Kannada people

Total population
c.46.8 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
 India 37,924,011[2]


Related ethnic groups
Dravidians · Tuluvas · Konkanis · Kodavas

The Kannada people (Kannada: ಕನ್ನಡಿಗರು) known as the Kannadigas and Kannadigaru,[3] are the people who natively speak Kannada.[4] Kannadigas are mainly found in the state of Karnataka in India and in the neighboring states of Kerala, Maharashtra particularly in Solapur, Goa, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Delhi states.[5][6] The English plural is Kannadigas.

Early settlements

Main article: History of Karnataka
Sala fighting the lion, the royal emblem of Hoysala Empire

Settlement in Karnataka is found to be existent at least from the 2nd millennium BC as explored in Brahmagiri archaeological site near Chitradurga district, central Karnataka. Chandravalli exploration has revealed interaction of Roman and Chinese travelers around the 2nd and 3rd century BC.[7]

Kannadigas have built powerful empires and kingdoms with Kannada as the official language.[8] The language was once popular from Kaveri to Godavari as mentioned in the Kannada classic Kavirajamarga of 850 CE.[9] Archaeological evidences show Kannada inscriptions found as far north as Madhya Pradesh (Inscription of Krishna III) and Bihar.[10] The great Karnataka Expansion provides insights to kingdoms of northern India whose originators were from Kannada country.[11]

The major empires and kingdoms, their regal capital and most distinguished kings were:

Gold coins issued by Kadamba King Toyimadeva, 1048 - 1075 A.D

Minor dynasties that have played an important role in the development of Kannada language, culture and polity were Chutus of Banavasi (feudatory to Satavahana Empire),[12][13] Tuluva Dynasty of Canara,[14] Rattas of Saundatti (Belgaum),[14] Guttas of Guttal (Dharwad region),[15] Banas of Kolar,[16] Nolambas of Nolambavadi,[17][18] Vaidumbas,[19][20] Chengalvas,[14] Kongalvas,[14] Sendrakas of Nagarkhanda (Banavasi province), Yalahanka Nadaprabhu,[21] Sindas of Yelburga (Bijapur-Gulbarga),[15] Kadamba of Hangal.[22]

In addition, other well known kingdoms that patronized Kannadiga poets and Kannada language were:

Immigrants from Karnataka

In addition to those empires that ruled from the Karnataka region, based on inscriptions and literary evidence historians have discussed the possibility that kingdoms of Kannada origin were established in other parts of India as well.

Kannada art


Main article: Temples of Karnataka
Hampi, capital of Vijayanagara Empire

Architecture and Sculpture has been the epitome of art in Karnataka. Be it the musical pillars of Hampi, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site,[41] the ekashila (monolithic) statue of Gommateshvara Bahubali that was voted by Indians as the first of Seven Wonders of India,[42] the Yelu Sutthina Kote of Chitradurga (The Fort of Seven Laps) cutting across hill or the wholesomeness of carvings of temples which bared down all desires to be left out of it and formless (above all forms) all encompassing the inner garbhagrihas. The temples of Karnataka had in them many shaili or varieties to credit. A majority of the temples were built using the locally available stones.

57-foot monolithic statue of Gommateshvara Bahubali dated 978–993 AD.
Traditional folk house with courtyard and tulasi katte.

Some of the places of interest are:

Pioneer sculptors include:

Modern day contemporaries include visionary architects such as:


Dasa Sahitya is the literature of Bhakti movement composed by devotees in honor of Lord Vishnu or one of his avatars. Dasa is literally "servant" in Kannada and sahitya is literature. Haridasas ("servants of God") were preachers of Bhakti to Vishnu. The bhakti literature of these Haridasas is collectively referred to as Dasa Sahitya. It is composed in the Kannada language.[49]

The Haridasas richly contributed to the heritage of Karntataka music.[49][50] They made an indelible impression on the religious and cultural life of Karnataka by spreading the didactic teachings in a musical form to the hearts of the common folk.[51] Like other doyens of Indian classical music, these scholars offered prayer to Vishnu through music, called naadopasana. The Lord is described as Samagana priya, and bhakti through music is the most preferred path to 'reach' Him.[52]

The Haridasa compositions are popularly known as Devaranamas. Compositions like Krishna Nee Begane Baaro, Venkatachala Nilayam, Jagadoddharana, Tamboori Meetidava are some of the many examples of their scholarly work.

