Kannada language

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Kannada: ಕನ್ನಡ
Pronunciation [ˈkʌnnəɖɑː]
Native to India – Karnataka, Kasaragod, Kerala, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and significant minority communities outside India in USA, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore,[1] UK, Germany, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Mauritius,[2] United Arab Emirates,[3] Thailand.[4]
Ethnicity Kannadiga
Native speakers
40 million  (2007)[5]
11 million as a second language[6]
Early forms
Old Kannada
  • Kannada
Kannada alphabet (Brahmic)
Kannada Braille
Official status
Official language in
Regulated by Various academies and the Government of Karnataka[8]
Language codes
ISO 639-1 kn
ISO 639-2 kan
ISO 639-3 kan
Glottolog nucl1305[9]
Distribution of native Kannada speakers in India[10]

Kannada /ˈkɑːnədə/[11] or /ˈkænədə/,[12] (ಕನ್ನಡ kannaḍa, IPA: [ˈkʌnːəɖɑː]) or Kanarese /kænəˈrz/,[13] is a language spoken in India predominantly in the state of Karnataka. Kannada, whose native speakers are called Kannadigas (Kannaḍigaru) (Kannadiga-male) ಕನ್ನಡತಿ (Kannadati-female) and number roughly 40 million,[14] is one of the 40 most spoken languages in the world. It is one of the scheduled languages of India and the official and administrative language of the state of Karnataka.[15]

The Kannada language is written using the Kannada script, which evolved from the 5th-century Kadamba script. Kannada is attested epigraphically for about one and a half millennia, and literary Old Kannada flourished in the 6th-century Ganga dynasty[16] and during the 9th-century Rashtrakuta Dynasty.[17][18] Kannada has an unbroken literary history of over a thousand years.[19]

Based on the recommendations of the Committee of Linguistic Experts, appointed by the Ministry of Culture, the Government of India designated Kannada a classical language of India.[20][21][22] In July 2011, a centre for the study of classical Kannada was established as part of the Central Institute of Indian Languages at Mysore to facilitate research related to the language.[23]


Kannada is a Southern Dravidian language and according to Dravidian scholar Sanford Steever, its history can be conventionally divided into three periods; Old Kannada (halegannada) from 450–1200 A.D., Middle Kannada (Nadugannada) from 1200–1700 A.D., and Modern Kannada from 1700 to the present.[24] Kannada is influenced to an appreciable extent by Sanskrit. Influences of other languages such as Prakrit and Pali can also be found in Kannada language. The scholar Iravatham Mahadevan proved that Kannada was already a language of rich oral tradition earlier than 3rd century B.C., and based on the native Kannada words found in Prakrit and Tamil inscriptions of that period, Kannada must have been spoken by a widespread and stable population.[25][26] The scholar K.V. Narayana claims that many tribal languages which are now designated as Kannada dialects could be nearer to the earlier form of the language with lesser influence from other languages.[25]

Influence of Sanskrit and Prakrit[edit]

The sources of influence on literary Kannada grammar appear to be three-fold; Pāṇini's grammar, non-Paninian schools of Sanskrit grammar, particularly Katantra and Sakatayana schools, and Prakrit grammar.[27] Literary Prakrit seemed to have prevailed in Karnataka since ancient times. The vernacular Prakrit speaking people may have come in contact with the Kannada speakers, thus influencing their language, even before Kannada was used for administrative or liturgical purposes. Kannada phonetics, morphology, vocabulary, grammar and syntax show significant influence of these languages.[27][28]

Some examples of naturalised (tadbhava) words of Prakrit origin in Kannada are baṇṇa derived from vaṇṇa(Prakrit),varṇa meaning color (Sanskrit);arasu meaning king from rajan (Sanskrit); hunnime meaning new moon from puṇṇivā (Prakrit), paurṇimā(Sanskrit); and rāya from rāja meaning king.[29] Kannada has numerous borrowed (tatsama) words such as dina (day), kopa (anger), surya (sun), mukha (face), nimiṣa (minute), anna (rice).[30]

Early epigraphy[edit]

