since 1936
· Shivananda S,
· Vasantharaja N K,
· Dr. Vittal Bhandari
We propose to give in this paper, an account of progressive literary and cultural movements in Karnataka in the post-1936 phase i.e. since the beginning of an all-India progressive literary and cultural movement led by PWA/IPTA. At the outset we may state that the direct impact of PWA/IPTA in Karnataka was quite limited. It was limited to initiating Pragathisheela literary movement in early 1940s. Most other literary and cultural movements since then have been ‘home-grown’, arising out of specific trajectory of developments in Karnataka in cultural and socio-political spheres. We would deal in some detail four most significant cultural movements in Karnataka – Vachana, Pragatisheela, Dalita-Bandaya and Samudaya. We try to give an of account factors and circumstances leading to birth of these movements, their achievements and shortcomings, their historical role and reasons for their decline. We have taken up Vachana movement also in this paper, though it does not belong to this period. Yet we have discussed it not only because it is a prototype of comprehensive progressive cultural movement. Also it will be ahistoric to discuss progressive cultural movement in Karnataka without referring to Vachana movement.
We would also give an account of progressive currents in Kannada literature in pre-Pragatisheela, post-Pragatisheela and post-Dalita-Bandaya phases. Although Samudaya is the only progressive cultural (mostly theater) movement with state-wide impact, we would touch upon briefly activities of Dalita Kala Mandalis, and few others. We would limit our discussions to literature and theater. We are not equipped to discuss progressive cultural movements in other forms such as cinema, painting, music, dance, folk forms.
It is our view that given the regional, national and international resurgence of socio-political movements, a new literary and cultural movement is the need of the hour. We also deal with objectives of such a movement and what it can learn from earlier progressive movements.
It would be ahistorical to talk about modern progressive literary and cultural movements of Karnataka, without referring to Vachana movement of the 12th century. The Vachana movement made significant impact on the social, religious and cultural spheres and has given a new dimension to Kannada literature. It was led by Basavanna who was spiritual as well as revolutionary in his ideas and actions. He united the downtrodden, de-classified and identified himself as a member of untouchable community. He condemned the caste system, sex discrimination and superstitious beliefs and opposed the construction of temples and animal sacrifices. He also gave a sense of dignity to labour i.e. traditional occupations. He encouraged the untouchables and downtrodden people to voice their inner emotions and sufferings in their own dialect in the form of vachana. The innumerable male and female vachanakaras joined his movement. He also tried to conduct an inter-caste marriage between a Brahmin & an untouchable which ended in bloodshed. Basavanna, Akkamahadevi, Allama Prabhu, Madara Chennaiah, Siddarama, Molige Maraiah, Ambigara Chowdaih, Jedara Dasimaiah, Ayadakki Lakkamma, Goggavve, Sule Sankavva & many more have sung their vachanas. It is said that there were nearly more than 60 female vachanakaras. For the first time in the history, literature became the voice of the toiling masses. The movement was crushed violently by the King Bijjala and the upper caste priests because it was threatening the very basis of Varna system.
Even now the impact of Vachana movement is widespread amongst toiling masses and a great source of inspiration to any progressive writer or movement. Even now vachanas are remembered, recited widely and are very much alive amongst people as well as literary circles. Purandara and Kanaka Dasas (part of Bhaktipantha found all over India) and Tatvapadakaras were successors of the Vachana movement in later centuries, although they never achieved the same heights. Vachana movement still is unique in Karnataka (perhaps in whole of India) for combining socio-political, religious, literary-cultural aspects into one comprehensive movement, and its wide continuing impact.
While assessing the achievements and limitations of the Progressive movement in Karnataka, normally our literary historians and critics have depicted the progressive phase with the Pragatisheela (progressive) movement only which held its sway from 1943 to 1952. This was the ‘official’ period when the movement was visible and prominent. But they have not considered some literary undercurrents before and after, official ‘period’ of the Pragatisheela movement as parts of the movement. In view of this, we may identify three phases of Pragatisheela movement in Kannada literature. In our view, Pre-Pragatisheela Phase and Post-Pragatisheela Phase are not separate but integral parts of the movement. While former explores the formative period, latter continuing impact – constituting a continuous whole. Even though the Pre-pragtisheela Phase belongs to Navodaya (Renaissance) period that the Pragatisheela writers dubbed as ‘romantic’ and the Post-Pragatisheela phase belongs to Navya (modern) period which crushed the zeal of the Pragatisheela movement, they were not exclusive in their content. In spite of such phasing based on dominant trends, we should break such barriers and they need to be linked together to get a whole picture of the movement and its impact on Kannada literature.
(i) Pre-Pragatisheela Phase:
Some of the Kannada writers had written outstanding and astonishing works during 30’s at the time when there was no strong progressive movement yet at all India level or provincial level. But it seems they were indirectly influenced by the Great October Revolution of 1917 and revolutionary ideas of Lenin. For example, the first biography on Lenin was published in Kannada during 1923 by Gorakha from Hubli. It is probably the earliest recorded evidence of Marxian thought in Kannada.
Kuvempu and Bendre, the two great poets of the Navodaya period, voiced the social concerns with new poetic imagery of flesh and blood. Kuvempu wrote some sonnets on Lenin and Tolstoy way back in1935 itself. He addresses Lenin with full of poetic imagery such as thunder roar, son of Jamadadgni, a threat to aristocrats, deity to working mass and Kalki, a revolutionary avatar. In a sonnet called `Kranti Kaali’ i.e. Goddess of the Revolution, declares that the poet should not be unrealistic and escapist in his creation and not to concern himself with futile things but to sing the songs of poverty, hunger, labour, pick-axe, crowbar and sweat. In another sonnet called `Bekku-Ili’(Cat-Rat), the poet expresses his anguish for the exploitation of the scavenger, labourer, farmer and poor. It was he who threw away the age old theory of `Arts for Arts sake’. We may see some of the lines from his poetry:
`` Listen, the voice of the new age has arrived
Equal life and Equal share to one and all !” - [Hosa Balina Geete: 1935]
`` Come out from the Temples, Churches, Mosques,
To root out the roots of the Poverty,
To push out the evil of obscurantism/irrationalism’’. - [O Banni Sodarare :1935]
``Old Time is being passed on, New Time is coming,
Coming up with new vision with new desires!
Russia, until recently the hateful slum of the West,
Is today a Nandana, the smiling garden,
Asia, hitherto sleeping, is now roaring like a Lion ! –[Tarunarira eddeli: 1935]
Yet poems like `Gobbara’ (manure) and `Negila yogi’ (Saint Farmer) sing the glory and dignity of labour culture and agriculture. It should also be mentioned here that the same poet was critical about Russia in his poem `Kogile (cuckoo) and Soviet Russia’ written in 1936. He visits Russia in his dream and sees the abundant materialistic prosperity everywhere but mechanical life elsewhere and all were equal but without inner life and freedom. By this, the poet cannot be labeled as anti-Russia, anti-revolution and anti-progressive; instead we may say that Kuvempu was in search of a land wherein both materialistic prosperity and freedom exist.
Da.Ra.Bendre too gave an indepth expression to the sufferings of exploitation, inequalities, injustice and hunger in his poems. `Tuttina cheela’ , `Annavatara’, `Kurudu Kanchana’, `Manuvina Makkalu’ `Daridra Narayana’ are witness to such Socialistic expressions.
``The inner voice of the belly of the poor,
Is roaring and is out to upset everything.
Is bent on swallowing the entire universe” - [Tuttina Cheela: 1938]
``All gods have come on earth
Yet the sufferings of the people have not gone.
But the God of Rice has not yet come’’ - [Annavatara: 1938]
Whereas `Kurudu Kanchana’ (Blind Money) depicts the ruthless oppression and exploitation of myriad power of money i.e. Capitalism. `Krodha ketana’, a poem written by V. Seetaramaiah, another Navodaya poet, is noteworthy here.
