History of Telegu

On a recent visit to Hyderabad I overheard a conversation that Telegu and Sanskrit had a lot in common. I was perplexed, asked a few Andhraites but none could give me answers. This aroused my interest in reading, sharing about the development of Telegu language and literature. This article is verbatim from The History and Culture of Indian People by the Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan. After that compared notes with The Cultural Heritage of India by the Ramakrishna Mission and made additions.

Origin - Telegu (T) is spoken by a number of people who are contained within a semi-circle drawn with line joining Rajahmundry and Madras as diameter. Adjoining areas like Hyderabad, Orissa and Mysore account for a large number of Telegu speaking people while there are scattered groups in Tamil Nadu too.

While the Telegu country is called Andhra Desa much ink has split whether or not Andhras and Telegu speaking people are the same. According to Dr C R Reddy they are a South-Indian tribe that assimilated Aryan (to mean Arya or cultured) culture and some elements of Prakrit but retained racially and linguistically its essential Dravidian character.

T is construed in different ways. Tene in T means honey hence T is explained as the language that is as sweet as honey. T is also derived from Trilinga the country that contains three lingas at Kalesvara, Srisaila and Draksharama. The T script is phonetic, after the manner of Sanskrit and bears a close resemblance to the Kannada script. Another view is that perhaps T is connected with ‘Telinga’, the name of a tribe that must have originally lived in the region. This assumption is supported by existence of Telagas, a major agricultural community in Andhra, and Teleganyas, a sub-sect amongst Andhra Brahmins, and also by the name Telengana, denoting a part of the Andhra region. It is thus possible that T was originally an ethnic name.

The earliest reference to the Andhras as a name denoting a tribe of people who migrated to the south of the Vindhyas is found in the Aitareya Brahman. They are also mentioned in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. It is possible that the Andhras were migrants from the North, and their political / cultural domination over the people in the T region would have given their name to the country, the people, and later on to the language.

The political and social history of the Andhras can be sketched from the times of the Satavahana rule 263 BC to 163 AD. The geographical position of the Andhra region as a meeting place of the North and the South has been a dominant factor in the political, social, cultural and literary development of the Andhras.

We have inscriptional evidence for T from the 3rd century B.C. with the commencement of the Satvahana rule in the Deccan. A few T words, mostly names were found in the Prakrit inscriptions of the Satavahana kings and their successors. They occur in greater number in the Sanskrit inscriptions from about the middle of the 4th century a.d.
The language came under dominating influence of Sanskrit and Prakrit, which were the upper languages during the first five centuries after Christ. T inscriptions are available from the 6th century a.d. and until the beginning of the 11th century we have about 100 such inscriptions written in poetry or prose.

T is a borrowing language, and it seems to have started borrowing from Sanskrit since its infancy. Sanskrit, always held a superior position in Andhra, and it was the language of education and scholarship among the Telegu people till the advent of the British rule. Proficiency is Sanskrit was considered indispensable to a T poet or scholar. The impact of Sanskrit on T was so great that until recently T poets and grammarians eulogized Sanskrit as the mother of T.

The period covered is 1000 to 1947.

1000 to 1300 a.d.
Desi and Margi - T literature had two streams, an earlier one called Desi (folk literature – an oral tradition) and a later one called Margi (Sanskrit). Desi literature was rural, popular and independent of Sanskrit. The Margi literature was a deliberate concoction at first – a rich, exotic and stimulating beverage meant for the sophisticated court and urban population. Nanniah’s Mahabharata which was composed in 1030 AD stands at the head of Margi literature. The epic seized Nanniah’s imagination and set it flame. And at that moment formal T literature was born.

Telegu Mahabharatam - Although Nanniah began the work of giving Vyasa’s Mahabharata a Telegu habitation and a name; he was able to complete only the first two parvas or cantos and a part of the third, the Aryanya Parva. After him for two centuries it remained as it is till in the latter half of the 13th century arose another poet Tikkanna and fifty years later Errapragada who finished the T Mahabharatam.