The Halmidi inscription at Halmidi village, in old-Kannada, is usually dated to AD 450 (Kadamba Dynasty)
Old-Kannada inscription dated AD 578 (Badami Chalukya dynasty) at Badami cave temple no.3
Old-Kannada inscription of c. AD 726, discovered in Talakad, from the rule of King Shivamara I or Sripurusha (Western Ganga Dynasty)
Old-Kannada inscription of the 9th century (Rashtrakuta Dynasty) at Durga Devi temple in Hampi, Karnataka
The famous Atakur inscription (AD 949) from Mandya district, a classical Kannada composition in two parts; a fight between a hound and a wild boar, and the victory of the Rashtrakutas over the Chola dynasty in the famous battle of Takkolam
Old Kannada inscription dated 1057 A.D. of Western Chalukya King Somesvara I at Kalleshwara Temple, Hire Hadagali in Bellary district
Old-Kannada inscription ascribed to King Vikramaditya VI (Western Chalukya Empire), dated AD 1112, at the Mahadeva Temple in Itagi, Koppal district of Karnataka state
Old-Kannada inscription of AD 1220 (Hoysala Empire) at Ishwara temple of Arasikere town in the Hassan district
Kannada inscription dated 1509 A.D., of King Krishnadevaraya (Vijayanagara Empire), at the Virupaksha temple in Hampi describes his coronation
Kannada inscription dated 1654 A.D., at Yelandur with exquisite relief

Pre-old Kannada (or Purava HaleGannada) was the language of Banavasi in the early Common Era, the Satavahana and Kadamba periods and hence has a history of over 2000 years.[26][31][32][33] The Ashoka rock edict found at Brahmagiri (dated to 230 BC) has been suggested to contain words in identifiable Kannada.[34]

A possibly more definite reference to Kannada is found in the 'Charition mime' of the 1st or 2nd century AD. The farce, written by an unknown author was discovered in early 20th century at Oxyrynchus in Egypt.[35][36] The play is concerned with a Greek lady named Charition who has been stranded on the coast of a country bordering the Indian Ocean. The king of this region, and his countrymen, sometimes use their own language, and the sentences they spoke include Koncha madhu patrakke haki (lit having poured a little wine into the cup separately) and paanam beretti katti madhuvam ber ettuvenu (lit having taken up the cup separately and having covered it, I shall take wine separately).[37] The language employed in the papyrus indicates that the play is set in one of the numerous small ports on the western coast of India, between Karwar and Mangalore.[37]

The written tradition of Kannada begins in the early centuries of common era. The earliest examples of a full-length Kannada language stone inscription (shilashaasana) containing Brahmi characters with characteristics attributed to those of proto-Kannada in Hale Kannada (lit Old Kannada) script can be found in the Halmidi inscription, usually dated c. AD 450, indicating that Kannada had become an administrative language at that time. The Halmidi inscription provides invaluable information about the history and culture of Karnataka.[38][39][40][41] The 5th century Tamatekallu inscription of Chitradurga and the Chikkamagaluru inscription of 500 AD are further examples.[42][43][44] Recent reports indicate that the Old Kannada Nishadi Inscription discovered on the Chandragiri hill, Shravanabelagola, is older than Halmidi inscription by about fifty to hundred years and may belong to the period AD 350–400.[45] The noted archaeologist and art historian S. Settar is of the opinion that an inscription of the Western Ganga King Kongunivarma (c.350 – 370) is also older than the Halmidi inscription.[46]

Over 30,000 inscriptions written in the Kannada language have been discovered so far.[47] Prior to the Halmidi inscription, there is an abundance of inscriptions containing Kannada words, phrases and sentences, proving its antiquity. The 543 AD Badami cliff inscription of Pulakesi I is an example of a Sanskrit inscription in old Kannada script.[48][49]

The earliest copper plates inscribed in Old Kannada script and language, dated to the early 8th century AD, are associated with Alupa King Aluvarasa II from Belmannu (the Dakshina Kannada district), and display the double crested fish, his royal emblem.[50] The oldest well-preserved palm leaf manuscript in Old Kannada is that of Dhavala. It dates to around the 9th century and is preserved in the Jain Bhandar, Mudbidri, Dakshina Kannada district.[51] The manuscript contains 1478 leaves written using ink.[51]