Some noted Haridasas or composers of Dasa Sahitya are:

Veena is the most commonly used instrument in Carnatic music.

One of the oldest forms of music in the region is Karnataka Shastreeya Sangeetha which has evolved over ages. Both Hindustani and Karnataka variations are respected and nurtured by Kannadigas. Bhavageete and Sugama Sangeetha are some innovations. Other forms of music include Gamaka,[54] Joogera Pada and Lavani.[55] Yakshagana is considered a unique and indigenous form of both music and dance of Karnataka.[56]

Contemporary musical thespians are:


Jaanapada artists at government-sponsored Jaanapadha Jaatre

Rangabhoomi or the theater culture is a tradition with Kannadigas. While a lot of gadhya (literature) is written in praise of the heroic characters of the epics and puranas, there are major works depicting the kings and their rule. These are called Naataka (plays having wide ranging stages for performance like Rangamancha staged in either theaters or on streets) and Bayalata (ಬಯಲಾಟ).[60] As its etymology indicates, bayalu means open-air field and ata means theater. In southern Karnataka, the eastern and western varieties of Yakshagana are termed Bayalata, whereas in the north several other distinct genres are included under the name.[61]

Harikathe which covers an entire night is another form where one (or more) person tells a story in an outstanding manner accompanied by music at background.[62] It is a common feature to narrate battles, stories, devotions or vratha in front of temples on auspicious days like Dasara and Maha Shivaratri.[63] Harikathe is a composite art form composed of story telling, poetry, music, drama, dance, and philosophy. Today, late-night Harikathe sessions are organized overseas where Kannadiga population is considerable.[64]

Vasanta Habba (ವಸಂತ ಹಬ್ಬ), which means "spring festival" in Kannada is a cultural festival organized by the Nrityagram foundation in Bengaluru. It is a very popular event and is considered the classical Woodstock of India.[65] First held in 1990, it now attracts the best musicians, dancers and cultural artists from across India.[66] Similarly,'Bengaluru Habba (ಬೆಂಗಳೂರು ಹಬ್ಬ is a congregation of art performances at places in the city which is successfully celebrated every year. It aims to provide aesthetic entertainment to a wide cultural, social and demographic cross-section of the city's people by partnering with corporates and other stakeholders since 2003.[67] In 2006, the Government of Karnataka tried to bring the folklore and art into the city of Bengaluru by initiating Jaanapada Jaatre (ಜಾನಪದ ಜಾತ್ರೆ) which was hugely successful and received well by art lovers. It is usually held on select weekends in Lalbagh and other parts of the city.[68]

Some famous theatrical, cinematic and television personalities like T P Kailasam, Gubbi Veeranna, C. Honappa Bhagavathar, G V Iyer, Dr. Rajkumar, V. Shantaram, Puttanna Kanagal, Kalpana, B. S. Ranga, B V Karanth, Girish Kasaravalli, Shankar Nag, T.S. Nagabharana, T N Seetharam have contributed for its richness.

Dance forms

Main article: Dances of Karnataka

The mystic and spirited reliving of legends and epics are the major depictions in dance forms. With the theater of battle scenes of heroism, loyalty and treachery, colour and pageantry are the main subjects. More are adapted with the course of nature and seasons adding colour to the harvesting seasons. Tribal forms of dance can be found limited in the regions inhabited by Soligas, of which Pinasee is a traditional dance form.[69] The people of Kodagu in the Western Ghats also have their own dance forms.

Some of the folk dances and classical dance forms in Karnataka include:

Kalaa Kshetras (the abode of art)

Mysore Painting depicting Goddess Saraswathi

Martial arts

The martial arts more prevalent in parts of North Karnataka with Garadi Mane present in every village and a head to train the youngsters into fit individuals. Kusthi, Malla Yuddha, Kathi Varase (which can be seen depicted in Veeragase and similar to sword fighting), Malla Kambha (gymnastics on a pole structure with/without rope) are some of the prominent arts practised.

