Telugu Literature

Content

Telugu literature
The Pre-Nannayya Period
Kavi Trayam – the Trinity of Poets
Sumati Shatakam by Baddena Bhupaludu
The Age of Srinatha and the Prabandhas
Bammera Potana
Krishnadevaraya and the Astadiggajulus
Musical Literatur – Annamaya
Yogi Vemana
The Modern Period
Forms of Telugu Literature
Subject Matter in Telugu Literature
The Telugu Author’s Craft
Pancha Kavyas – the five best works in Telugu Literature
Other well known Telugu Authors and their works

Telugu literature

Telugu literature or Telugu Sahityam (Telugu: తెలుగు సాహిత్యం) is the body of works written in the Telugu language. It consists of poems, stories, dramas and puranas. Telugu literature has a rich and long literary tradition.

Telugu Writers

The Pre-Nannayya Period (before 1020 AD)

In the earliest period Telugu literature existed only in the form of inscriptions, precisely from 575 AD onwards. Most literatures began with translations from Sanskrit.

The Age of the Puranas (1020-1400AD)

Kavi Trayam — the Trinity of Poets — Nannaya, Tikkana and Errana

Nannaya, Tikanna and Yerrapragada (or Errana) are known as the Kavi Trayam, the trinity of poets or the three great poets. This Trinity translated the Mahabharata from Sanskrit into Telugu over the period of 11-14th century AD, and became the idols for all following poets.

Nannaya — the Adi Kavi (the first poet)

Nannaya -- the Adi Kavi (the first poet)
Nannaya — the Adi Kavi (the first poet)
A reading of Nannayas poetry
A reading of Nannayas poetry
A brief history of Nannaya
A brief history of Nannaya

Nannayabhatta (1022–1063AD – also referred to as Nannaya), started to translate the Sanskrit Mahabharata into Telugu on the request of the East Chalukya king Rajaraja Narendra. This marks the beginning of Telugu literature, which has yet been uncovered. This work has been interpreted in the Champu style and emotes such simplicity and polishing and of such high literary excellence, that several scholars do not dismiss the possibility of the existence of literary works in Telugu during the pre-Nannaya period. Although there is evidence of Telugu literature before Nannaya, he is given the epithet Aadi Kavi (“the first poet”) because he was the first to establish a formal grammar of written Telugu. He established the fundamentals of Telugu writing by both borrowing from Sanskrit grammar and creating original rules for semantics and other constructs. Until his time, Telugu literature was based on Prakrit and lacked grammar. Nannaya is given full acknowledgment with his grammatical work, the “Andhra Sabda Chintamani”. Nannaya completed the first two chapters and a part of the third chapter of the Mahabharata epic. It was an unusual translation, with lots of clever innovations but no deviations from the story. The diction is so masterly that historians think that there must have been earlier works in Telugu.

An example of Nannaya’s poetry :

“The moon-lit autumn nights were lovely; the bright chains of stars in the cloudless skies made them lovelier. Replete with the scent of water-lilies wafted by gentle breezes, the nights were luminescent with moonlight scattered like camphor-dust.”

Tikkana

Tikkana
Tikkana
A brief history of Tikkana
A brief history of Tikkana

But Nannayabhatta couldn’t complete the job. Tikkana (1205–1288 AD) furthered the work from Nannaya. He was the second poet of the “Trinity of Poets (Kavi Trayam)” that translated Mahabharatamu into Telugu over a period of centuries (11th to 14th centuries AD).

Nannaya translated two and a half parvamulu (books) of Mahabharatamu. Tikkana translated the remaining books starting from the 4th, leaving the half finished third book, Aranya Parvamu (the Book of Forest), for Yerrapragada. Tikkana did not touch this part because it was considered to be inauspicious to translate this book, which was left half-finished by Nannaya.

The specialty of his style of writing is that it is mostly Telugu, unlike Nannayya whose work was mostly sanskritized. Tikkana used Telugu words even to express very difficult expressions and ideas. He used Telugu words and parables extensively.