Similarly, Shivarama Karantha, the great novelist, wrote `Chomana Dudi’ (Choma`s Drum) in 1933, depicts the tragic life of Choma, an untouchable and landless laborer, who desires to have his own land but in vain. We may also cite here short stories of Bharatipriya`s `Mochi’ (1932) and Koradkal Srinivasarao`s `Dhaniyara Satyanarayana’(1938).
The above creative works penned by Kuvempu, Bendre and Shivarama Karantha were the literature of what we now call `Social Realism’. The pre-progressive phase, as explained, was a harbinger of Progressive ideology.
ii. Pragatisheela Movement
The first important event was ShreeRanga [Prof. R.V. Jagirdar], a noted playwright, who participated in the 4th All India Progressive Writers Conference held on May, 22 to 24th, 1943 at Bombay and presented a literary scene prevailing in Kannada with progressive aspects. He was also elected as a member of the executive committee. During the same year in December 1943, Karnataka Pragatisheela writers Association came into existence under the leadership of A.N.Krishnarao (Aa.Na.Kru).
The following writers were identified with the new movement: (Apart from the above) Niranjana, Ta.Ra. Subbarao, Nadigera Krishnaraya, Anatha Padmanabha Sogal, V.M. Inamdar, Krishna Kumar kallur, Da.Ba. Kulakarni, D.K. Bharadwaj, V.K.Gokak, Gowrish Kaikini, Archika Venkatesh, Seva Namiraja Malla, B.M. Idinabba, Kayyara Kinnanna Rai, P.K.Narayana. Hiremallur Eishwarn, Ko. Channabasappa, Patil Puttappa, Dasharathi Dixit, Beechi, Kumara Venkanna, S. Anantanarayana, Ma.Na. Chowappa, Thee. Tha. Sharma, K.Srikanteshwaran, Basavaraja Kattimani, Chaduranga, Dodderi Venkatagiri Rao, Devudu, Vasudeva Bhoopalam, HSK & others.
The Pragatisheela movement emerged as a revolt against Navodaya literature. Navodaya writers tried to keep distance from politics; whereas Pragatisheela writers held that politics be reflected in literature. They proclaimed that the problems of working class, the difficulties and predicaments of the peasants, exploitation and oppression of the dominant class shall be depicted and unraveled in literature.
The Association was quite active from 1943 to 1947. It conducted meetings, campaigns and brought out some publications like `Pragatisheela Sahitya’-(1944), an anthology of essays, had become a Red Book of the movement. `Rasa Rushi’- an anthology of poems, and `Maxim Gorky’, `Russian Stories’, `Soviet Culture’, `Pragatisheela Kathegalu’ were other publications. But by the year 1948, the organization started to disintegrate due to ideological differences that erupted between Aa.Na.Kru and Niranjana. The movement faded away by 1952, the year in which the last meeting was held by the Aa.Na.Kru fraction at Hiriyur, wherein his book `Sahitya mattu Kama prachodane’ was released which was written in defense of ‘obscenity’ literature. This clearly indicated the decadence of the movement.
Three major aspects were absent in the movement. (1) The Absence of literary criticism and critical analysis due to which the Pragatisheela writers failed to resolve their internal conflicts and controversies and the external onslaught too. (2) Non-representation from women writers. But we may see the impact of the movement and the progressive elements in the novels of Triveni, M.K. Indira and Anupama Niranjana, even though they did not declare themselves as Pragatisheela writers. (3) The absence of poets in the movement. It was dominated by fiction writers. They might have felt that poetry was not their medium of expression and poetry may not grasp realistic details of social life. But due to this, they lacked the poetic and symbolic use of language in its subtleties.
The aesthetic critics always pose one question
- how many ‘excellent’ creative
works were produced by the movement. But it needs to be stressed here that the
primary aim of such progressive movements is or was not the task to produce ‘excellent’
works only, but to create new awareness & consciousness in the social,
political and cultural spheres with an objective to build a new order. Even
though the movement was short lived, it has left its imprints on Kannada
literature. Some of the novels like `Chirasmarane’ and `Vimochane’ by Niranjana, jwalamukhiya mele’, `Swatantradedege’
and `Madi Madidavaru’ by Basavaraja Kattimani have been acclaimed as the
remarkable works of the Pragatisheela movement.
Even though the prominent writers like Aa.Na.Kru. and Ta.Ra.Su. drifted to revivalist ideology, many more works of the Pragatisheela movement have been discarded, scrapped and brushed aside by the critics of the Navya School with their own tools of criticism on the pretext of lack of artistic expressions, overt expressions with melodramatic sentimentality, creation of black and white characters with superfluous emotions, etc. But this kind of Navya criticism certainly does not give justice to the pragatisheela works and, hence, works produced during the movement need a fresh look and reassessment.
The Pragatisheela writers intended to write on contemporary issues of poverty, caste system, prostitution which were haunting the lives of common folk. It was their prime concern to depict ugly faces of exploitation, injustice, cruelties, and evils of the existing social structure wherein feudal (zamindari) and priestly forces were dominant. They wrote such stories in a simple diction which can reach the literate people. If they have failed in their treatment of themes, it was due to ideological confusions and predicaments prevailing in the political sphere. There was no strong progressive political movement and organization at that time. Karnataka was divided among many princely states (e.g. Mysore, Hyderabad and many other smaller ones) and British provinces (Bombay, Madras). Even in areas of British provinces, democratic movement was weak. Writers were caught between their own perspective on one hand and the influences of Gandhi`s National freedom struggle, Hindu reformist/revivalist movement, Karnataka Ekeekarana (unification) movement on the other. It was very difficult for them to resolve these conflicting influences and evolve a comprehensive ideological position. It was in such an historical juncture, they encountered the social, political, cultural and literary pressures and predicaments. This may be the cause of their artistic shortcomings. They have written many good short stories like `Girije kanda cenema’, Karavan’, `Koneya Giraki’,`Boot polish’, `Mukkannana mukti’, `Girijammana Rotti, `Shavada mane’, & `Na Konda hudugi’, etc.
The movement was incapable of withstanding the onslaught/attack of the Navya School because the Pragatisheela movement had not developed its own critical tools embedded with progressive aesthetics and the writers were not academic persons, and hence, lacked critical ground to defend their ideological position as well their works. Navya School took this disadvantage of the Pragatisheela movement to belittle its merits and crushed the spirit of the movement. Even now after lapse of 50-60 years, efforts made to reassess the works of the movement are very much disappointing. D.R. Nagaraj, Ashoka Shettar and H.S. Raghavendra Rao have attempted to depict the Pragatisheela movement, but they have tried to locate its historicity only and have endorsed the views of Keertinath Kurtukoti and Lankesh etc. of the Navya movement. Whereas, Rahmat Tarikere1. and Keshava Sharma2 has attempted to reassess the movement in brief and tried to give a good deal of justice to some extent.
iii. Post-Pragatisheela Phase :
It is interesting to note that even though the movement faded away due to its own internal weakness, its influence on the young poets of 1950`s was immense. The early poems of Gopala Krishna Adiga [Bhava Taranga and Kattuvevu Navu collections], Ramachandra Sharma, Gangadhara Chittal, V.G. Bhatta, S.R. Ekkundi, & others have reflected the progressive spirit. It is strange thing that the early poems of these poets have been neglected and the Navya critics have not considered them seriously on the ground that they do not reflect the true poetic personality of the said poets and those are not the expressions of their explored experiences. But most of the poems were poetic expressions of the social reality. Most of them later became the great poets of Navya school cutting themselves off from the socialistic thoughts. Vyasarao Ballala, Venkataraj Panase and Chaduranga continued their creative writings in spite of and ignoring the Navya fashion.
