BRIEF ACCOUNT OF MODERN TELUGU POETRY
Change is the law of life, one thousand year old Telugu
literature is not an exception to the universal norm. The
language that traces its lineage to the Dravidian family and
leans heavily on the mother of languages - Sanskrit – Telugu
transformed itself into a symphony of sweetness of expression
and poetic extravaganza. Though the language was not fully
developed, till the eleventh century, endeavours of writers of
earlier eras can never be ignored.
Andhra Maha Bharatham by Nannnaya heralds an epoch in the
development of Telugu poetry. Patronage of RajaRaja Narendra
enthused Nannayya, undertake translation of Vyasa Mahabharatha
from Sanskrit into Telugu. This was evidently undertaken to
counter the impact of Jainism and Buddhism trying to find
dominance those days. The work itself is symbolic of the attempt
to uplift Vedic literature.
The path laid by Nannaya was faithfully followed by two other
translators Thikkana and Errapragada in rendering justice to the
task undertaken. These three poets are known as Kavithrayam. The
champu style (mixture of prose and poetry) was followed by poets
over the centuries.
The next era glorified Shaivism. Veerashaivism appealed to most
and propelled the gifted poets to project Shaivite tenets. Nanne
Choda, Somana and Mallikarjuna Panditharadhya are notable poets
of this era.
Gona Budha Reddy translated Valmiki Ramayana in Dwipada . Though
he was a ruler, he was influenced profoundly by Somana. His sons
completed Uttara Ramayana.
Thikkana’s narrative technique of expostulation influenced his
admirers profoundly. Marana and Kethana undertook the ardent
task of translating Sanskrit classics into Telugu.
Errapragada who completed the task of translating Mahabharatam
and Harivamsam was fortunate to get Royal patronage under the
Reddy kingdom (1280 to 1315 AD). He was eulogized as Prabhanda
Parameswara for his epic work of the Simha Purana.
Srinatha’s era (1350-1500 AD) marks the brightest patch in the
literary history of Telugus. Srinatha dedicated his works to
rulers of the day who patronized him and benefited immensely.
Bathing in the glory of translating Sriharsha’s Nyshadha with
the title of Sringara Nyashadham he paved the way for Kavya’s
style in Telugu. Earlier to him puranic style ruled the roost.
Srinadha, who anchored Kasikhanda, Bhimakhanda, Haravilasam,
Sivarathri Mahathmyam, Kreedabhiramam and Palnati
Veeracharithara was an epitome of elegant royal patronage and
also the most suffered among talented Telugu poets.
Bammara Pothana undertook the daunting task of translating Vyasa
Bhagavatha. He is also credited with authoring Veerabhadra
Vijayam and Bhogini Dandakam.
Refuting the overtures of the ruler of the day to dedicate his
work to him Pothana steadfastly continued his evocation of
cultural cultivation. Ultimately he emerged triumphant to the
delight of the devout. During this period of royal patronage of
Reddy kings, gifted poets are delighted in employing all the
forms --- epics, puranas, philosophy and Kshethra Mahatyas.
Sri Krishna Devaraya dominated the subsequent era as a colossus
(1500-1600 AD). This era witnessed the prominence and fruition
of Telugu literature in general and poetry in particular.
Kuchimanchi Timmakavi attempted all his works in pure Telugu –
Ramayana, Neela Sundari Parinayam. These are exquisite examples
of pristine Telugu language at its grandeur best.
Subsequent political instability had culminated in the
degradation of literary process and works.
Gurazada Appa Rao (1861-1915), proved that for literature to be
effective and communicative the language of the people was the
unparalleled vehicle. His play Kanyasulkam, was written to
castigate the evils of child marriage and to encourage widow
marriage. Gurazadas' place in poetry is also secure. Telugu
poetry has been following Sanskrit prosody, which is tied up
with akshara ganas based on phonemic length of the speech
sounds. Telugu folk lore is rich in poetry. Here, metres are
based on matra chandas (or beat). There are areas where matra
and gana chandas are akin. Gurazada discovered a particular kind
of matra chandas and called it mutyala saram. He used it
effectively in a number of songs and it is an inexhaustible mine
for experimentation. With the publication of Andhraavali (1913)
by Rayaprolu Subba Rao, singing the glory of Andhra Mata and
Bharata Maata the modern era in Telugu Poetry had dawned in all
its grandeur. Rayaprolu discusses the nature and function of
poetic diction and style, and the place of aesthetic pleasure
and sentiment in literary works. His vocabulary and style are
eminently suited to the introduction of lyricism in Telugu
Abburi Rama Krishna Rao (1896-1979) was a prominent poet of the
romantic school.. The romantic poetry of the three decades
starting from 1910 is called Bhava Kavita. The bhavakavi was
concerned with the feelings of common people and pastoral
themes. He was a votary of beauty and nature. D.V. Krishna
Sastri was a master of song. His lyrics are some of the finest
in Telugu literature.