Some early Kadamba Dynasty coins bearing the Kannada inscription Vira and Skandha were found in Satara collectorate.[52] A gold coin bearing three inscriptions of Sri and an abbreviated inscription of king Bhagiratha's name called bhagi (c. AD 390–420) in old Kannada exists.[53] A Kadamba copper coin dated to the 5th century AD with the inscription Srimanaragi in Kannada script was discovered in Banavasi, Uttara Kannada district.[54] Coins with Kannada legends have been discovered spanning the rule of the Western Ganga Dynasty, the Badami Chalukyas, the Alupas, the Western Chalukyas, the Rashtrakutas, the Hoysalas, the Vijayanagar Empire, the Kadamba Dynasty of Banavasi, the Keladi Nayakas and the Mysore Kingdom, the Badami Chalukya coins being a recent discovery.[55][56][57] The coins of the Kadambas of Goa are unique in that they have alternate inscription of the king's name in Kannada and Devanagari in triplicate,[58] a few coins of the Kadambas of Hangal are also available.[59]


Old Kannada[edit]

The oldest existing record of Kannada poetry in tripadi metre is the Kappe Arabhatta record of AD 700.[60] Kavirajamarga by King Nripatunga Amoghavarsha I (AD 850) is the earliest existing literary work in Kannada. It is a writing on literary criticism and poetics meant to standardise various written Kannada dialects used in literature in previous centuries. The book makes reference to Kannada works by early writers such as King Durvinita of the 6th century and Ravikirti, the author of the Aihole record of 636 AD.[61][62] Since the earliest available Kannada work is one on grammar and a guide of sorts to unify existing variants of Kannada grammar and literary styles, it can be safely assumed that literature in Kannada must have started several centuries earlier.[61][63] An early extant prose work, the Vaddaradhane by Shivakotiacharya of AD 900 provides an elaborate description of the life of Bhadrabahu of Shravanabelagola.[64]

Kannada works from earlier centuries mentioned in the Kavirajamarga are not yet traced. Some ancient texts now considered extinct but referenced in later centuries are Prabhrita (AD 650) by Syamakundacharya, Chudamani (Crest Jewel—AD 650) by Srivaradhadeva, also known as Tumbuluracharya, which is a work of 96,000 verse-measures and a commentary on logic (Tatwartha-mahashastra).[65][66][67] Other sources date Chudamani to the 6th century or earlier.[68][69] The Karnateshwara Katha, a eulogy for King Pulakesi II, is said to have belonged to the 7th century; the Gajastaka, a work on elephant management by King Shivamara II, belonged to the 8th century,[70] and the Chandraprabha-purana by Sri Vijaya, a court poet of King Amoghavarsha I, is ascribed to the early 9th century.[71] Tamil Buddhist commentators of the 10th century AD (in the commentary on Nemrinatham, a Tamil grammatical work) make references that show that Kannada literature must have flourished as early as the AD 4th century.[72]

The late classical period gave birth to several genres of Kannada literature, with new forms of composition coming into use, including Ragale (a form of blank verse) and meters like Sangatya and Shatpadi. The works of this period are based on Jain and Hindu principles. Two of the early writers of this period are Harihara and Raghavanka, trailblazers in their own right. Harihara established the Ragale form of composition while Raghavanka popularised the Shatpadi (six-lined stanza) meter.[73] A famous Jaina writer of the same period is Janna, who expressed Jain religious teachings through his works.[74]

The Vachana Sahitya tradition of the 12th century is purely native and unique in world literature, and the sum of contributions by all sections of society. Vachanas were pithy poems on that period's social, religious and economic conditions. More importantly, they held a mirror to the seed of social revolution, which caused a radical re-examination of the ideas of caste, creed and religion. Some of the important writers of Vachana literature include Basavanna, Allama Prabhu and Akka Mahadevi.[75]

Middle Kannada[edit]

