On 22nd May, 1961, the fiftieth birthday of Sahu Shanti Prasad Jain, the founder of the Bharatiya Jnanpith, members of his family thought that some unique scheme, commanding national prestige and of international standard, should be started in literary or cultural field. Consequently, when on 16th September, 1961, the Board of Trustees was considering matters relating to the "Rashtrabharati Granthamala", which brings out Hindi translations of outstanding works of other Indian languages, Smt. Rama Jain, the Founder President of the Jnanpith, queried whether it was possible to select the best book out of the publications in Indian languages for a big award.
A discussion on the question was initiated by Smt. Rama Jain herself when she invited some of the leading litterateurs at her residence in Calcutta on 22nd November, 1961. Kaka Kalelkar, Harivansh Rai ''Bachchan'', Ramdhari Singh ''Dinkar'', Jainendra Kumar, Jagdish Chandra Mathur, Prabhakar Machwe, Akshaya Kumar Jain and Lakshmi Chandra Jain discussed various aspects of the idea. Two days later, a primary plan was presented by Sahu Shanti Prasad Jain to Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the President of India, who liked the idea greatly and promised to help in its implementation.
Akkitham Achuthan Namboothiri (Year: 2019, Language: Malayalam): For his literary excellence has footprints in genre like drama, reminiscence, critical essays, children literature, short stories and translations. Some of his celebrated creations include Veeravadam, Balidarsanam, Nimisha Kshethram, Amrita Khatika, Akkitham Kavithaka, Epic of Twentieth Century and Antimahakalam.
Amitav Ghosh (Year: 2018, Language: English): For his “outstanding contribution to the enrichment of Indian Literature in English”. Mr. Ghosh is the first English language writer to become a Jnanpith laureate.
Krishna Sobti (Year: 2017, Language: Hindi): For experimenting with new writing styles and creating "bold" and "daring" characters in her stories who were ready to accept all challenges. Her language is highly influenced by the intermingling of Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi cultures.
Shankha Ghosh (Year: 2016, Language: Bengali): The award is given for exceptional contribution in the field of literature. He has earlier won the Sahitya Academy Award and the Padmabhushan for his contribution to Indian literature. He is the sixth Bengali to get this prestigious award.
Raghuveer Chaudhari (Year: 2015, Language: Gujarati): Raghuveer Chaudhari is a novelist, poet and critic from Gujarat. He has also worked as a columnist for numerous newspapers, such as Sandesh, Janmabhumi, Nirikshaka and Divya Bhaskar.
Bhalchandra Vanaji Nemade (Year: 2014, Language: Marathi): Bhalchandra Vanaji Nemade is a Marathi writer from Maharashtra. He is famous for his books Hindu and Kosala. Also he is known for his novel Hindu jagnyachi samrudhha adgal.
Kedarnath Singh (Year: 2013, Language: Hindi) - For his notable contribution to Hindi literature. 'Abhi bilkul abhi' and 'Yahan se dekho' are among his prominent works 'Abhi bilkul abhi' and 'Yahan se dekho' are among his prominent works.
Ravuri Bharadhwaja (Year: 2012, Language: Telugu) - For his notable contribution to Telugu literature.
Pratibha Ray (Year: 2011, Language: Oriya) - For her book Yajnaseni.
Chandrashekhara Kambara (Year: 2010, Language: Kanada) - For his contributions to Kannada literature.
Amar Kant (Year: 2009, Language: Hindi) - For his contribution in Hindi literature.
Sri Lal Sukla (Year: 2009, Language: Hindi) - For his contribution in Hindi literature.
Akhlaq Mohammed Khan 'Shahryar' (Year: 2008, Language: Urdu) - For his contribution in Urdu literature.
O. N. V. Kurup (Year: 2007, Language: Malayalam) - For his contributions to Malayalam literature.
Ravindra Kelekar (Year: 2006, Language: Konkani) - For his contribution in Konkani literature.
Satya Vrat Shastri (Year: 2006, Language: Sanskrit) - For his contribution in Sanskrit literature.
Kunwar Narayan (Year: 2005, Language: Hindi) - For overall contribution in Hindi literature.
Rehman Rahi (Year: 2004, Language: Kashmiri) - For his contribution in Kashmiri literature. Few of his famous books are Subhuk Soda, Kalami Rahi and Siyah Rode Jaren Manz.
Vinda Karandikar (Year: 2003, Language: Marathi) - For his contributions to Marathi literature.
D. Jayakanthan (Year: 2002, Language: Tamil) - For his contribution in Tamil literature.
Rajendra Shah (Year: 2001, Language: Gujarati) - For his contribution in Gujarati literature.
Indira Goswami (Year: 2000, Language: Assamese) - For writing about the subalterns and marginalised &contribution in Assamese literature.
