In a career spanning decades, Ganjam Venkatasubbiah has documented the richness of Kannada in various seminal works, including ‘Igo Kannada’.

Kannada literary stalwart Ganjam Venkatasubbiah passes away at 107WikimediaCommons/Rkkrupa
news OBITUARY Monday, April 19, 2021 - 15:54

Prominent Kannada writer, editor and lexicographer, Ganjam Venkatasubbiah, popularly known as GV, passed away in the early hours of Monday morning in Bengaluru.

The 107-year-old, Venkatasubbiah, was suffering from renal problems for the past few days and was admitted to a hospital for treatment. He died due to age-related ailments, according to a close family member.

"He was due for discharge on Monday but suddenly his condition worsened on Sunday night and he succumbed,” the family member said.

The lexicographer born on August 23, 1913, in Ganjam village of Srirangapatna in Mandya district, was the second of eight children of Ganjam Thimmannaiah. He did his schooling in Bannur and Madhugiri and higher education in Mysuru.

From the old Kannada to the new era of Kannada, he successfully documented the richness of the language. He was the recipient of prestigious awards like the Padma Shri, Pampa Award and also Kendra Sahitya Akademi's literary honour 'Basha Sanman'.

Venkatasubbiah was not only a Kannada lexicographer, he was also a writer, grammarian, editor, and critic who compiled over eight dictionaries, authored four seminal works on dictionary science in Kannada, edited over 60 books and published several papers.

His work Igo Kannada is a socio-linguistic dictionary that encompasses an eclectic mix of Kannada phrases, usages, idioms, phrases, and serves as a reference for linguists and sociologists even today. Venkatasubbiah was best known for his work on Kannada dictionary science titled Kannada Nighantu Shastra Parichaya. This came out exactly one hundred years after a Kannada-English dictionary was authored by the German priest and Indologist Reverend Ferdinand Kittel in 1894. This work became an addition to a tradition of dictionary writing in Kannada known for at least a thousand years starting with the first available one, Rannakanda.

In one of his interviews, Venkatasubbiah said, "I first began work on it 50 years ago. About 80 to 90 people started collecting words and we organised them in alphabetical order. It took 10 years to put the Kannada words in alphabetical order. I worked for 25 to 30 years on this dictionary which is in eight volumes and 10,000 pages. No other language in India has a dictionary like this."

Considered a seminal work, it was released by  Dr S Ramegowda (then Vice-Chancellor of Karnataka University) during the Centenary Celebration of Prof SS Basavanala. This work was further expanded on by Kannada Pustaka Pradikara in a book titled Kannada Nighantu Parivara.

In his early days, Venkatasubbiah had a towering role to play in the affairs of Kannada Sahitya Parishat - Kannada Dictionary Committee. Between the years 1964 - 1969, he had the rare distinction of being the youngest president ever to take office at the Kannada Sahitya Parishat.

In this capacity, he was encouraged greatly by the likes of Maasti, and  Ma Ramamurthy. While at the helm of affairs, Venkatasubbiah increased its annual grant from the Government over eightfold. Subsequently, he became the editor of the Kannada Dictionary project. He was also involved in the Kannada Encyclopaedia Project, Sahitya Sammelana (Literary Fest) at Karwar and Shravanabelagola and was the editor of Kannada Sahitya Parishat's monthly magazine ‘Kannada Nudi’. 

Venkatasubbiah was exposed to great kannada teachers from a young age, he joined Yuvaraja College at Mysore in 1932 to pursue his intermediate course. His teachers included Na Kasturi, famous Kannada stalwart writer Kuvempu and M A Venkata Rao, who all made a great impression on him. His love for old Kannada was instilled in him by his father and nurtured further by writer Kuvempu, TS Venkanayya, DL Narasimhachar and S Srikanta Sastri to name a few.

He was awarded a Gold Medal during his Master’s and this was conferred upon him at the Mysore University Convocation in 1937. On the stage were Mysore ruler Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar and the doyen of Kannada literature D. V. Gundappa sitting in the VIP row.

A documentary on Ganjam Venkatasubbiah was brought out in 2010 by Dharmasthala Manjunatha Dharmothana Trust titled, Lipyantara. Gold medals have been instituted in his name at both Mysore and Bangalore Universities. A corpus of rupees one lakh is set aside by the Mico-Bosch Kannada Sangha, the interest from which is utilised to give an award in his name to an extraordinary student scholar of Kannada University, Hampi who obtains a PhD degree.

In his later years, Venkatasubbiah was instrumental in suggesting and supervising the construction of Sri Jayarama Seva Mandali Auditorium in Jayanagar, Bengaluru. This later became the venue for Ramayana Parayana (sermons) and music concerts by the likes of Balamurali Krishna and others.

Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa, former prime minister H D Deve Gowda, H D Kumaraswamy, Deputy Chief Minister CN Ashwath Narayan, Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai, and a host of other ministers and political leaders sent their condolence messages. One message read, ‘Kannada literary world has become an orphan with the death of Prof Venkatasubbaiah.’

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