During the period between the 15th and 18th centuries, Hinduism had a great influence on Middle Kannada (Nadugannada) language and literature. Kumara Vyasa, who wrote the Karnata Bharata Kathamanjari, was arguably the most influential Kannada writer of this period. His work, entirely composed in the native Bhamini Shatpadi (hexa-meter), is a sublime adaptation of the first ten books of the Mahabharata.[76] During this period, the Sanskritic influence is present in most abstract, religious, scientific and rhetorical terms.[77][78][79] During this period, several Hindi and Marathi words came into Kannada, chiefly relating to feudalism and militia.[80]

Hindu saints of the Vaishnava sect such as Kanakadasa, Purandaradasa, Naraharitirtha, Vyasatirtha, Sripadaraya, Vadirajatirtha, Vijaya Dasa, Jagannatha Dasa, Prasanna Venkatadasa produced devotional poems in this period.[81] Kanakadasa's Ramadhanya Charite is a rare work, concerning with the issue of class struggle.[82] This period saw the advent of Haridasa Sahitya (lit Dasa literature) which made rich contributions to bhakti literature and sowed the seeds of Carnatic music. Purandara Dasa is widely considered the Father of Carnatic music.[83][84][85]

Modern Kannada[edit]

The Kannada works produced from the 19th century make a gradual transition and are classified as Hosagannada or Modern Kannada. Most notable among the modernists was the poet Nandalike Muddana whose writing may be described as the "Dawn of Modern Kannada", though generally, linguists treat Indira Bai or Saddharma Vijayavu by Gulvadi Venkata Raya as the first literary works in Modern Kannada. The first modern movable type printing of "Canarese" appears to be the Canarese Grammar of Carey printed at Serampore in 1817, and the "Bible in Canarese" of John Hands in 1820.[86] The first novel printed was John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, along with other texts including Canarese Proverbs, The History of Little Henry and his Bearer by Mary Martha Sherwood, Christian Gottlob Barth's Bible Stories and "a Canarese hymn book."[87]

Modern Kannada in the 20th century has been influenced by many movements, notably Navodaya, Navya, Navyottara, Dalita and Bandaya. Contemporary Kannada literature has been highly successful in reaching people of all classes in society. Further, Kannada has produced a number of prolific and renowned poets and writers such as Kuvempu, Bendre, and V K Gokak. Works of Kannada literature have received eight Jnanpith awards,[88] the highest number awarded to any Indian language.[89]


Main article: Kannada dialects

There is also a considerable difference between the spoken and written forms of the language. Spoken Kannada tends to vary from region to region. The written form is more or less consistent throughout Karnataka. The Ethnologue reports "about 20 dialects" of Kannada. Among them are Kundagannada (spoken exclusively in Kundapura), Nadavar-Kannada (spoken by Nadavaru), Havigannada (spoken mainly by Havyaka Brahmins), Are Bhashe (spoken by Gowda community mainly in the Sullia region of Dakshina Kannada), Malenadu Kannada (Sakaleshpur, Coorg, Shimoga, Chikmagalur), Soliga, Gulbarga Kannada, Dharawad Kannada etc. All of these dialects are influenced by their regional and cultural background.

Ethnologue also classifies a group of four languages related to Kannada, which are, besides Kannada proper, Badaga, Holiya and Urali.


Kannada billboards in India.

The Director of the Central Institute of Indian Languages, Udaya Narayana Singh, submitted a report in 2006 to the Indian government arguing for Kannada to be made a classical language of India.[90] In 2008 the Indian government announced that Kannada was to be designated as one of the classical languages of India.[20]

Writing system[edit]

The language uses forty-nine phonemic letters, divided into three groups: swaragalu (vowels – thirteen letters); vyanjanagalu (consonants – thirty-four letters); and yogavaahakagalu (neither vowel nor consonant – two letters: anusvara and visarga ). The character set is almost identical to that of other Indian languages. The script itself, derived from Brahmi script, is fairly complicated like most other languages of India owing to the occurrence of various combinations of "half-letters" (glyphs), or symbols that attach to various letters in a manner similar to diacritical marks in the Romance languages. The Kannada script is almost perfectly phonetic, but for the sound of a "half n" (which becomes a half m). The number of written symbols, however, is far more than the forty-nine characters in the alphabet, because different characters can be combined to form compound characters (ottakshara). Each written symbol in the Kannada script corresponds with one syllable, as opposed to one phoneme in languages like English. The Kannada script is syllabic.