A sample of Tikkana’s poetry — a 4-line verse called ‘kanda padyam’, for which Tikkana is famous :

“The arrows that have pierced your body can be removed and the wounds healed, but the words that have caused deep hurt cannot be removed by any means”

The flavor of Telugu national similes spice up his poetry:

madugu jeerayandu masi daakintlu- as if pure white cheera (sari) is touched by soot,
paalalo badina balli vidhambuna- like the lizard in the milk,
neyvosina yagni bhangi- like the fire in which neyyi (clarified butter) was poured,
mantalo midutalu chochchinatlayina- fate of locusts flew into the fire,
kantikin reppayu bole- like the eyelid for the eye,
nooti kappa vidhambuna- like a frog in the well, etc.

Errana

Errana
Errana

Yerrapragada (also known as Errana) started the remaining half of the Aranya Parvamu with the style of Nannaya and ended it with the style of Tikkana as a bridge between the parts translated by Nannaya and Tikkana. As they did, he used half Sanskrit and half Telugu in his Telugu translation of Sanskrit Mahabharatamu. He was honored with the title Prabandha Parameshwara (the supreme lord of Prabandha).

read Mahabharata in Telugu Script

Sumati Shatakam by Baddena Bhupaludu

Sumati Satakam Poem - Sri Ramuni Dayachethanu
Sumati Satakam Poem – Sri Ramuni Dayachethanu

Sumati Shatakam, which is a neeti (“moral”), is one of the most famous Telugu Shatakams. Shatakam is composed of more than a 100 padyalu (poems). According to many literary critics Sumati Shatakam was composed by Baddena Bhupaludu (1220-1280AD). He was also known as Bhadra Bhupala. He was a Chola prince and a vassal under the Kakatiya empress Rani Rudrama Devi, and a pupil of Tikkana. If we assume that the Sumati Shatakam was indeed written by Baddena, it would rank as one of the earliest Shatakams in Telugu. The Sumatee Shatakam is also one of the earliest Telugu works to be translated into a European language, as C. P. Brown rendered it in English in the 1840s.

read more about Sumati Shatakam

The Age of Srinatha and the Prabandhas (1400 — 1600 AD)

Srinatha
Srinatha
  • Srinatha (1365 — 1441 AD) was the foremost poet, who popularized the Prabandha style of composition (a story in verse having a tight metrical scheme)
  • Srinatha’s “Sringara Naishadham” is particularly well-known.
  • Srinatha was respected as Kavi Sarvabhouma(King of poets)

During this period, some Telugu poets translated Sanskrit poems and dramas, while others attempted original narrative poems. The popular Telugu literary form called the Prabandha evolved during this period. Srinatha (1365 — 1441 AD) was the foremost poet, who popularised this style of composition (a story in verse having a tight metrical scheme). Srinatha’s “Sringara Naishadham” is particularly well-known.

Srinatha was respected as Kavi Sarvabhouma(King of poets) in Telugu, and patronised by many kings including the Kondavidu Reddys, Velamas of Rachakonda and Deva Raya II of Vijayanagara Empire.

Srinatha worked as a minister in the court of Pedakomati Vemareddy of Kondaveedu. He managed to get his king released from captivity of the Lingamaneni rulers of Devarakanda in return for his literary prowess. Srinatha produced and dedicated a host of books to kings and enjoyed a luxurious life. However, he seemed to have suffered from poverty at the end of his life. He was the brother-in-law of another famous Telugu poet Pothana.

We may also refer to the Ramayana poets in this context. The earliest Ramayana in Telugu is generally known as the Ranganatha Ramayana, though authorised by the chief Gona Buddha Reddi. Then there were the great religious poets like Potana (1450 — 1510AD), Jakkana (second half of the 14th century) and Gaurana (first half of the 15th century).

Bammera Potana (1450 — 1510AD)

Bammera Potana
Bammera Potana

Bammera Potana (Telugu: బమ్మెర పోతన) (1450–1510AD) was an Indian Telugu poet best known for his translation of the Bhagavata Purana from Sanskrit to Telugu. He was a Telugu and Sanskrit Scholar. His work, Andhra Maha Bhaagavathamu, is popularly called as Pothana Bhagavatham in Telugu.

