Girish Karnad was unarguably one of the most important contributors of the Kannada theatre industry.

Girish Karnad - The Colossus of Indian Theatre

2019 has been a year of many losses and Girnish Karnad’s death on 10th June 2019 was one of the major tragedies to strike the Indian Theatre Industry. In fact, his contribution to the Kannada theatre was so great that the Karnataka government announced a one day holiday for government offices, schools and colleges and three days of mourning. He was cremated with state honors.

An actor, film director, playwright, Kannada writer, and a Rhodes Scholar, Girish Karnad donned multiples in the 81 years of his life. This mathematician turned theatre veteran and recipient of the Jnanpith Award (1998), the highest literary honor bestowed in India, spent four decades of his life composing and translating plays. He also has the Padma Shri (1974) and Padma Bhushan (1992) to his credit.

More often than not, he drew inspiration from history and mythological worlds creating scenes, dialogues and characters for his world-renowned plays such as Dreams of Sultan Tipu, Tughlaq and Yayati. His 2006 play titled Odakalu Bimba, or Heap of Broken Images, was one of the rare plays that was based on a theme apart from the aforementioned ones. In Odakalu Bimba, he talked about the present, how technology had an impact on the modern day of living and thinking. Karnad was also a fearless political activist and used his plays to bring to light contemporary problems that many simply glossed over. Such was his courage and determination that when journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh was killed, he came out and protested even when he was on a breathing tube.

His play Tughlaq will probably be picked by many as one of Karnad’s best work. Published in 1964, Tughlaq was based on the 14th century Sultan of Delhi. Tughlaq was so well-received that it was translated and produced in all the major Indian languages. It is also credited with changing the Indian amateur theatre scene.
Girish Karnad’s last play was Rakshasa Tangadi in 2018.

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