T.S. Venkannayya: The Big Brother of Kannada Literary Pantheon – 1
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T.S. Venkannayya: The Big Brother of Kannada Literary Pantheon – 1

April 14, 2023

T. S. Venkannayya was University of Mysore’s first Kannada Professor. He was responsible for nurturing such future literary giants as K. V. Puttappa, D. L. Narasimhachar, M. V. Seetharamaiah, G. Venkatasubbiah and S. V. Parameshwara Bhatta. He was the very life of Maharaja’s College ‘Common Room.’ He was instrumental in laying the foundations for University of Mysore’s ‘Prasaranga’, Maharaja’s College ‘Karnataka Sangha’ and Central College ‘Karnataka Sangha.’ Under his able guidance, ‘Prabhuddha Karnataka’ took shape and gave voice to many a future Kannada littérateur. Known for his over-arching generosity (often at his own detriment) and sweet, affable demeanour, this tall man was literally the big brother of Kannada Literary Pantheon. This is our small tribute to his memory. —Ed

By Dr. Bhagirath S. Naganath

T. S. Venkannayya was born on October 1, 1885 at Taĺaku village in Chitradurga to parents Subbanna and Lakshmidevamma. Venkannayya’s father Subbanna was a poet in his own right and was known to compose poetry impromptu. He ensured that his son would be familiar with ‘Mahabharata’, ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Bhagavata’ at a young age. 

At five years of age, Venkannayya was admitted to Coolimutt. He was a student of Narasinga Rao. Venkannaya was the youngest member to sit the exams at 12 years of age! After his preliminary schooling, Venkannayya joined  A.V. School at Challakere where he passed his Kannada lower secondary in 1897 and his English lower secondary exam in 1899. In 1902, a fourteen-year-old Venkannayya was married to an eight-year-old Bhagirathamma. He completed his matriculation exam in the same year.

Venkannayya passed his first year F.A. exam in 1903 from Maharaja’s College. Finding second year F.A. Mathematics challenging, Venkannayya got himself transferred to Bellary’s Wardlaw College in the hope of finding additional help. He passed his second year F.A. in 1904 and was presented with a hardbound volume of The Bible as prize! Venkannayya passed his B.A. exam in 1908. His attempts at studying Law at Bombay (1909) were only partially successful and he had to instead focus on doing M.A. at Madras.

At Mysore, Venkannayya learnt Kannada and Telugu from Thimmappayya Sastry and Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma at Maharaja’s College.  Following this, Venkannayya briefly relocated to Dharwad for a while and taught History, English and Kannada at Basel Mission High School. His good friend Jnana Kannan (who was the Head Master), Principal Muller and Srikanta Sastri (Sanskritist) were Venkannayya’s circle of friends at this time.  Venkannayya eventually became famous as Talaku master!

Venkannayya completed his M.A. in first class in 1914 from Madras. Principal Muller congratulated him and raised his salary. After Dharwad, he joined St. Joseph’s High School in Bangalore as a History teacher in 1915.

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A.R. Krishnasastry and T.S. Venkannayya were best of friends. Once when A.R. Krishnasastry was sick, Venkannayya, who was not one to offer prayers for favours, made an exception by requesting that a fraction of his lifespan be set aside for his friend. As if by miracle, A.R. Krishnasastry made a miraculous recovery! Krishnasastry always recollected this with great affection and gratitude.

In 1917, Venkannayya was appointed as Head Master for the Government School in Doddaballapur. A few months later, he was transferred to Bangalore’s Collegiate High School as an English teacher. Owing to A.R. Krishnasastry’s transfer from Central College, Bangalore, Venkannayya was now offered the former’s position. A.R. Krishnasastry’s exit was indeed a loss for Venkannayya. However, Venkannayya’s family was ecstatic at the news of this new University job.

The Kannada Sahitya Parishat and The Central College Karnataka Sangha both came into existence around 1915. T.S. Venkannayya and A.R. Krishnasastry were both interested in strengthening the Kannada movement and therefore approached D.V. Gundappa to seek his support and guidance in impressing the youth to join the cause. D.V.G.’s poem ‘Vanasuma’ was among Venkannayya’s favourite and he persuaded A.R. Krishnasastry to adopt it as the prayer song of the Karnataka Sangha. In fact, D.V.G. was so impressed with Venkannayya’s oratorical skills that he records in his writing that he ‘spoke like one possessed!’ D.V.G. furthermore described Venkannayya as a man blessed with a ‘unique feel for literature.’ They were indeed best of friends. While in Bangalore, Venkannayya stayed with D.V.G. for a brief time. Venkannayya’s meticulous attention to detail in cooking was amusingly noted on many occasions by D.V.G. and he describes him as a walking repository of recipes !

Group photo of first batch – M. A. Kannada (1927), Maharaja’s College. B. M. Srikantaiah (3rd from left – front row), T.S. Venkannayya (4th from left) and K.V. Puttappa (6th from left – back row).

Under the auspices of the Karnataka Sangha, a book was published about Muddanna and his birth anniversary was celebrated in a befitting manner. The Quarterly Journal  ‘Prabhuddha Karnataka’ took shape during these years. After A.R. Krishnasastry left for Mysore, Venkannayya took over the responsibility for managing ‘Prabhuddha Karnataka’. Under his able stewardship, ‘Prabhuddha Karnataka’ succeeded in bringing to light many works of V. Seetharamaiah, K.S. Narasimha Swamy, G.P. Rajaratnam and P.T. Narasimhachar. As editor, Venkannayya helped bring many old works of Kannada poetry back into print once again. In fact, Bellave Venkatanaranappa who was involved in the editing and reprinting of ‘Pampabharata’ repeatedly acknowledged T.S. Venkannayya’s priceless contribution to this project.

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On more than one occasion, Venkannayya was offered the chairmanship of a forthcoming Sahitya Parishat meeting and every single time he assiduously turned it down, on the premise that there were more senior and better deserving candidates than himself for the post! 

Venkannayya’s wife Bhagirathamma passed away in 1924. Two years later, he married Rukmini. In the same year, that is, 1926, he was appointed as Assistant Professor at Maharaja’s College, Mysore. In 1926, B.M. Srikantaiah was the Registrar of the University and Sir Brajendranath Seal was the Vice-Chancellor. The Kannada B.A. Honours course had just been started. B. Krishnappa was the Assistant Professor at this time and he was due for a promotion. Sadly, weeks before the promotion, he passed away. This, now vacant post, had to be filled as the Honours programme was already underway. B.M. Srikantaiah and N.S Subba Rao felt that T.S. Venkannayya was the right choice for the post. But Venkannayya would hear nothing of it as he felt that his good friend A.R. Krishnasastry was senior to him and hence deserved the promotion. B.M. Srikantaiah however did not see it that way. But neither N.S. Subba Rao nor B.M. Srikantaiah could convince Venkannayya to accede to the post. Finally, they wrote to Metcalfe at Central College, Bangalore. Metcalfe summoned T.S. Venkannayya to his office and after a three-hour long discussion he was compelled to become the University’s first Kannada Professor ! 

[To be continued]


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