Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

Classical Telugu Poetry: An Anthology

Velcheru Narayana Rao
David Shulman
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Classical Telugu Poetry
    Book Description:

    This groundbreaking anthology opens a window on a thousand years of classical poetry in Telugu, the mellifluous language of Andhra Pradesh in southern India. The classical tradition in Telugu is one of the richest yet least explored of all South Asian literatures. This authoritative volume, the first anthology of classical Telugu poetry in English, gives an overview of one of the world's most creative poetic traditions. Velcheru Narayana Rao and David Shulman have brought together mythological, religious, and secular texts by twenty major poets who wrote between the eleventh and nineteenth centuries. The beautifully translated selections are often dramatic and unexpected in tone and effect, and sometimes highly personal. The authors have provided an informative, engaging introduction, fleshing out the history of Telugu literature, situating its poets in relation to significant literary themes and historical developments, and discussing the relationship between Telugu and the classical literature and poetry of Sanskrit.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92588-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-54)

    This verse by the sixteenth-century poet Rāmarājabhūṣaṇa celebrates a vital and continuous literary tradition, fully formed and mature, in the language of Andhra in southern India. The poet, working at a historic moment of intense creativity in Telugu, points to a canon already in place. Each poet is paronomastically identified with a divinity. First there is Vāg-anuśāsanuṇḍu, the Maker of Speech—Brahmā, in the classical Hindu pantheon—who has both created and married the goddess Vāc, Language or Speech. Within the Telugu tradition, however, this is also the title given to the first poet Nannaya (eleventh century), who established the...

  6. ONE Nannaya Early to middle eleventh century
    (pp. 55-66)

    Nannaya (also Nannayya, Nannayabhaṭṭu, Nannapārya) is the first Telugu poet whose works have survived. The tradition attributes to him not only the early books of the TeluguMahābhāratabut also the first Telugu grammar (in Sanskrit),Āndhra-śabda-cintāmaṇi. The first poet is thus, by definition, the first grammarian—vāg-anuśāsanuḍu, “legislator of language”—as well. The phrase, rooted in the later literary tradition, imitates one of Nannaya’s: he refers to himself asvipula-śabda-śāsanuḍu, “an authority on language”; the implication is one of control and power over words. The attribution of grammaticalsūtrasto Nannaya is, however, unlikely in the extreme.

    By his...

  7. TWO Nannĕcoḍa Twelfth century?
    (pp. 67-75)

    The discovery by Manavalli Ramakrishnakavi, at the turn of the century, of Nannĕcoḍa’sKumāra-sambhavamuset off a literary storm. Ramakrishnakavi, who edited the manuscript and published the first seven cantos in 1909, made the shocking claim that Nannĕcoḍa was earlier even than Nannaya. Unfortunately, there is no hard empirical evidence to determine this poet’s date. He tells us in his preface that he was ruler of a small area called Ŏrayūru (unidentified). That is all we know about one of the pioneers of Telugu poetic style. His book seems to have disappeared from the horizon of literary discourse already in...

  8. THREE Pālkuriki Somanātha Thirteenth century
    (pp. 76-81)

    The outstanding representative of thedvipadastyle, and as such the dominant voice in the counter-tradition competing with thecampūstyle of Nannaya and his successors, Pālkuriki Somanātha also embodies the crystallization of a Vīraśaiva hagiographic corpus in Telugu, perhaps a century after the Vīraśaiva foundational poet Basava, whose story he tells in hisBasavapurāṇamu.¹ His tradition is anti-Brahminic, anti-court, anti-temple; it is also closely associated with the so-called “left-hand” castes of artisans, merchants, and other groups not tied to the land. This milieu inherited the great wealth of Śaiva narrative from further south, in the Tamil country, and refashioned...

