Telugu history

Bapa Rao brao at USC.EDU
Wed Apr 29 16:31:00 UTC 1998

It is true that, approximately until 1000 A.D., there wasn't evidence of
significant govenrment sponsorship of Telugu, though there are a number of
very early copper grant documents etc. in Telugu, indicating that some
government business was conducted in Telugu.

However, I don't see a causal link between the advent of Muslim rule and
the "easing of Sanskrit pressure," circa 1000 A.D. At least in Telugu, the
first major government-sponsored literary project in Telugu, namely the
translation of the Mahabharata, was a manifestation of deliberate
government policy to indigenize itself; the government at that time was a
product of marriage between the Western, Kannada-speaking Chalukya dynasty
and the Southern Chola dynasty.

During the Kakatiya empire, there was a great deal of literary activity in
Telugu, but there was no Muslim connection within the empire till the very
last, under Prataparudra. Since the North was firmly under the Delhi
Sultanate at that time, the argument that fleeing northern brahmin pandits
contributed to the Sanskrit element of Telugu would make some sense here,
on the face of it.

The indigenization and Telugization process appears to have been a natural
progression for any multigenerational regime, intended mainly for practical
reasons, to achieve better integration between the rulers and the ruled.
Even the imperial Sanskritic Satavahanas, it would appear, had court
scholars who wrote in (what was possibly) Telugu. The famous legend of the
contest between Gunaadhya and Sarva-varma (my memory may be inaccurate here
as to names etc.), which ended with the former abandoning Sanskrit and
writing an opus in "paisaachi" (which might have been old Telugu or one of
the related tribal languages) is indicative of this.

Coming to Muslim rulers, there is some indication that the Bahmani Golconda
rulers participated to some extent in this indigenization process, no doubt
aided by their proximity to, and rivalry with the contemporary Vijayanagar
empire. The last ruler of Golconda, Quli Qutb Shah (known as Taneshah) was
known to be quite an accomplished poet in Telugu.

Under the Nizam's rule, official relationship with Telugu was one of benign
neglect at best. The nizams at no time saw themselves as Telugu people, and
displayed little interest in working with it or promoting it.

So much for official interaction with Telugu. As for influences on common
vocabulary, well, Telugu has always been (IMO, like English) very open to
foreign imports, be they Sanskrit or Persian. Though Telugu grammarians
treat Sanskrit imports in a privileged way (tatsama and tadbhava) while
lumping all other foreign imports into the same bag (anya-deshyam), I see
no logical reason for making a value judgement either way--it makes as
little sense to boast about the Sanskrit heritage of  Telugu as it does to
say that the Persian influence saved Telugu from Sanskritization. By
setting it up as a morality play with arbitrary "hero" and "villain"
foreign languages, we will be missing out on valuable insights into the
nature of the language and the natural forces that shape cultural

Bapa Rao

N. Ganesan wrote:

> I was under the impression:
> > The reason for excessive use of Sanskrit words in Telugu,
> > a Dravidian language, when compared to Tamil, is that all the Hindu
> > arts and Sanskrit pundits took refuge in Telugu Desam.
> > Especially during the Muslim rule of the North
> > and in Vijayanahgar kingdoms.
> > That had the effect of increase in number of Sanskrit words
> > used in Telugu, neglecting "acca telugu" words (original Telugu).
> Uday Reddy, reddy at wrote back:
> +Well, actually, I think the Muslim rule in the North helped the
> +Dravidian languages, in that the pressure of Sanskrit eased.  (It also
> +helped the North Indian languages the same way.)  Almost all the big
> +kingdoms before 1000 AD, Satavahana, Chalukya and Rashtrakuta promoted
> +Sanskrit or Prakrit.  There was NO patronage for Telugu.  (Kannada
> +fared a little better somehow.)  But after 1000 AD, things changed and
> +Telugu developed enormously.  Basically, there was no Sanskrit
> +imperialism after the Muslims came into India.
> Uday is a native Telugu from AP.
> Any thoughts?
> Regards,
> N. Ganesan

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