U.R. Ananthamurthy

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caste system, politics, post-colonialism, religion
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Asia, Southern and Central
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April 28, 2005
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U. R. Ananthamurthy is one of the most important representatives of the ´Navya´ movement (´The new movement´) in the literature of the Kannada-language and is counted among the most eminent Indian authors. Both his books and his social engagement made him known far beyond the Indian language borders and later abroad.
To Ananthamurthy’s central themes belongs the examination of the caste system, religious rules and traditions as well as the ambivalent relationship between the handed down cultural value system and the new values of a changing world. Born in 1932 in the village of Melige in Karnataka, Ananthamurthy visited a traditional Sanskrit school. He grew up, as he says, as a ´Ghandian socialist´ and later studied English and comparative literature in Mysore and Birmingham where, in 1966, he studied for a PhD. He was professor of English literature for several years at Mysore University, later vice chancellor of the Mahatma Ghandi University in Kottayam, chairman of the National Book Trust and president of the Sahitya Academy, the Indian Literature Academy in Delhi. Many guest professorships led him to Europe and the USA.

Ananthamurthy began his literary career in 1955 with the story volume ´Endendhigu Mugiyada Kathe´. Since then he has published four novels, one play, six short story volumes, five poetry volumes and six essay volumes in Kannada and several pieces on literature in English. His works have been translated into several Indian and European languages and have been awarded with important literary prizes, including the Jnanpeeth Award (1994), the most renown Indian literature prize.

His most significant novel is ´Samskara´ (1966). ´Samskara´ means culture as well as ritual but also means death rites. It tells the story of a young Brahman-priest, Naranappa, who pays merely little attention to strict rules of the village community. When he dies of an epedemic, the village inhabitants refuse burning him after the funeral-rites. But as long as he is not burned, they have to starve. The novel looks for the answer to the question: What is ´Samskara´? Is culture only maintained if tradition is followed with blind fervour?

Ananthamurthy questions discrimination through the caste system, the repressive belief practice of the Brahmans. The filming of the novel in 1970 started a new wave of author films in India. In the novel ´Bharatipura´ (1973) the Brahman and land owner Jagannatha goes back to his home town, which is bound to tradition, after studies in England and tries to change the social structures there. He wants to enable the untouchables to enter the temple and with this meets the resistance of the higher castes. His attempt to create a just system around him and with this, inner freedom, fails. Ananthamurthy deliberately writes in Kannada and not in English.
Author: International Festival of Literature Berlin (ilb)



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International Festival of Literature Berlin