It would be useful to highlight some of the social, political and cultural upheavals occurred during the early years of 1970`s which paved the way for the emergence of Dalita & Bandaya Movements in Kannada literature. The congress government headed by Devaraj Urs introduced Land Reforms Act 1973 and implemented the recommendations of Havanur Commission of Backward classes. Radical protest held against Shri Satya Sai Baba at Dharwad by Chandrashekar Patil & others inspired by Abraham Kovur, exposed the false & superstitious tricks, and asserted the power of rationality. The Boosa literature episode triggered in 1973 by a comment by a Dalit minister B.Basavalingappa, who lost his ministership due to an upper-caste agitation against him. It raised the question of ‘use value’ of Kannada literary tradition. Dalit Sangharha Samiti emerged in 1974 with Dr. Ambedkar`s thoughts and influenced by Dalit Panthers movement of Maharashtra. It organized the newly educated sections from Dalit communities on militant lines. `Jati Vinasha Sammelana’ held in 1973 at Mysore tried to consolidate the Lohiaist thoughts, and `All Karnataka writers & Artists Federation’ [okkuta] held in 1974 in Mysore tried to consolidate the non-Brahmin (Shudra) literary and cultural movement, which virtually divided the Navya writers. This non-Brahmin (Shudra) phenomenon was an upsurge against the cultural dominance of Brahmin ideology. Further, J.P movement and its Nava Nirmana Samiti agitations also stirred political consciousness against Emergency during 1975. Chandrashekar Patil re-launched `Sankramana’ in 1975, which was a mere literary journal earlier was transformed as a forum for new literary and cultural voices and debates.
The literary scene also witnessed the tremendous activities. Purnachandra Tejaswi wrote a preface with a title ``Hosa Digantadedege’3 [Towards a New Direction] to his own collection of short stories ` in 1973 which heralded a clear break from Navya movement. Devanuru Mahadeva unfolded the Dalit world in his stories depicting the inner sufferings of the oppressed by exposing the subtleties of exploitation and cruelty of the upper class. Siddalingaiah came out with his flamboyant/ firebrand and rebellious poems [Hole madigara hadu: 1975] calling oppressed to rise in revolt against exploiters and oppressors. Chandrashekar Patil, who was jailed during Emergency, wrote new poems during 1976-77 like `Gandhi Smarane’, `Atithi’, `Grhuha Bandhana’ and `O Nanna Bandhavare’ etc, which unbundled the hypocrisies of the political order. Allamaprabhu Bettadur also came out with the Lohiastic and socialistic protest poetry. Besagarahalli Ramanna too voiced in his short stories the cruelties and inhumanness of the social and political system of the Emergency period. `Samudaya’, a progressive
theatre group especially with CGK & Prasanna as directors, was
staging plays. Baraguru Ramachandrappa, D.R. Nagaraj, R.K. Manipal & others
were also engaged in formulating new critical and ideological tools in their
writings. Niranjana, also attempted to
rejuvenate Pragatisheela movement
under the new name Pragati Pantha which was launched at Davanagere in
1976. But it did not take off on wider scale, due to its indirect support for
emergency. The Bandaya Movement
gathered its momentum from all these social, political, cultural & literary
grounds. It was part of the wider post-emergency democratic upsurge, and its
cultural manifestation. The Movement was
launched on March, 11th 1979, with an organizing conference in
The Bandaya Movement stood not only against the individualistic and high brow aesthetics of the Navya writers but also against the social, economic, cultural inequalities and injustices. Its motto was: “Let the poetry become the sword and soul mate to the sorrows of the people”. Its manifesto was unambiguous: `To implant such positions which are in favour of the exploited people in cultural sphere. The political and cultural contexts are interrelated. The writer should have social and political consciousness. Building a struggle against untouchability, caste system and sexual discrimination is one of the main objectives’’. Baraguru Ramachandrappa has further clarified the aim of the movement:
``Humanism is the basic foundation of the Bandaya literary movement. We feel that it is the proper method to see man as a man and to ‘realize’ him in the background of hard realities of the history. It is the creative process of the Bandaya writers to search ‘reality’ by tearing off the illusions of life. The process of realization of the reality and its exploration of the subtleties should find expression vigorously in literature. The real form of contemporary life with its different angles as seen by each writer should become visible. This should be able to change the existing state of being and, shall become an inspiration for longing for new life. There should be a humanitarian sensibility behind our anger, irony, grief, satire, helplessness reflected in our works. This is the motif and responsibility of the Bandaya literary movement’’4
Bandaya was a broad-based left-democratic cultural united front of the progressive minds comprising Marxist, Lohiaist and Ambedkarist thoughts. The movement consolidated many different thinkers and writers with leftist, progressive and democratic ideologies, and who believed in fighting against the social and cultural evils in order to change the existing system. It is to be noted that no single ideology either Marxism, Lohiast, Ambedkarite or Gandhian thought was able to understand the Indian reality in all its complexities, and stage a comprehensive war on a large scale, due to limitations in the ideological framework. Mere class struggle, mere caste struggle, mere Dalit struggle or mere satyagraha are ineffective in reality. Instead of confining and compartmentalizing their struggles, they came together to work at least in the cultural and literary spheres. The Bandaya movement made this confluence of ideologies possible. This kind of comprehensive approach avoided the sectarian ideological confrontations and it also created a sense of checks and balances among themselves.
G.S. Shivarudrappa, a noted critic and poet, who as an outsider to the movement, has made an objective observation:
`` Bandaya means it is an attitude (manodharma). The prime feature of this attitude is to question and to change the social inequalities and injustice, in toto, a tendency to revolt against the existing state of being. Protest was not a value in literature hitherto, but now it has gained a value”5.
The Bandaya movement captured the young minds from all walks of life; especially it encouraged the young writers coming from the downtrodden and backward classes to voice their sufferings in their own idiom. This unveiled to give expression to the historically suppressed and marginalized emotions and experiences. This also created a sense of self confidence in their creative expressions. In such a cultural atmosphere, the Dalit writers were able to develop their own Dalit sensibility, female writers their own Female sensibility and Muslim writers their own Muslim sensibility. The Bandaya movement honoured their identities for their historical and cultural reasons. The identities were not felt as separate and exclusive but all inclusive in a dialectical perspective. Even though the Dalit movement has kept its core ideological identity since inception, both the Dalita and Bandaya movements co-existed and worked in tandem. In turn, they worked in tandem with vibrant left and democratic socio-political movements, organization and parties. As a total impact of these, first non-congress government in Karnataka came into being.
The movement has witnessed innumerable number of prominent and excellent writers in all the creative forms of literature. The movement withstood all kinds of onslaught due to its ideological strengths. Even the Navya writers who were opposing the movement earlier, slowly started either to react or to assimilate its influence in their own way. These are some of the significant achievements and impacts.
Gopala Krishna Adiga`s poems like `Nanu Hindu, Nanu Brahmana’, `shoshane’(1983), and `Bandaya’(1984) may be seen as reaction to the movement; whereas poems like `Pentaiahna angi’ (K.V.Tirumalesh) and `Gendagaiah’(1988: K.N. Shivateerthan) are the best examples which reflect the assimilation of its influence.
