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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 poetry.

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 feelings.

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 beleaguered society.

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 tone.


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 feminist perspective.

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 poets.
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 Patanjali 2002).
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 co-existence.
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


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