Tikkanna 1220-1300 heralded a new era in T literature by making a fine synthesis between the marga of Nanniah and the desi of Palakuriki. A minister to a feudal king, he worked for the political unity of Andhra-desa with a view to averting a possible Muslim invasion. As an advaitin, he also worked for the religious unity of the Hindus by establishing the Hari-Hara cult. He brought together the Saiva and non-Saiva schools of T poets. His first work was the Ramayanamu written in kavya style.

Nanniah, Tikkanna and Errapragada are the great trio or the Kava Traya of T literature. The first is remembered for reducing Vyasa’s epic to into a mellifluous and transparent T. Although he uses more Sanskrit than T his simplicity and ease are irresistible. Besides the Mahabharatam Tikkanna wrote a poem covering Rama’s life after his return from Lanka. His style is described as that of an intellectual. The T version is written in a mixture of prose and poetry. There is less philosophy, more luxurious description, less depth but more humanity. The last of the trio was the first poet to render Harivamsa into T. His Nrsimha Puranamu is considered a landmark, as it initiated a literary type called Prabandha in T literature – referred to in next period.
Apart from the great work of Nanniah the 11th and 12th centuries saw little original literary activity. However, mention must be made of P Mallanna and E Peddanna, both of whom wrote Mathematical treatise in T based on translations from Sanskrit originals. During the 13th century two versions of Ramayana appeared. Of these, the version in couplets attributed to Ranganatha is the earlier. The other version known as Bhaskara-Ramayanam is in champu form. Although widely read the Ramayanam does not reach up to the beauty of the T Mahabharatam.

The 12th and 13th centuries witnessed major political, social and religious changes in Andhra. Teachings of Basavesvara, prophet of Virasaivism, disturbed the social fabric of the people both in the Karnataka and Andhra regions. Virasaivism became partly a mass movement and its gospel was to preached through the literary works by Saiva poets. He advocated the desi against the margi tradition. Though the movement died with him, it did influence the writings of later poets.

1300 to 1526       
14th century saw the downfall of the Kakatiya empire and the rise of a number of small kingdoms like the Reddis of Kondavidu. Errapragada refererred to above was the court poet of Prolaya Vema, a Reddi king. His first work was Ramayana in Champu which is now lost. His junior contemporary and rival was Nachana Somanadha a great scholar. In his translation of Uttara-Harivamsa by his artistic descriptions, lively conversations and beautiful imagery, he converted the Puranic story into a work of art, leading the way for Prabandha of a later age.

The next 150 years i.e. from 1350 to 1500 may be said to be the age of Srinatha since he happened to be the dominating literary personality during that time. He visited various courts, parts of the country and took part in literary and poetic contests had the honor of Kanakabhisheka at the hands of Devaraya II of Vijayanagara. His first work and first of its kind in Telegu was the translation of Salivahana Saptasati from Prakrit to Telegu. He had great leanings towards Saivism and translated Bhimesvarapuranam and Kasikhandam dealing with holy places connected with Saiva worship. In Palnati-Viracharitra he entered the field of historical romance. Not only did Srinatha love his country with great devotion but he also depicted the life and manners of various parts of the country with a humorous touch of all his own in his Vidhinataka.

Potana, another outstanding poet translated the Bhagvata into Telegu and chose to dedicate it to Lord Ram, the human incarnation of God, whom he worshipped with devotion. A number of works dealing with stories connected with the exploits or deeds of personages of old were produced during this period. Jakkana’s Vikramarkacharita deals with stories connected with King Vikrama. Navanadhacharitra of Gaurana describes the exploits of the Nine Nadhas or Saiva saints. Suranna translated the Vishnu Purana. The Upanishadic story of Nachiketas was developed in Telegu by Daggupalli Duggana in a work called Nasiketup-akhyana. The Vaishnavite influence in Telegu literature began to be felt during this period.

Thus though the translation of the Puranas, Kavyas, short stories, mahatmyas and scientific works also supplied the topics for the poets during this period. All these seem to have marked the gradual transition of Telegu poetry from Purana to the classical period –Prabandha. It is also called the golden age of Telegu literature during the reign of Krishnadeva Raya.

