ANTIQUITY OF KANNADA
The usual practice of determining the antiquity of Kannada by finding references to the land and language in ancient texts is rather unsatisfactory, even though it is difficult to suggest alternative methods. Secondly, an overwhelming dependence on written documents results in a relative neglect of the data found in oral traditions. The fact that the written documents have not survived does not negate the very existence of the language in some form or the other. There is some kind of an equation between Kannada language and Karnataka region which is rather tenuous. The inhabitants of these regions would have spoken some earlier from of Kannada irrespective of the fact whether the term ‘karnATaka’ (or one of its etymological ancestors) was in vogue or not.
Kannada is one of the major languages derived from the proto Dravidian. It is classified under the South Dravidian languages. The process of any language acquiring an independent status is a long drawn affair and it involves a lot of grey area. Bh. Krishnamurti has opined that the split of pre Tamil from Tulu-Koraga on one side and Kannada on the other must have taken place during the sixth century B.C. (2000) Shankara Bhat D.N. has traced the evolution of the proto Kannada from the Proto Dravidian in his ‘Kannada Bhasheya kalpita Charitre’. (1995) He delineates the proto Dravidian elements that have stayed on in Kannada as also the elements that have undergone changes. Tamil and Kannada must have resembled one another to a great extent in early stages. However, the all pervasive influence of Sanskrit in later centuries masked these similarities for a long time. Narayana K.V. contends that many tribal languages which are now designated as ‘dialects of Kannada’ could be nearer to the earlier forms of this language.
The evidences for the antiquity of Kannada are usually collated from Sankrit/Prakrit sources, Dravidian/Tamil sources and documents that are found outside the country. We have attempted to provide a list of references to Kannada and Karnataka in ancient texts only in the perspective of the argument already presented in these paragraphs.
1. Some scholars have tried to trace the antiquity of the language to the Vedic times by arguing that words that are found in ‘CAndOgya upaniSat’ such as ‘miTaci’ (miDate) and ‘cen’ (candra) are from Kannada.
2. The word ‘karnATaka is mentioned in ‘Padma Purana’ and ‘Markandeya Purana’.
3. There are quite a few references to ‘karnataka’ in ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’ the great epics of Sanskrit.
4. The Prakrit Work, ‘gaathaa saptashati’ written by Haala Raja, in 150 A.D., lists Kannada words such as ‘tIr’, ‘tuppa’, ‘peTTu’, ‘poTTu’.
5. ‘SilappadikAram’ an ancient Tamil epic belonging to the Sangam period refers to the people of this land as ‘karunADagar’.
6. Prof E.Hultzsch, in 1904, records that a number of Kannada words appear in "Papyrus from Oxythynchus" (Greek documents) the dates of which go back to pre-Christian era. Published in the Journal of Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland for 1904 A.D., This was corroborated by M.Govinda Pai, These words resemble similar words in Kannada used in coastal Karnataka. Some other scholars contend that these words from ‘tuLu’.
7. There are many inscriptions written in Kannada dating back to the fifth century, making it obvious that the language was being spoken much earlier than that.
8. Dr Iravatam Mahadevan who has written the a seminal book on ‘Early Tamil Epigraphy has put forward some very cogent arguments in favour the oral traditions in Kannada and Telugu much before written documents were produced. He contends that even though the rock inscriptions of Ashoka were written in Prakrit, the spoken language in those regions was Kannada as the case may be. Some of his statements are worth quoting here:
“If proof were needed to show that Kannada and Telugu were the spoken languages of the region during the early period, one needs only to study the large number of Kannada and Telugu personal names and place names in the early Prakrit inscriptions on stone and copper in Upper South India........... Nor can it be said that Kannada and Telugu had not developed into separate languages during the Early Historical Period. Dravidian linguistic studies have established that Kannada and Telugu (belonging to different branches of Dravidian) had emerged as distinct languages long before the period we are dealing with. Telugu and Kannada were spoken by relatively large and well-settled populations, living in well-organised states ruled by able dynasties like the Satavahanas, with a high degree of civilisation as attested by Prakrit inscriptions and literature of the period, and great architectural monuments like those at Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda. There is, therefore, no reason to believe that these languages had less rich or less expressive oral traditions than Tamil had towards the end of its pre-literate period.”
Actually Dr Mahadevan has found some influence of old Kannada in these inscriptions.
9. Dr S.Settar has furthered this argument by his own research and
deductions. He studies the sittanvAsal inscription of first century A.D. as also the inscriptions at tirupparamkunram, adakal-a and neDanUpatti. The later inscriptions were studied in detail by Dr Mahadevan also. Mahadevan argues that the words ‘erumi’, kavuDi’, ‘poshil’ and ‘tAyiyar’ have their origin in Kannada because Tamil cognates are not available. Settar adds the words ‘nADu’ and ‘iLayar’ to this list. Mahadevan feels that some grammatical categories found in these inscriptions are also unique to Kannada rather than Tamil. Both these scholars attribute these influences to the movements and spread of Jainas in these regions. These inscriptions belong to the period between the first century B.C. and fourth century A.D.
10. Sham. Ba. Joshi, another great scholar
of Karnataka has made similar pioneering attempts to trace the antiquity of
Kannada/Karnataka in the context of
This concludes a brief survey of the work done by scholars regarding the antiquity of Kannada. A perusal of the reference material provided along with this note supplements it.
Tamil Epigraphy from the Earliest Times to the Sixth Century A.D.’ by Iravatam
2. ‘‘ಶಂಗಂ ತಮಿಳಗಂ ಕನ್ನಡ ನಾಡು-ನುಡಿ’, 2008, ಅಭಿನವÀ, ಬೆಂಗಳೂರು
3. ‘‘kaNmreyAda kannada’, by Sham. Ba. Joshi, 1933, Dharwar. (ಕಣ್ಮರೆಯಾದ ಕನ್ನಡ)
4. “‘Kannada-Ardha Shatamana’, 2007, Kannada Vishvavidyalaya, Hampi.