The movement has witnessed innumerable number of prominent and excellent writers in all the creative forms of literature. Siddalingaiah`s poetry, as already mentioned, is an outburst against exploiters and oppressors and stirred the oppressed to rise in revolt in the lines `Bang them, slap them and strip their skin’ and the poet also says`` The huts are roaring and the bungalows are crumbling’’. He questions the very meaning of freedom that India got: ``who got the freedom from 1947?’’ and he vigorously asserts in another poem ‘’Dalits are coming, Make way and hand over the state power to the Dalits”. In other collections of poetry ``Saviraru Nadigalu’’ and ``Alle kuntavre’’, he widens his vision of revolt saying that `several streams will join to the ocean of struggle’. Siddalingaiah has tried to blend both Marxism and Ambedkarism as well as Dalit and Bandaya forces in his poetry. The word `Dalit’ in his poetry takes a wider scope and is inclusive of all exploited and oppressed class. Whereas Aravinda Malagatti, Manaja, Govindaiah, Mulluru Nagaraja, Munivenkatappa, Hampanna, Indudhara Honnapura, Gangaram Chandala, K.B.Siddaiah, K.Ramaiah, L.Hanumanthaiah, Satyananda Patrota and others have expounded their experiences with the historical, social and cultural atrocities and humiliations of untouchability; they confined the orbit of the word `Dalit’ to the bitter experiences of untouchability. Baraguru Ramachandrappa, Chennanna Walikar, Sarju Katkar, Satish Kulkarni, Purushottama Blimale, Shankar Katagi, Jambanna Amarachinta, Ramjan Darga, S.G.Siddaramaiah, R.K.Manipal, Vishnu Naik, R.V.Bhandari, Basavaja Sabarada and others have voiced the sufferings of other backward castes/classes but inclusive of all exploited and oppressed lives in their poetry. Some of the titles of their poems/collections themselves indicate the inner tendency and strength of the movement. For example, `Muukanige Bayi Bandaga’ [when a dumb gets voice: Aravinda Malagatti], `Adho jagattina Akavya’ [Non-poetry of Inferno], `Beedige bantu Kavya’ [Poetry came to Street: Ramjan Darga], `Gulama Geete’ [Song of a Serf],`Bandedda Dalitara Beediya Hadugalu’ [Street Songs of Dalits in revolt: Chennanna Walikar], `Hesarilladavara Hadu’[A Song of Nameless Lives: Prabhudev Hadimani],etc. Likewise D.Vijaya, B.T.Lalitanaik, Mallika Ghanti, Malati Pattanashetty, Kamala Hemmige, Cha.Sarvamangala, Savita Nagabhushana, Sukanya Maruti, Vijayashree Sabarada, Shashikala Vastrad, Sarawati Gowda, Muktayakka, Sa.Usha, Pratibha Nandakumar, Vydehi, K.Shareefa and others have given expression to their nuances of inner sufferings under male dominated society in their writings of poetry, short stories and novels. They have also questioned and critically analyzed the proto models of women like Seeta, Draupadi, Ahalya depicted in epics. They have also unlocked the inhuman, brutal, unhealthy and deceitful bias and prejudices of Gender Politics and male-constructed language. Their poetry has gradually moved from an earlier aggressive male criticism to the inner subtlelities of Culture criticism.
In prose writings, Devanuru Mahadeva, Baraguru Ramachandrappa, Kalegowda Nagawara, Besagarahalli Ramanna, Kum Veerabhadrappa, Girijamma, Geeta Nagabhushan, Videhi, Janagere Venkataramaiah, Krishnamurty Hanur, Shantarasa, Ka.Ta. Chikkanna, Mogalli Ganesh, have explored new themes of sufferings and evils of exploitation, injustice and oppression in their short stories and novels. Writers like Boluvaru Mohamed Kuhni, Fakir Mohamed Katpadi, Banu Mustak, Sara Abubekar, Abdul Rashid and others have unearthed the predicaments and sufferings of Muslim women and poor under social and religious customs like Nikah, Talaq, jihad etc, and also they have explored the cruelties and inhuman tendencies of both Hindu and Muslim Fundamentalism & Communalism.
Regarding literary criticism, Baraguru Ramachandrappa, R.K.Manipal, D.R.Nagaraj, Shivananda S, Manaja, Rahmat Tarikere, Keshava Sharma, Purushottama Bilimale, C.Veeranna, K.V. Narayana, Basavaraj Kalgudi and others have tried to develop new ideological tools of the literary criticism and they have initiated new literary discourses which were intended attempting to comprehensive revaluation of the Kannada literary tradition since its inception. The new ideological concepts like Baragur`s `Upa Sanskruti’ [Sub-Culture], Rahmat`s `Prati Sanskruti’ [Counter-Culture], Bilimale`s `Shista-Parishista’ [Standard & Residue], Hariharapriya`s `Paryaya Sanskruti’ [Alternative Culture] and D.R.Nagaraja`s `Amrita mattu Garuda’ have given a new dimension to the literary criticism. These discourses have brought a paradigm shift in the traditional form of literary criticism which has been metamorphosized into Cultural Criticism. These are some of the significant achievements and impacts of Dalita and Bandaya movement.
Over three and half decades have elapsed since the emergence of Bandaya movement. It reigned over the Kannada literary scene for over two decades, as the dominant literary trend. Even in the last decade its influence can be seen as an undercurrent, similar to post-Pragatisheela phase described above. However question being posed over last decade is whether the movement has come to standstill and/or lost its relevance. It would be appropriate now to analyze some of its main weakness and limitations in the context of onslaught of twin phenomenon of Globalization and Communalism from 1990s onwards.
o It was one of the main proclamations that `the movement should launch programs on wider scale in the Kannada cultural sphere’. But it is to be noted that no such programs were held on wider scale. In spite of the fact that it was conducting the conferences at district level once in two or three years, its expansion was not grown up to the expected level due to its organizational slackness.
o The organization was unable to sustain its own publication of a journal called `Bandaya’ which was stopped after 2-3 issues. Even though there were some like-minded journals like `Sankramana’, Anveshane’, `Samudaya’, there was a need to publish its own journal to encourage new writers and to provide a forum to the Bandaya writers to discuss the contemporary issues of literary and cultural discourses; and there was a possibility to strengthen its literary- cultural criticism.
o Bandaya failed to strengthen its organization through vigorous voice of protest against such challenges that erupted after 1990s like GATT agreement, demolition of Babri masjid, Bababudengiri episode, widespread vicious communalisation of all spheres of life including culture and education, surge of religious obscurantism, anti-people positions of Liberalism-Privatization-Globalization
o The ideological base of the movement was to fight against social inequalities, injustice, exploitation and against ‘Master’ Culture. It was basically an ideological framework formulated as response to the phenomena prevailing in 1970s. But different kinds of new ideological and critical tools were required to explain and combat new phenomena that erupted in and after 1990s. The ideological base of the Bandaya-Dalita movement was unable to critically examine many contemporary phenomena, drive forward and devise counter-action. It could not critically analyse many sociological-cultural theories (mostly ‘academic fashions’ imported from American and European universities, masquadering variously as folklore, ethnic studies, subaltern studies, cultural studies, post-modernism etc.) that gained prominence during and after decade of 1990s as ideological props of the Globalization onslaught, and fight them. Some even succumbed to them. Some of the leaders of the Dalita-Bandaya movement went over to the ruling class parties, some others were partly or fully co-opted by the state. Many splits in Dalita Sangarsha Samiti - both a source and result of Dalita literature, also blunted the edge of Dalita-Bandaya literary movement.
o Collapse of Soviet Union and East European socialist countries and consequent triumphalism of neo-liberal order also impacted appeal of the movement. With ferocious onslaught of neo-liberal order, weakening of left and democratic socio-political organizations followed. Also followed the weakening of the co-operation and mutual support between Dalita and Bandaya movements. Co-operation and mutual support between Dalita-Bandaya and left-democratic socio-political organizations also weakened.
Post-Dalita-Bandaya (Dalita-Bandayottara) phase
Current phase of over a decade is generally seen as a phase with no ‘big’ movements or trend of any kind in literary and cultural spheres. It is being extended to socio-political spheres also. It is seen as ‘positive’ and ‘desirable’ development. It is said that good literature and theater is being produced with writer/artist under no ‘pressure’ or ‘bound by an ideological framework’ or other ‘impediments such as social commitment’. We however disagree. This phase is also generally called Dalita-Bandayottara (post-Dalita-Bandaya). For lack of a better name, we will use the term. However, it is only used to signify a phase in which Dalita-Bandaya is not the dominant literary trend. It does not mean that we accept the contention that this is a trend either opposed to Dalita-Bandaya or a ‘clean break’ from that.
This phase has three main features. Firstly, there is a continuation, expansion and consolidation of Dalita-Bandaya trend in the new context of Globalisation and Communalism. Short stories of this phase particularly exhibit appropriate creative responses to both these dominant phenomenon of the phase. Short stories record the various responses to the onslaught. ‘Company’ stories that explore the inner world of MNCs and unravel the cold cruelty, ‘Mining’ stories that unravel several facets of impact of rampant mining on lives of various sections and their responses, ‘Harmony’ stories that vividly bring out the resistance of ordinary people despite widespread communal frenzy, ‘Movement’ stories that depict struggles, dilemmas, frustrations, compromises, corruption, co-options, defiance both at personal and group levels – are the forms in which Short stories have articulated resistance to Globalization and assertion of various forms of per Dr.M D Okkunda.6 ‘Swantantryada Oota’ - a mega novel by Boluvaru Kunhi by depicting the run of (and from/to ?!) ‘freedom’ starting from partition for over half a century as seen in a distant village of South Kanara district from the eyes of muslim community - a notable novel of the phase, is a fine example of the trend. Oppressed continue to find a voice in literature – particularly in Poetry and Fiction. We also hear voices of newer sections of oppressed and opened to the world of experiences of these sections, and different dimensions of the oppression. Oppressions in the context of Globalization have come to foreground, alongwith feudal oppression present already. Literary Criticism, Culture Studies, folklore studies, Linguistic studies, Historical studies, Science popularization - also have expanded widely in this period.