Yenkipatalu by Nanduri Venkata Subba Rao (1895-1957) created a
storm in literary circles. These songs emerged from the poet's
heart not the head. Nature provides themes for a romantic poet.
In their early poetry Pingali Lakshmikantam (1894-1972) and
Katuri Venkateswara Rao (1895-1962), showed interest in rural
life. Their work Tolakari prepared the ground for the next
generation poets of the romantic school.
Viswanatha Satyanarayana (1895-1976) strode the literary world
like a colossus. There was no branch of literature he did not
enrich. His erudition was exemplary and the diction he brought
into his poetry ranged from regional dialects and the slang of
the people in different trades to learned Sanskrit compound word
formations, which became a cause of irritation for people who
opted for easy, flowing conversational style. His novels are
full of purple patches and poetic description. He also wrote
kavyas based on history. Indeed, he was a versatile writer.
Devulapalli Krishna Sastry ( 1897-1980) was a many splendoured
personality. In the words of Prof. B.V.L. Narayana Rao, "He was
a perceptive writer. One notices in his writings, a gradual
change in diction and style, accepting contemporary Telugu usage
to a change from the neo-1 classical to the modern".
Among those who wrote full length kavyas, Durbhaka Rajasekhara
Saatavadhani (1888-1957), Gadiaram Sesha Sastri (1897-1981),
Madhunapantula Satyanarayana Sastri, Mudikonda Veerabhaadra
Murthy, Tummala Sitarama Murthy, Vanamamai Varadacharya
(1912-1984) are well known. All their kavyas have epic
dimensions and are patriotic in tone. They present the forgotten
values and glory of the country.
G.Jashuva (1893-1971) belonged to the age of romantic poets. He
was an optimist and pure poet. He waged a successful battle
against social injustice meted out to Dalits. He may be called
the morning star of Dalit poetry. His poetry is remarkable for
its mellowed tone, though he expressed his anguish and hurt
By 1930 the romantic movement in Telugu Literature was on the
wane. Young Telugu poets of the fourth decade of that century
were conscious of modern trends, with respect for traditional
art; questioning the values and sentiments; commitment to free
verse and revolted against romanticism. Sistla Uma Maheswara Rao
was the first poet to understand and appreciate the latest
trends in west. His themes were not new, but he tried to
recreate his poetic diction. He experimented with metre.
Tikkavarapu Pattabhi Rami Reddy's poetry depicts, for the first
time, a metropolitan city. His urban poetry delineates the life
of middle and upper middle class people in the cities. His verse
is a caricature of bhava kavita. He discovered a new dimension
with his experiments in versification and rhyme scheme.
Srirangam Narayana Babu, Sri Sri and a few other poets realized
that the time was ripe for change.
"The progressive poets added a new ideological dimension by
highlighting the anguish of the workers and peasants. They
painted a realistic picture of caste oppression and popular
aspiration for real freedom". Between 1927 and 1935 there were
several crises. Economic depression made life of the poor and
the middle class people miserable. The writers of this time were
influenced by leftist ideology.
In February, 1943 the first conference of the Abhyudaya
Rachayitala Sangham (ARASAM) was conducted at Tenali with Tapi
Dharama Rao as President. The Association was committed to all
round social development, and emphasized the need to fight the
forces of imperialism and fascism. The writer would promote the
cause of the working class. Marxist thinking also infiltrated
into the writings of the young poets. Sri Sri produced Maro
Prapancham (The other world) while Maha Prasthanam was the
forerunner of ARASAM poetry. Maha PrasthanaM was the poet's
contribution to contemporary revolutionary writing of VIRASAM (Viplava
Rachayitala Sangham). Sri Sri was also influenced by surrealism.
These poets wrote about the ultimate victory of the
revolutionary forces and the revolt of the downtrodden and also
talked of historical incidents and popular revolutionaries like
Alluri Sita Rama Raju. They spoke of prajasakti (people’s might),
the hammer, the sickle and the red flag. The publication of
Kundurti Anjaneyulu's Yuge Yuge heralded the arrival of a real
progressive poet on the literary scene. He made it a mission of
his life to promote ' free verse' as the medium of modern poet.
He started Free Verse Front in 1958. It was a great success and
most poets today choose the medium. He was a respected poet who
gave direction and encouragement to progressive writing with his
prefaces and essays.
