Literature enthusiasts and local residents of Puttur are dismayed that the school where polymath Shivaram Karanth taught has been demolished without permission from the state government.
From the outside it looked like any of the one-story, tiled-roof public schools built by the British in India. But it sparked a sense of magic in the hearts of literature enthusiasts and local residents who knew the history of this 156-year-old school in the town of Puttur on the Karnataka coast.
Polymath Shivaram Karanth came to Puttur in 1932 and remained in the city until 1974. Here he made the school a center of art and learning. The school’s classrooms have been expertly designed to double as indoor amphitheatres like those in Rome and London. The building was both an example of intelligent architecture and an ambitious vision for education as Shivaram Karanth taught theater in the school. He introduced cultural events to the city that would take place at the school and make it a thriving cultural center.
This is why even though the school has been closed for 10 years now, the townspeople were dismayed to learn that the building was demolished by the school administration earlier this month, without permission from the state government.
Efforts were underway to redevelop the school as a heritage center, and a letter from the Deputy Director of the Bureau of Public Instruction (DDPI) in Mangaluru to the Department of Public Instruction in December 2020 requested the release of funds for the repair of the structure. Despite this, the building was demolished without notice on Sunday December 12.
It was not originally planned to demolish the building on December 12. According to the chairman of the School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC), Panchakshari, some tiles from the roof of the school building were removed for maintenance work at the request of Puttur MP BJP Sanjeev Matandoor . When one of the tiles fell, and we realized that one of the mud walls of the building was not sound, that is when the decision was made. “We decided to demolish the whole building on the same day,” Panchakshari explains.
Classrooms inside Puttur Public School, Dakshina Kannada
An artistic and cultural education center
But many in Puttur question the decision of the school administration. For longtime residents of the city, the school building was a window into the history of the city, and in particular Shivaram Karanth, the prominent novelist, playwright and environmentalist of Karnataka. He was a rationalist concerned with the environment, literature, art and music. During his lifetime, he helped revive Yakshagana, encouraged remarriage of widows, and translated and published environmental reports. He also launched a movement against the upcoming Kaiga nuclear power plant in Uttara Kannada district. He was a critic of caste orthodoxy and preferred an intercast marriage. He received India’s oldest and highest literary award – the Jnanpith Prize – for Kannada in 1977.
While in Puttur, residents and associates of Shivaram Karanth say he taught theater and other art forms at the school. “It was the only school in Puttur, and he had always insisted that art forms like drama, singing and Yakshagana are as important to a child’s education as their teaching of mathematics and science, ”said Purandara Bhat, 81, a former lawyer and former partner of Shivaram Karanth.
Purandara Bhat, inhabitant of Puttur
Purandara remembers that Shivaram Karanth used to write plays especially for school students and train them in acting. Yakshagana performances were also held on the school grounds as part of the Puttur Dasara festivities which took place between 1934 and 1944. Yakshagana performances, which usually take place throughout the night, are an integral part of the event. history of the Karnataka coast. They combine dance, music, dialogue, costumes, makeup and stage techniques, and involve stories from epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
“Even those who could not read or write brought a mat to sit on and watch Yakshagana performances all night long. They were fascinated by the meaning of the spectacle,” Purandara Bhat explains. “These shows were staged on the school grounds by his students who trained under the guidance of Shivaram Karanth. He had a way to get students to perform in these shows,” said Purandara.
A second home for Shivaram Karanth
Shivaram Karanth’s residence in Puttur, called Balavana, has been restored by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) using materials similar to those used in the original building. It was his home for over 40 years. However, the school served as his second home in Puttur, Purandara says. “When he wasn’t home, he was often at school with his students,” he says. He also recalls that Kannada figures like Kuvempu had talks at school due to the influence of Shivaram Karanth.
But the school fell into growing neglect. Over the years, the paint peeled off the walls and the tiles began to fall off the roof. The leaks got worse and the stone and mud walls weakened. No restoration work has been undertaken to preserve the school despite intensive efforts by Amruth Malla, a local resident. He says he wrote to the local education department, the education department in Mangaluru, the state education department in Bengaluru and even the prime minister’s office. A copy of his letters and the acknowledgments he received was viewed by TNM.
“I can’t believe the school is now reduced to rubble. I have tried to contact as many people as possible about this over the past eight years, but no one has undertaken the restoration work,” says Amruth. Although there have been two letters of correspondence from the Deputy Director of Public Education (DDPI) in Mangaluru regarding the restoration work, Amruth says they have never been prosecuted. It is the responsibility of the school management and the DDPI department of the state government to initiate the administrative formalities for the restoration of the school building.
Residents want the school to be rebuilt, restored
The school administration is now open to building a stage named after Shivaram Karanth in the same location if funds are available, Panchakshari said.
But others like Amruth and Purandara are pushing the state government to belatedly undertake large-scale reconstruction and restoration work on the school building.
“It was a cultural treasure that collapsed due to neglect. We want it to be rebuilt as close as possible to the original structure. We believe it is essential that it be intended for some form of public use as a museum or heritage center. in honor of Shivaram Karanth, ”says Amruth.