Nirmal Verma (Year: 1999, Language: Hindi) - For his contribution in Hindi literature.
Gurdial Singh (Year: 1999, Language: Punjabi) - For his contribution in Punjabi literature.
Girish Karnad (Year: 1998, Language: Kannada) - For his contributions to Kannada literature and for contributions to Kannada theatre (Yayati).
Ali Sardar Jafri (Year: 1997, Language: Urdu) - For his contribution in Urdu literature.
Mahasweta Devi (Year: 1996, Language: Bengali) - For her bengali novel 'Hajar Churashir Maa'
M. T. Vasudevan Nair (Year: 1995, Language: Malayalam) - For his contributions to Malayalam literature.
U. R. Ananthamurthy (Year: 1994, Language: Kanada) - For his contributions to Kannada literature.
Sitakant Mahapatra (Year: 1993, Language: Oriya) - For outstanding contribution to the enrichment of Indian literature, 1973–92.
Naresh Mehta (Year: 1992, Language: Hindi) - For his contribution in Hindi literature.
Subhas Mukhopadhyay (Year: 1991, Language: Bengali) - For his Bengali novel 'Padatik (The Foot Soldier)'.
Subhas Mukhopadhyay (Year: 1990, Language: Kannada) - For his novel 'Bharatha Sindhu Rashmi'.
Qurratulain Hyder (Year: 1989, Language: Urdu) - For his novel 'Akhire Shab Ke Humsafar'.
C. Narayana Reddy (Year: 1988, Language: Telugu) - For his novel 'Viswambhara'
Vishnu Vaman Shirwadkar (Kusumagraj) (Year: 1987, Language: Marathi) - For his contributions to Marathi literature.
Sachidananda Routray (Year: 1986, Language: Oriya) - For his contribution in Oriya literature.
Pannalal Patel (Year:1985, Language: Gujarati) - For his novel 'Maanavi Ni Bhavaai'.
Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai (Year: 1984, Language: Malayalam) - For his novel 'Kayar (Coir)'.
Masti Venkatesha Iyengar (Year: 1983, Language: Kanada) - For his novel 'Chikkaveera Rajendra' (Life and struggle of Kodava King Chikkaveera Rajendra).
Mahadevi Varma (Year: 1982, Language: Hindi) - For her novel 'Yama'.
Amrita Pritam (Year: 1981, Language: Punjabi) - For her novel 'Kagaj te Canvas'.
S. K. Pottekkatt (Year: 1980, Language: Malayalam) - For the novel 'Oru Desathinte Katha (Story of a Land)'.
Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya (Year: 1979, Language: Assamese) - For his novel 'Mrityunjay (Immortal)'
Sachchidananda Vatsyayan (Year: 1978, Language: Hindi) - For his novel 'Kitni Navon Men Kitni Bar' (How many times in how many boats?)
K. Shivaram Karanth (Year: 1977, Language: Kanada) - For his novel 'Mookajjiya Kanasugalu' (Mookajjis dreams).
Ashapurna Devi (Year: 1976, Language: Bengali) - For her novel 'Pratham Pratisruti'.
P. V. Akilan (Year: 1975, Language: Tamil) - For the novel Chitttrappavai
Vishnu Sakharam Khandekar (Year: 1974, Language: Marathi) - For his novel 'Yayati'.
Dattatreya Ramachandra Bendre (Year: 1973, Language: Kanada) - For the novel 'Nakutanti'(Four Strings).
Gopinath Mohanty (Year: 1973, Language: Oriya) - For his novel 'Matimatal'.
Ramdhari Singh Dinkar (Year: 1972,Language: Hindi) - For his novel 'Urvashi'.
Bishnu Dey (Year: 1971, Language: Bengali) - For his novel 'Smriti Satta Bhavishyat'.
Viswanatha Satyanarayana (Year: 1970, Language: Telugu) - For his novel Ramayana Kalpavrukshamu (A resourceful tree:Ramayana).
Firaq Gorakhpuri (Year: 1969, Language: Urdu) - For his novel 'Gul-e-Naghma'.
Sumitranandan Pant (Year: 1968, Language: Hindi) - For his novel 'Chidambara'.
Kuppali Venkatappagowda Puttappa (Kuvempu) (Year: 1967, Language: Kannada) - For his book 'Sri Ramayana Darshanam'.
Umashankar Joshi (Year: 1967, Language: Gujarati) - For his book 'Nishitha'.
Tarasankar Bandyopadhyay (Year: 1966, Language: Bengali) - For his novel 'Ganadevta'.
G. Sankara Kurup (Year: 1965, Language: Malayalam) - For his book 'Odakkuzhal (Flute)'.
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