Maatrubaasha Diwas

Some inspiring anecdotes from South who preserved and promoted languages 


Dr. P.S. Subrahmanya Sastri, voracious reader, versatile writer and an erudite linguistic scholar was the first to translate ‘Tolkappiyam’ into English and also the Mahabhashya. With deep knowledge in Sanskrit and Tamil and a strong footing in Comparative Philology, 

Prof. Sastri submitted his Ph.D. thesis, ‘History of Grammatical Theories in Tamil and their relation to grammatical literature in Sanskrit’ in 1930 at the Madras University.  His was the first Ph.D. degree in Tamil awarded by the University of Madras.

Being an indefatigable researcher, Prof. Sastri worked on the Tolkappiyam, which he later translated into English. The translation of ‘Ezhuthu’ and ‘Poruladhikaram’ were published by the Kuppuswami Sastri Research Institute, while the ‘Solladhikaram part’ was published by Annamalai University. Prof. Sastri’s text on Tolkappiyam in Roman transliteration and English translation received encomiums from linguists across the world. Dr. Sastri’s tenure as the Professor and Head of the Sanskrit Department at Annamalai University was one of the most dynamic periods of his professional life. He revived the defunct Sanskrit Honours course. His class lectures in Sanskrit or English used to be interspersed with parallels from Tamil literature. During his tenure at Annamalai University, Prof. Sastri published two volumes of lectures on Patanjali’s Mahabhashya, the Thonivilakku, a Tamil translation of Dhvanyaloka (a Sanskrit rhetorical text), History of Sanskrit literature and Sanskrit Language (2 books) in Tamil and Historical Tamil Reader in English.

On his retirement, he returned to Thiruvaiyaru to complete the translation of the Mahabhashya into English (in 14 volumes running to about 4,000 pages) on the advice of the Paramacharya of Kanchi. He finished his translation in 1953.

Dr.Sastri had several ‘firsts’ to his credit: the first to be awarded a Ph.D. degree in Tamil, the first to attempt a historical grammar in Tamil, write a philological work in Tamil, work on comparative literature, translate the entire Tolkappiyam and Patanjali’s Mahabhasya into English. Sastri, who was known for his simplicity, taught Tirukkural to  a manual scavenger during his retired life at Tiruvaiyaru. He had also published about 40 books besides his contribution of research articles in journals.


The ‘Telugu Language Day’ is celebrated in recognition of contribution to the enrichment of Telugu language by Gidugu Ramamurti. The primacy of oracy in communication and the changeability of language leading to evolutionary development are part of the understanding of the nature of language, consequent on the development of linguistics as a science. Linguistics has become extremely relevant to teaching languages 'native', inland and foreign.

The ‘nationalist’ and ‘linguist’ in him rebelled against merging this Telugu dominated area with Orissa state at that time. Gidugu even developed a script for the ‘Savaralu’ tribe. He picked up their language visiting places, began conversing with them in their own language, and learnt their songs (folk) and stories. The script is now called as ‘Savara Bhasha’. He even founded schools and paid teachers from his own pocket and began teaching their children how to write and read not only their language but other languages too. He wrote ‘Savara’ grammar and then went on to write the Savara-English dictionary. During his research for Savara language, he had to travel in the forests resulting in excessive use of quinine due to which he became deaf. Dr. Radhakrishnan was all praise for his Savara lexicons. European linguisticians like Jules Bloch and Daniel Jones recognized his work on Munda linguistics as pioneering and original. 

In his collection “Savara Songs” Gidugu Ramamurti himself wrote two of the 32 songs. It was published in 1912 by the Madras Government. The two songs have been translated into Telugu by A. Chandrasekhara Rao, convener of the Savara Bhasha Sangham at Ponduru in Srikakulam district and published a slim book early this year. One of the songs, Chetlu Rodistunnayi (Trees are weeping), in harmony with the tribal passion for the environment, is about two trees talking about being felled by a man.

Gidugu Ramamurti a language visionary, was the leader of a successful movement for making
vyavaharika bhasha ("current" or "active" or "everyday" language of transactions) the medium of teaching Telugu and the language of examinations for awarding degrees. The language of the sasanas (inscriptions), the language loaded with Sanskrit diction of the kavyas, and the language spoken every day, were not the same. For many of the Telugu speakers themselves, kavya bhasha is mostly incomprehensible. The grandhika bhasha ("written language") then taught in schools and colleges did not promote the skills necessary either for understanding or communicating effectively in real life situations. 

The development of people depends on their language skills. Gidugu's work speaks for itself. A number of scholars, linguisticians, and teachers have discussed Gidugu's work and wrote voluminously about his achievement. Most important among them are Telugu Bhasha


Wayanad tribal linguist Kandamala Ramachandran to save the culture and tradition of tribal dialects travelled extensively across Kerala to research the oral languages of the Kuruma, Adiya, Paniya, Kattunayikka, and Oorali tribes. Collating in the form of dictionary, he created 2000 page dictionary of Adivasi languages incorporated in the Malayalam Lexicon.

This lexicon will go a long way in equipping teachers with linguistic skills to interact  with Adivasi students and stem the attrition rate. “The medium for Adivasi children is Malayalam which is alien to them,” said Agali Vocational HSS teacher Sindhu Sajan. 

“Both Malayalam and the Adivasi language, as well as folklore, needed to be taught at the elementary level to bring children into the mainstream,” said Sindhu, who has directed a 30-minute short film ‘Aggedu Nayaka’ (Mother Tongue) produced by the Palakkad District Panchayat. She has spent 15 years researching the linguistic alienation faced by the Irula, Muduga and Kurumba tribals of Attappadi. “This alienation of students should end. At least in Anganwadis, the tribal language should be used,” she said.


Kuppali Venkatappa Puttappa fondly known as ‘KuVemPu’ is regarded as one of the greatest Kannada literary masters of the twentieth century.

Though he entered the literary field with an English language collection of poetry called the Beginner’s Muse, he later wrote majorly in Kannada because of his belief that he mustcontribute more to society through his native tongue rather than a foreign language.

He was also a vocal supporter of the idea that children in Karnataka should be taught in Kannada rather than English. Such firm beliefs lead him to start the Institute of Kannada Studies at the Mysore University.

In 1930, he published his first Kannada language poetry collection called ‘Kolalu.’ But what made him famous was his version of the Ramayana titled ‘Sri Ramayana Darshanam.’ Thebook clinched him a Jnanpith award; the first ever given to a Kannada language author.

In Sri Ramayana Darshanam, he gave a new perspective on the central character of Lord Rama, making him a mouthpiece of his Universalist ideology of equality and justice. The most striking example of this characterization is during the trial of Sita when she returns toAyodhya. While in the original Hindu epic written by Valmiki, Sita alone went through thefire to prove her chastity, in Kuvempu’s version, Lord Rama also joins her, thus giving a strong message of gender equality. Most literary critics consider Kuvempu’s version of the Ramayana as a modern revival of the Indian style of Mahakavya (Epic Poetry).

To recognize his contribution to Kannada literature, the state government conferred him with two awards – Rashtrakavi in 1958 and Karnataka Ratna in 1992. The title of Rashtrakavi also made him only the second Kannada poet after M Govinda Pai to be honoured with the recognition.

Kuvempu continues to be a favourite among singers today. His Jaya Bharata jananiya tanujate is the state anthem, and he is known for his rousing songs about the Kannada language and land.

Kuvempu continues to be adored by millions of people in Karnataka and some of his revolutionary ideas, particularly those concerning social upliftment and equality, are still considered to be highly influential.

In his honour, Google paid tribute with a doodle image on his 113th birthday.

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