Telugu Literature

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Telugu Literature


the literature of the Andhra people, written in Telugu and originating in India during the ninth and tenth centuries A.D.

The earliest extant Telugu literary work is the Andhra Mahabharata by Nannaya Bhatta (early 11th century), an adaptation of part of the Sanskrit Mahabharata. Nannaya Bhatta founded Telugu classical poetry and the Telugu literary language, which became established during the medieval period of Telugu literary development.

The works of Palukiriki Somanatha (1160–1240), the author of the narrative poems The Tale of Basava and The Tale of “The Teacher,” reflected the contemporary movement for the reform of the caste system and of orthodox Hinduism. The Andhra Mahabharata was completed by Tikkana (1230–1300), the founder of the Telugu heroic epic, and by Errapragada (1280–1350). The poet Srinatha (1380–1465) celebrated love and the landscape of Southern India in his lyric epics. Bammera Potana (c. 1405 to 1450–80) recounted the incarnations of the god Vishnu in the narrative poem Bhagavatam.

In the 16th century, Telugu literature became distinctively national in character. The narrative poem Amuktamalyada by Krsnadevaraya, the epic Manucaritram by Allasani Peddana, and the poetry of Nandi Timmanna, Dhurjati, and Tenali Ramakrsna dealt with the human personality. The decline of the state system and of Andhra culture during the 17th and 18th centuries was marked by the appearance of formalist, refined erotic poetry. Feudal civil strife and European conquest were reflected in pessimistic poetry. Telugu drama, which originated during this period, was based on an abundant folklore and on early manifestations of folk theater.

The forerunner of modern Telugu literature was the poet Vemana (1700–50), who expressed the ideas of the later bhakti movement, advocating universal equality and attacking Hindu rituals and dogmatism. Vemana’s successors were the bourgeois Andhra humanists of the 19th century. Kandukuri Viresalingam (1848–1919), the founder of the Telugu humanist tradition and of modern Telugu literature, criticized orthodox Hinduism and the feudal caste system. Viresalingam was the founder of anti-Brahman satiric farce and comedy and the author of the socially oriented novel Rajasekharacharitramu. Historical novels and dramas of the late 19th century that reflected an awakening bourgeois nationalism were written by Chilakamarti Lakshmi Narasimham and Chilukuri Virabhadra Rao.

The early 20th century witnessed a democratic movement for a new literary language to replace the classical Telugu language, which uneducated people found difficult to understand. The movement was led by the writer Guruzada Appa Rao (1861–1915), the author of the play Kanyasulkam (1896) and of humanist comedies. Guruzada Appa Rao founded the Telugu short story, as well as Telugu romantic lyric and patriotic poetry; his poem “Love for the Homeland” became the national anthem of the state of Andhra Pradesh.

The early decades of the 20th century were marked by new developments in Telugu literature, science, political life, and journalism, developments that were related to the growth of the national movement. The romantic lyric became a popular genre. The narrative poems of Rayaprolu Subbarao (born 1892), Devulapalli Krishna Sastri (born 1897), Abburi Ramakrishna Rao (born 1896), and Visvanatha Satyanarayana (born 1895) were marked by abundant imagery, metrical diversity, and innovative themes. Romanticism in Telugu poetry was influenced by R. Tagore and the English romantic poets. The Telugu romanticists made use of folklore, as in Nanduri Subbarao’s Venkipatalu. Unnava Lakshmi Narayana’s multithematic Malapalle (The Hamlet of the Untouchables, 1921), which accurately depicted the peasant movement and the protests of Andhra’s untouchables, was an important novel of the 1920’s.

During the 1930’s and 1940’s, the realistic sociopsychological novel developed, although romantic and realist traits continued to coexist in many works, such as Narayana Rao by Adivi Bapirazu (1895–1952) and The Seashore by Visvanatha Satyanarayana. Short stories were written during this period by Chinta Dikshitulu (born 1891), Gudipati Venkatachalam (pen name Chalam; born 1894), and Malladi Ramakrishna Rao (born 1903). Revolutionary romanticism predominated in poetry, particularly in the works of Srirangam Srinivasa Rao (pen name Sri Sri; born 1910), who was influenced by surrealism. In the poetic cycle The Great Journey, Srirangam Srinivasa Rao challenged the old world and appealed for social justice. The poets Arudra and Dasarathi also wrote in the spirit of revolutionary romanticism. Telugu literature of the 1940’s reflected the struggle for national independence and the antifeudal peasant movement, as seen in the plays of V. Bhaskara Rao (1914–57) and S. Satyanarayana (born 1919) and in the poetry of Kundurti and of Duvvuri Rami Reddi (born 1928).

India’s achievement of independence in 1947 engendered a Telugu cultural revival. The number of periodical publications increased, ties with other cultures were reinforced, and Russian classics and Soviet literature were translated. Literary factions were formed during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Progressive writers dealt with important social issues in such works as the narrative poem Song of Five Principles by A. Somasundar (born 1924); The Chariot (1956), a novel about the hard life of peasants, by R. Ramamohan Rao (born 1909); and Instruction, a novel devoted to the intelligentsia, by K. Kutumba Rao (born 1909). During this period some Telugu writers were influenced by existentialism and Freudianism; an example was the novel Straws Borne Away by the Stream, by B. Krishna Rao (1918–62). In the novel What Remains (1952), Buchchibabu (1916–67) depicted the solitude of man in an inimical world of property ownership and advocated the ideal of serving the people. Rachakonda Vishwanatha Shastri (born 1922) recounted the misadventures of an average man in the novel The Insignificant One (1952).

The predominant type of Telugu novel during the 1950’s and 1960’s was the realistic sociopsychological novel. The socially oriented short story was established by K. Kutumba Rao and by T. Gopichand (1910–62), who supported Marxism and portrayed the Indian intelligentsia. Karunakumar depicted peasant life, and Palagummi Padmaraju (born 1915) was a master of the psychological short story. The humorist Munimanikyam Nrisimha Rao (born 1898) wrote short stories whose heroine remained steadfast before life’s misfortunes. Rachakonda Vishwanatha Shastri’s Six Tales About the Dry Law (1962) resounded with social protest.

Many asocial and apolitical literary works were written for a mass readership during the 1960’s. In the second half of that decade, the digambara (“naked poetry”) trend arose. Expressing anarchic protest, the trend was related to the Hindi New Poetry movement and to other youth movements in Indian poetry of the 1960’s. Telugu literature of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s reflected a conflict between progressive, democratic literature and Maoist nihilism.


Gurov, N., and Z. Petrunicheva. Literatura telugu. Moscow, 1967.
Raju, P. T. Telugu Literature. Bombay, 1944.
Lakshmi Ranjanam, K. Andhra sahitya charitra sangrahamu. Hyderabad, 1956.
Sitaramayya, K. Navyandhra sahitya vidhulu, vols. 1–3. Madras [195–].
Venkata Subbayya, G. Aksarabhisekam. Vijayawada, 1963.
Sitapati, G. V. History of Telugu Literature. Delhi, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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