Telugu is the official language of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. It is the second largest spoken language in India after Hindi. Almost eighty million people speak Telugu all over the world. It is one of the twenty two official languages of the Indian Republic. It is the mother tongue for majority of people living in Andhra Pradesh, but it is also spoken by a large group of people in the neighbouring states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. Among the Dravidian languages, it is the largest spoken language.

Telugu is a heavily Sanskritised Dravidian language which has developed during the medieval period. It is a richly developed language and one of the biggest linguistic units in India. Early inscriptions date around the first century from the Bhattiprolu script. Even though Telugu has originated from the family of Dravidian languages, it has adopted many Sanskrit words. Telugu descends from the Proto-Dravidian family actually which was spoken in the central regions of the Deccan Plateau. The Telugus are the native speakers of the Telugu language. Telugus are native to Andhra Pradesh with a sizeable population also being found in Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Orissa.

The etymology of the word `Telugu’ is that it is derived from the word `Trilinga’ which means `belonging to the land of the three Shiva Ling temples’ of Srisailam, Drakasharamam and Kaleshwaram.



The genealogy of the Telugu script is from Brahmi and its variant Bhattiprolu. It has syllabic alphabets. It is written from left to right. It is closely related to the Kannada script. The first inscription belongs to 575 AD. It was found in the Rayalaseema region. It is attributed to the Renati Chola kings. They changed the custom of using Sanskrit and began to write in Telugu language in their royal proclamations.

Around 625 AD, Telugu inscriptions appeared in Anantapuram and other neighbouring areas. The Telugu language went through several changes from the medieval to the modern periods. The language in the Telangana region was affected by the creation of distinct dialects due to the Muslim influence in the region. During the fourteenth century, sultanate rule under the Tughlaq Dynasty had been established in the North of Deccan.

In the Rayalaseema region south of the Krishna River, the Vijayanagar Empire started gaining dominance from 1350 to 1675. The late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries were influenced by the English and their modern printing press and communication channels.

As per the writings of the famous Russian linguist, M.S. Andronov, Proto-Dravidian has been responsible for giving rise to twenty one Dravidian languages. These languages can be categorised into three groups – Northern group, Southern group and the Central group.

Telugu is written in a script which is derived from the Asokan Brahmi script and its variant, Bhattiprolu which is used in Southern India. The Kannada and the Telugu scripts got detached by the end of the thirteenth century.



An Andhra Kingdom of Aryan Andhras has been mentioned in the Rig Veda and other Sanskrit epics like Aitareya Brahmana around 800 BC. The Sanskrit writings describe the Andhra people as Aryans who migrated from the North and went southward to the Vindhya Mountains Range where they mingled with the Dravidians.

Telugu language can be categorised into three periods – Prachina Telugu (Ancient Period), Madhyama Telugu (Medieval Period) and Adhunika Telugu (Modern Period). Each period is influenced by the lifestyle, culture, literature and social customs prevalent in that respective age. Down the ages, Telugu has also been known as `Tenugu’ meaning `sweet as honey’. This is due to the frequent use of open syllables combining both the consonants and the vowels. It has also been known by the names of `Vaduga’, `Jentoo’ and `Andhramu’.

Various dynasties have ruled the Andhra region – The Satavahanas, the Shakas, Ikshvakus, Chalukyas, the Vijayanagar Empire, the Kakatiyas and the Qutb Shahis of Golconda, the Bahmani Sultans and the Asaf Jahi Nizams of Hyderabad.

The Telugu words are found in Maharashtri Prakrit anthology of poems known as `Gathasaptashathi’ in the first century BC by the Satavahana King Hala. Telugu speakers were perhaps the oldest people living between the Godavari and the Krishna rivers.

In the early part of the eighteenth century, Muslim dominance established the princely state of Hyderabad, particularly by the Asaf Jahi Dynasty in 1724 under the British rule. This brought in a period of Arabic and Persian influence on the Telugu language.

Since independence, the Telugu language has spread with the introduction of mass media like newspapers, radio and television. Telugu is now taught in schools as a standard medium. It has also become globalised because of the increasing settlement of Telugu speaking people abroad. Modern Telugu movies have also become popular in India and the Telugu film industry has become the second largest after Hindi and the Bollywood films.



The dialects of Telugu are Berad, Dasari, Golari, Narayana Peta, Vijayawada, Kamathi, Salewari, Telangana, Warangal, Mahboob Nagar, Godwal, Vadaga, Srikakula, Vishakapatnam, Godavari, Rayalaseema, Nelluru, Guntur, Tirupati and Yanadi. Waddar, Chenchu and Manna-Dora are closely related to Telugu.

In Tamil Nadu, the Telugu dialect is classified into Salem, Coimbatore and Chennai Telugu dialects. Standard Telugu is often called a `Shuddha Bhasha’ or pure language (Acchha Telugu).


Latin of the East

Telugu has been labelled as the `Latin of the East’ by a famous Venetian traveller by the name of Niccolo de Conti who came to India and visited the Vijayanagar Kingdom in the late fifteenth century. He found the similarity between Latin and Telugu in the way the words ended in vowels.

Telugu is also known as `Ajanta Bhasha’ because most of the words ended in vowels. Both the short and the long vowels are used as in other Dravidian languages. Telugu has both voiced and unvoiced consonants. This is demonstrative only in written Telugu and not the spoken one. Telugu maintains vowel harmony and uses the vowels as suffixes that are harmonised in the preceding syllables. This is similar to Latin, Finnish and Turkish languages.