Krishnadeva Raya 1505 to 1529  – was a patron of art and letters. All the famous artists were employed to decorate his palaces and temples. Though he extended his patronage to writers in all languages including Sanskrit he specially favored T. The Augustan age of T literature, which began, with the accession of Saluva Narasimha burst forth in full splendor during his reign. Himself the author of Amukta-malyada, one of the greatest poems in the language. It deals with the story of Andal and Vishnu Chitta, two of the Alvars, eminent advocates of a true Vaishnava Bhakti Cult in South India. It is a storehouse of his personality, scholarship, worldly wisdom, knowledge of political science, religious understanding and Bhakti or sense of devotion to God. He loved to surround himself with poets and men of letters. His court was adorned by a group of eight eminent T poets called Ashtadiggajas or the elephants supporting the eight cardinal points of the literary world. He created the concept of a scholar king, one of whose important duties was to protect poets and men of letters and foster the growth of language and literature. It was thereafter recognized by all Telegu kings that one of their principal duties was to patronize T poets and learned men, encourage the growth of literature. As a consequence notwithstanding the many political changes subsequently T literature flourished owing to the patronage of the generations of princes and chiefs who bore sway over the land.

After reading about this period I have realized that political stability is very important for development of art and literature. An enlightened King can play a pivotal role in encouraging arts.

1526 to 1707        
As mentioned above the reign of Krishnadevaraya, Emperor of Vijayanagara ushered in a new era of T literature. Earlier the literature consisted of translation, adoption and imitation of Classical Sanskrit literary models and traditions, particularly of epic nature. The age opened new elements, neo classical vistas and romantic panoramas. The Prabandha, essentially of the kavya type, now occupies the place of eminence in T literature. Even if the themes of several Prabandhas were borrowed from the treasure house of Sanskrit literature, they had an original flavor in treatment, a dignity in diction and element of their own in sentiment, description, and ornamentation. Composers of the major Prabandhas poets were of high caliber that made use of their background of Sanskrit lore and followed the traits of tradition to a certain extent not because of their inability to innovate but because of the attitude prevalent among scholars and people at that time.

The court of Kraya was named as Bhuvana Vijaya (the victory of worlds). Every year Vasantotsavas i.e. spring festivals used to take place at Vijayanagara and poets were felicitated there. One of his court poets Allasani Peddana was the best of the lot, author of Manu Charitra was honored with the title ‘Andhra kavita pitamaha’ i.e. the creator of poetry in T. The masterpiece has as its theme the story of Svarochisha manu drawn from the Sanskrit Markandeya Purana. Its characters Pravara and Varudhini assumed a new lively dimension and almost became proverbial with the Telegu public. They are quoted as classical examples for austere charity and erotic fillip in contexts of social episodes of love and romance, and became a model for the following generation of Prabandhas.

Nandi Timmana another great poet of the same court composed a beautiful poem Parijatapaharana Prabandha based on the romantic episode of the Parijata or the achievement of Satyabhama in the Harivamsa. Scores of authors drew inspiration from him and composed similar works. The melody of Timmana’s style together with the texture of Peddana’s diction and the lavish display of phrase of Tenali Ramakrishna, has been often applauded by the lovers of T literature.

Besides the Amuktamalyada by Krishnadevapraya in the earlier chapter the other four great poems in Telegu are Manu Charitra, Vasu Charitra, Raghava-Pandaviyamu and Panduranga-mahatmyamu. Together they form the ‘Panch maha-Kavyas’ the give great poems in T.

Dhurjati, though a staunch Saivite poet, was much respected by the Vaishnavite ruler Krishnadevaraya. He composed a shrine-epic poem Kalahastimahatmyamu and is famous for elegance of characterization and unrivalled in sweetness of expression. He always spoke in poetry with heart and soul. Tenali Ramalinga a poet was very popular in T country – more for many anecdotes about him than his poetry.

Pingali Surana was another important figure. In his Raghava-pandaviyamu evolved a poetic type in Telegu – Dvyarthi i.e. double entendre in which stories of the Ramayana and Mahabharat run parallel in single expression. This style is an acrobatic feat in a poetic form in which pun strikes the keynote. His Kalapurnodayamu (meaning the birth of kapapurna by name) is another great work of all time. A threefold allegory and a comedy of errors are there in its theme. This was a new experiment in T poetry in all its aspects. It seems that only during the 16th century did the T poets become conversant with the theories of the various important aesthetic schools in Sanskrit – the schools of Rasa, Rati, Dhvani, Auchitya, Vakrokti and Chamatkara. But none of them except Surana got the will to tread into the realms of all these Sahitya Prasthanas in one stroll. His Prabhavati-pradyumnamu is another unique poem in T. Surana in the opinion of Dr C R Reddy was an unknown rival to Shakespeare in the East at that time. Thanks to our education system we are more familiar with Shakespeare than Surana.