Obsolete Kannada letters[edit]

Arcaic n in Kannada script .
Historical form of representing ನ್ in Kannada script.

Kannada literary works employed the letters (transliterated '' or 'rh') and (transliterated '', 'lh' or 'zh'), whose manner of articulation most plausibly could be akin to those in present-day Malayalam and Tamil. The letters dropped out of use in the 12th and 18th centuries, respectively. Later Kannada works replaced 'rh' and 'lh' with (ra) and (la) respectively.[91]

Another letter (or unclassified vyanjana (consonant)) that has become extinct is 'nh' or 'inn'. ನ್ Likewise, this has its equivalent in Telugu, where it is called Nakaara pollu. The usage of this consonant was observed until the 1980s in Kannada works from the mostly coastal areas of Karnataka (especially the Dakshina Kannada district). Now, hardly any mainstream works use this consonant. This letter has been replaced by ನ್ (consonant n).[citation needed]

Kannada script evolution[edit]

The image below shows the evolution of Kannada script[92] from prehistoric times to the modern period. The Kannada script evolved in stages:

Proto-Kannada → Pre–Old Kannada → Old Kannada → Modern Kannada.

The Proto-Kannada script has its root in ancient Brahmi and appeared around the 3rd century BC. The Pre-Old-Kannada script appeared around the 4th century AD. Old-Kannada script can be traced to around the 10th century AD, whereas Modern-Kannada script appeared around the 17th century AD.


A German priest, the Reverend Ferdinand Kittel, composed the first Kannada–English dictionary, consisting of more than 70,000 words.[93] Ferdinand Kittel also wrote a book on Kannada grammar called "A Grammar of the Kannada Language: Comprising the Three Dialects of the Language".[94]

G. Venkatasubbaiah edited the first modern Kannada-Kannada dictionary, a 9,000-page, 8-volume series published by the Kannada Sahitya Parishat. He also wrote a Kannada-English dictionary and a kliṣtapadakōśa, a dictionary of difficult words.[95][96]

Kannada script in computing[edit]


Several transliteration schemes/tools are used to type Kannada characters using a standard keyboard. These include Baraha[97] (based on ITRANS), Pada Software[98] and several internet tools like Google transliteration, Quillpad[99] (predictive transliterator). Nudi, the Government of Karnataka's standard for Kannada Input, is a phonetic layout loosely based on transliteration.

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+0CBx ಿ
1.^ As of Unicode version 7.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points


Main article: Kannada grammar

The canonical word order of Kannada is SOV (subject–object–verb) as is the case with Dravidian languages. Kannada is a highly inflected language with three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter or common) and two numbers (singular and plural). It is inflected for gender, number and tense, among other things. The first authoritative known book on Kannada grammar is Shabdhamanidarpana by Keshiraaja. The first available Kannada book is a treatise on poetry: Kavirajamarga.

The most influential account of Kannada grammar is Keshiraja's Shabdamanidarpana (c. AD 1260).[100][101] The earlier grammatical works include portions of Kavirajamarga (a treatise on alańkāra) of the 9th century, and Kavyavalokana and Karnatakabhashabhushana (both authored by Nagavarma II in the first half of the 12th century).[101]

Compound bases[edit]

Compound bases, called samāsa in Kannada, are a set of two or more words compounded together.[102] There are several types of compound bases, based on the rules followed for compounding.[clarification needed] Examples: tangaaLi, hemmara, immadi.


