The Jnanpith Award is an Indian literary award presented annually by the Bharatiya Jnanpith to an author for their “outstanding contribution towards literature”.
Instituted in 1961, the award is bestowed only on Indian writers writing in Indian languages included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India and English, with no posthumous conferral.
From 1965 till 1981, the award was given to the authors for their “most outstanding work” and consisted of a citation plaque, a cash prize of ₹1 lakh (equivalent to ₹50 lakh or US$70,000 in 2018), and a bronze replica of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge and wisdom.
The first recipient of the award was the Malayalam writer G. Sankara Kurup who received the award in 1965 for his collection of poems, Odakkuzhal (The Bamboo Flute), published in 1950.
The rules were revised in subsequent years to consider only works published during the preceding twenty years, excluding the year for which the award was to be given and the cash prize was increased to ₹1.5 lakh (equivalent to ₹23 lakh or US$32,000 in 2018) from 1981.
As of 2015, the cash prize has been revised to ₹11 lakh (equivalent to ₹12 lakh or US$17,000 in 2018) and out of twenty-three eligible languages, the award has been presented for works in sixteen languages:
Hindi (eleven), Kannada (eight), Bengali and Malayalam (six each), Gujarati, Marathi, Odia, and Urdu (four each), Telugu (three), Assamese, Punjabi, and Tamil (two each), English, Kashmiri, Konkani, and Sanskrit (one each). The award has been conferred upon fifty-eight writers including seven women authors. In 1976, Bengali novelist Ashapoorna Devi became the first woman to win the award and was honored for the 1965 novel Pratham Pratishruti (The First Promise), the first in a trilogy.
Background of Jnanpith Award
The Bharatiya Dnyanpith, a research and cultural institute founded in 1944 by industrialist Sahu Shanti Prasad Jain of the Sahu Jain family, conceived an idea in May 1961 to start a scheme “commanding national prestige and of international standard” to “select the best book out of the publications in Indian languages”.
Later in November, Rama Jain, the Founder President of the Bharatiya Jnanpith, invited a few literary experts to discuss various aspects of the scheme.
Jain along with Kaka Kalelkar, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, Jainendra Kumar, Jagdish Chandra Mathur, Prabhakar Machwe, Akshaya Kumar Jain, and Lakshmi Chandra Jain presented the initial draft to the then President of India Rajendra Prasad who had shown interest in the scheme’s implementation.
The idea was also discussed at 1962 annual sessions of the All India Gujarati Sahitya Parishad and the Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad.
On 2 April 1962, around 300 writers of various Indian languages were invited to Delhi for the two sessions conducted by Dharamvir Bharati in which the draft was finalized and later presented to Prasad. The first award selection committee meeting was scheduled on 16 March 1963 and Prasad was appointed as its president.
However, Prasad died on 28 February 1963 and thus the scheduled meeting was chaired by Kalelkar and Sampurnanand acted as president of the committee.
The first Selection Board consisted of Kalelkar, Niharranjan Ray, Karan Singh, R. R. Diwakar, V. Raghavan, B. Gopal Reddy, Harekrushna Mahatab, Rama Jain, and Lakshmi Chandra Jain and was headed by Sampurnanand.
Works that were published between 1921 and 1951 were considered for the first award.
The nine language committees that were formed were to submit to the board nominations along with translations of the work into Hindi or English.
The final round had four authors; Kazi Nazrul Islam (Bengali), D. V. Gundappa (Kannada), Viswanatha Satyanarayana (Telugu), and G. Sankara Kurup (Malayalam).
On 19 November 1966, Kurup was presented with the citation, statue of Saraswati, and a cheque for the prize of ₹1 lakh (equivalent to ₹45 lakh or US$63,000 in 2018) at a ceremony held at Vigyan Bhavan, Delhi.
In his acceptance speech, Kurup appreciated the concept of the new award and thanked it for bringing “integration of the diverse people of this land on a spiritual plane”.
Rules and selection process of Jnanpith Award
The nominations for the award are received from various literary experts, teachers, critics, universities, and numerous literary and language associations.
Every three years, an advisory committee is constituted for each of the languages.