Secondly, Feminist writing has developed remarkably in this period both in quantity and quality, and become an independent trend on its own. World of experience and writers have come from many new sections – Dalit, Muslim, rural, urban, workers, professionals etc. They are exploring the gender sensibility from a variety of new standpoints, providing vast variety of new creative responses. They are not limiting to gender issues only either. For example, B T Jahnavi explores in many of her stories oppression of Dalit boy working in Dalit officers home. ‘Baduku’ – novel of Geeta Nagabhushan’s (Central Sahitya Academy winner) opens up a new world of experiences not seen earlier. Above all, women writers as a group are showing remarkable ‘unity of purpose’, clarity on their standpoints, distinct individuality in style and themes etc. not seen earlier or now in any other groupings (e.g. Dalit, OBC writers). They are exploring all forms – poetry, short stories, novels, criticism, non-fiction - equally vigorously.
Onslaught of Globalization along with Communalism that tends to endanger or marginalize or destroy many communities/cultures, way of life - has triggered many explorations of identities. This has also led some poets to explore the alternative life values contrary to the existing dominant culture. We may see such efforts in the poems like `Singiraja Purana’, `Samagara Bheemavva’ by H. S. Shivaprakash, `Gendagaiah’ by K.N. Shivateerthan and `Bakala’ by K.B. Siddaiah. However one trend and writer stands out for a different explorations of secular pluralistic egalitarian folklore myths of the revolts of the oppressed of the past, that can be a popular basis to confront both the evils. H S Shivaparakash’s plays – ‘Mahachaitra’, ‘Madari Madayya’, ‘Madurai Kandam’ represent this trend.
Of course, there is a trend that as always holds on to ‘Art for Art’s sake’, ‘pure literature’ and feels obsessed with ‘excellence’. Attitudes driven by social exclusiveness, meritocracy, defence of neo-liberal order find reflections in literature. Post-modernist standpoints do defend old Navya trend in a new way. Often this and other opposing trends are engaged in bitter debates. A big debate that started with publication of a special issue of ‘Desha-Kala’ that focused on ‘best’ writers and writings of the decade (2000-2010) ultimately was a clash of earlier Bandaya-Dalita and Navya trends in the new context.
Kannada theater in the period from 1936 to early 1970s was dominated by company theater. ‘Company’ theater was both commercial and professional. ‘Company’ theater had its prime in the first half of 20th century. Companies run by Gubbi Veeranna, Master Hirannayya, Varadachar, Mohammed Peer, Garuda Sadashiva Rao, Enagi Balappa are examples of ‘Company’ theater. ‘Company’ theater staged many social plays. Even in their historical and mythological plays used to convey anti-colonial content. Music of the company theater also was very popular and of high standards. Freedom Songs from plays like ‘Hemareddy Mallamma’ , and ‘Bedara Lavani’s protest songs of Bedas dispossessed of all weapons by British are some of the examples. Theater then was more of an actor’s media. Community participation in theater was quite substantial. One play used to go on for hundreds (and some cases of thousands) of shows. But after entry of films in 1950s, its decline began.
A small amateur theater was pioneered by T P Kailasam in Bangalore in 1930/40s. Amateur theater particularly of T P Kailasam and Sriranga had many progressive aspects. Many Amateur theater groups were formed in urban centers. ‘Uddhara’, ‘Hari janvaara’, ‘Sayo Aata’, ‘Kadadida Neeru, ‘Mookabali’ are some of the notable plays staged by Amateur theater. IPTA units were formed in Mangalore, Mysore, Bangalore and KGF and were active for some time.7
Social, political and cultural upheavals of 1970`s in Karnataka have already been brought out. Theater in early 1970s was still dominated by ‘company’ theater, college theater and a small Amateur theater. Although on the decline, ‘company’ theater was still quite popular in rural as well as urban areas. However it could not re-invent itself in style, themes and presentation, for the era of cinema & new sensibilities and socio-political context. With emergence of sizable educated middle class in urban areas, Amateur theater grew. College theater in style, themes and presentation, adopted from that of Company theater as also Amateur Theater. College and Amateur theater also influenced each other substantially. Amateur theater looked to literary works for scripts, and was influenced by Modern European and ‘National’ theater trends spearheaded by NSD etc. Kannada Amateur theater got a big fillip with renowned Director B.V. Karanth arriving in Bangalore and a new troupe Benaka took shape. Many plays staged by Benaka were very popular and ran to packed houses. This encouraged many amateur groups to be formed. Ravindra Kalakshetra became hub of activity of these troupes. A steady urban audience had arrived for modern kannada plays. However the class/caste base of audience was very narrow. Although themes were fairly wide, purpose of theater was mostly ‘Art for art’s sake’ similar to the Navya trend in literature.
Karnataka also was impacted by socio-political upheavals of early 1970s. Unable to resolve economic-political crisis and meet rising aspirations of struggling people, ruling classes led by Indira Congress resorted to authoritarianism and the suppression of democratic rights. This manifested with semi-fascist terror unleashed in West Bengal and crushing of Railway strike. Democratic upsurge that initially started with students agitations in Gujarat and Bihar, spread to whole of country with JP entering the scene with call for ‘total revolution’. Calls for action by Navanirmana Samiti also reverberated in Karnataka. Indira Congress ‘resolved’ the crisis by imposing internal emergency and suspending all democratic rights. Although suppression of democracy and excesses of emergency in Karnataka were not as severe as in Northern India, democratic upsurge and resistance was visible. Dalit, broad anti-caste movements and economic struggles of workers/Peasants had created an urge for radical socio-economic change. Need for social commitment in Writers and Artists was being hotly debated, as opposed to Navya trend. Many writers, artists, intellectuals were radicalized in such a situation.
First Decade (1975-1985)
Samudaya was born as a cultural expression of the democratic upsurge and yearning for a radical change of early 1970s. It was started by students, teachers, intellectuals in Bangalore in 1975. Prasanna, C. Veeranna, K V Narayana, Ki.Ram.Nagaraj, Shoodra Srinivas, D.R.Nagaraj, Siddalingayya and others conceived of Samudaya as a theater group committed to propagating change. It is said that the name Samudaya was coined by Ki.Ram.Nagaraj. Its first play was Huttava Badidare (Play by Dr.K.V.Narayan, Directed by Prasanna) - a radical interpretation of an old play (Vigada Vikramaraya by Samsa) on famous ‘valiant’ king thro’ the eyes of two palace guards, witnessing system remaining unchanged despite change of kings. It was a grand success. Soon impact of emergency was being felt in Karnataka also. But Samudaya did not look back. More political plays followed – Taayi (Brecht’s Mother), Maarichana Bandhugalu, Panchama, Yaaru Geleya Yaaru. Response was fantastic. New units were formed in major urban centers –Mysore, Mangalore, Tumkur - staging these plays respectively. It was electrifying experience to see B. Jayashree (now Rajya Sabha member) at the end of the play waving Red Flag and shouting slogans against Tsarist oppression, at the peak of emergency ! Samudaya also pioneered street theater in Karnataka.
Inspired by success in first four units enthusiasts from other urban centers wanted to start Samudaya units. Book and newsletter Publication was also started soon. Eventually six more units were formed at Dharawad, Raichur, Gulbarga, Udupi, Shivamogga, Bhadravathi, in spite of emergency (or perhaps because of it). While most units focused on theater activities, Udupi started Chitrasamudaya (Film Society) and Dharwad the Granthasamudaya (Library Movement). Eventually activities of Chitrasamudaya spread to Bangalore and other units too.