The Mysore Odeyars arrange kaalaga or fights like Vajra Mushti during Dasara festival which is made less frightening these days as they are publicly staged. Rock lifting, Bull race, Kusthi, and Kabaddi are popular sports.[71]

Yogasana, Praanayama and health-related camps are very popular throughout the state and some of the best Yoga practitioners can be found here. Art of Living is one such organization immensely popular all over the world.


Kannadigas celebrate festivals throughout the year presenting the diverse culture and belief of the ethnicity. Festivals have varied reasons to celebrate.

In the countryside, a dana jaathre (livestock fair) is held which is a conglomeration of people where a local demigod is worshiped and a ratha or theru (chariots) are moved by the bhakthas and daasoha (free food) is arranged for the visitors.

North Karnataka has a unique blend of Hindu and Muslim brotherhood with people celebrating festivals in unison and exchanging goodwills owing to great revolutionary Shishunala Sharif and Guru Govinda Bhatta who had displayed their religious tolerance and spiritual unity of all religions.

Christmas is celebrated at large in Bengaluru and Mangalooru which host some of the oldest churches and educational institutions of the country. Buddha, Mahaveera, Shankara, Basavanna and Gandhi are remembered on their birth anniversaries.


Main article: Cuisine of Karnataka
Masala dosa, a famous dish that originated from Udupi, Karnataka.[72]

The cuisine of Karnataka includes many vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. The varieties reflect influences from the food habits of many regions and communities from the three neighbouring South Indian states, as well as the state of Maharashtra to its north.

Some typical everyday dishes in Kannadiga homes include Bisi Bele Bath, Jolada Rotti, Ragi Rotti, Akki Rotti, Saaru, Huli, Davanagere Benne Dosa, Ragi mudde, Chitranna (lemon rice) and Uppittu. The famous masala dosa traces its origin to Udupi cuisine.[72] Plain and rave Idli, Mysore Masala Dosa and Maddur Vade are very popular in South Karnataka. Kadabu, a kind of rice dumplings, is a popular and ethnic food in South Malnad regions such as Sakaleshpura, Mudigere, Somwarapete, etc. and is consumed with huchellu (black sesame) chutney.

Among sweets, Mysore Pak, Dharwad Pedha, Chiroti, Belagavi Kunda are well known. Hurnagadab, Hurnaholige, Karadantu of Gokak and Amingarh, Shenga Holige and Sajka have origins in the Malnad region. Indis (chutneys) of Karnataka have a very distinct taste and flavour. Some popular ones include Shenga indi (groundnut), Agashi indi, Karal indi, Inichi indi and Mavina indi (mango). Similarly, Karnataka uppinakai (pickles) too are very distinct from the rest like Mavina thokku (fine mango pickles), Nimbekai uppinakai (lemon pickles), Tenga Mavina uppinakai (entire mango pickle), gaajri uppinkai (carrot pickle) and menshinikai uppinakai (chili pickle).


Children dressed in traditional clothes

The costume of Kannada people varies from place to place. The Kannadiga male costume mainly include Panchey (some tie as Kachche) or Lungi (wrapping style depends on the region), Angi a traditional form of shirt and Peta turban worn in Mysuru style or Dharwad style. Shalya is a piece of long cloth which is put on shoulder commonly seen in countryside. Many use Khadi in their clothing till date of which politicians are prominent ones.

Female costumes include Seere of which Ilakal Seere and Mysore silk are famous. Seere has variations of draping depending on regions like Kodagu, North and South Karnataka and Karavali. Young women in some parts of Karnataka traditionally wear the Langa davani. Kasuti is a form of embroidery work which is very popularly sought-after art on dress and costumes.

An Urban male costumes comprises a trouser, shirt and sandals while that of females include shalwar and moderate heeled sandals. Jeans are popular among the youth, while new age Khadi/silk printed with art or emblem also find place.