V.Sri Krishna, Gangineni, B.RamaDas , Kaloji Narayana Rao,
Rentala Gopala Krishna and many other poets championed
progressive view point..
By 1955 even the progressive writers movement had stagnated. It
was difficult for any poet, to play the same tune all the time
and make every line Marxist oriented. It was felt that for
portraying the sufferings of people, one need not necessarily be
a leftist, a human touch would suffice.
Even though it is not realized, it is a fact that Tilak's poetry
became an enigma for the progressive group. He protested against
poetry being mortgaged to political propaganda. He was not a
reactionary because of his sympathy for the underdog and his
romantic learning's were too open to be brushed aside. Tilak
gave birth to a new kind of poetry---Anubhuti Poetry, poetry of
feelings and experience.
Then appear on the horizon six angry young men Nagna Muni (M.H.Kesava
Rao), Nikhileswar (Yadava Reddy), Jwala Mukhi (Veera
Raghavacharyulu), Cherabanda Raju (Baddam Bhaskar Reddy),
Bhairavayya (Man Mohan Sahay) and Maha Swapna (Kammisetti
Venkateswara Rao). They called themselves Digambara (naked)
poets. Man is born with all trappings hiding his real self. The
Digambara Poet rejects all traditional literature and with it
religion. Sahitya Academies or Cinema Culture go down the drain.
These poets shocked the society with their harangue.
In their attempt to shock and chastise, the Digambara poets did
not hesitate to resort to distasteful imagery. They deliberately
avoided poetic diction of all kinds, and succeeded in using
unpoetical vocabulary in presenting the rotten life in the most
shocking mode.. However, Digambara poetry stirred the youth to
militancy and in a way led to the formation of Revolutionary
writers association (Viplava Rachaitala Sangham).
The Chetanavarta Poets challenged the Digambara poets. The four
young poets Peravaram Jagannadham,, V.Narasimha Reddy, Kovela
Sampat Kumaracharya and Kovela Suprasamcharya tried to bring
sanity to literary expression and instill confidence in to a
They all chose the free verse, bringing it to the realm of
classical poetry. They attacked Digambara poets on one hand and
the corrupt politicians on the other. The impact of these poets
may not be spectacular, but they did liberate the free verse
from the bondage of political ideology and made it medium for
poetry covering all aspects of life.
Subsequently, there was a general feeling that poetry has
suffered a set back ever since the progressives took the field.
Gunturu Seshendrasarma started the Kavisena movement and
published its manifesto in 1978. It was a protest against poetry
becoming a captive of political slogans. K.V.Raman Reddy who
published Bhuvana Ghosha and Adivi as a progressive writer,
became a scathing critic of ARASAM and a theoretician and
exponent the VIRASAM philosophy. The VIRASAM writers realized
that poetizing revolutionary zeal may not appeal to the the
target audience who are uneducated and unlettered .Song would be
more effective. Gaddar is an exponent of composing alluring
songs extempore. They are not meant to be read, but sung for
propagating revolutionary ideology. His songs have a militant
Anubhuti Poetry is poetry of experience and feeling, a reaction
against progressive and revolutionary poetry. Dhwani or
suggestion has been a tried poetic tool. Modern poet is not
content with earlier endeavours. He starts employing symbols. A
step away from symbol is the dream language, for dreams are
after all steeped in symbols. Spiritual experience too may
enrich Anubhuti Poetry, giving it a mystic turn. Ismail is a
pure Anubhuti Poet. He explores and seeks experience from his
domain---universe. His poems are intended to communicate his
experience to the reader. It is uncharitable to think that the
Anubhuti poet runs away from life. He knows that he has to pawn
his life for small mercies.
Naxalbari movement in Bengal had its ramifications in many parts
of the country, more so in Andhra Pradesh. Inspired by Mao’s
‘Red book’ and its tenets, some poets formed ‘virasam’ or
organization of revolutionary poets. They justified violent
means to secure social justice.
Marxist ideology made way to different movements in Telugu
poetry. Feminist, Dalit and Muslim minority poets have left
indelible mark through their works. By 1980, feminist poetry has
established itself as an ideology and a philosophy. Considered a
dream, a desire, a yearning for change, feminist poetry sounded
the death knell to male chauvinism. Themes, hitherto, considered
taboo have been deliberately chosen and presented from a
A forceful demand was made to understand their problems
earnestly. At no point of time the woman poets craved for
sympathy from men. The volume ‘Niili Meeghaalu published in 1993
challenged male domination through the centuries. “Childhood,
birth, growing up, marriage” and other related issues were
highlighted in their poetry.