Bhattu Murthi lived in the middle of the 16th century. His poetic genius, craft were outstanding. He was well versed in music too. His Kavyalankara Sangraha is a standard work on poetics in T. He was a great architect of verse and his Vasucharitra was translated into Sanskrit and Tamil.

The rulers of Golconda particularly Malik Ibrahim extended patronage to T letters for a time during the latter half of the 16th century. One of the books produced was Yayati-charitra a poem composed in pure T devoid of any Sanskrit vocabulary, a first and was followed by a host of such works.

Summing the characteristics of this age it may be said that the new spirit of pompous imperial age led to neo-classical innovations and romantic enterprises. The exuberance of scholarship and enthusiasm of the poets was channeled into various new types like Prabandha, Dvyarthi and new features like Slesha, Chitra, Bandha and into various Paurani themes with a few exceptions blended with new aesthetic values and various major sentiments, the predominant being Sringara and into a variety of descriptions charged with flights of imagination and above all a grandiloquent diction. This was the age of aesthetic considerations in the history of T literature.

After the fall of the Vijayanagara empire in 1565 we witness an age of decadence in Telegu literature in the Telegu country from early 17th century onwards almost up to the dawn of the modern age. But a few poets worth the name flourished during the period. Four of the Nellore Friends’ Circle flourished in early 17th century. Kankanti Paparaju composed Uttara Ramayanamu, Tekumalla Sayi composed Vanivilasa Vanamalika, a miniature cyclopedia, the first of its kind in T. Pushpagiri Timmakavi composed Samira Kumara Vijayamu and Ramamantri composed Dasavatara Charitra. All these works are original compositions and not translations.

Never before and never after in the history of T literature were so many royal poets as were in this age. Malli Ananta, Kumarananta, Damera Ankabhupala to name a few. History for the first time formed the theme for two narrative poems during this period. Ramarajiyamu deals with the story of Aliya Ramaraya a great dictator and a king for sometime of Vijayanagara. The second Krishnaraya Vijayamu deals with the story of Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagara. Appakavi, a great grammarian wrote in verse a prolific commentary, Appakaviyamu by name, on the Andhra-sabdachintamani, the first treatise on Telegu grammar written in Sanskrit. There were other not so famous writers on T grammar too.

There is another phase in the history of Telegu literature during the 17th century. Literature was produced outside the T country namely in the courts of Tanjore and Madura. The court of Tanjore ruler Raghunatha Nayaka 1600 to 1632 was described by Rama-bhadramba, his court poetess in her Raghunathabhyudaya. The King himself was merited in Telegu and Sanskrit and composed a number of T poems himself. The King’s children along with poet laureate Rangajamma composed Yakshaganas. It assumed the full stature of a regular play, removed the dearth of dramatic literature in T and had its heyday not only then but even in the next 150 years when the Maratha ruled over Tanjore. The Court of Madura too produced a number of T works. You might wonder that Madura is in Tamil Nadu so how did T develop there. Please note that states like Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh were formed only after independence.

Overall this period saw the blossoming of T literature.

1707 to 1815
Changing political and cultural environment of the 18th century had its impact on the growth of T literature. The rise of foreign pockets and petty principalities brought about a radial change in the character and quality of literary works of the period. Earlier poetry used to be monopoly of the niyogi Brahmins only. With the change, vaidika Brahmins and many non-Brahmins began to compose, write treatise on grammar, commentaries on classics besides imitations of the great prabandhas of the past – all of which indicate that creativity of the authors was at low ebb. The dialects and slang’s of various parts of the country and foreign vocabulary found place in the composition of the times. The religious unrest of the day and society was reflected in literature too. As early as 1712 Christian missionaries introduced the printing press and things like coffee and tobacco. It was a period of transition where adherence to tradition was being overpowered by an urge to change.

