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 ₹47 lakh or US$69,000 in 2016), 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₹21 lakh or US$32,000 in 2016) from 1981.
As of 2015, the cash prize has been revised to ₹11 lakh (equivalent to ₹12 lakh or US$17,000 in 2016) and out of twenty-three eligible languages the award has been presented for works in fifteen languages: Hindi (ten), Kannada (eight),Bengali (six), Malayalam (five), Gujarati, Marathi, Odia, and Urdu (four each), Telugu (three), Assamese, Punjabi, and Tamil (two each), Kashmiri, Konkani, and Sanskrit (one each). The award has been conferred upon fifty-seven writers including seven women authors. In 1976, Bengali novelist Ashapoorna Devi became the first woman to win the award and was honoured for the 1965 novel Pratham Pratisruti(The First Promise), the first in a trilogy.
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 scrutinised by the committee and their recommendations are submitted to the Jnanpith Award Selection Board (Pravara Parishad).