By mid-1977 when Emergency was lifted, Samudaya with its 10 units was a vibrant statewide progressive cultural movement. It was decided to form a statewide organization to consolidate and expand the activities. Karnataka Rajya Samudaya Samanvaya Samiti – a state level body was formed in Nov 1977 in the first conference held at Bangalore with participation of representatives of 10 units. Prasanna was elected president and CG Krishnaswamy (CGK) as Secretary. Prasanna (for South Karnataka) and P Gangadhara swamy (for North Karnataka) worked as full time organizers of Samudaya apart from directing plays.
Samudaya declared following among its aims and objectives8:
· To encourage a cultural movement based on understanding of ‘Art for Life’ as opposed to reactionary understanding of ‘Art for Art sake’
· To use visual media like theater (Rangasamudaya), cinema (Chitrasamudaya); and circulation of progressive books (Granthasamudaya) to inculcate scientific spirit in people
· To support all forces that strive for eradication of exploitation of man by man; to safeguard National sovereignty, integrity, democracy and world peace that are pre-requisite for the struggles for social change
A cultural campaign “Against Authoritarianism’ was conducted in 1978 to support election campaign against Indira Gandhi in crucial bye-election, whose election victory was seen widely as setback to anti-authoritarian movement. A wide anti-authoritarian platform called ‘Vedike’ was floated with other theater/ cultural groups to conduct a cultural campaign. Before leaving for the campaign, a call by Samudaya ‘Come, draw a poster against authoritarianism’ drew unprecedented response of 10,000 posters ! Paper was provided by a well known newspaper group and 100 best posters were selected overnight by Ken School of Art for taking as part of the campaign. Such was the widest cultural united front built by Samudaya against authoritarianism. A play called ‘Turkman Gate’ and many street plays were staged in 15 shows each in Sringeri and Belthangady assembly segments.
As Samudaya grew organizationally and became ambitious in terms of its scale of activities, it came up with idea of conducting Cultural Jathas. Jatha was seen as impacting large number of people in a short term on a specific issue. Political parties, mass organizations in the past had taken Jathas. But it was first for a cultural organization to take a Jatha in Karnataka. A series of jathas were organized. ‘Cultural Jatha for New values’ (1979) - one month long jatha from Oct 15 to Nov 16. All units combined to make two teams and two jatha – one from KGF and another from Bidar converging on Dharwad. Progressive Poems of various poets, Plays like Belchi, Patre Sangappana Kole, Chaasnala and talks were organized throughout the Jatha route in about 300 villages giving over 1500 shows9. Jatha was funded by innovative means such as selling of handmade Greeting cards, street collection after the show, sale of publications. This became a norm for future jathas as well. 1979 also was the year in which Badal Circar conducted a workshop. Consequently Samudaya took to street theater in a big way. Booklets on communalism, multinationals, education policy etc. were sold in large numbers.
Post-emergency democratic upsurge peaked in 1980, with workers and peasants putting up series of high-profile struggles and were fed up with severe oppression of Gundu Rao government. Malaprabha peasant revolt shook the entire state. In this background Samudaya planned another jatha ‘Towards Peasants’. Instead of 1 or 2 state-level jathas, 10 district level jathas were organized entirely by local Samudaya units from Jan 15-30 of 1981. Over 1500 shows were given as part of the jatha. Many booklets were prepared on past peasant struggles and sold during jatha. The impact of this Jatha was considerable. In this period along with Samudaya jathas, Dalita-Bandaya literary works in the cultural arena inspired and supplemented peasants and workers struggle and created political awareness. As a combined impact of these in 1983 elections Congress lost power in the state for the first time.
1985 was the year of severe drought in large parts of the state. Hence Samudaya which was completing its first decade decided to go back to villages with a state-wide ‘Decennial Jatha against severe drought’. Social, political, economic and environmental factors causing severe drought were brought home during the jatha with help of plays, songs, lectures. In the background of Bhopal gas tragedy KSSP organized a nation-wide Kala Jatha. Five jathas from different parts of countries travelled widely and converged at Bhopal. This jatha went through some parts of Karnataka. Samudaya helped organize local activities. Apart from this, C Basavalinayya of Samudaya was a key resource person in the national and several regional workshops held in preparation for the Jatha. He was also part of the Jatha starting from Kashmir. Samudaya also helped in training, providing cultural inputs and key persons for the District-level Jatha organized in Tumkur next year.
In the first decade Samudaya not only conducted jathas and street plays, worked on proscenium theater also producing significant plays. Brecht’s Taayi (Mother), Galileo (Life of Galileo), Kattale Daari Doora (Chekov’s Ward No.6), Kuri (Gandhiji ki Bakri), Samskara, Macbeth, Dangeya Muchina Dinagalu (Shatrank ke Khiladi), Panchama,– were some of the acclaimed plays. Belchi, Yantra and Chasnala were some of the most successful street plays. Belchi saw over 1000 shows. Samudaya also organized shows of progressive plays from other states. Badal Circar’s Shatabdi staged four plays in 1979. Samudaya also published its journal regularly and many booklets that were sold in thousands. Five conferences were held (1977-Bangalore, 1980-Shimoga, 1981-Kondaji, 1983-Tumkur, 1985-Davangere) in the first decade. Prasanna, CGK, Janardana, Boluvar Kunhi, P Gangadharaswamy worked as President or Secretary in various periods to build the movement.
Second decade (1986-1995)
Second decade (1986-1995) started with a bang. 1986 was declared as the year of World Peace by UN. There was a worldwide movement against abolition of nuclear weapons buoyed by the peace offensive launched by Michael Gorbachev of Soviet Union. Samudaya decided to give its humble contribution to this movement by organizing ‘Painting Jatha for World Peace’. Central attraction of this Jatha was a 120x4 feet painting prepared by artists of Davangere unit – Kariraju, Solabakkanavar and team. This large painting depicted evolution of man and society in various phases, dangers of nuclear wars and worldwide movement for peace. A song workshop was conducted to collect anti-war and pro-peace songs of prominent poets, new songs were written and songs set to music. Songs, Plays, Painting exhibition, Posters (on - tragic effects of two world wars and atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima & Nagasaki, weapons of mass destruction, worldwide peace movement) seminars, lectures, peace processions were organized in over 20 district centers and hundreds of taluka centers and villages. Jatha went on for a record 60 days (Sep 09-Nov 11). It started from Bangalore and after touring most parts of the state came back to Bangalore. The slogan ‘100 feet painting on move, people’s move to prevent nuclear war’ reverberated throughout Karnataka. It was also taken to most state capitals eventually and was highly appreciated.
State-wide protests against killing of Safdar Hashmi in 1989 was the other notable event. Many Samudaya units conducted protest by staging street plays and other forms for three and half months. As a grand finale “Safdar Hashmi Samagrata Utsava’ was organized from April 12-16 in Bangalore in which all the units participated. Utsava included many symposia, seminars on ‘Right to perform’, ‘Communal Harmony’, National Unity and Integrity’. Many progressive writers, intellectuals, Artists, Political/mass leaders participated in the symposia, seminars. 16 different streetplays by different units were staged in most of the extensions of Bangalore during the festival. These streetplays were shown till Mayday in respective places of the unit. A booklet named “Amara Kalavida Safdar Hashmi’ sold 5000 copies.
National Literacy Jatha, many Janavijnana jathas held later saw again Samudaya playing the crucial role in conducting workshop to train artists, provided artistic inputs songs/plays, even lending cadre. Many Samudaya organizers/Artists became Literacy Ambassadors, Co-ordinators, organizers for BGVS. Many places Samudaya and BGVS units worked in close co-ordination. Three-month (May 15-Aug 15, 1988) Samudaya Rangamela organized by Dharawad unit as part of campaign for release of Nelson Madela is another notable event. Santyaga Nintana Kabira (Bazar me khada Kabira), Aragina Betta, Satiyodane Sahagamana were products of this period and two theater camps held at Dharawad by Basavalingayya. By 1995 out of 40 NSD graduates working in Karnataka 13 were from Samudaya. Such was its impact. Mahachaitra, Madhuraikanda, Sankranti, Ee Kelaginavaru (adaptation of Gorky’s Lower Depths), Ekalavya, Uchalya – were other notable plays from the second decade.