Kasturi Rangakavi’s Sambanighantuvu is a lexicon of pure native T. Timmakavi of the famous Kuchimanchi family in the East Godavri district was a prolific author and master in pure T compositions. Glimpses of contemporary society are discernible in his work called Bharga Shataka and Kukkuteshwara Shataka. The plight of a common peasant is portrayed in Bharag Shataka.

Adidam Surakavi, son of Bala Bhaskar, was a famous poet of those times and was much feared for his biting tongue. Kavi Samshaya Viccheda is a treatise on some special aspects of T grammar; Andhranamaseshamu is a small dictionary of the pure T vocabulary in verse form are some of his works.

Gogulapati Kurmanath kavi was undoubtedly a great poet of the century. His Mrityunjaja Vilasamu is in a class by itself in Yakshagana literature. His Simhadri Narasimha Shataka is historical in its appeal. It gives us a vivid picture of the unhappy results of the Muslim inroads into our country and destruction of temples.  Mangalagiri Kavi a Brahmin poet of the 18th century gave up an effective portrait of Jesus Christ in his Vedanta rasayanamu.

Telegana consists of nine districts in Andhra Pradesh, which was earlier part of Nizam’s domain. Due to a number of small principalities T literature flourished during that period. Independent of any patronage Lingamurthy Parashuram Panthulu, belonging to Maratha stock, composed a great work called Sitaramanjaneya Samvadamu wherein good poetry is coupled with lucid exposition of the advaita philosophy. It became a handbook of every teacher and preacher of philosophy in the T country. The Maringati family of Nalgonda district too is reputed for its generation of scholars. Kiriti Venkatacharya, a distinguished scholar poet of this family composed 13 works. His Achalatmaja Parinayamu is in double entendre, wherein the marriage stories of Sita and Paravati are woven into one.

Shahji Bhonsle 1684 to 1712 the eldest son of Ekoji I, the founder of the Maratha rule in Tanjore and the stepbrother of Shivaji, composed 22 plays in T. Tukoji brother and successor of Shahji wrote in T too. He conferred the title of ‘Andhra Kalidasa’ to Aluru Kuppana, the author of Parthasaratha Vijaya. Shri Narayana Tirtha, author of the famous Sri Krishna Leelatarangini in Sanskrit composed Parijatapaharanam Yakshagana in T. The great celebrity in the world of music, Tyagaraja, was just coming into limelight through his unique skill in the art of music and compositions.

The Madurai court witnessed its golden age during the reign of V Chokkanath 1706-38. Its speciality lies in its crop of prose literature and erotic poetry. T literature received some patronage from the Maharaja of Mysore too.

To conclude there was indeed a rich crop of literary works during this period but not of the highest quality. Some of them were translation from Sanskrit and others imitation of T classics. A variety of themes are also seen in the literature of that time. Classical themes like the epics were respected but contemporary and foreign themes were accepted. The general trend of literature shows slackness in the traditional texture, decency, soundness and considerable craze for experiment.

1818 to 1905
As said earlier the 18th century witnessed a considerable decline in T literature. The major part of the literature published during the first half of the 19th century was poetry, particularly the Satakas. There were large in number and showed a greater amount of originality, moral instructions, social element, human touch and spirit of lyricism than other poetic forms. Phakki Venkata Narasayya, Vasurayalu were some of the eminent Sataka writers. There also flourished a host of poetesses the most famous of whom was Vengamma.

The founder of modern T literature was Rao Bahadur K Viresalingam. He was influenced by English literature and the theme of his first novel Rajasekhara-charitramu, was suggested by Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield. Later Rao became a member of the Brahmo Samaj and used his pen to advocate social reforms and advanced ideas in all spheres of life. His Andhra Kavula-charitra was the first attempt to write the history of T literature.

The drama of the modern type was evolved from older forms of play writing like the Vidhinataka and the Yakshagana. The age old Yalshagana had almost developed into a full blown type of native drama by the time it made its debut in the 19th century. The great Tygaraja, Sivaji were some of the important authors of that time. In the latter part of the 19th century the Dharwar Dramatic Company came into the scene. T writers of that time were very fascinated by their performances and took to writing plays on modern lines. Some made translations from Sanskrit or English or new themes but adapted the Sanskrit norms or the English in the technique of composition.
Viresalingam did a pioneering work in this direction. As the first novelists he is hailed as the father of modern prose literature in T. Gurajada Apparao may be hailed as the father of modern short story in T. 