Bammera Potanamatyulu was born into a Niyogi Brahmin family in Bammera,Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh. His father was Kesanna and his mother Lakshmamma.He was considered to be a natural Poet (sahaja Kavi), needing no teacher. He was known to be very polite and was an agriculturist by occupation. Though he was a great scholar, he never hesitated to work in the agricultural fields.

The Southern period (1600 — 1820 AD)

Krishnadevaraya and the Astadiggajulus

Emperor Krishnadevaraya
Emperor Krishnadevaraya

The Vijayanagara period (1336 — 1565 AD) is at times also considered as the Golden Age of Telugu literature. During this time Telugu was one of the languages spoken in the royal courts. Literary activities flourished during the rule of the Vijayanagara dynasty and the period of Krishnadevaraya’s rule in the sixteenth century.

Krishnadevaraya, a poet himself, introduced the Prabandha to Telugu literature. Krishna Deva Raya wrote the book Amuktamalyada in Telugu, which is considered one of the five Pancha Kavyas — the five best books in Telugu Literature. In the book he is describing the pangs of separation suffered by Andal (an incarnation of the goddess Mahalakshmi) and he describes Andal’s physical beauty in thirty verses; using descriptions of the spring and the monsoon as metaphors. As elsewhere in Indian poetry, the sensual pleasure of union extends beyond the physical level and becomes a path to, and a metaphor for, spirituality and ultimate union with the divine.

His court had the Ashtadiggajas (“eight elephants”), who were considered to be the greatest of poets of that time: Their names are Allasani Peddana, Tenali Rama Krishna, Nandi Thimmana, Madayyagari Mallana, Dhurjati, Ayyala-raju Rama-Bhadrudu, Pingali Surana and Rama-raj-bhushanudu.

read more about Sri Krishandevaraya and the Ashradiggajas

Musical Literatur – Annamaya

Annamaya singing to Venkateshwara
Annamaya singing to Venkateshwara

Pada-kavita is the first musical literature.

Tallapaka Annamacharya (or Annamayya) (1408 – 1503AD) is widely regarded as the Pada-kavita Pitaamaha of the Telugu language – the grandfather of the Musical Literature. He was born to a Vaidiki Brahmin family and his works are considered to have dominated and influenced the structure of Carnatic music compositions. Annamacharya is said to have composed as many as 32,000 sankirtanas (songs) on Bhagwaan Govinda Venkateswara, of which only about 12,000 are available today.

Annamacharya’s wife, Thimmakka (Tallapaka Tirumalamma) is considered the first female poet in Telugu literature. Her main whork is the Subhadra Kalyanam, which consists of 1170 poems.

read more about Annamaya

Yogi Vemana

Yogi Vemana
Yogi Vemana

Kumaragiri Vema Reddy, popularly known as Yogi Vemana, was a Telugu poet. His poems were written in the popular vernacular of Telugu, and are known for their use of simple language and native idioms. His poems discuss the subjects of Yoga, wisdom and morality. There is no consensus among scholars about the period in which Vemana lived.

C.P. Brown, known for his research on Vemana, estimates the year of birth to be the year 1652AD based on some of his verses. His poems are four lines in length. The fourth line is, in majority of the cases, the chorus Viswadabhirama Vinura Vema – he thus conveyed his message with three small lines written in a simple vernacular. He traveled widely across south India, acquiring popularity as a poet and Yogi. So high was the regard for Vemana that a popular Telugu saying goes ’Vemana’s word is the word of the Vedas’.

He is celebrated for his style of Chaatu padyam, a poem with a hidden meaning. Many lines of Vemana’s poems are now colloquial phrases of the Telugu language. They end with the signature line Viswadhaabhi Raama, Vinura Vema, literally Beloved of Vishwadha, listen Vema. There are many interpretations of what the last line signifies.

read more about Yogi Vemana

The Modern Period (after 1820 AD)

C.P. Brown

C.P. Brown
C.P. Brown

C.P. Brown (Charles Philip Brown, Telugu: చార్లెస్ ఫిలిప్ బ్రౌన్) (November 10, 1798 – December 12, 1884) was a Telugu writer and an Englishman by descent. He worked as an official in Cuddapah and Rajahmundry during the British rule in India. Native Telugu people call him Brown Dora (Telugu: బ్రౌన్ దొర), which means Lord Brown in English.