However cataclysmic events of early 1990s - collapse of Soviet Union and socialist bloc, Bombay riots, destruction of Babri Masjid and nation-wide anti-muslim riots, ascendancy of Communalism, false hopes generated by LPG in middle classes – did impact Samudaya. Already in 1980s itself Samudaya was facing crunch of Artists, activists, organizers due to onslaught of foreign-funded NGOs, pseudo-left organizations and careerism. Most artists sent to NSD never returned. In 1990s these problems and challenges became even more severe. Ideological confusion caused some activists/artists to become inactive. But still with help of some dedicated never-say-die cadre most units were still functional. MG Venkatesh, C K Gundanna (Bangalore), R K Hudagi (Gulbarga), Achyuta (KGF), B V Iligera (Dharawad), Vasudev Uchil (Mangalore), G V Karnath (Kundapura) – not only kept the units active, also provided core of state level leadership which continues till today. Despite these weaknesses Samudaya organized many programs – symposia, seminars, talks both against Communalism and LPG. However it was not equal to the scale of challenges. Number of active units also dwindled from the peak of 30 in 80s to 20 by 1995. To mark the two decades Samudaya-20 Peoples Culture festival was organized. It also doubled as an occasion to reflect, rejuvenate, regroup and strengthen movement.
Samudaya-20 Peoples Culture festival was held for 7 days from Nov 28 to Dec 4, 1995. It consisted of reminiscences, introspection, seminars, Street and Proscenium plays from Samudaya units and other states. Festival started with renowned play “Mahachaitra’ (by H S Shivaprakasha). Regional people’s theater movements, Attack on people’s theater and culture from TV etc., People’s culture and nationalism, People’s culture and fundamentalism – were some of the topics discussed. Swantantrya tinde Muruvukal (Malayalam), Spartacus, Dafan, Raavi Nadiya Dandeyalli, Kabira, Akhri Pesh (Hindi), Khanabadosh (H), Chirakumarasabha (Bengali), Uchalya – were some of the plays. Vaidehi, Jogathi, Khasageekarana(Telugu), Manacharitram (Telugu), Appa Ammakku (Tamil), James Pand-James Bond (Tamil)-were some of the streetplays that were staged in Ravindra Kalakshetra as well as many extensions. 100 artists from all units and neighbouring theater groups were staying in a camp. Mornings and evenings were devoted to discussions on - theorizing experiences, ways to address organizational weaknesses and resource crunch, experiences of other regional theater movements, how to challenge communalism and globalization, attack from new media etc. Two conferences were held (1986-Davangere, 1989-Harihara) in the second decade. Basavalingayya, MG Venkatesh played role of lead organizers and were President and Secretary respectively in the period.
Third Decade (1996-2005)
In the third decade (1995-2005) communalism in the country and state was raging and needed to be confronted head-on. A new platform Viveka (Vichara Vedike Karnataka) alongwith other cultural organizations, individuals to unitedly confront communalism was set up in 1999. Many campaigns consisting of - seminars, talks, discussions, booklet publications, actions, staging of street-plays were conducted. Cultural jathas also were conducted in some parts of the state. In one such jatha, murderous attacks were launched by goondas on the key organizer and artist C K Gundanna at Anekal near Bangalore and prevented staging of a street-play (Kesari-Bili-Hasiru) on the Mayday. It was condemned all over the state and country, and protests were held. On May 10th in the presence of Girish Karnad the play was staged and witnessed by a large crowd of over thousand. Bandaya was also getting more active after a conference in 1999 generating hope of revival of people’s cultural movement. In 1999 on the occasion of Brecht Centenary, 5-day festival of Brecht plays were organized. Samudaya-25 festival (2001) was organized in Bangalore to celebrate silver jubilee of the organization and again try to rejuvenate the movement.
In this period active units organized peoples cultural festivals with plays, songs, seminars/symposia annually. Notable plays from this period were – Pampabharata, Rudali, Neeru. However the rejuvenation hoped for did not fully materialise. Samudaya units became more of theater groups (like any other) and less of a vibrant cultural movement. State-level co-ordinated actions, jathas, intervention in cultural issues, were few and far between. Organisational conferences was also not held. While 5 conferences were held in first decade (1975-1985), 2 conferences in second, and no conferences were held in third decade. Prime reason for stagnation and decline of Samudaya in this period, was mainly due to the relative weakening and stagnation of democratic movement in the state. Inability to understand in depth cultural dimensions of Globalization-Communalism and craft a creative cultural response, shortage of radical cultural activists with pro-people ideological-political outlook, firmer grip of electronic media and home entertainment (TV, DVD) on people, ‘manufacturing consent’ for neo-liberal order, widespread consumerism and consequent cultural decadence, lack of innovation in theater appropriate for the new context, ignoring role of electronic media in people’s culture, migration of artists to TV/Cinema, artists seeing theater only as springboard to go to TV/Cinema – were some of the other factors.
Fourth decade (2006 onwards)
But situation began to improve in the fourth decade (2005 onwards). Defeat of NDA in 2004 elections and “India shining’ campaign, widespread dis-enchantment with illusions of LPG after a decade and half, Left influence on new government buoyed the democratic movement. 8th conference at Dharawad in 2006 attempted to rejuvenate the movement. Two day Seminar on Atrocities against Dalits at Mysore in July 2006 and subsequent theatre workshops in four zones followed. Programs like ‘Samudaya towards colleges’ were chalked out to sensitise youth on dalit/communal issues with street plays, literature, seminars in colleges. Jatha conducted by units in coastal area (Kundapur, Mangalore and Belthangadi) got good response from the people since communal forces are active in those area.
A jatha for ‘Hunger-free Karnataka’ was taken out during the period of Dec 26 2009-Jan 02 2010, after a gap of over a decade. Two jathas starting respectively from Sindhanoor and Chickballapura converged in Dharawad. A symposia on ‘Hunger and Profits – a Cultural response’ held at Bangalore earlier set the tone for the Jatha. The jatha as always had songs, streetplays, talks, seminars. A booklet on ‘Hunger and Profits’, ‘Odala Benki’ (collections of poems on Hunger), “Aluva Yogiya Nodilli”(collection of articles on drought, hunger by P Sainath) – were published and sold in big numbers. Perhaps for the first time, jatha covered all district centers of the state.
Mega corruption scandals and unprecedented price rise marked UPA2 regime. Samudaya decided to conduct another jatha “Against Corruption and Price Rise’ during May 15-28, 2011. Again two jathas – one starting from Gulbarga and covering mostly northern Karnataka, other starting from Dharawad covering western and southern Karnataka – converged at Bangalore to a well attended concluding ceremony addressed by Justice Santosh Hegde. A 50x4 feet long flex banner with 24 posters was the main attraction of the jatha. Posters using extensively the cartoons of renowned cartoonists against Corruption and Price-Rise explored the extent , manifestations, root cause and possible solutions to tackle the problems. Jatha had 40 major stops and covered most districts. At each place - inauguration by ringing a bell of warning against corruption and price-rise, singing four Jatha songs, poster banner exhibition, speech by an eminent writer/intellectual, selling of jatha booklet –were the essential agenda. In addition many places poetry reading, plays, symposia were conducted. Unlike other campaigns that stop at cribbing about Corruption and Price-Rise, Samudaya campaign brought home the point that these are in essence only the consequences of policies and agenda of ruling classes that are more systemic and deep rooted. The need to fight these policies and agenda to eradicate corruption and price rise was also brought out.