  9. FOUR Tikkana Thirteenth century
    (pp. 82-101)

    Nannaya’s great successor, who completed most of the TeluguMahābhārata, was Tikkana, minister to a small king called Manumasiddhi in Nĕllūru (present-day Nellore). We know the names of his parents, Annamâmba and Kǒmmanâmātya, and his title, Somayāji, which seems to reflect a ritual (Vedic sacrificial) role. He plays a major part in later literary tradition, such as in thePratāparuda caritramuof Ekâmranātha and theSiddheśvara caritramuof Kāsĕ Sarvappa (17th century), where he appears as a deft negotiator and a relentless enemy of Buddhism and Jainism. He is said to have won a victory for his king—in effect...

  10. FIVE Mañcana Late twelfth to early thirteenth centuries?
    (pp. 102-105)

    A poet of uncertain date, but clearly exemplifying the early and relatively simpleprabandhastyle, Mañcana presents us with the earliest Telugu extract from thekathānarrative tradition. HisKeyūra-bāhu-caritramutakes Rājaśekhara’s Sanskrit play,Viddha-sālabhañjikā, for its frame narrative, but the superb short tales that constitute most of the work are derived from otherkathāsources, including some known from thePañcatantraliterature (as in our third selection, below).¹

    Once there was an aged Brahmin, skilled at physiognomy. He took to wife a young virgin whose body had all the good signs, and he kept her in the basement, so...

  11. SIX Ĕṟṟāpragaḍa Fourteenth century
    (pp. 106-111)

    The third and last of the TeluguMahābhāratapoets (known collectively askavi-traya, the Trinity of Poets),Ĕṟṟāpragaḍacompleted theĀraṇyaparvamufrom the place where Nannaya left off.¹ Significantly, in the early colophons to that section of the work, Ĕṟṟāpragaḍa does not mention his own name; rather, in an extraordinary statement of respect for Nannaya, he signs the latter’s name and continues the dedication to Rājarājanarendra (dead for 300 years). Only in the final colophon verses (3.7.469–470) does he assume responsibility for having composed the work “in a style that reveals something of Nannaya’s” (tat-kavitā-rītiyu ḵŏnta dopa ṯad-racanayakā).


  12. SEVEN Nācana Somanātha Fourteenth century
    (pp. 112-117)

    In an inscription in 1344 (although there are competing readings that would move the date backwards), the Vijayanagara king Bukkarāya I gives Nācana Somanātha the village of Pĕñcukaladinnĕ, also known as Bukkarāyapuram. This poet consciously connected himself to Tikkana’sMahābhārata, which he claimed to have completed with his ownUttara-harivaṃśamu. Like Tikkana, Nācana Somanātha dedicated his work to the god Harihara. Since Ĕṟṟāpragaḍa also composed aHarivaṃśamu, scholars have argued at length over the relative merits of these two poets. There is much justice in the epithets Nācana Somanātha gave himself in his colophons:saṃvidhānacakravarti, “a master of structure/storytelling,” and...

  13. EIGHT Śrīnātha Late fourteenth to early fifteenth centuries
    (pp. 118-132)

    Kavi-sārva-bhauma, “universal sovereign of poets,” is the title the literary tradition has given to Śrīnātha, whose amazing versatility and originality produced a revolution in literary style and taste. (The title is taken from Śrīnātha’s own introduction to hisKāśī-khaṇḍamu[1.14] where he inserts it into the mouth of Allāḍa Vemārĕḍḍi, older brother of the king, Vīrabhadrārĕḍḍi; this older brother heard that Śrīnātha was composing the book about Kāśī and asked the poet, whom he praises in this way, to dedicate it to the king.) Like a conquering emperor, Śrīnātha traveled throughout the entire Andhra region and beyond, establishing the image...

  14. NINE Bammĕra Potana First half of fifteenth century
    (pp. 133-146)

    Despite the existence of a large body of legendary material about Potana, factual information about him is extremely sparse. From his colophons we know the names of his parents, Kesana and Akkasān’amma; his ancestral village, Bammĕra, is in northern Tĕlaṅgāṇa, near Warangal. His masterpiece is the (unfinished) TeluguMahābhāgavatamu, a landmark in the evolution of Andhra Vaiṣṇava religion. Portions of this work were completed after the poet’s death by Vĕligandala Nārayya (books 11 and 12, and perhaps part of book 2 as well), Ercūri Siṅganna (book 6), and Bŏpparaju Gaṅgayya (book 5).

