Looking back at the life of Aluru Venkata Rao, the Kannada Kulapurohita

A freedom fighter, lawyer, historian, writer and journalist, he led the Karnataka Ekikarana (unification) movement.
 Looking back at the life of Aluru Venkata Rao, the Kannada Kulapurohita
Looking back at the life of Aluru Venkata Rao, the Kannada Kulapurohita

Today, November 1, 2018, Karnataka celebrates its 63rd Rajyotsava Day, when all the Kannada language-speaking regions of south India were merged to form the present day state of Karnataka as part of the linguistic re-organisation of states. While the history of the Kannada consciousness began in the early 1900s and went on for the next five decades, scholars conclude that freedom fighter, lawyer, historian, writer and journalist Aluru Venkata Rao is responsible for how Karnataka looks like in the Indian map today. Bestowed with the title of Kannada Kulapurohita (High Priest), he led the Karnataka Ekikarana (unification) movement.

 Venkata Rao breathed his last on February 24, 1964 at the age of 84, a year after the state government honoured him for his contributions. Recently, in 2015, the Albert Victor Road in Chamrajpet was renamed after him.

"He was the first person to pass the resolution (at the Karnataka Sahitya Parishat) for the unification of the people of various places. He also was at the forefront of bringing people together and explained the need for the same. Even today we can see the influence of Marathi in the day-to-day language people in Dharwad speak, but even at that time he was able to influence people,” Harish Ramaswamy, professor at Karnatak University in Dharwad and author of Karnataka Government and Politics, told TNM.

Speaking about Aluru Venkata Rao on his 38th death anniversary, former chairman of Karnataka Sahitya Academy, Giraddi Govindraj, said, “What Lokamanya Tilak did for Maharashtra, Aluru Venkata Rao did for Karnataka.”

Aluru Venkata Rao was born on July 12, 1880 in Vijayapura district in present day north Karnataka. Then, Karnataka was divided into five geographical regions – the majority of the Cauvery delta was part of the Mysore Kingdom. The other south Karnataka districts were part of the Madras Presidency while Bidar, Gulburga and Raichur in the north-west came under the Hyderabad Nizam’s rule. The north Karnataka districts from where Venkata Rao hailed were part of the Bombay Presidency while Kodagu was an independent country.

Son of a revenue department officer from a well-to-do family, Venkata Rao studied BA at Pune’s Fergusson College and later Law at Bombay University after finishing high school in Dharwad. He returned to Dharwad in 1905 and started practising as a pleader. He was impressed by the large-scale protest by Bengalis during the partition of Bengal later that year. It made him realise that the lack of pride among Kannadigas in their language was the reason behind the lack of Kannada consciousness, and he formed the Karnataka Ithihasa Samshodhana Mandali, a forum to study Kannada heritage in 1914.

 “The moral life of leaders of Dharwad was abnormal, darkness covered politics, literary life was inert, public life was insipid, none even had the vision of Karnataka. I came to Karnataka at such a juncture,” he said in one of his writings.

 In his time in college, he felt the geographic divisions and the alienation of Kannadigas from one another and the domination of other languages meant that Kannada was losing prominence. He felt, “The love for Marathi art, theatre and cinema had created a vacuum in the minds of Kannada people.”

As a solution to the issue, he wrote a small book for high school students titled Kannadiga Vramanirasana (The Disillusionment of Kannadigas) in 1913 in collaboration with Nargundkar Ramarao. In this book, he argued with evidence that the Kanheri caves in Maharashtra were built by Kannadigas, in order to invoke pride in their identity. Around the same time, he started editing the Vagbhushana magazine after he left his job as a pleader, as his father was not happy with him and wanted him to become a judge or a munshi like him.

In 1920, he gave up his legal practice to dedicate his life to the freedom struggle. Apart from the demand for independence for India, he was also inspired by the Maharashtrians’ love for their language, which prompted him to start a Kannada Sangha in the college. In 1922, he started the Jaya Karnataka magazine with the sole intention of uniting Karnataka.

While he was studying, Pune was the centre of patriotic activities led by Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Influenced by those stalwarts, Venkata Rao founded the Karnataka unit of the Home Rule League and courted arrest in 1931 during the Civil Disobedience Movement.

The vision for Karnataka did not occur to him until a chance visit to Anegundi, in present day Koppal district, on May 4, 1905. In Hampi, he witnessed the ruins of the erstwhile Vijayanagara empire and made up his mind to write ‘Karnataka Gatavaibhava’ (Past Glory of Karnataka), a compilation of the rich contribution of all ruling dynasties in Karnataka in all forms – military supremacy, art, architecture, culture, and trade and commerce.

“There was Vijayanagara right before me, huge and spread all over. This vision electrified my mind. Like images which appear in a movie with the power of bulbs on the silver screen, the beautiful picture of Karnataka devi began to form in my heart. The sea of my heart was disturbed, the awesome power which my heart got that day has been pushing forward the flood of my life till today. I can never forget that day,” he said describing his moment of inspiration.

It took him 13 years to collect evidence from various inscriptions, coins and other artefacts, travelling across the length and breadth of present day Karnataka, and finish his book by 1918.

Talking about the book, the great Kannada great writer AN Krishna Rao said, “The book is the quintessence of Kannadigas, it has inspired several people, including me, to read and write further in Kannada.”

Meanwhile in 1907, he published a slim monograph titled Vidyaranya Charite to instill pride about Karnataktva and to fill the hearts of Kannadigas with inspiration about their language. As a result of this, hordes of people undertook trips to Hampi and he himself took hundreds of children to witness the ruins of Hampi.

He later went to lead the Karnataka Vidyavardhak Sangha, which was set up in the 1890s, but was lacking an able leader for some time. He also founded the Kannada Sahitya Parishat in 1915 and became its vice president.

In total Venkata Rao wrote a total of 12 books and eight booklets for the cause of Karnataka and set up several schools and institutions.

In 1956, when the state was formally carved out, he went to Hampi and prayed to goddess Bhuvaneshwari in the Virupaksha temple. He also approached the Prime Minister and President of India to add Karnataka in the national anthem.

In his words, “Karnataktva is not just patriotism or love of the language or history, but it is a very pure emotion that rises above all these but includes all of them,” the Kannada Kulapurohita had famously said.

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute