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History of the Telugu language

The main languages spoken in Andhra Pradesh are Telugu, Urdu, Hindi, Banjara, and English followed by Tamil, Kannada, Marathi and Oriya. Telugu is the principal and official language of the State. It was also referred to as `Tenugu' in the past. `Andhra' is the name given to it since the medieval times. Some argued that `Telugu' was a corruption of `Trilinga' (Sanskrit meaning three `lingas'). A general description of the land of the Telugus was made in the medieval times as `the land marked by three lingas of the three famous shrines of Draksharamam (East Godavari district), Kaleswaram (Karimnagar district) and Srisailam (Kurnool district).

Telugu is the most widely spoken language amongst those using the Brahmi script. These comprise the languages of south India (Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Tulu and others such as Sinhala (spoken in SriLanka)andlanguages spoken in South East Asia such as Burmese, Thai and  Cambodian) In terms of population, Telugu ranks second to Hindi among the Indian languages. According to the 1981* Census, Telugu is spoken by over 60 million in Andhra Pradesh. It has also spread to the other parts of the globe, i.e., Burma, Indo-China, South-Africa and the U.S.A. Being a mellifluous language, it is called, by its admirers as the `Italian of the East'.

Its vocabulary is very much influenced by Sanskrit. In the course of time, some Sanskrit expressions used in Telugu got so naturalized that people regarded them as pure Telugu words. Some Kannada and Tamil words were also taken into Telugu but they did not gain much currency.

With the advent of the Muslim rule, several Persian and Arabic words entered into the Telugu language. But they were confined to the spoken language and to the language of the judiciary and the executive. The influence of Persian and Arabic is discernible to a considerable extent in the languages spoken in Telangana due to its long association with the Muslim rule. There is also a great element of English words in the vocabulary of Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema because these regions were directly under the British rule for nearly a century and a half.

The evolution of Telugu can be traced through centuries in terms of its form as well as its function. Although culturally Telugu is close to its southern neighbours -- Tamil and Kannada -- genetically, it is closer to its northern neighbours -- Gondi, Konda, Kui, Kuvi, Pengo and Manda. There is evidence to show that these languages were freely borrowed from Telugu even from the prehistoric period whereas borrowing between Telugu and Tamil and Kannada has been mostly during the historic period, i.e., post-5th century B.C.

*Language-wise population figures of 1991 Census have not yet been released by the Census Department. 

It is possible to identify broadly four stages in the history of the Telugu language.

(1) B.C. 200 -- A.D. 500

(2) A.D. 500--A.D.1100

(3) A.D. 1100--A.D.1400 and

(4) A.D. 1400--A.D.1900.

During the first phase, we only come across names of places and personal names of Telugu in Prakrit and Sanskrit inscriptions found in the Telugu country. Telugu was exposed to the influence of Prakrit as early as the 3rd century B.C. From this we know that the language of the people was Telugu, although the language of the rulers was different. The first complete Telugu inscription belongs to the Renati Cholas, found in Erragudipadu, Kamalapuram taluk of Cuddapah district and assigned to about A.D. 575. Telugu was exposed to the influence of Sanskrit about this period. It appears that literature also existed in Telugu about the same time, because we find literary style in the inscriptions some three centuries even before Nannaya's (A.D. 1022) Mahabharatam. During the time of Nannaya, the popular language had considerably diverged from the literary language.

 In the period A.D. 500--1100, the literary languages confined to the poetic works, flourished in the courts of kings and among scholars. Phonetic changes, which occurred in the popular language, are reflected in the literary language, although the two streams remained apart in grammar and vocabulary. During A.D. 1100--1400 the literary language got stylized and rigid, closing itself from the influence of contemporary spoken language. Ketana (13th century AD), a disciple of Tikkana prohibited the use of spoken words in the poetic works and quoted some spoken forms. During the period A.D. 1400--1900, many changes culminating in today's form of Telugu took place.

 The prose language of the 19th century, as can be seen from the `Kaifiyats', shows the educated speech as base with occasional influence of literary language. We also notice the influence of Urdu language on Telugu before the spread of English education.

 From the foregoing overview of the history of the Telugu language, one can see that what we now use as modern standard Telugu, had its beginnings in the spoken variety, right from the 10th century A.D. The language was progressively enriched by contact with Sanskrit, Prakrit, Urdu and English from early times.

 Until the advent of the printing press and the school system of education, Telugu was broadly used in four areas: (1) inscriptions, (2) poetry, (3) folk literature, (4) common speech (social and perhaps official). The language of the inscriptions had always been based on the contemporary speech of the educated with an occasional admixture of literary and rustic expressions. Folk literature, which was in the form of songs, drew mainly on the speech of the common people among whom it circulated, basically rural in its character. Both in its appeal and form, the poetic language was confined to royal courts and the elite. Care was taken to keep it insulated from the speech of even the scholars and poets, who used it in other areas of communication. Because of this restriction on the medium, prose never emerged as a form of classical literature in Telugu. Even the sparse scientific writing on prosody, arithmetic, medicine and grammar was cast either in Telugu verse or in Sanskrit slokas. The emergence of popular literary forms like the satakas devotional songs and the yaksha gana necessitated extensive reliance on contemporary spoken language in their appeal and expressiveness. Early commentaries, historical accounts (like Rayavachakam), and the few prose works, which were written for instructional purposes in the first half of the 19th century, were all written in educated speech which was distinct from the language of the literary dialect. In 1853, Chinnayasuri, a Telugu pundit in the Presidency College, first experimented with a prose variety based on the classical poetic language in his book "Niti Chandrika". In 1855, he published Bala Vyakaranamu, an excellent grammar of the poetic language, but it was intended for school study and as a guide to `Correct Writing'. These works had, to some extent, given support to traditional pundits, who upheld the Kavya bhasha as primary and the spoken language as its degenerate form. The influence of Chinnayasuri temporarily arrested the growth of creative prose by famous writers until Gurazada Appa Rao appeared on the scene and produced his social play Kanyasulkam in 1897 in a near modern language. The controversy that raged between the two schools, classical and modern subsided in 1919 with a victory for the classic writers to perpetuate the use of the so-called granthikam (or the poetic dialect) as the language of the text-book language and the medium of examination. However, teaching has all along been done only in the spoken variety of the teacher.

 For about 90 years (1850--1940), Telugu prose had a stunted growth, although scholars like Kandukuri Viresalingam and Panuganti Lakshminarasimha Rao used a `liberalized poetic variety' in their writings, which was neither fully classical nor fully modern.

 Since the nineteen forties, Telugu prose style wriggled out of the clutches of the traditional pundits. The emergence of mass media of communication, like the radio, T.V., cinema, language, newspapers and new forms of writing, under the impact of nationalist movement reinforced the importance of the spoken word and various literary forms blossomed in modern language. By and large, the prosperous Krishna -- Godavari delta became the breeding ground of many writers and scholars, and their spoken variety assumed several prose forms and slowly spread to other areas assimilating other dialects in its course. The language now used in all modern forms of literature and newspapers has a great degree of uniformity and acceptability, which lends it the status of a standard language. Now the nationalised text-books and those prescribed for Telugu language degree by universities are the only `sanctuaries' of the poetic dialect.

 The seminar sponsored by the State Government in 1964 at Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, resolved that only the modern language should be used for all subject (non-1st language) books written in Telugu and all 2nd language books. This resolution has been implemented in the case of subject text-books produced by the Telugu Akademi. Now all the universities in the State are allowing the use of modern Telugu as the examination medium and modern literature has been prescribed for study at the University level. In 1966, Telugu became the official language of the State and in 1974, correspondence in Telugu was made at the taluk level. This was gradually extended to Heads of Departments and Secretariat levels. In 1969, Telugu as the medium of instruction was introduced on a large scale in higher education.



Telugu literature is generally divided into six periods, viz.,

(1) the pre-Nannaya period (up to A.D. 1020),

(2) the Age of the Puranas (1020--1400),

(3) the Age of Srinatha (1400--1510),

(4) the Age of the Prabandhas (1510--1600),

(5) the Southern period (1600--1820), and

(6) the Modern Period (after 1820). 

In the earliest period there were only inscriptions from A.D. 575 onwards. Nannaya's (1022--1063) translation of the Sanskrit Mahabharata into Telugu is the piece of Telugu literature as yet discovered. The diction is so masterly that historians think that there must have been earlier works in Telugu. After the death of Nannaya, there was a kind of social and religious revolution in the Telugu country. 

Virasaivism propagated bhakti towards Siva as the only means of attaining salvation. Tikkana (13th century) and Yerrana (14th century) continued the translation of the Mahabharata started by Nannaya. Yerrana was also a devotee of Siva. Quite a few poets continued writing in Telugu and we come to the age of Srinatha. 