    In explanation of this textual situation, the tradition...

  15. TEN Annamayya 1424–1503
    (pp. 147-155)

    According to the hagiographical account written by his grandson, Cinnanna (Tiruveṅgaḷanāthuḍu), this singer ofpadamsto Lord Veṅkaṭeśvara was born in Tāḷḷapāka in Cittūr District. As a young boy, he was already intoxicated with the god and made his way to his temple at Tirupati—a massive cultic complex spread over the Veṅkaṭam hills, today the outstanding pilgrimage site in South India. Although legend also connects Annamayya (also Annamâcārya) with the royal palace at Pĕnugŏṇḍa and the Vijayanagara king Sāḷuva Narasiṃha—whom the poet is said to have refused to praise in song—the poet must have lived most of...

  16. ELEVEN Allasāni Pĕddana Early sixteenth century
    (pp. 156-165)

    In the courtly tradition of classical Telugu, Allasāni Pĕddana stands out as possibly the supreme achievement. Only one great work of his has survived: theManu-caritramu, which tells the story of the birth of the First Man, Svārociṣa Manu, on the basis of the earlier narration inMārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa(probably known to Pĕddana through Mārana’s late thirteenth- or early fourteenth-century Telugu version). Pĕddana’s choice of this text is surely meaningful, for it offers a vision of human generativity and human fate very much in line with the dominant concerns of the early sixteenth century at the Vijayanagara capital.

    Pĕddana is closely...

  17. TWELVE Kṛṣṇadevarāya r. 1509—1529
    (pp. 166-177)

    The emblematic king of the Vijayanagara state at its peak, Kṛṣṇadevarāya was also a Telugu poet of the first order. His father, Narasā Nāyaka, founded the third, or Tuluva, dynasty at Vijayanagara; his mother was a Tuḷu woman, Nāgâmba, so there is reason to believe that Kṛṣṇadevarāya’s first language was Tuḷu. Kṛṣṇadevarāya’s ascension to the throne marks a moment of dramatic expansion in the state-system over which he ruled—a period of military conquests, social change (including the mobilization of a new elite bound in ties of personal loyalty to the king), vast public building, and literary and artistic innovation....

  18. THIRTEEN Nandi Timmana Early sixteenth century
    (pp. 178-190)

    Later tradition imagines Nandi Timmana as one of the so-calledaṣṭa-diggajas, the eight elephants of the cardinal directions, who supposedly graced the court of Kṛṣṇadevarāya at the apogee of the Vijayanagara period. Although this set of eight is probably a later (seventeenth-century) invention, Timmana’s presence at Kṛṣṇadevarāya’s court is historically verified. The poet dedicated his work,Pārijātâpaharaṇamu, to this king. The tradition asserts that the poet arrived in the court as a gift from the family of Tirumaladevi, Kṛṣṇadevarāya’s senior wife.

    The poet has another name: Mukku Timmana, “Timmana of the Nose.” The title is associated with a verse supposedly...

  19. FOURTEEN Dhūrjaṭi Sixteenth century
    (pp. 191-200)

    It is difficult to disentangle Dhūrjaṭi from the literary legend of Kṛṣṇadevarāya’s eight great poets, theaṣṭa-dig-gajas, with whom the king-poet is supposed to have spent most of his time in a pavilion calledbhuvana-vijaya, “conquest of the world.”¹

    There is clearly a powerful investment in this legend—a poet’s fantasy of constant royal attention. Within the framework of this tale, Dhūrjaṭi, always named as one of the eight, undergoes a conversion or transformation from court poet to temple poet. Sickened by life at court, he is supposed to have headed for the temple of Śiva at Kāḷahasti, in the...

  20. FIFTEEN Tĕnāli Rāmakṛṣṇa Mid–sixteenth century
    (pp. 201-215)

    An outstanding figure in the literary world of the sixteenth century, Tĕnāli Rāmakṛṣṇa was the son of a Śaiva priest, Gārlapāṭi Rāmayya, who served in the temple of Rāmaliṅgeśvarasvāmi in Tĕnāli. The son was named after this deity. His earliest work was probably theUdbhaṭârādhya-caritramu, where he calls himself Tĕnāli Rāmaliṅga; the book is dedicated to Ūra Decayya, an employee of Nādĕḷḷa Gopamantri, the commander of the Kŏṇḍavīḍu fort under the Vijayanagara kings (and a nephew of the famous Timmarasu, the minister of Kṛṣṇadevarāya). TheGhaṭikâcala-māhātmyamunarrates the stories of the Śaiva shrine at Ghaṭikâcala (Sholinagar in Maharashtra); thePāṇḍuraṅga-māhātmyamu...

  21. SIXTEEN Nūtana-kavi Sūranna Fifteenth—sixteenth century?
    (pp. 216-221)

    Little is known about this self-styled “New Poet,” who claims, without elaboration, to have been born in the family of Tikkana. He must be dated between Nācana Somanātha, whom he mentions in his book, and Pĕdapāṭi Jagganna, who includes a verse by Sūranna in hisPrabandha-ratnâkaramu, an anthology of collected verses from ca. 1600. In terms of style, Sūranna hardly stands out; what is “new” in his work is the intelligent presentation of an unusual theme, the open conflict between wealth and beauty—and also the surprisingly practical resolution he proposes to this conflict. The story takes place in the...

  22. SEVENTEEN Piṅgaḷi Sūranna Second half of the sixteenth century?
    (pp. 222-229)

    Although the later tradition associates this poet with Kṛṣṇadevarāya’s group of eight great poets, there is good reason to date him considerably later in the sixteenth century, or even the early seventeenth century, and to locate him far from the Vijayanagara capital. Sūranna lived in Nandyāla in Rāyalasīma. He dedicated hisKaḷāpūrṇodayamuto the local ruler, Nandyāla Kṛṣṇamarāju, a member of a collateral branch of the Aravīḍu family that produced the final imperial dynasty at Vijayanagara. Another patron, Ākuvīṭi Pĕda Veṅkaṭâdri, sponsored hisRāghava-pāṇḍavīyamu, a tour de force that tells, simultaneously, the stories of theRāmāyaṇaand theMahābhārata(though...

  23. EIGHTEEN Appakavi Mid—seventeenth century
    (pp. 230-238)

    Perhaps the most influential grammarian in Telugu, Kākunūri Appakavi tells us in extraordinary detail, in the introduction to hisAppakavīyamu, how he came to compose his book in 1656. He was living in the village of Kāmĕpalli in Palnāḍu when, one night, Viṣṇu appeared in his dream and prepared him for the arrival the next morning of a Brahmin from Mataṅga Hill, who would be carrying a written copy of the grammaticalsūtrasattributed to Nannaya and known asĀndhra-śabda-cintāmaṇi. Like other important books, this grammar is said to have been lost and miraculously recovered. Appakavi tells us that he...

  24. NINETEEN Kṣetrayya Seventeenth century
    (pp. 239-244)

    This great master of thepadamform belongs primarily to the Tamil country under the so-called Nāyaka kings. Nothing solid is known about him. His signature line usually refers to his god as Muvvagopāla—perhaps “Kṛṣṇa from the village of Muvva” (often identified with a village near Kūcipūḍi in Kṛṣṇa District, though there are also other Muvvas further south, in North Arcot and in Cittūr near Kārveṭinagaram). But the name could also mean something like “Gopāla of the jingling bells” and have nothing to do with any village.

    One of Kṣetrayya’spadamsrefers to Vijayarāgahva Nāyaka of Tañjāvūr, Tirumala Nāyaka...

  25. TWENTY Śatakas
    (pp. 245-250)

    A vast literature, beginning with Pālkuriki Somanātha’sVṛṣâdhipa-śatakamuin the thirteenth century and continuing up to the present day, was composed in the formal structure ofśataka(mu)—literally, a century, with approximately 100 verses addressed to a deity, a guru, or, later, some other person (a courtesan, a friend, even a cat). The earlier, largely hymnal or devotional themes eventually gave way to a wider range, including statements of deep personal feeling, social criticism, political satire, jokes, curses, and so on.¹ Each individual verse in theśatakamuis highly portable, devoid of narrative or other context, so it could be...

