Girish Karnad dies in Bangalore

Jnanpith award winning playwright, actor and filmmaker Girish Karnad, 81, died in Bengaluru after a prolonged illness.

As a mark of respect, the Karnataka government declared a holiday on Monday and announced that a three day mourning will be observed across the state till June 12. It also shifted its plans of Cabinet expansion from Wednesday to Friday.

Karnad, who was suffering from pulmonary complications for the last three years and was often seen with a nasal tube at public appearances over the past several months, was known for his versatility, which ranged across medium and genre.

He was a scholar, an actor on stage and film, a director, a screenwriter, a social activist and most notedly a playwright, in a decorated artistic career that spanned close to six decades. His formidable and multilingual body of work drew not only from our rich mythological legacy, but also from the burning sociopolitical issues of our times.

Some of his most significant plays included Yayati (1961), Tughlaq (1964), Naga-Mandala (1988), and Hayavadana (1971). He made his acting and screenwriting debut in the 1970 Kannada film Samskara, based on the late UR Ananthamurthy’s novel. Together with playwright and actor Arundhati Nag, and other theatre artistes from Bengaluru, Karnad started the city’s famed theatre space, Ranga Shankara, in 2004.

In the era before cable television, Karnad will also be remembered for his memorable role as Swami’s father in the 1986 small screen adaptation of RK Narayan’s Malgudi Days on Doordarshan. A whole generation of science lovers grew up watching Turning Point (1991), a programme hosted by Karnad, which always ended with his reminder: “Grow a scientific temper”. He was given Jnanpith Award, the highest literary recognition in India, in 1998. His contribution to Kannada playwriting parallels that of Mohan Rakesh’s in Hindi, Vijay Tendulkar in Marathi, and Badal Sarkar in Bengali. Karnad was not only an artist, but an activist, too. Despite his declining health, he led protests after journalist Gauri Lankesh was murdered in 2017.

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