In many ways the third-person pronoun is more like demonstratives than like the other pronouns. They are pluralized like nouns, whereas the first- and second-person pronouns have different ways to distinguish number.[103]

See also[edit]


  • Garg, Ganga Ram (1992) [1992]. "Kannada literature". Encyclopaedia of the Hindu World: A-Aj, Volume 1. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company. ISBN 81-7022-374-1. 
  • Kuiper, Kathleen, ed. (2011). "Dravidian Studies: Kannada". Understanding India-The Culture of India. New York: Britannica educational Printing. ISBN 978-1-61530-203-1. 
  • Steever, S. B. (1998). "Kannada". In Steever, S. B. (ed.). The Dravidian Languages (Routledge Language Family Descriptions). London: Routledge. Pp. 436. pp. 129–157. ISBN 0-415-10023-2. 
  • Kloss and McConnell, Heinz and Grant D. (1978). The Written languages of the world: a survey of the degree and modes of use-vol 2 part1. Université Laval. ISBN 2-7637-7186-6. 
  • Narasimhacharya, R (1988) [1988]. History of Kannada Literature. New Delhi, Madras: Asian Educational Services. ISBN 81-206-0303-6. 
  • Rice, E.P. (1982) [1921]. Kannada Literature. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services. ISBN 81-206-0063-0. 
  • Rice, B.L. (2001) [1897]. Mysore Gazatteer Compiled for Government-vol 1. New Delhi, Madras: Asian Educational Services. ISBN 81-206-0977-8. 
  • Kamath, Suryanath U. (2002) [2001]. A concise history of Karnataka: from pre-historic times to the present. Bangalore: Jupiter books. LCCN 80905179. OCLC 7796041. 
  • Various (1988) [1988]. Encyclopaedia of Indian literature-vol 2. Sahitya Akademi. ISBN 81-260-1194-7. 
  • Sastri, Nilakanta K.A. (2002) [1955]. A history of South India from prehistoric times to the fall of Vijayanagar. New Delhi: Indian Branch, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-560686-8. 
  • Ramesh, K.V. (1984) [1984]. Chalukyas of Vatapi. New Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan. 
  • Kittel, F (1993) [1993]. A Grammar of the Kannada Language Comprising the Three Dialects of the Language (Ancient, Medieval and Modern). New Delhi, Madras: Asian Educational Services. ISBN 81-206-0056-8. 
  • Bhat, Thirumaleshwara (1993) [1993]. Govinda Pai. Sahitya Akademi. ISBN 81-7201-540-2. 
  • Zvelebil, Kamil (1973) [1973]. Smile of Murugan: On Tamil Literature of South India. Leiden, Netherlands: BRILL. ISBN 90-04-03591-5. 
  • Shapiro and Schiffman, Michael C., Harold F. (1981) [1981]. Language And Society In South Asia. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. ISBN 81-208-2607-8. 


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  33. ^ Pai and Narasimhachar in Bhat (1993), p103
  34. ^ The word Isila found in the Ashokan inscription (called the Brahmagiri edict from Karnataka) meaning to shoot an arrow is a Kannada word, indicating that Kannada was a spoken language in the third century BC (Dr. D.L. Narasimhachar in Kamath 2001, p5)
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  36. ^ Manohar Laxman Varadpande – History of Indian theatre, Volume 3 (1987), Abhinav Publications, New Delhi.
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  38. ^ Ramesh (1984), p10
  39. ^ Encyclopaedia of Indian literature vol. 2, Sahitya Akademi (1988), p1717, p 1474
  40. ^ A report on Halmidi inscription, Muralidhara Khajane (3 November 2003). "Halmidi village finally on the road to recognition". The Hindu (Chennai, India). Retrieved 25 November 2006. 
  41. ^ Kamath (2001), p10
  42. ^ Narasimhacharya (1988), p6
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  58. ^ This shows that the native vernacular of the Goa Kadambas was Kannada – Moraes (1931), p384
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Further reading[edit]

  • Masica, Colin P. (1991) [1991]. The Indo-Aryan Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-29944-6. 
  • Thapar, Romila (2003) [2003]. The Penguin History of Early India. New Delhi: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-302989-4. 
  • George M. Moraes (1931), The Kadamba Kula, A History of Ancient and Medieval Karnataka, Asian Educational Services, New Delhi, Madras, 1990 ISBN 81-206-0595-0
  • Varadpande, Manohar Laxman (1987) [1987]. History of Indian Theatre. Abhinav Publications. ISBN 81-7017-221-7. 

External links[edit]