Feminist poetry certainly reflects and represents the unending
sad saga of India womanhood. “What women have gone through as
second rate citizens in the past, what they are facing today,
what women should achieve in the future are all dealt with in
the volume “Niili Meeghaalu” (Sila Lolitha 2002).
While there were some misgivings about the themes chosen by
women to ventilate their suppressed feelings and bottled
emotions, there were discerning critics and appreciative readers
who extended whole hearted support to the endeavours of feminist
Revathi Devi, Jaya Prabha, Kondepudi Nirmala, Ghantasala Nirmala,
Volga, P. Rajani, Sila Lolitha are some of the reputed poets
championing the cause of the oppressed women.
The 90’s marked the emergence of Dalit poetry. It was a protest
against the social oppression, a revolt against traditional
stratification and a demand for due recognition of their rights
and aspirations. Dalit poetry sophisticates Dalit philosophy. Earlier
also poets like Jashua and Boyi Bhimanna who themselves were
Dalits created awareness about the pathetic plight of the
downtrodden through their poetry. Understanding and responsive
poets like Karunasri, who was a Brahmin, have expressed their
shock at the ill treatment meted out to the socially oppressed
classes through their poetry. (Karunasri – “Pakipilla” “Aparthied”).
The new Dalit poets were vocal and vociferously demanded
immediate redressal of their grievances. Their tone,
aspirations, techniques employed in fact gave birth to a new
idiom in Telugu poetry. Like Mohamed Ali, the renowned boxer,
they stung like a bee and danced like a butterfly. Relentless
punches flattened faces, busted jaws, blackened eyes, smashed
ears. “Dalit poetry or what passed off as one in the early years
was mostly abusive against the social system which denied their
basic human dignity. The ‘leit motif” was visceral hatred for
the upper caste which was perceived as an oppressor.” (I
The border line which ought to separate Dalit politics from
Dalit poetry was getting hazy and thin. As the virulent sand
storm settled, and the smog cleared, there appeared on the
firmament a few bright (literal and figurative) stars shining
brightly. Yendluri Sudhakar is undoubtedly a bright star in the
company of Sikhamani, Siva Sagar, Satish Chander, Teresh Babu,
Nagesh Babu and others.
Sudhakar’s poems ‘Darky’, ‘Footprints of history’ testify to his
remarkable talent expressed in a different and defiant manner.
His poem “I am the fore word to tomorrow’s history” sumps up
Dalits’ aspirations for a brighter future and social justice. He
is capable of weaving waves of touching poems. Sikhamani’s pen
creates powerful poetry advocating Dalit viewpoint , in addition
to echoing tender sentiments. His recent poems NandiwardhanaM
Nallagatu and Maa Bappa are best examples.
The next phase in Telugu poetry is marked by the evolution of
Muslim minority poetry. Initially backward class Muslim converts
identified themselves with the Dalits. They started reflecting
on their own specific social concerns. They have now established
an identity of their own.
Hurt feelings and an emotional outburst accompanied by hurling
abuses at the supposed adversaries marked earlier phase of
Muslim minority poetry. Subsequently, there emerged a path of
their own, an expression reflecting their concerns and a desire
for recognition as human beings first and foremost and an
uninhibited desire to be accepted as fellow citizens. Yakoob,
Khaza Mohiuddin, Afsar, Mahejabeen, Khasim and others are among
the prominent Muslim minority poets.
Many poets who did not subscribe to any particular ideology had
enriched Telugu poetry in their own unique manner. Tummala
SitaRamaMurthy advocated Gandhian philosophy, T.Rama Swamy
Choudary was a social reformer, G.Rama Murthy wrote inspiring
patriotic songs, and Duvvuri Rami Reddy’s Panasaala is as famous
as his pastoral songs . Vidwan Viswam’s PenneTi PaaTa and
Puttaparthi Narayanacharyulu’s SiwathaanDawaM have enriched
Telugu poetry with their excellent theme and scheme.
A.Bairagi was a philosopher poet with a streak of sadness
permeating his poetry and Dasaradhi wrote exquisite poetry in
addition to penning Rubayat and Ghazals in Telugu. Arudra was a
genius enriching every genre of literature, and is known for his
flair for word play and innovative idiom.
V. Mohan Prasad writes surrealistic, mystic poetry blending
oriental and occidental thoughts, A.Rama Mohan Rao and A. Soma
Sundar are known for their progressive views. All poets are
basically humanists interested in human welfare and peaceful
Padma Bhushan Dr C.Naryana Reddy vivifies this aspect splendidly
through his lyrical, soothing poetry. He received Gnaan Peeth
award for his Viswambhara and continues to write exquisite
poetry enthralling readers of all generations.
By -Dr.T.S.Chandra Mouli