G K Subbarayudu & C Vijayasree. Handbook of Twentieth-Century Literatures of India. Editor: Nalini Natarajan, Greenwood Press, 1996.
Introduction: History and Context
Many modern Indian languages drawing from Sanskrit as well as Dravidian roots establish their literary traditions and history between the eleventh and the fourteenth centuries. Telugu, the language of the Trilinga Desa—at some stage turned synonymous with the Andhra Desa—also establishes its earliest literary credentials in the eleventh century. Nannayya Bhattu’s Telugu translation of a portion of the Sanskrit Mahabharatha is the earliest available work. The development of Telugu literature between the twelfth and the sixteenth centuries describes two distinct phases: (1) the age of the puranas, during which several puranic stories were rendered into Telugu. These works conformed to the traditional stylistic modes, and their prime objective was propagation of the vedic dharma (faith); (2) the age of the prabandhas wherein the literary subjects were still drawn from the puranas, but an elaborately ornate style replaced the classical simplicity. Telugu literature describes a sharp decline in the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries with mediocre limitations of prabandhas ruling the day. The revival came in the nineteenth century through the efforts of Charles Philip Brown, the Orientalist lexicographer, who brought many Telugu classics into edition and print and gave Telugu its first authoritative dictionary as well. Besides, the contribution of Vavilla Ramaswami Sastrulu, printer and publisher of easily 1,000 titles, is worth recording.
Turn of the Century: The Rise of Modernism
The rise of a modern sensibility around the turn of the century had a profound impact on the growth of Telugu literature in the twentieth century. The two factors that influenced this development were the colonial history and consequent exposure to the West, and a growing spirit of nationalism. Modernism in the context of Telugu literature may be further identified with four interrelated trends: (1) a review of the existing sociocultural institutions and practices, resulting in a movement away from orthodoxy toward a liberal system of thought and living; (2) a reform of language, that is, a shift from the classical to the vyavaharik (colloquial); (3) a quest for freer and more malleable forms of literary expression; and (4) the growing significance of prose forms, including essay and journalism, as direct means of dissemination of ideas and ideologies.
Kandukuri: The Pioneer
Kandukuri Veeresalingam is the central personality in this period of literary activity and is generally acknowledged the founder of modern Telugu literature. Though Kandukuri was a traditional scholar brought up in the orthodox tradition, he was a rationalist and revolutionary by temperament. He responded to the social and religious issues of the time with an uncommonly critical rigor. He was inspired by the social reform movement launched by Raja Ram Mohan Roy in Bengal and soon enrolled himself as a member of the Brahmo Samaj. He started a journal, Vivekavardhani, which became a forum for active deliberations on the social issues of the time, which included the evils of the caste system, the practice of sati, the dowry system, the need for women’s education, and the desirability of widow remarriage. Telugu prose acquired a new force and vigor in Kandukuri’s writings and became adequately equipped for the tasks of a new era. Kandukuri launched a movement for a revival of Telugu literature. He condemned the degeneration of poetic form into a banal, rule-minded exercise in his long poem, Saraswati Narada Samvadam (1887). A great scholar of world literature, he introduced several new forms in Telugu literature: essay, biography, autobiography, and novel, and thus he heralded a new era in Telugu literature.
Modernization of Telugu Language
The modernization of the Telugu language started by Kandukuri developed into a movement for linguistic reform under the stewardship of Gurajada Appa Rao and Gidugu Ramamurthy Panthulu. Stressing the need for adapting the Telugu language to the changing ethos, they urged the extensive use of vyava-harik (colloquial) idiom in place of the grandhik (classical) style. They advocated the adoption of the colloquial Telugu as the chief mode of spreading literacy and, with that, the possibility of enlightenment. The twin objectives of the language reform movement, therefore, were to make language accessible to the common person and turn literature into a reflection of quotidian reality. This, of course, meant that the colloquial idiom was not only to replace the classical in literature but also to be introduced in educational institutions. Gurajada believed that colloquial language work would reach the common people and shake them out of their complacent acceptance of the givens with which they had lived for very long.