  26. TWENTY-ONE Cāṭu Verses
    (pp. 251-255)

    Until relatively recently, whenever connoisseurs of poetry would meet, they would quote to one another from memory oral verses known ascāṭus, usually ascribed to the classical poets and often associated with a story. Such verses conjured up images of kings, courtesans, great poets, and scholars—in short, an entire literary milieu, in which the classical texts of the literary tradition could be situated and commented upon. In some ways, these oral verses constitute a particularly penetrating form of literary criticism, highlighting stylistic and thematic features of the poets in question, pitting one voice against another in profound intertextual modes,...

  27. TWENTY-TWO Śāhāji r. 1684–1712
    (pp. 256-278)

    This Maratha king of Tañjāvūr, in the Kaveri delta, was also a major Telugu poet—indeed, his considerable literary activity was almost entirely in Telugu, although his mother tongue must have been Marathi. His father, Ekoji, conquered Tañjāvūr in 1676 from its Madurai overlords and founded the dynasty of Maratha kings. Their court was the scene of scintillating literary production, mostly in Telugu and Sanskrit, in genres continuing the Nāyaka-period productions:yakṣagānas, kuravañcis, dvipada kāvyas, padams, and popular dance-dramas that go by other names. These texts all integrated musical and verbal performance. Śāhāji, who came to the throne at the...

  28. TWENTY-THREE Samukhamu Veṅkaṭakṛṣṇappa Nāyaka Late seventeenth to early eighteenth centuries
    (pp. 279-292)

    This poet, a commander of the king’s army, was a product of the Madurai Nāyaka court during the rule of Vijaya-ranga Cŏkkanātha (1706–1732). His major work is theAhalyā-sankrandanamu, telling of the love between Indra, king of the gods, and Ahalyā, wife of the sage Gautama; this tale of sexual violation is typical of the themes favored by Nāyaka poets.¹ Veṅkaṭakṛṣṇappa Nāyaka also composed a prose work, theJaimini-bhāratamu, a Telugu version of the “counter-Mahābhārata” ascribed to Jaimini (previously represented in Telugu by akāvyawork of Pillalamarri Vīrabhadra-kavi).

    [When Brahmā created Ahalyā, the most beautiful woman in the...

  29. TWENTY-FOUR Muddupaḷani Mid–eighteenth century
    (pp. 293-296)

    In Nāyaka and Maratha Tañjāvūr, women were prominent literati. Raṅgājamma, the courtesan-wife of Vijayarāghava Nāyaka, composed several virtuoso works, which also attest to her knowledge of many languages (this multilingualism was taken for granted in the courtly life of this period). A century later we find the poetess Muddupaḷani, a courtesan at the court of the Maratha king of Tañjāvūr, Pratāpa Singh (1739–63), to whom she dedicated her book,Rādhikā-sāntvanamu. The work must have enjoyed a considerable popularity through the nineteenth century, for a Telugu scholar employed by C. P. Brown, Paidipati Venkata Narusu, wrote a commentary on it....

  30. TWENTY-FIVE Tyāgarāja 1767–1847
    (pp. 297-300)

    Born in 1767 in Tiruvārūr in the Kāveri Delta, in the Tamil heartland, to Rāmabrahmamu and Sītamma, this poet and devotee of Rāma is among the most outstanding names in the history of Carnatic music. (He was an older contemporary of the great composer Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar [1776–1835], who also lived in this small Tamil town.) His great-grandfather emigrated to Tiruvārūr from the Kurnool area in the early seventeenth century; Tyāgarāja’s grandfather, Girirājakavi, was patronized by King Śāhāji of Tañjāvūr. Sītamma, the poet’s mother, is said to have taught her son to sing thepadamsof Jayadeva, Purandaradāsa, and Annamâcārya....

    (pp. 301-304)
  32. INDEX
    (pp. 305-312)
  33. Back Matter
    (pp. 313-313)