As per records, Keshavsut was born in the village of Malgund which lies in Ratnagiri district. But his birth date is still a topic of debate on whether it is 15th March 1866 or 7th October 1866. Although, on a normal basis, his birthday is celebrated on 7th October. Keshavsut’s younger brother, Mr. C. K. Damle wrote a biography based on his life, where he mentioned his birth date as Bhadrapad Krushna 14th Sunday, shakee 1788 san 1866 (as per hindu calendar). It is said that as he was born in the Krushnapaksha, he was named Krushna.
Great poet Keshavsut’s father was Keshav Vitthal Damle, aka Kesopanta, who was teacher in a Marathi school run by the government. Due to his health issues, he retired early from his job and shifted to Dapoli, where he looked after a village named Valne, which was the Khotigaav (village under care of a Khot or a feudal lord system in Konkan region). Keshavsut has clearly mentioned this village in one of his poems named ‘Ek Gaav’. C. K. Damle writes in his biography about how Keshavsut’s house in Valne was surrounded by plants and trees and the ground would be filled with flowers falling from those trees. Keshavsut was very fond of this natural habitat that surrounded the house. When he was a student, he used to spend a lot of time just sitting here. He used to make his younger sister recite his poem ‘Tip phule, tip majhe gade ga. Phulachi pakhran jhip’, here ar Valne itself. Unfortunately, after he finished his education, he couldn’t stay in the company of nature as he wished to.
Keshavsut had 11 siblings, including 5 sisters and 6 brothers. He was the 5th among his siblings. He finished his early education till 5th grade under his father’s supervision and later at Vadodara, Vardha, Nagpur and Pune. While at Nagpur, he became acquainted with well known poet Narayan Vamanrao Tilak. Narayan Tilak was a great influence on his poetic element. In the year 1890 – 1891, he became a matric.
After he matriculated, he did temporary jobs in Mumbai from 1896 to 1897. When Mumbai was gripped with the epidemic of plague, he left the city and went to Khandesh. He tried hard to find a small job in municipal schools of any small village and then finally settled for a job in Faizpur. Later, he served as a assistant teacher at the Anglo Vernacular School of Bhadgaav. He lived in Khandesh from 1901 to 1902. Next, he was appointed at a high school in Dharwaad. He served there as a high school teacher from 1903.
He was fond of writing poetry since he was a kid. At the age of 14-15 yrs, he was able to write Shloks & Aryas fluently. Along with poetry, he loved painting as well. When studying in New English School in Pune, he used to draw sketches of Tilak, Agarkar, etc., instead of attention in class. He drifted away from painting as he grew older.
When he was a student, Keshavsut had written a play and a novel, which he sent to the Dakshin Prize Committee; but it did not get much consideration. Later he dedicated his life to poetry and made many beautiful poems. Even today, 135 of his poems are available for the lovers of poetry.
The time from 1885 to 1905 was the most important time of his career as a poet. He spent this time in Pune, Mumbai & Khandesh. While staying in Mumbai, there came a time when he decided to convert to Christianity as a result of him working in a missionary school and constant exposure to their ideologies. Even his friend, Narayan Vaman Tilak accepted Christianity as his religion during the same period. Fortunately, some close friends of Keshavsut convinced him against this decision. It is said that this event might be a reason for influence of English literature on his poems.
A lot many have reviewed his work extensively. But unfortunately, not a single renowned personality ever spoke good words of praise about his great work while he was alive. He spent 39 years of his life struggling to keep his life together. He was haunted with many life issues, which made him isolated, inarticulate and a nervous wreck. The essence of disappointment that dripped from his written words, were a symbol of his own misery. It is said that it was because of this very nature that he did not click even a single photograph of himself in his entire life. A somewhat similar looking painting of his was once printed in the 5th issue of Arvind magazine.
Keshavsut passed away in the year 1905 on 7th November. After his death, a lot many poets and literalist praised his poetry and wrote many articles on him. Many called him the father of modern poetry. In the later years, many took inspiration from him and experimented and brought a new era of modern Marathi poetry. Keshavsut’s name has become immortal in the literature world of Maharashtra.
To celebrate his 100th birthday, the government of Maharashtra appointed a committee and this committee published an edition of his original handwritten work in 1967. The Konkan Marathi Sahitya Parishad erected a memorial in his honor at his birthplace Malgund, which was inaugurated on 8th May 1994. Many efforts were made to build a memorial at Valne too, but his house there has turned to ruins.