Europeans like C.P. Brown played an important role in the development of Telugu language and literature. In common with the rest of India, Telugu literature of this period was increasingly influenced by European literary forms like the novel, short story, prose and drama.

Telugu literature was in a dormant phase and declined in 18th century because of various social and political reasons, including lack of creative Telugu poets, prevailing illiteracy and decline of empires, like Vijayanagara Empire, who were patrons of the literature. Brown being an official in the region collected the works, printed them and saved some of the heritage of the Telugu language. In his own words, “Telugu literature was dying out; the flame was flickering in the socket in 1825, I found Telugu literature dead. In 30 years I raised it to life”.

Kandukuri Veeresalingam

Kandukuri Veeresalingam
Kandukuri Veeresalingam

Kandukuri Veeresalingam (Telugu: కందుకూరి వీరేశలింగం) (also known as Kandukuri Veeresalingham Pantulu (Telugu: కందుకూరి వీరేశలింగం పంతులు)), (16 April 1848 – 27 May 1919) was a social reformer of Andhra Pradesh. He was born in an orthodox Andhra Brahmin family and therefore called the father of modern Telugu literatur. He is widely considered as the man who first brought about a renaissance in Telugu people and Telugu literature. He was influenced by the ideals of Brahmo Samaj particularly those of Keshub Chunder Sen. Veeresalingam panthulu is popularly called Gadhya Thikkana. He wrote about 100 books between 1869 and 1919 and introduced the essay, biography, autobiography and the novel into Telugu literature. His Satyavathi Charitam was the first social novel in Telugu. He wrote Rajasekhara Charitamu inspired by Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefied. To him literature was an instrument to fight social evils.

Mangalampalli Balamurali Krishna

Mangalampalli Balamurali Krishna
Mangalampalli Balamurali Krishna

Mangalampalli Balamurali Krishna (Telugu: మంగళంపల్లి బాలమురళీకృష్ణ)(born July 6, 1930) is a Carnatic vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and a playback singer. He is also acclaimed as a poet, composer and respected for his knowledge of Carnatic Music. Balamuralikrishna was born in Sankaraguptam, East Godavari District, Andhra Pradesh state. Dr Balamuralikrishna has composed over 400 compositions in various languages like Telugu and Sanskrit. His compositions ranges from Devotional to Varnams, Kirthis, Javalis and Thillans. His greatest achievement are the compositions in all the fundamental 72 melakartha ragas.

Aacharya Aatreya

Aacharya Aatreya
Aacharya Aatreya

Aacharya Aatreya (Telugu: ఆచార్య ఆత్రేయ) or Kilambi Venkata Narasimhacharyulu (7 May 1921 – 13 September 1989) was a playwright, lyrics and story writer of the Telugu film industry. He was born as Kilambi Venkata Narasimhacharyulu on 7 May 1921 in the Mangalampadu village of Sullurpeta Mandalam in the Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh. His pen name is based on their family Gothra. Known for his poetry on the human soul and heart, he was given the title ‘Manasu Kavi’(Poet of Heart). His poetry is philosophical and intellectually satisfying.

Forms of Telugu Literature

There are many different forms of Literature in Telugu. Some popular ones are:

Prabandham: These are stories in verse form with a tight metrical structure and they have three forms. Astadiggajas have written in all three of the Prabandham genres during the Prabhanda yugam.

Champu: Nannaya’s Mahabharata is written in the Champu style. Telugu literature uses a unique expression in verse called Champu, which mixes prose and poetry. Although it is the dominant literary form, there are exceptions: for example, Tikkana composed Uttara Ramayana entirely in verse.

Kavyam: Poem which usually begin with a short prayer called a Prarthana, containing initial auspicious letter “Shri” which invokes the blessings of the god. The occasion and circumstances under which the work is undertaken is next stated.

Shatakam (anthology): Shathakam is a literary piece of art. The name derives from Shata, which means a hundred in Sanskrit. Shathakam usually comprises a hundred poems (give or take). Hence, a Shathakam is a volume (book) of hundred poems. Shatakams are usually devotional, philosophical or convey morals.

Yakshaganas: Indigenous dramas of song and prose.