The language of the most recent recipient’s work is not eligible for consideration for the next two years.
Each committee consists of three literary critics and scholars of their respective languages. All the nominations are scrutinized by the committee and their recommendations are submitted to the Dnyanpith Award Selection Board (Pravara Parishad).
The Selection Board consists of between seven and eleven members of “high repute and integrity”. Each member is part of the committee for a term of three years which can also be extended further for two more terms.
The recommendations of all language advisory committees are evaluated by the board based on complete or partial translations of the selected writings of the proposed writers into Hindi or English. The recipient for a particular year is announced by the Selection Board, which has final authority in selection.
List of recipients
1965 (1st) G. Sankara Kurup Malayalam
1966 (2nd) Tarasankar Bandyopadhyay Bengali
1967 (3rd) Umashankar Joshi Gujarati
1967 (3rd) Kuppali Venkatappa Puttappa ‘Kuvempu’ Kannada
1968 (4th) Sumitranandan Pant Hindi
1969 (5th) Firaq Gorakhpuri Urdu
1970 (6th) Viswanatha Satyanarayana Telugu
1971 (7th) Bishnu Dey Bengali
1972 (8th) Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’ Hindi
1973 (9th) D. R. Bendre Kannada
1973 (9th) Gopinath Mohanty Odia
1974 (10th) Vishnu Sakharam Khandekar Marathi
1975 (11th) Akilan Tamil
1976 (12th) Ashapoorna Devi Bengali
1977 (13th) K. Shivaram Karanth Kannada
1978 (14th) Sachchidananda Vatsyayan Hindi
1979 (15th) Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya Assamese
1980 (16th) S. K. Pottekkatt Malayalam
1981 (17th) Amrita Pritam Punjabi
1982 (18th) Mahadevi Varma Hindi
1983 (19th) Masti Venkatesha Iyengar Kannada
1984 (20th) Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai Malayalam
1985 (21st) Pannalal Patel Gujarati
1986 (22nd) Sachidananda Routray Odia
1987 (23rd) Vishnu Vaman Shirwadkar ‘Kusumagraj’ Marathi
1988 (24th) C. Narayana Reddy Telugu
1989 (25th) Qurratulain Hyder Urdu
1990 (26th) Vinayaka Krishna Gokak Kannada
1991 (27th) Subhash Mukhopadhyay Bengali
1992(28th) Naresh Mehta Hindi
1993 (29th) Sitakant Mahapatra Odia
1994 (30th) U. R. Ananthamurthy Kannada
1995(31st) M. T. Vasudevan Nair Malayalam
1996 (32nd) Mahasweta Devi Bengali
1997 (33rd) Ali Sardar Jafri Urdu
1998 (34th) Girish Karnad Kannada
1999 (35th) † Nirmal Verma Hindi
1999 (35th) † Gurdial Singh Punjabi
2000 (36th) Mamoni Raisom Goswami Assamese
2001 (37th) Rajendra Shah Gujarati
2002 (38th) Jayakanthan Tamil
2003 (39th) Vinda Karandikar Marathi
2004 (40th) Rehman Rahi Kashmiri
2005 (41st) Kunwar Narayan Hindi
2006 (42nd) † Ravindra Kelekar Konkani
2006 (42nd) † Satya Vrat Shastri Sanskrit
2007 (43rd) O. N. V. Kurup Malayalam
2008 (44th) Akhlaq Mohammed Khan ‘Shahryar’ Urdu
2009 (45th) † Amarkant Hindi
2009 (45th) † Sri Lal Sukla Hindi
2010 (46th) Chandrashekhara Kambara Kannada
2011 (47th) Pratibha Ray Odia
2012 (48th) Ravuri Bharadhwaja Telugu
2013 (49th) Kedarnath Singh Hindi
2014 (50th) Bhalchandra Nemade Marathi
2015 (51st) Raghuveer Chaudhari Gujarati
2016 (52nd) Shankha Ghosh Bengali
2017 (53rd) Krishna Sobti Hindi
2018 (54th) Amitav Ghosh English
2019 (55th) Akkitham Achuthan Namboothiri Malayalam
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