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Remembering Alur Venkak Rao

by Dr. Jyotsna Kamat
First Online: June 01, 2007
Page Last Updated: April 04, 2014

Alur Venkat Rao (1880 – 1964)   

Alur Venkata Rao (a.k.a Alur Venkatrao) is referred to as Karnatakakulapurohita or the high-priest of Karnataka Community. He is singularly responsible  for creating awareness among the people about Karnataka’s greatness in the political and cultural field in the past. It is worthwhile to have a glance of sociopolitical scene of Karnataka when Aulr Venkat Rao was born in late 19th century.   

At the time the land of Kannadigas was divided into five parts.

  1. Maharaja’s Mysore province of 9 districts formed strong and single political entity.

  2. Two districts of Bellary and South Kanara came under Madras Presidency. 

  3. Three districts of Bidar, Gulburga and Raichur came under Nizam of Hyderabad’s   dominion. 

  4. Coorg or Kodagu formed different centrally administered district. 

  5. The four districts of Dharwad, North Kanara,   Bijapur and Belgaum formed part of Bombay Presidency, usually identified as North   Karnataka.   

This North Karnaka was referred to as `Southern Maratha Country’ when Alur Venkat Rao was born. So great was the Marathi influence in this area that the youngsters attended Marthi High Schools, and for higher or college education they had to proceed to Pune. Kannada remained a spoken language and at the most, medium of instruction at primary level in villages and towns.   Mr. Venkat Rao was born in Bijapur in 1880 in a well-to-do family of landlords. His father Bhim Rao was a Shirastedar. Shirastedar was an important Accounts Official at the Taluka level under British rule. Bhim Rao and Venkat Rao’s mother Bhagirathibai were of pious and charitable nature. There were students of Varanna (weekly free food) the year round, besides relatives who stayed with them for schooling and other facilities in the big Alur household.   Alur Venkat Rao attended primary school in different small towns where his father was transferred and he passed Matriculation examination (school graduation) from Dharwar in 1897. He had acquired good fluency in Marathi, Sanskrit and English by then. But his firist love was Kannada. He sadly remembers that there were no good books, journals or periodicals in Kannada at that time. He attended Fergusson College in Pune and completed his B.A. and L.L.B. (law) degrees by 1905.   His student years in Pune were memorable. The country was witnessing early nationalism in different forms and phases. Lokamanya Tilak was the prominent leader who shaped young minds, by arranging Shivaji Utsav and Ganapati Utsav and establishing national schools. Veer Savarkar and Senapati Bapat were Alur's contemporaries in college. Partition of Bengal as envisaged by the Vice Roy Lord Curzon had led to a ‘nation wide’ agitation. It kindled latent nationalism among educated youngsters in several ways. Alur returned to Dharwad determined to serve the country, in the ways that suited him He stared as a pleader, one of the most coveted posts in those days which brought name and fame with minimum work according to him. But soon call of mother Karnataka snatched him away from all material attractions.  

Karanatakatva  mission of his life

 A chance visit to Anegundi and vast ruins of Hampi provided Alur a clear vision about his future course of action. The greatness of Vijayanagara empire and glory of Kannada valour which spread beyond Maharashtra in earlier age, prompted him to awaken Kannada people of his region, who were still wollowing in the ‘hangover’ of Peshwai Maratha rule.

Whereas Bengalis could not tolerate one division of their motherland, how could Kannadigas afford to be so apathetic to their mother land being divided into five zones? This was the painful reflection of young Alur. He decided to write a book that could awaken his sleepy people. ‘Karnataka Gatavaibhava’ was the result. It is a master piece bringing out contribution of all Karnataka dynasties enriching Indian culture by conquests, constructing great temples and monuments promoting trade and commerce, encouraging learning, promoting literature etc. It took 13 years to collect material from inscriptions, coins, and old manuscripts to write this book which created history.  

His ‘Karnataka Gatavaibhava’ (Past glory of Karnataka) completes ninety years (1917),  this year (2007).

Alur continued writing books, editing journals establishing schools, founding research centres and libraries, touring most of the time and giving lectures. He met like-minded people scattered in all the five areas specified earlier. In between he was imprisoned and his license to practice as pleader was cancelled. This made Alur devote himself completely for unification of Karnataka.

Finally Alur Venkata Rao succeeded. Fifty years of his mission bore fruit. Kannada speaking land became one under the name of Mysore State (1956). It took another 18 years to have its rightful name of Karnataka (1974). It only shows how many hurdles Alur had to cross in olden days of British rule, when only change in rightful name took nearly two decades in Independent India!

K.L. Kamat/Kamat's Potpourri
Those Who Saved Kannada
Those Who Saved Kannada
(L to R) Nadiger, G.B. Joshi, K.V. Iyer, Alur Venkata Rao, V.B.Naik , Karna

Alur wrote twelve books and eight booklets. He encouraged N.S. Rajpurohit, D.R. Bendre, Shantakavi, Pandit Taranath, Hardekar Manjappa etc., all stalwarts in their fields, to write. He himself published their early books and distributed them.

He was an active member in all literary activities outside North Karnataka. He mobilized funds and popular support in founding Kannada Sahitya Parishat, the august the literary body in 1915. He was vice president and real force behind Vijayanagara sixth-centenary celebrations in Hampi when all living great South Indian historians, researchers, archeologists and writers were brought on a single platform in 1936.

He was elected as the President of 16th all Karnataka literary meet,  "Sahitya Sammelan"held in Mysore 1930. He spent his last years of life writing books on Madhwa philosophy and Bhagavadgita for commoners leading a sage’s life. He died in 1964.

Dharwad city is full of memorials, in founding of which Alur had a hand. Karnatak College and University, Shantesha library and Vidyavadhak Sangh. Itihasa Samsodhak Mandal, and Sadhankeri, which he himself named and lived in.  

Alur's Nanna Jeevana Smritigulu ("Memories of my life") was serialized many years ago in "Jayakarnataka" monthly which he had started and later handed over to others. Late G.B. Joshi, doyen among Indian publishers, brought them in a book form in 1974 when Mysore state became Karnataka. It is a tribute and fulfillment to Alur's efforts of half a century. The book contains many poignant memories of men and incidents of freedom struggle, and Alur’s unique role in making the struggle for Karnatakakatva, as part of National movement.

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