Subject Matter in Telugu Literature

Early Telugu literature is predominantly religious in subject matter. Poets and scholars drew most of their material from, and spent most of their time translating, epics such as Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavata and the Puranas, all of which are considered to be storehouses of Indian culture.

From sixteenth century onwards, rarely known episodes from the Puranas are made basis for kavyas. Literary works drawn from episodes of the Puranas under the name Akhyana or Khanda became popular along with fortunes of single hero under the title of Charitra, Vijaya, Vilasa and Abhyudaya became most common subject matter of poetry.

In eighteenth century, marriages of heroes under the title Parinaya, Kalyana and Vivāha became popular.

Religious literature consisted of biographies of the founders of religion, their teachings (Sara) and commentaries (bhashya).

The sciences such as astrology, law, grammar, ballets, moral aphorisms, devotional psalms are characteristics of most popular literature.

The Telugu Author’s Craft

Praudha Prabandha or Maha Kavya is considered as highest form of verse. The essentials of such a composition according to the Telugu poetic theory are:

  • Saili (Style) — the words chosen neither soft nor very musical but dignified (Gambhira), Sweetness (Madhurya), Grace and Delicacy (Sukumara), Fragrance (Saurabhya) and Symphony. In choice of vocabulary, Vulgar language (Gramya) is avoided.
  • Paka (Mould) — refers to the embodiment of ideas in language, and the nature and texture of the language employed. There are three types of pakas namely
    • Draksha (wine or grape) — Draksha is a crystal clear style where everything is seen through a transparent medium. Mostly Nannaya uses this mould.
    • Kadali (Plantain) — Kadali is complex paka because the soft skin has to peeled in order to reach the core of the subject. Mostly Tikkana uses this mould.
    • Narikela (coconut) — Narikela is the most difficult mould to employ because one has to break the rind to understand the idea. Vishnu Chittiyam or Krishnadevaraya are cast in this paka.
  • Rasa (Sentiment) — Rasa is the heart and soul of any Telugu poetry which follows rule (Sutra), Vakyam Rasathmakam Kavyam. There are nine Rasas, known as the Nava Rasas. A perfect kavya uses all nine of these, namely: śṛṅgāra (love), Hāsya (Comic), Karuṇā (Sympathy), Raudram (Horror), Bhayānaka (Fear), Bībhatsa (Disgust), Vīra (Heroic), Adbhuta (wonder), Shantam (Peace),
  • Alamkara (Ornamentation) — There are Sabdhalamkaras (ornaments of sound) and Arthalamkaras (ornaments of thoughts). Slsha (double entendre) and Yamaka (alliteration) are Sabdhalamkaras. Upamana (smile) Utpreksha (hyperbole) are Arthalamkaras. We find usage of Alamkaras in description of events, places and proceedings etc.

Pancha Kavyas — the five best works in Telugu Literature

The following are the Telugu Pancha Kavyas (or Maha Kavyas), the five great books of Telugu Literature.

  • Manu Charithra — Allasani Peddana
  • Panduranga Mahatyam — Tenali Ramakrishna
  • Amuktyamalyada — Sri Krishnadevaraya
  • Vasu Charitra — Rama Raja Bhushana. This work is composed in 1570 in the court of Vijayanagara ruler Tirumala Deva Raya. The real name of Rama Raja Bhushana is Bhattu Murti.
  • Vijaya Vilaasamu — Chemakura Venkata Kavi. This work is a Prabhanda written in 17th century in the court of Tanjore ruler Ragunatha Nayak.

Other well known Telugu Authors and their works

  • Bammera Pothana — Bhagavatha Purana
  • Tallapaka Annamacharya — Annamacharya keertanalu
  • Tallapaka Timmakka — Subhadrakalyanam
  • Yogi Vemana — Vemana Satakam
  • Baddena Bhupaludu — Sumati Shatakam
  • Dhurjati — Srikaalahasteesvara Satakam
  • Kavitrayam (Nannayya, Tikkana, Yerrapragada) — Andhra Mahaabhaarathamu (The great Mahabharatha in Telugu)
  • Srinatha — Haravilaasamu, Kaasikhandamu, Bhimakhandamu, Palnaati veeracharithra, Sŕngaara naishadhamu

References

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