‘Mangalore Chalo’ against communalism (March 2009), Study & Training camp at Kundapura (2010) Tagore-150 (Feb 2011) festival at Bangalore & Shimoga, Jansasanskriti workshop at Sirsi (Aug 2011), 5-day state-level Janasanskriti Festival (2012), Workshop to prepare for Vivekananda-150 campaign at Dharwad, 12 day theater directors workshop, 3-day Shantaras Utsava, year-long Samudaya-30 festivals by Kundapura & KGF units - were other major programs. Sirsi Jansasanskriti workshop adopted a document that updates concept of people’s culture, identifies ideological and other forms of attacks on it, and outlines of a new movement to address all the aspects. Major cultural issues on which interventions were taken up in the form of campaigns, demonstration, statements, seminars, talks, publications include – Bill banning Cowslaughter, Funding of Mutts/Religious institutions, Abolition of Urdu academy , Witchcraft at Vidhanasoudha, Mining and other state scandals, Teaching of Bhagavadgeeta in schools, Bhopal Tragedy judgement, closure of Kannada schools, saffronisation of text books, Land of Hampi University usurped by a private trust, Madesnana-Panktibeda, Banamati. Notable plays from this period were – Swatantryada Ota, Jugari Cross, Buddha Prabhuddha, Raja Rani Mantri Tantri, Kulam, Pinakini Teeradalli, Jalagara, Train to Pakistan .
Chinthana Ranga Adhyana Kendra pioneered rural and children theater in Uttara Kannada district led by Dr. Vittala Bhandary and creative director Dr. Sripada Bhat. It organised Annaul children theater camps, many shows of plays produced in these camps in rural areas. It came to be affiliated to Samudaya strengthening and expanding its sphere. Makala Ravindra, a nationally acclaimed children’s play is its notable production. Chitra Samudaya was re-launched with a 5-day film festival (2010) of recent progressive Kannada films in Banaglore. Tagore Film festival (2011) at Banaglore and Mangalore, regular screening of films by Sirsi, Raichur, Sindhanoor and other units followed. An ambitious program is being chalked out for the centenary year of Indian cinema. Plan is being chalked out to screen progressive Indian films in 100 places. Sahitya Samudaya held a one day seminar on “Kannada Short stories of the last decade: A retrospective’ recently in Gulbarga. A convention of writers from Hyderabad Karnataka region was also held next day. Response was very good for both initiatives with over 200-300 participants. Four more seminars are planned in Mangalore, Dharawad, Shimoga, Bangalore on similar retrospective on Novels, Poetry, Plays/Criticism, Non-fiction. Alongwith regional convention of writers also will be held. This will culminate in a state-level convention.
Three organizational conferences of Samudaya were held (2006-Dharawad, 2008-Bangalore, 2010-Gulbarga) in the fourth decade. R K Hudagi, T Surendra Rao played role of lead organizers and were President and Secretary respectively in this period.
Despite some revival of the movement since 2006, Samudaya continues to suffer from many deficiencies. Its call for at least one unit in all districts is yet to be fulfilled. Co-ordinated state-wide action to create required impact is still not feasible on most occasions. Ability to train, attract and retain artistic talent continues to be a challenge. Impact of its Campaign against twin evils of Globalization and Communalism is not adequate. Often cultural content of its campaigns have serious artistic shortcomings. Tradition of street-plays is dwindling. Use of other forms (music, video) and new media is yet to take off. Its organic link with toiling masses is not at desired level. Its link with writers in general and play-writers in particular is weak, causing fewer original plays being staged. Next conference of Samudaya will be held at Mangalore early next year which is expected to plan for addressing deficiencies, consolidation and quantum leap of the progressive literary and cultural movement in Karnataka.
Apart from Samudaya, other progressive trends and currents are also present in Karnataka. Dalita Kala Mandalis (DKM) - cultural wing of Dalita Sangarsha Samitis(DSS)- are prominent among them. DKMs have local units in places where respective DSS has a base. Typically DKMs have singing squads rendering Dalit and folk songs in a powerful manner using traditional folk instruments. Some DKMs also have theater units that stage street and proscenium plays. DKM typically performs in all DSS programs. Although DKM does not conduct its own jathas, it performs in jathas organized by DSS. Such jathas were typically held on specific incident of atrocities or other issues. Jathas organized by DSS - in protest against murder of Sheshagiriyappa (and rape of his daughter Anasuya) from Hunasikote to Bangalore (1980), to demand restoration of Dalit lands usurped by Ramamurti from Marasanapalli to Kolar DC (1982), to demand arrest of perpetrators of infamous Bendigeri (Belgaum District) incident in which Dalits were forced to eat excreta (1987), to demand arrest against murderers who burnt 7 Dalits live in Kambalapalli village (2000) - are some of the examples.
Some NGOs working on Dalit or other specific issues also have cultural units. Adima of Kolar is one such example that has an active theater unit and organizes other cultural performances. Neenasam K V under stewardship of Subbanna at Heggodu (a village in Shimoga Dt.) in 1970s -pioneered rural theater, film appreciation, theater training institution, cultural workshops – had a prominent role in promoting democratic secular culture in the state. Many progressive plays were popularized by its troupe in its annual program Tirugata- tour of major cities with new plays. Although democratic/progressive content has watered down of late, it continues to play a prominent role in Kannada theater. Many other theater groups (mostly led by ex-Samudaya Directors e.g. Ranganirantara of CG Krishnaswamy) also stage progressive plays. Rangayana state-funded reportery (which had 3 ex-Samudaya activists as its directors – Basavalingayya, Prasanna, Lingadevaru) has also staged many progressive plays in its annual theater festival and play tours.
Towards a new progressive cultural movement
Of late, we have seen a resurgence of socio-political movements – at regional, national, international levels. It is also quite apparent from above discussions, that a new progressive literary and cultural movement is the need of hour in Karnataka. Current state of Bandaya and Samudaya are not enough to meet challenges of our times. We need to learn from movements of our state – Vachana, Pragatisheela, Bandaya, Samudaya; IPTA/PWA at the national levels; ant-fascist writers/artists movement of 1930/40s – their achievements, strengths, failings, pitfalls.
We identify following as the essential features of this new literary and cultural movement.10
· Support and have organic relationship with socio-political movements
· work with many cultural forms (Literature, Music, Plays, Cinema etc.) and co-ordinate across them
· Artists/cultural workers/activists should live the life experiences of toiling people and reflect their cultural aspirations
· Popularize best progressive artistic works from Karnataka, India and world
· Creative re-use of resources from all possible sources (folklore, classical, myths)
· Develop clear ideological perspectives on People’s Culture and confront ideological props of neo-liberal order (such as post-modernism, identity politics, media that ‘manufactures consent’, communalism/fundamentalism)
· Intervene in traditional cultural practices of people in daily life (festivals, daily practices, fairs, marriages etc.) to highlight pro-people aspect and weed out obscurantist/religious chores
· Use the new possibilities of electronic media (Radio, TV, Web) for distribution of progressive audio/video
1. ‘Farewell to Niranjana : Lessons from Pragatisheela writers’ in ‘Pratisanskriti – Dr. Rahmat Tarikere (1992)
2. Shabda Rekhe :Dr. Keshava Shrama (1998)
3. Abachurina Post office: Collection of Short Stories by Poornachandra Tejaswi (1973)
4. `Sahitya mattu Rajakarana’ by Prof. Baragooru Ramachandrappa (1981)
5. ‘Bandaya Sahitya Kuritu’: by Prof. G S Shivarudrappa in `Bandaya Sahityada Tatvika Nelegalu’ published by Kannada Sahitya Parishath. (1986)
6. ‘Dashakada Kathegalali Jagateekarana mattu sthaliyateya mukhamukhi’ in Symposium on Short Stories organized by Sahitya Samudaya in Nov 2012 at Gulbarga.
7. Marxist Cultural Movement in India by Shudhi Pradhan Vol. I
8. Constitution of Karnataka Rajya Samudaya Samanvaya Samiti
9. ‘Great Cultural Movement’ by Laksmi Chandrashekar in The Hindu 24 Nov 1995
10. Draft Statement on Janasanskriti - Samudaya workshop held at Sirsi (2010)
Material for section IV on Samudaya taken from various Souvenirs, Article, Organization papers etc. and following publication:
· Samudaya 25 – Janasanskriti Jathas and feastivals Ed. By C R Bhat, C K Gundanna (2000)