The Essayer from Karnataka – V K Gokak

V K Gokak was one of the pioneers of the Navodaya movement in Kannada Literature. He is the author of the longest epic written in the 20th century and the recipient of the Jnanpith award and the Padma Shri.

His Early Years and Career

v-k-gokakVinayak Krishna Gokak was born on 9th August 1909, in Gokak, Karnataka. He did his primary schooling in Savanoor but moved to Dharwar’s Karnatak College to pursue his higher education. Having completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1929 and Master of Arts in 1931, he went on to take up the position of Professor of English at Pune’s Fergusson College.

He also worked as the Principal of Willingdon College in Sangli and at Karnataka College in Kolhapur. He also worked as the Vice Chancellor at Bangalore University in the late 1960s. His distinguished career as an academic culminated in his appointment as the Vice Chancellor of Puttapathi’s Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Sciences.

His Literary Career and Success

V K Gokak was a prolific writer in both Kannada and English. He was deeply influenced by the Kannada poet D R Bendre who mentored him during his early forays into Kannada literature. Bendre is reputed to have said that were Gokak to allow his talent to bloom in Kannada, there was a bright future in wait for Gokak and Kannada literature.

His epic Bharatha Sindhurashmi, running into 35000 lines, is notably the longest epic written in this century, for which he received the Jnanpith Award and also honorary doctorates from Karnataka University and Pacific University, USA.

His novel Samarasave Jeevana was translated by his daughter Yashodhara Bhat into English under the title ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’ and released to worldwide popularity.

In the 1980s, Karnataka was in the midst of an agitation which demanded the replacement of Sanskrit with Kannada as the medium of instruction in schools. V K Gokak also headed the Gokak Committee which recommended declaring Kannada as the first language in schools in the state.

Gokak’s writing reflected his interest in religion, philosophy, education and cultures. His education abroad prompted him to write two sets of travelogues.

The Navodaya movement was at its peak and Gokak stayed true to his spirit- his poems showed nuances of Victorian poetry, oral traditions in Kannada storytelling and epics in Sanskrit and Kannada.

  • V K Gokak wrote many collections of poetry under the pen name Vinayaka. These collections include Samudra Geethegal, Baaladegiladalli, Abhyudaya, Dhyava Prithvi and Urnabha.
  • Gokak’s anthology of poetry by Indian poets titled The Golden Treasury of Indo Anglican poetry was a treatise on poets like Sri Aurobindo, Sarojini Naidu and Toru Dutta, Nissim Ezekiel and Kamala Das.
  • In the late 1960s he was deeply influenced by Sri Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi and over the years, Gokak became the medium for translating the guru’s words into English and spreading it to the world. His book ‘The Advent of Sathya Sai’ explains the meaning of Sathya Sai Baba’s miracles, his work with the poor and his impact on the educational system.

The state of Karnataka hosts a series of literary events to mark Gokak’s birth centenary on the 9th of August of every year.