During the second half of the 19th century appeared a lot of prose works dealing with moral fables, stories of pilgrimages, subjects like politics, law and so on. Chinnayasuri’s Nitichandrika won reputation as a classical specimen of modern T prose in a very chaste and lucid style. Some have employed colloquial style and satisfied the growing need of a vast majority of the public. As it gained momentum, the novel, the short story, the essay and the like, the essential form of which is prose came into being.

Eminent services were rendered by the Europeans to the cause of T literature during the first half of the 19th century. W Carrey etc wrote T grammars, published dictionaries. Col Mackenzie etc took pains in collecting manuscripts of old works.

1905 to 1947
There was an all round progress in different branches of T literature during this period. In particular two decades 1915 to 1935 have been regarded by some as the most brilliant period in Andhra literary history. An important reason was the almost revolutionary change brought about G.V.Ramamurti Pantulu died 1940 who emancipated it from archaic grammar and introduced the spoken language as the vehicle of literature. He was the pioneer in the field of journalism in T and through his journal Viveka-vardhini 1874 he propagated modern ideas, fostered fresh creative art in literature and launched attacks against social evils and superstition. His translation of Kalidasa’s Abhijnana-Sakuntala 1883 is still the best.

Lyrical poetry reached a high degree of excellence, its main theme being love in its various forms and appreciation of the beauties of nature. Nanduri Venkata Subbarao wrote exquisite love lyrics in the series Yenki-Patalu or the songs of Yenki regarded by some as the most beautiful love poems in modern Indian literature. Two other great poets were Visvanatha Satyanarayana who was also called kavi-samrat and Devulapalli Krishnasastri who came to be known as the ‘Shelley of Andhra’. The latter like many others belonged to the old school. Srirangam Srinivasa Rao belonged to the progressive school while Neo Classicism is represented by poets such as G Joshuan.

The poet Visvanatha Satyanarayana also wrote novels. His best-known work is Veyipadagalu (thousand snake hoods), which gives a comprehensive picture of the present Andhra society. T seems to be richer in short stories than long novels.

Fiction in T had its origin in the 17th century, but it was then in the form of a narration of a Puranic story or a fairly tale with little artistic merit. It was not until the 1870’s that novels in the modern sense came to be written in T. Early T novels were translations of English or Bengali ones.

Dramatic literature also made good progress. Gurujada Apparava is the author of the first noteworthy social drama, Kanya-sulkamu (bride price). There were other authors of social plays and historical plays like K S Rao who wrote on the fall of Vijayanagara.

The period showed remarkable progress in essays, particularly in works of literary criticism. Although the honor of being the first essayist in T goes to SN N Naidu for his Hitasuci 1862, a collection of eight essays, the essay in the modern sense started with Viresalingam.

A very important role was played in the development of T literature by the Sahiti Samiti – a sort of literary fellowship – founded by Sivashankara Sastri, the Anna Guru who attracted around him a number of brillant writers, poets, short story writers and essayists. The movement in favor of adopting the spoken language as a literary medium was inaugurated by G V R Pantulu, but its success was assured by the practical adoption of this medium by this group of writers. It is not unlikely that they were inspired by the Sabuj Patra movement in Bengali literature.

The autobiography of T Prakasam is an outstanding work in T literature. The Swadeshi movement in Bengal in 1905 had also a great repercussion on T literature. Several novels written in Hindi and European languages were also translated in Telegu.

Marxist ideas also had their impact on modern T poetry. However, they could make an impact only post-Independence. These writers have a new attitude to poetry, which is noticeable both in the form and content of their works.  S S Rao ranks high among these poets.

Friends as a North Indian I am truly impressed with the language and literary developments of Telegu. Am sure that as I read about more Indian languages there would be similar developments there too. Thanks to convent education that stresses the importance of knowing English language and literature and not knowing Indian writings a number of us including myself have stopped reading Indian languages. I am convinced that all of us who do so are missing out on reading some great literary works.

By compiling this article I have found an answer to my question – the commonality and relationship between Telegu and Sanskrit.