A. K. Ramanujan

Indian linguist

AK Ramanujan
Native name
Born (1929-03-16)16 March 1929
Kingdom of Mysore,
British India
(now in Karnataka, India)
Died 13 July 1993(1993-07-13) (aged 64)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Language English, Kannada and Tamil
Nationality Indian
Education PhD in Linguistics
Alma mater Indiana University

University of Mysore

Deccan College

Notable works The Striders; Second Sight
Notable awards MacArthur Fellowship, Sahitya Akademi Award and Padma Shree

Attipate Krishnaswami Ramanujan (16 March 1929 – 13 July 1993) was an Indian poet and scholar of Indian literature and Linguistics Ramanujan was also a professor of Linguistics at University of Chicago

Ramanujan was a poet, scholar, Linguist, philologist, folklorist, translator, and playwright His academic research ranged across five languages: English, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Sanskrit He published works on both classical and modern variants of this literature and argued strongly for giving local, non-standard dialects their due Though he wrote widely and in a number of genres, Ramanujan’s poems are remembered as enigmatic works of startling originality, sophistication and moving artistry He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award posthumously in 1999 for The Collected Poems



Ramanujan was born in Mysore City on 16 March 1929 His father, Attipat Asuri Krishnaswami, an astronomer and professor of mathematics at Mysore University, was known for his interest in English, Kannada and Sanskrit languages His mother was a homemaker


Ramanujan was educated at Marimallappa’s High School, Mysore, and at the Maharaja College of Mysore In college, Ramanujan majored in science in his freshman year, but his father persuaded him to change his major from science to English Later, Ramanujan became a Fellow of Deccan College, Pune in 1958–59 and a Fulbright Scholar at Indiana University in 1959–62 He was educated in English at the University of Mysore and received his PhD in Linguistics from Indiana University


Ramanujan worked as a lecturer of English at Quilon and Belgaum; he later taught at The Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda for about eight years In 1962, he joined the University of Chicago as an assistant professor He was affiliated with the university throughout his career, teaching in several departments He taught at other US universities as well, including Harvard University, University of Wisconsin, University of Michigan, University of California at Berkeley, and Carleton College At the University of Chicago, Ramanujan was instrumental in shaping the South Asian Studies program He worked in the departments of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, Linguistics, and with the Committee on Social Thought

In 1976, the Government of India awarded him the Padma Shri, and in 1983, he was given the MacArthur Prize Fellowship (Shulman, 1994) In 1983, he was appointed the William E Colvin Professor in the Departments of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, of Linguistics, and in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago That same year, he received a MacArthur Fellowship As an Indo-American writer, Ramanujan had the experience of the native as well as foreign milieu His poems such as the “Conventions of Despair” reflected his views on the cultures and conventions of the east and west

A K Ramanujan died in Chicago on 13 July 1993 as result of an adverse reaction to anaesthesia during preparation for surgery

Contributions to Indian studies

A K Ramanujan’s theoretical and aesthetic contributions span several disciplinary areas In his cultural essays such as “Is There an Indian Way of Thinking” (1990), he explains cultural ideologies and behavioral manifestations thereof in terms of an Indian psychology he calls “context-sensitive” thinking In his work in folklore studies, Ramanujan highlights the inter-textuality of the Indian oral and written literary tradition His essay “Where Mirrors Are Windows: Toward an Anthology of Reflections” (1989), and his commentaries in The Interior Landscape: Love Poems from a Classical Tamil Anthology (1967) and Folktales from India, Oral Tales from Twenty Indian Languages (1991) are good examples of his work in Indian folklore studies

Controversy regarding his essay

His 1991 essay “Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation” courted controversy over its inclusion in the BA in History syllabus of the University of Delhi in 2006 In this essay, he wrote of the existence of many versions of Ramayana and a few versions that portrayed Rama and Sita as siblings, which contradicts the popular versions of the Ramayana, such as those by Valmiki and Tulsidas

The comments written by A K Ramanujan were found to be derogatory by some Hindus and some of them decided to go to court for removal of the text from the Delhi University curriculum ABVP, a nationalist student organisation, opposed its inclusion in the syllabus, saying it hurt the majority Hindu sentiment, who viewed Rama and Sita as incarnations of gods and who were husband and wife They demanded the essay be removed from the syllabus In 2008, the Delhi High Court directed Delhi University to convene a committee to decide on the essay’s inclusion A four-member committee subsequently gave its 3-1 verdict in favor of its inclusion in the syllabus

The academic council, however, ignored the committee’s recommendation and voted to scrap the essay from its syllabus in Oct 2011 This led to protests by many historians and intellectuals, accusing Delhi University of succumbing to the diktat (“views”) of non-historians

Selected publications

His works include translations from Old Tamil and Old Kannada, such as:

Translations and Studies of Literature
  • The Interior Landscape: Love Poems from a Classical Tamil Anthology, 1967
  • Speaking of Siva, Penguin 1973 ISBN 9780140442700
  • The Literatures of India Edited with Edwin Gerow Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974
  • Hymns for the Drowning, 1981
  • Poems of Love and War New York: Columbia University Press, 1985
  • Folktales from India, Oral Tales from Twenty Indian Languages, 1991
  • Is There an Indian Way of Thinking in India Through Hindu Categories, edited by McKim Marriott, 1990
  • When God Is a Customer: Telugu Courtesan Songs by Ksetrayya and Others (with Velcheru Narayana Rao and David Shulman), 1994
  • A Flowering Tree and Other Oral Tales from India, 1997
  • Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation
  • Collected Essays of A K Ramanujan
  • “A Flowering Tree: A Women’s Tale” In: Syllables of Sky: Studies in South Indian Civilization Oxford University Press, 1995 pp 20-42 ISBN 9780195635492 (posthumous article)
  • The Striders London: Oxford University Press, 1966
  • Relations London, New York: Oxford University Press, 1971
  • Selected Poems New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1976
  • Second Sight New York: Oxford University Press,
  • The Collected Poems New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997
Appearances in the following poetry Anthologies
  • Ten Twentieth-Century Indian Poets (1976) ed by R Parthasarathy and published by Oxford University Press, New Delhi
  • The Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets (1992) ed by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and published by Oxford University Press, New Delhi
  • The Golden Treasure of Writers Workshop Poetry (2008) ed by Rubana Huq and published by Writers Workshop, Calcutta
  • Samskara (translation of U R Ananthamurthy’s Kannada novel) Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1976
  • Hokkulalli Huvilla (translated to English – “No Flower in the Navel”) Dharwad, 1969
  • Mattu Itara Padyagalu (translated to English – “And Other Poems”) Dharwad, 1977
  • Kuntobille (translated to English – “Hopscotch”)
  • Mattobbana Atma Charitre (translated to English – “Yet Another Man’s Autobiography”)
  • Haladi Meenu (Kannada Translation of Shouri’s English Novel)
  • A K Ramanujan Samagra (Complete Works of A K Ramanujan in Kannada)
  • A K Ramanujan Avara Aayda Kavitegalu
  • A K Ramanujan Avara Aayda Barahagalu

See also

  • List of translators into English

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