Karnataka has the only village in the country which produces authentic Indian national flags according to manufacturing process and specifications for the flag are laid out by the Bureau of Indian Standards at Hubli.[73]


Kannada literature is filled with literary figures and pioneers all through. With an unbroken literary history of over a thousand years,[74] the excellence of Kannada literature continues into the present day: works of Kannada literature have received eight Jnanpith awards[75] and fifty-six Sahitya Akademi awards.

Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā was scripted during Satavahana era in period of Proto Kannada also called Maharashtri Prakrit.

Pampa, Ranna and Ponna are considered as three jewels of Old Kannada (Halegannada). Janna was another notable poet of this genre.

Basavanna, Akka Mahadevi, Allama Prabhu, Madhvacharya, Vidyaranya, Harihara, Raghavanka, Kumara Vyasa, Sarvajna, Purandara Dasa, Kanaka Dasa, Shishunala Shareefa, Raghavendra Swami etc. were pioneers of Nadugannada. All these have been inviolved with social and cultural movements and hence this was the golden era of literature which brought about a renaissance in Kannada literature. They all had a characteristic naamankita (insignia) which would denote a power equaling a God in popular comparison. The literature saw the Vachana (said), Tattva (that-ness), Sharana (saviour of God]), and Dasa (servant to God) Padas (short poetries) reach the common man's ignorance into great depths leading to Siddhanta (philosophies).

Kuvempu, D. V. Gundappa, Da Ra Bendre, B. M. Srikantaiah, Masti Venkatesha Iyengar, Shivaram Karanth, V K Gokak, U R Ananthamurthy, P. Lankesh, Girish Karnad, G S Shivarudrappa, Gorur Ramaswamy Iyengar, Pu thi Narasimhachar, Chennavira Kanavi, Gopalakrishna Adiga, TaRaSu, A N Krishna Rao, Govinda Pai, S.L. Bhyrappa, Poornachandra Tejaswi, Thriveni, K. S. Nissar Ahmed, K.S. Narasimhaswamy, Chandrashekhara Kambara, Siddhaiah Puranik, G.P. Rajarathnam, T P Kailasam, Anupama Niranjana, M. K. Indira, M M Kalburgi, T. V. Venkatachala Sastry, Dodda Rangegowda etc. are popular literary figures. This period was amalgamation of literature works which crossed across boundaries under a vast roof encompassed by art and theater fields. The literature works of Kannada in Navodaya is crowned with eight Jnanpith awards.[76]

Kannada Thantramsha or software is developed under Kuvempu University. There is a sizable open-source community based in Bengaluru.

Some of the contemporary active institutions of Kannada literature are

Kannada journalism

Mangaluru Samachara was the first Kannada news publication as early as 1843 by German missionary Hermann Mögling.[78]

List of a few major newspapers:

Spiritual leaders

Gandhian philosophers

Modern science and technology


Karnataka is one of the few states which, while a leading contributor for GDP of the country[80] and home for industries, has preserved its forests and wildlife. The evergreen Sahyadri and Western Ghats are home to protected Wildlife of Karnataka. The Kannadiga culture protects and balances Kaadu (forest) and Naadu (state) as can be seen. Although seen scantly still the state enjoys the diversity owing to tribal sects of Soliga, Badaga, Jenu Kuruba, Hakki Pikki, Lambani , Siddis and other inhabitants of forests. See Appiko Chaluvali.

Some noted environmentalists include

Current cricketers

Retired cricketers

The Kannadiga culture


The Puranas describe the region as Kishkindha in the ages of Ramayana. There are also literary evidences for the region of Mysore called as Mahisha Mandala after a demon named Mahishasura. Parashurama and Hanumantha are some epic characters to be cited relating to place.

Punya Koti

One of the most prominently popular and acknowledged Jaanapada song is "Dharani mandala madhyadolage" which narrates an incidence between mother cow and an aggressive tiger in a country called Karnataka

Vishwa Maanava

Karnataka as now can be viewed as a multicultural state almost all the religions that can be found in India can be found here and there has been lot emigration as well due to which multi-ethnic diaspora can be seen. As the kingdoms provided a safe centres for development of all cultures we can see a huge diversities from region to region. Even the language and dialects varies from place to place. The language has evolved distinctly in both the backyard (folk/basic/prakrutha) and frontyard (refined and related to Samskrutha/Sankrit) of the culture. It can be said that the major works of Sanskrit have originated and continues to evolve here. Shringeri, Udupi are some of nerve centres. One of the leading examples include a village near Shivamogga where people speak only Sanskrit till date. Bengaluru has almost all language speakers of India.