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, was evolved during this period. Srinatha (1365--1441) 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.

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--1510), Jakkana (second half of the 14th century) and Gaurana (first half of the 15th century).

The golden period of Telugu literature was the 16th and 17th centuries A.D., Krishnadevaraya's Amuktamalayada is regarded as a Mahakavya. Peddana's Manucharitra is another outstanding Mahakavya. Telugu literature flourished in the south in the Samsthanas like Madurai, Tanjavur etc., and that is why the age itself was called the `Southern Period'. We find a comparatively larger number of poets among the rulers, women and non-Brahmins who popularised the desi metres.

With the conquest of the Deccan by the Mughals in A.D.1687, there ensued a period of decadence (1750--1850) in literature. Then emerged a period of transition (1850--1910), following a long period of Renaissance. The 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 the European literary forms like the novel, short story, prose, drama, belles-litters, etc.

The father of modern Telugu literature is Kandukuri Viresalingam Pantulu (1848--1919), who wrote a novel, Rajasekhara Charitamu, inspired by the Vicar of Wakefield. He was the first person in modern times to use literature to eradicate social evils. He was followed by Rayaprolu Subba Rao, Gurazada Appa Rao, Viswanatha Satyanarayana, Katuri Venkateswara Rao, Jashuva, Devulapalli Venkata Krishna Sastry, Sri Sri, Puttaparty Narayana Charyulu and others in the sphere of poetry. Viswanatha Satyanarayana had won the coveted Jnanapith Award. ``Kanyasulkam'' (Bride-Money), the first social play in Telugu by Gurazada Appa Rao was a thumping success. We also find the progressive movement, free verse movement and Digambara style finding expression in Telugu verse. The well-known modern Telugu novelists were Unnava Lakshminarayana (of Malapalli fame), Viswanatha Satyanarayana (Veyi Padagalu), Kutumba Rao and Buchchi Babu. Telugu is specially known for its daring experiments in the field of poetry and drama.

Urdu, another important language of the State and spoken by the Muslims is Indian in origin. Though many words in it found their way from the Arabic and Persian, it has always been true to the idiom of the western Hindi dialect. It was ``the language of the Exalted Court'' at Delhi in the Mughal period. It acquired the shortened name `Urdu' and became the handmaid of the Persian culture in India.

The 1981 census recorded 41,69,179 Urdu-speaking persons in the State comprising 21,21,859 males and 20,47,320 females. Hyderabad City, the State's Capital accounted for 35 per cent of the Urdu-speaking people in Hyderabad district, forming over 8 per cent of the population, and came next to Telugu. Guntur, Anantapur and Cuddapah districts also accounted for a sizeable number of Urdu-speaking people. In the Telangana region, the overall proportion of Urdu-speaking people is very high.

Hindi speaking people, numbering 13,83,792, (7,10,313 males and 6,73,479 females) and forming about three per cent of the population, held the third place. None of the remaining languages was spoken by even 2 per cent of the population. Thus Tamil, Kannada and Marathi account for still smaller proportions. These individual languages, however, account for a fairly substantial proportion of speakers in some districts. There were 6,45,463 Tamil; 4,84,330 Kannada, 4,31,352 Marathi and 2,36,420 Oriya speaking people in the State. People speaking Tamil are found concentrated in Chittoor district, which adjoins Tamil Nadu. They are also found to some extent in Nellore and Hyderabad districts. Kannada and Marathi speakers can be seen in districts like Anantapur and Kurnool, and Adilabad and Nizamabad respectively which have close proximity to the adjoining Kannada and Marathi areas of Karnataka and Maharashtra states.

Of the numerous other languages spoken in the State, the 1981 Census recorded 44,489 persons speaking Malayalam; 36,180 speaking Gujarati, 18,544 speaking Bengali, Punjabi -16,833, Sindhi - 9,521, Assami -248 and Kashmiri -121. Of the foreign languages spoken in the State, 414 speak Arabic and three, Tibetan.

The principal tribal languages spoken in the State are Banjara/Sugali/Lambadi ( 45,00,000) , Koya (1,58,097), Gondi (1,12,303), Savara (47,609), Jatapu (23,366), Kolami (13,395), Khondi/Kondh (11,890), Gadaba (11,291) and Donda (9,951).

Source: Revenue Department (Gazetteers)


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