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History and Origins of Telugu Language

Telugu is a richly developed language and is the third most spoken language in India after Hindi and Bengali. Linguistically, the language has deviated a good deal from its southern sisters – Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam.

Telugu is the state language of Andhra Pradesh. It’s an old one too, with origins as early as the 1st century AD, or perhaps even before as one of the later Vedas (700BC) mention the Andhras, another name for the people of Andhra Pradesh. Early inscriptions of the language date from around the 6th century, but a proper literary career starts five centuries later. The script, almost similar to that of Kannada, took shape in 1000AD from the Pahlava script of 7AD.

History of Telugu:

Most literature began with translations from Sanskrit. So did Telugu with Nannayabhatta (1020 AD), the Adikavi or ‘first poet’ of Telugu translating the Mahabharata. It was a unusual translation, with lots of clever innovations but no deviations from the story. But Nannayabhatta couldn't complete the job. Tikanna came along sometime in the 13th century and processed it further. However, it was Yerrapragada (14th century) who was finally able to complete it. Nannaya, Tikanna and Yerrapragada are known as the kavitraya or ‘the three great poets’ of Telugu for this mammoth effort. Other such translations followed, like Marana’s Markandeya Purana, Ketana’s Dasakumara Charita, Yerrana’s Harivamsa and others. Shaivite (in praise of Shiva) works like Sivatattwa Sara, Basavapurana and Panditaradhya Charitra were a part of this initial stash too.

By the time the Telugu poets wrote down some original stuff along with translations, it was almost the end of the 14th century. Slowly but steadily they picked up, some landmarks being Srinatha’s Sringara Naishadha, Potana’s Dasamaskandha, Jakkana’s Vikramarka Charitra and Talapaka Himmakka’s Subhadra Kalyana. Literary activities flourished, especially during the mighty Vijayanagara emperors. The 16th century was the golden age in the history of Tamil literature, thanks to the king Krishna Deva Raya. The raja, a poet himself, introduced the prabandha (a kind of love poetry) in Telugu literature in his Amukta Malyada. He had in his court the Ashtadiggajas (8 Literariness) who were the greatest of poets of the times. Original verse compositions and stories were written in a new zeal. Of those eight, Allasani Peddana (1510)  is known as Andhra Kavita Pitamahudu or ‘Grandfather of Andhra Poetry’.

In the following years, poets still wrote their prabandhas, but kind of overdid on the love bit which makes some critics dismiss it as ‘a decadent age’. Of the dozens of poets of the 18th to mid 19th century, the only bright spot was Kankanti Paparaju whose Uttara Ramayana in campu style and the play Vishnumayavilasa were admirable. But other genres bloomed. Innumerable Yakshagansa or indigenous dramas of song and prose works were also produced. Thyagaraya of Tanjore composed devotional songs in Telugu which form the repertoire of the classical ragas of South India.

Although the first printed Telugu book was out in 1796, it took some time before the modern period in literature set in. Young men acquainted with English literature tried to imitate Shelly, Keats and Wordsworth, and a new type of romantic poetry called the Bhavakavithwa was born. Bengali novelists like Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Ramesh Chandra Dutta were a major influence on modern Telugu fiction. Viresalingam Pantulu (1848-1919) wrote the first novel in Telugu, Rakashekharacharitramu. Other writers joined forces to build modern Telugu literature, like the dramatist Dharmavaram Krishnamachari, Chilakamarti Lakshminarasimham ( also popularly known as 'blind poet') the poets and dramatists Gurujada Apparavu and D. Krishnamacharlu.

The literary group "Sahiti" Samiti was set up in 1921, and their ‘progressive and rationalist’ journal Sahiti was followed by several others. Even now many writers preferred the old traditional style, like Tirupati Venkata Kavulu, Sripada Krishnamurthy Shastry and Vavilakolanu Subbarao. The other school was that of the Neo-classicist group of Sri Vishwanatha, Katuri, Pingali, Gadiyaram, G. Joshuan and others. Today the drama, novel, short story, essay and criticism in Telugu have reached high standards although they started only a century ago.


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