Dattatraya Ramachandra (D.R) Bendre (1896-1981) is one of the foremost poets not only of Karnataka but of India. This is borne out by his winning the Jnanapith Award in 1973 which rates as the Noble Prize of India.
In the words of English poet W.B.Yeats," every genius takes after his neither".Bendre's mother exercised a deep influence on him in that she instilled in him reverence for life which shaped him into a poet of celebration. The songs he heard from his mother in childhood made for the musical quality of his poems. This influence is not overtly visible, through,like the origin of river Shalmala in Dharwad. Bendre has immortalized his mother by renaming himself Ambikatanaya Datta(Ambika's son Datta,Datta short for Dattatreya).
Hailing from a family of scholars, Bendre inherited love for knowledge. Voracious reader that he was, Bendre delved into Marathi Jnaneshwara, Ramayana, Mahabharata,Bhagawata,the Upanishads,Vachanas of 12th century sharamas, philosophy, astrology, astronomy, memorology, poeties, rhetoric, Samim, Kannada litrature and what not. He read the great Kannada litrature and what not. He read the great poets of the world. He drank deeply of Khalil Gibran, Maurice Maeterlink and Aurobindo. Though he was influenced by classical kannada poet Laxmeesha and Rabindranath Tagore, it was Aurobindo who left a distinct mark on Bendre's life and leters.He was so font of Keats that while he was a student at Pune he would drop off to sleep clutching keates to his chest.
The poetry of Bendre is neither narrative nor dramatic,but essentially lyrical.R.S.Mugali, the emient Kannada scholar and literary historian has identified Bendre's, more than anyone else was instumental in establishing Kannada lyric poetry on a form footing.
Though Bendre's first anthology of poems was Krishnakumari (1922), it was Gari (the Feather,1932) which shot him into limelight. And his reputation has ever since been on the rise. Bendre's litrary output is phenomenal. If short stories,14 plays bursting with humour,11 works of literary criticism and research, 6 edited works, 3 volumes of speeches, 7 translated works into Kannada from English, Sanskrit, Marathi and Hindi and one from Kannada into Marathi. Among these is Kalidas's Meghadoota. Bendre titled it Kannada Meghadootha. A tribute of one great poet to another, it reads like an independent poem. Above all, Bendre published thousands of poems in 33 anthologies. All these make up the magnitude of Bendre's literary output. Though he was successfully tried his hand ay many a literary form, his main area of creativity is poetry. And he is recognized as such.
Bendre was a profile poet. 1427 poems in all. With him life is not different from poetry. But he always held life as greater than letters. Much too often life itself unfolds as poetry .A large chunk of his poems springs from real life events. Life offered him more than a fair share of distress and unhappiness. He was without employment for a long stretch. The British Govt. jailed and then kept him under house arrest as they thought his poem Narabali (sacrificing of Humans) an indictment on the British regime in India. Six of his nine children died prematurely. Nothing of this embittered his soul or diminish his zest for life. He wrote earlier on in life.:
Let me my plight
Keep unto my self
And serve you
O,rasikh only its sweet song.
If only your heart
which is like sugar candy
Melts there to
Pour back to me
Some of its sweet taste.
This about sums up Bendre's attitude. His poetry is, in a sense, autobigraphical. For instance, when one of his children died and his wife kept staring at him with a vacant look, he wrote a poem Nee Hinga Nodabeda Nanna (Don't you stare at me so). The poem doesn't merely express his grief, but comes up with the message of facing life squarely. Sakheegeeta, his only long poem, deals with the trials and tribulations as also bliss wedded love. Though evidently autobiographical, the poem is not egocentric in the least.
It is not as though Bendre wrote about personal commiseration alone. As a poet belonging to a generation of idealists, he wrote extensively and with reformist zeal on genuine patriotism and the socioeconomic ills besetting the country. Even then, the language and the idiom of these poems doesn't smack of academic ideologies, but is shaped by fundamental principles. Bendre's poetry depicts a world with God at its centre and life at the periphery. And love is the force that binds the two. His belief in life springs from his belief in the divine. The conflict in his poetry is not between good and evil, but if at all, between being and non being, his humanism has a transeendal, almost mystical, aura about it. NO wonder Allama Prabhu, the most mystical of the vnehanakaras,was his favourite.Therefore ,every metaphor, even a simple image that he uses is one of faith.
Bendre reveals a fondness, my obsession, for alliteration, assonaner, rhymes and internal rhymes.
All these make for evocativeness at its best. Bendre is at once the most sophisticated and most popular poet. Bendre uses what William Wordsworth proposed for poetry 'the ordinary language of ordinary men and women'. Bendre's use of the spoken idiom and folk imagery is the main reason for this popularity. It is a rare feat to be a great, get popular poet. More often than not, great poets are read only by scholars in academies. Although Bendre used the language of the tribe, he infused into it poetic profundity. Bendre's handling of poetic language is an orchestration of several dialects. Each particular blend of disc (the colloquial ) and marga (standardised speech ) reveals a complexity of feelings, ideas and attitudes of life.
Bendre was not only a poet, but a performer. Many of his poems possess the power and beauty of the oral tradition. With some of the members of the Geleyara Gumpu (Friends circle) he founded of likeminded literary figures around him,Bendre toured widely over Karnataka trying to revive the glory of nadahabba (Festival of the land). And on such occasions he would recite his poems with electrifying effect. At the 1929 15th Kannada Sahitya Sammalan(Literary Conference) held at Belgaum. Bendre recited his poem Hakki Harutide Nodidira (Lo!The Bird is on Flight) 'Bird' here is the 'objective correlative' for Time. It is difficult to find another poem with a metaphor pervading the entire poem. Dressed in dhoti, coat and a turban perched askew on his head, Bendre cut an imposing figure. He read the poem with gusto and gumption. Never before had an audience realized that recitation had such power .The audience were thrilled as through the Time Bird took to its wings right before their eyes.
The same goes for his recitation of his own poem Gangavatarana (Descent of the Ganges) at the 1943 27th Kannada Sahitya Sammelan held at Shivamogge, which he was called upon to preside over. Bendre lectured, recited poems at many a Kannada and Marathi Sahitya Sammelen.He also encouraged young poets by writing forwards to their anthologies.
Bendre's philosophy of life may be summed up by quoting the concluding lines from Nanna Hadu (My Song) he wrote quite early in 1920-21:
Impact of Bendre:
Equally impressive is the array of %8 works on Bendre in Kannada and 3 in English by V.K.Gokak, G.S.Amur and K,Raghavendra Rao. His poems have been translated into English, Marathi and Hindi.A documentary film on Bendre has been directed by Girish Karnad. 11 cassettes of his lyrics have been brought out.19 periodicals have published special issues devoted to Bendre. 15 PhD dissertations on Bendre have been telecast. Quite a few Bendre fora are functioning in cities and villages alike. Some of them Bendre Award annually.
In 1993 Karnataka Govt, has established Bendre Memorial Trust at Dharwad with the object of furthering the cause of literature and culture. A magnificent Bendre Bhavan has been erected in 1996 for the purpose. The Bhavan is home to Bendre memorabilia and various activities. In 2003 Bendre National Award has been instituted for an outstanding work on Bendre in any Indian Language. So,Bendre lines on through these activities.