Tha aikya linga of Basavanna the ab-initio of social spiritual reformation and a known vachanakaara, at Kudalasangama

One of the most acknowledged concept is to be a Vishwa Maanava or universal being. In Kuvempu's ideology this has a renowned explanation "Every Child is born as a Vishwa Maanava or a Universal Human. It is we who make him Alpa Maanava or Little Human by putting various constrictions of borders rituals and castes. It hence becomes responsibility of our culture to again make him a Universal Being unbound and free." The Kannadiga culture is known to provide shelter and self-respect to people by owning them and their culture. Two colonies for refugees from Tibet are formed, one near Mundgod and one near Kushalanagara, protecting them from Chinese atrocities. Karnataka has sheltered flood victims of northeastern India like Assam and provided them jobs. One of the easily seen diversity is the surnames which vary from hugely like some may involve names involving a Hindu and Muslim name or having a Hindu Christian name (more found in Mangalore) or even a Muslim Christian name. Hindu is normally considered a misnomer for Sanathana.

Karnataka and parts of Maharashtra are the only states which have diversity of including Malenadu Nithyaharidwarna evergreen ghats and Bayaluseeme which have different ways of living in the same state. Not only this but it acts as a gateway to North and South Indian cultures. It may come as a surprise that Karnataka is next only to Rajasthan in India when it comes to area under arid land but still Southern Karnataka is referred to as Gandhada Gudi temple of sandalwood found in its protected forests.

Political sphere

After the Odeyar era who already had established democracy by naming elected representative called Saamantha in southern regions as early as the 19th century, the 1947 partition brought a centre into being under democracy and Karnataka accepted a bicameral legislature. But this was a functionally a failure as there always has been a tug of war from centre and states to an extent that from the 1990s to 2010 there have always been different political parties operating at centre and state. North Karnataka had other problems of getting independence more from Nizams. So there were two spheres. Lack of will and coordination and constant fights have been hallmark of politics which has prevented a regional party/media from arising in the land. Kerala being a neighbour where hugely successful communist ideology in bringing up literacy levels has a backing here and a few naxalite outfits function in Karnataka.

Functional failure of all pillars of democracy even being upper riparian state can be clearly seen in the Kaveri River Water Dispute issue. The failure extended to bureaucracy and Karnataka reached the position of being fourth most corrupt state of India[81] due to political and bureaucratic lobby. Because of this, Lokayukta (see N. Venkatachala) was formed but could not get the required powers to deal with the powerful. In the field of press and journalism P. Lankesh and S. Gurumurthy[82] are some of the noted ones famous for their leftist affiliations.

Horanadu Kannadiga

Horanadu Kannadigas (or non-resident Kannadigas) are Kannadigas who have migrated to another state or country, people of Kannada origin born outside Karnataka, or people of Kannada origin who reside permanently outside of Karnataka. N R Narayana Murthy, speaking at the 2011 World Kannada Conference, opined that Kannadigas who move out of the state are respected everywhere.[83] Although the failure in political arena has reflected in the cultural isolation of emigrants, some of the successful functional bodies include Singara (Singapore),[84] Dehali Kannadiga (New Delhi), Mumbai Karnataka Sangha (Mumbai),[85] Mallige Kannada Balaga (Mauritius),[86] North America Vishwa Kannada Association (NAVIKA) and Association of Kannada Kootas of America (AKKA) in the United States have promoted cultural involvement[87] through events such as Kannadotsava.

Kannada Kannadiga Karnataka

During the period of British rule, state of Karnataka as it stands today did not exist. Areas that today comprise Karnataka were under as many as 20 different administrative units with the princely state of Mysore, Nizam's Hyderabad, the Bombay Presidency, the Madras Presidency and the territory of Kodagu being the most important ones. In effect, nearly two-thirds of what is now Karnataka fell outside the rule of the Wodeyar kings of Mysore. In addition the proposed state had six neighbours Goa, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and all had Kannadigas along the borders over lapping these regions.

