Spoken by about 75 million people around the globe, mainly in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh
, Telugu belongs to the Dravidian family of languages, with the largest number of speakers in the family; and is also the most spoken Indian language, after Hindi
. It ranks 15 among the World's languages in the largest number of speakers. It also has the distinction of one of the four classical languages of India
. Though Dravidian in origin, about 70 % of its words are Sanskrit
based. Telugu literature has a history from around 11th century. Nannaya Bhattarakudu is considered the aadi kavi ('the first poet') of the language), and his Andhra Mahabharatamu, an adaptation of the Sanskrit
, as the first literary work in the language (Nannaya is also known for his grammatical work, Andhra Sabda Chintamani.). Literature in Telugu should have been existence even before this adaptation, which is in chaste and polished style, came out. There are evidences like a 7th century inscription, a metrical composition (In Malayalam, another important language of the Dravidian family, Ezhuthachan
, who composed Addhyatma Ramayana
, is considered the father of letters in the language; and it does not mean that Malayalam came into being from this author. In fact, these Dravidian languages have history, long before the adaptations came from Sanskrit
and Indo-Aryan texts and legends.). It is not only possible, but plausible that most of the pre-10th century literature and evidences of Telugu could be destroyed and wiped off by the religious opponents as is seen in other parts of India
too, especially in the south. The Telugu script is an adaptation from the Braahmi script used in the Mauryan Empire.
What does 'Telugu' mean? Where did the word come from? What is the etymology of the term? The ardent 'devotees' of the language derive the word by reconstructing it as: telugu> telungu> te:lungu> te:nungu> te:nugu> te:nu and then explain with a typical Dravidian touch that it is the:nmozhi to mean language-honey. This has a folkish touch about it. Yet another opinion takes a path towards the early days when the Andhra land was attacked and conquered by a tribal group called tailaing and in course of time the land itself came to be known as tailaing out of which came telugu. Another interesting theory takes us to Gondi, a lesser known Dravidian tongue, in which telu means 'white' and –unga is a pluralizing suffix, and together it denotes the people who are not black or brown as the other Dravidians, but fairer. Another group of scholars suggests that ten denotes south, and tenunugu would mean the people of the South. In earlier times, the Telugu land was known as Telenga Desha. Tele-and –nga or –gu are common formatives in Dravidian. The base –teli would mean clearer or bright, and so telugu is a 'brighter' or 'clearer' language. Yet another theory goes that the term is derived from a Hindu
mythological legend and that it has come down from trilinga desha, a land lying among three Shiva temples - Kalahasthi, Srisailam and Draksharamam. The principal geographic entity of the people speaking Telugu falls among these three temples and hence the name of the language, the proponents of the idea argue. There are some other hypotheses too regarding this. Some people bring in Plini, some others A. D Campbell and Bishop Caldwell quoting their opinions, some bring in Kalinga, which became famous by Ashoka
's campaign of conquest, and the subsequent edicts and other inscriptions of the emperor. There has been no consensus till now on the etymology of the term and the arguments go on.
Where did Telugu find its source?
Being a cognate language of the Dravidian family of languages, it should have its origin in the so-called Proto-Dravidian root, like Tamil
or Malayalam or Kannada
, or like the far away Thai of Thailand; but over a period, it borrowed heavily from Sanskrit
, and even the Telugu grammarians have stated that without reference to a Sanskrit
Dictionary, it would be impossible to write a sentence with accuracy and finish. Early Telugu goes back up to 400 BC, according to some experts. Apart from Andhra Pradesh
, the language is spoken in Tamil Nadu
, and also among the diaspora population in various countries around the world. The reach of the language among the people of India
also shows the depth of the roots of it. During 500-1100 AD, Telugu became the vehicle for poetic composition, and it also was in vogue in royal courts and among scholars. Translations too came in, like the one of ganitasara, a mathematical work of Mahivaracharya. A section of scholars think that Kumara Sambhavam, the widely noted work of Nanne Choadudu was written before Nannaya's Mahabharathamu. But the real development of Telugu began during the period 1100-1600, following grammatical prescriptions. This was the period when the language came under the influence of Sanskrit
. The 12th and 13th centuries saw the emergence of Virasaivisam, propagating the bhakti or devotion towards Shiva as the only path for salvation. The next is the Age of Srinatha (1400-1500). Srinatha was a popular writer 0f immense caliber, King of poets or Kavi sarvabhamuma. He adorned the court of the Reddy Kings, and it was during this period that the popular Telugu literary form styled the Prabandha evolved. The major works of Srinatha include Sringara Naishadham, Marutarat Charitra, Saalivahana Sapta Sati, Haravilasamu and Kashikhandamu Pinavirabhadrudu (1450-1480) translated Kalidasa's Shakuntalam into Telugu (Shakunatala Parinayamu). Dubagunta Narayana (1450-1500) translated Panchatantra in Telugu adaptation. Annamchaarya (1408-1503) composed thousands of devotional songs of high literary and musical value. His wife Timmamba, believed to be the first Telugu poetess, was the author of famous works like Subhadra Kalyanamu and Nandimallya. As in the case of Kannada, the Vijayanagara period (1336-1565) marked a golden era for Telugu too. Nachana Somanatha, a court poet of Bukka I, wrote Uttaraharivamsamu, a major work of poetry. Emperor Krishnadeveraya (1509-1529) himself a poet of brilliance, wrote the Mahakavya, Amuktamalayada. His court was adorned by eight literary luminaries called Ashtadiggajas. The next two centuries too found a flourishing time for Telugu literature under both the nayaka kings and the mughals
. In the second half of the 17th century, Muslim rule extended to further south, and established the princely state of Hyderabad in 1724. This resulted in the influence of Persian/Arabic on the Telugu language, and this went on till the 19th century. The late 19th century and the early 20th century marked the period of the influence of the English language. The British rule
brought in modern technologies of communication and the printing press. This brought in a mix of classic and modern styles and the change was epochal. Movies, television, radio and newspapers changed the format of Telugu literature and it is now going through a dramatic quality change.