As with other languages in India, Telugu has a system of gender and respect that includes the second and the third person reference. Telugu has sixty symbols, out of which sixteen are vowels; three are vowel modifiers and forty one consonants.



Telugu literature can be traced back to the early part of the eleventh century. The earliest specimens of Telugu literature are found in the writings of the famous poet, Hala, in his `Prakruta Grandhamu’. Telugu words are also mentioned in the edicts and statutes found as part of the archaeological evidence in Cuddapah District in Andhra Pradesh. The findings date these writings to the late sixth century. Poetic statutes were also found in the mid tenth century in the Prakasham Zilla at Addanki.

There are four distinct periods pertaining to Telugu literature. The earliest was the Krutayugamunaka and in this period, literary tradition was handed down to the next generation orally. This was followed by the Threthayugamu or the mythological period which included translations of masterworks like Ramayana by Valmiki. The third period was the Dwaparayugamu which included translation by Nannayya of the epic Mahabharata by Veda Vyasa. The current literary period is known as Kaliyugamu.

The first major effort in Telugu literature was by Nannayya who translated the Mahabharata from Sanskrit into Telugu. He was the poet laureate in the court of Raja Rajanarendra of Rajahmahendravaram which is now Rajahmundry. He was the pioneer Telugu writer after Hala or Haludu. Nannayya could not complete the full translation of the Mahabharata. The unfinished work was then completed by Thikkanna and Errapragada. These three were known as the `Kavitrayam’ trinity. Also influenced by the Sanskrit classics, Nannechoda wrote `Kumara Sambhava’.

During the Vijayanagar Kingdom rule by Krishna Deva Raya, Telugu literature reached its golden age. The King himself wrote an important work, `Amukta Malyada’. During his reign, he had eight great poets in his court that were known as `Ashtha Diggajamulu’ or the Eight Elephants. They were Allasani Peddanna, Nandi Thimmanna, Madayyagari Mallanna, Dhoor Jati, Ayyala Raju Ramabadrudu, Pingalli Suranna, Tenali Ramakrishnudu and Rama Raju Bhushanudu. Tenali Ramakrishnudu is famous for his ready wit and his choice of words.

Among the important works written by the Ashtha Diggajamulu is `Manu Charitra’ written by Allasani Peddanna, `Parijata Apaharanamu’ which was written by Nandi Thimmanna and `Srikala Hasti Mahatyamu’ which was written by Dhoor Jati. Allasani Peddanna is known as the father of Telugu Poetry or Andhra Pitamaha. There were two more important poets in the Vijayanagar Kingdom. One was Potanna Bhargavatan and the other was Srinadhulu who wrote `Palnati Veeracharitra’. Srinadhulu is regarded as Lord Byron of Andhra literature.

Telugu literature developed in the discipline of translations from the Sanskrit classics and the Puranas, Itihasas, Upanishads, Vyakarna (grammar), Kavitalu (writing of verses), Natakamulu (dramas), Vimarshalu (critiques) Suktulu and Subhashitamulu (codes of ethics and morals for the common mass), Vyasamulu (essays), Krutulu and Sankeertanamulu (devotional praise and songs). Chimpu is a combination of prose and poetry in classical Telugu.

In the centuries spanning from the fifteenth to the eighteenth, four literary figures were prominent as devotional poets and exponents of Sankeertanamulu. They were Annamacharya, Kshethraya, Ramadasu and Tyagaiah. Among a whole host of great literary figures in Telugu, we can also come across three distinguished women who were poets of high calibre. They were Molla, Thaligonda Vengamamba and Subhadramma.

Vemana Kavi wrote `Neethi Shatakamulu’. This was a collection of hundred couplets. Venugu Lakshmana Kavi wrote `Subhashitamulu’. These two poets were exponents of the Suktulu literary tradition. Apart from this discipline, there were many reformist writers who wrote on social reforms to eradicate evil customs and superstitions from the society like child marriages, widow burning on the sati pyre and vara vikrayamu or selling of bridegrooms for excessive dowry.

C.P. Brown and Caldwell collaborated with Telugu scholars and promoted the Telugu language. Patriotic Telugu writing started taking shape during the British rule. The prominent writers were Chilakamurthy Lakshminarasimham, Kandukuri Veereshalingam and Gurajada Appa Rao.

Earlier, on account of the Muslim invasions and the entry of the British along with the political dependence of the country under the Dutch, French and the Portuguese, Telugu literature went into a decline and the output in the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries was meagre. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, inspired by political awakening, a new period began in Telugu literature with heavy emphasis on prose writings. In 1835, the first Telugu newspapers were printed.

Lakshman Rao was the earliest to compile books on knowledge in Telugu. His efforts resulted in the printing of science books and a pair of encyclopaedia volumes titled `Andhra Vignyana Sarvaswamu’. This came out in 1923.

Institutions like Andhra Sahitya Parishad in Kakinada and Hyderabad along with Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Akademi are involved in the promotion of Telugu literature on an organised platform. The Navya Sahitya Parishad in Hyderabad is also engaged in the promotion of talented Telugu local writers.


The Latin of the East is now spreading in the West. Telugu language already has a department at the University of Wisconsin. The University of Berkeley in California is also coming forward to set up a new department for the Telugu language. This is mainly due to the rising popularity of Telugu as a language on an international spectrum which brings back the importance of the words spoken by Andhra Pitamaha, Allasani Peddana, who had the foresight to declare that Telugu would become the language of the languages in India and the whole world in future.

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Tahseen Nakavi Juror

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