What this meant for the Kannadigas in these regions was that they were reduced to linguistic minorities wherever they were. Kannadigas in the Hubli-Karnataka region for example, came under the rule of the Bombay presidency where Marathi was the official language. Those in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region came under the Nizam's rule where Urdu ruled. While in Mysore Kingdom, Kannada was official language.

It was in this backdrop that the movement that first started as a protest against linguistic oppression, soon morphed into one that began demanding a separate state be created consolidating all Kannada speaking regions. This was essentially a movement that was spearheaded by the poets, journalists and writers and was called the Ekikarana or 'Unification' movement. India gained independence in 1947. The joy of independence soon gave way to disappointment as the new government started dragging its feet on Karnataka Ekikarana movement. Kannada speaking areas now got grouped under five administrative units of the Bombay and Madras provinces, Kodagu, and the princely states of Mysore and Hyderabad. The Akhila Karnataka Ekikarana Parishat met in Kasargod and reiterated the demand for a separate state for Kannadigas.

The ratification in parliament of the recommendations of the Fazal Ali Committee brought joy to the Kannadiga population that now was merged under the state of Mysore.

On 1 November 1973, under Devaraj Urs as chief minister, Mysore state was renamed as Karnataka since it was felt that Karnataka was more 'inclusive' of all the other regions of Karnataka than the name Mysore.

Some of the active Kannada pro organisations include

Kannada ethnic flag

The Kannada ethnic flag is a banner with two horizontal stripes, yellow on top and red on the bottom. The flag neither is officiall nor represents any legendary empire but has become accepted in recent times representing a symbol of welfare.The flag was first conceived by Ma Ramamurthy, a Bangalore-based writer, journalist and social activist, often considered as a commander of Kannada movement in 1960s.

See also


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Further reading

  • John Keay, History of India, 2000, Grove publications, New York, ISBN 0-8021-3797-0
  • Suryanath U. Kamat, A Concise history of Karnataka from pre-historic times to the present, Jupiter books, MCC, Bangalore, 2001 (Reprinted 2002) OCLC: 7796041
  • Dr. Romila Thapar, The Penguin History of Early India, From Origin to 1300 AD., 2003, Penguin, New Delhi, ISBN 0-14-302989-4
  • Altekar, Anant Sadashiv (1934), The Rashtrakutas And Their Times; being a political, administrative, religious, social, economic and literary history of the Deccan during c. 750 AD to c. 1000 AD, Oriental Book Agency, Poona, OCLC 3793499
  • K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, History of South India, From Prehistoric times to fall of Vijayanagar, 1955, OUP, New Delhi (Reprinted 2002), ISBN 0-19-560686-8
  • R. Narasimhacharya, History of Kannada Literature, 1988, Asian Educational Services, New Delhi, Madras, 1988 ISBN 81-206-0303-6.
  • Malini Adiga (2006), The Making of Southern Karnataka: Society, Polity and Culture in the early medieval period, AD 400-1030, Orient Longman, Chennai, ISBN 81-250-2912-5
  • George M. Moraes (1931), The Kadamba Kula, A History of Ancient and Medieval Karnataka, Asian Educational Services, New Delhi, Madras, 1990 ISBN 81-206-0595-0
  • Rice, B.L. [1897] (2001). Mysore Gazetteer Compiled for Government-vol 1. New Delhi, Madras: Asian Educational Services. ISBN 81-206-0977-8.
  • Chopra P.N., Ravindran T.K., Subrahmanian N. (2003), History of South India (Ancient, Medieval and Modern), Chand publications, New Delhi ISBN 81-219-0153-7
  • Cousens, Henry, (1926), The Chalukyan Architecture of Kanarese Districts, Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi, OCLC 37526233
  • Sen, Sailendra Nath (1999) [1999]. Ancient Indian History and Civilization. New Age Publishers. ISBN 81-224-1198-3. 


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