Against this background of the modernization of language, the spread of English education, and the increasing publication and popularity of periodicals, modern poetry in Telugu emerged as a genre distinct from the traditional poetic style. Salient features of this new poetry are emergence of short poetic texts (khanda kavyas), subjectivity, originality in the choice of poetic subject, stylistic and technical experimentation, and the use of common idioms. This modern Telugu poetry, since its beginnings around 1900, manifested itself in three chief forms— bhava kavitvam (lyrical poetry), abhyudaya kavitvam (progressive poetry), and new experimental poetry, including viplava kavitvam (revolutionary poetry). However, it is interesting to note that traditional verse forms exhibit a surprising resilience and survive alongside the new forms.
The Early Phase
The grand entry of modern poetry in Telugu may be said to have been heralded by the publication of Mutyala Saralu (1910) by Gurajada Appa Rao and Lalitha (1909) by Rayaprolu Subba Rao. Together, they form the vital force behind the modernist movement. Mutyala Saralu presents a new poetic vision and ushers in an era of lyrical poetry in Telugu. Traditional meter is replaced by a new lyrical and four-beat balladic rhythm that is close to folk meter and has resonances from the ghazal. Though initially Gurajada wrote in traditional style, his exposure to English romantic and Victorian poets and an awareness of the general social transformation then under way in India brought about a change in his view of literature. This change is reflected in his narrative poems such as Lavanaraju Kala (1911), Kanyaka (1912), and Purnima (1912), all of which were written in the new four-line stanzaic form. Such poems could be distinguished from traditional poetry not only through the distinct metrical form but also through features such as (1) an emphasis on the experience of common folks; (2) language approximating common idiom; and (3) the use of poetic imagination to highlight the novel in the commonplace. Gurajada’s philosophy of poetry, along with Rayaprolu’s new ideas, provides the basis for a new wave of poetry, bhava kavitvam.
Rayaprolu Subba Rao dominated the Telugu literary scene for nearly five decades. He created memorable works in a variety of poetic forms: lyric, love poetry, pastoral verse, and patriotic songs. The two dominant influences on Rayaprolu’s work can be traced to his acquaintance with British poetry of the nineteenth century and to his exposure to the literary movements of Bengal. In fact, he spent some time at Shantiniketan with Tagore around 1915. A romantic in vision, he dealt with the theme of love with rare sensitivity and sophistication in Trinakankanam (1912), Snehalatha (1914), and Swapna Kumaram (reprint, 1969). His philosophy of love, which highlighted the essential beauty of the emotion in its various forms—friendship, affection, tenderness, love—is popularly known as amalina sringara, a love that is abstract and spiritual, being centered on vipralambha, that is, the nonpossibility of physical union, leading to an eternal love (somewhat like Keats’ bold lover in “Ode on Grecian Urn”). The chief expression of his credo comes through Ramyalokam and Madhuri Darsanam (1956, 6th ed.), both of which must be regarded as his aesthetic philosophical statements.
The term bhava kavitvam was first used to describe the distinctive poetic compositions of Rayaprolu in 1920. It is generally agreed that this movement was chiefly inspired by the English lyric. Bhava kavitvam manifested itself in different forms in different poets. A love of freedom in choice of subject and mode of expression is the wellspring of bhava kavitvam. However, it is not so much a difference of metrical and prosodic features that distinguishes this poetry from classical Telugu poetry; rather, the emphasis on bhava (emotion) marks it apart from the rasa-pradhana (sentimental) poetry of the classical mold. Some striking features of this poetry are interiorization of experience; greater focus on spiritual beauty than on the merely physical; worship of the metaphysical rather than material nature; celebration of prapatti, or total surrender to the Divine. Bhava kavitvam takes different forms, such as love poetry, patriotic verse, poetry of social reform, nature poetry, and bhakti, or devotional poetry. Running through all these manifestations is the thread of musicality, the feature that enabled these lyrics to be sung. This seems a major reason for the popularity of the movement.
The theme of love received a novel treatment in the hands of bhavakavis (sentimental poets). It is not the fulfillment of love, but the eternal waiting of lovers, that is celebrated in these poems. Abburi Ramakrishna Rao’s Mallikamba (1915) and Duvvuri Rami Reddy’s Kadapati Veedkolu (1924) exemplify this trend. Poets often describe an imaginary beloved and elevate her above and beyond the familiar, circumscribing, familial roles—woman as the symbol of viswaprema (universal love), as friend, philosopher, and as impalpable yet alluring divinity. Devulapalli Krishna Sastry’s Urvasi (1926-29), Adivi Bapriraju’s Sasikala (1939), and Tallavajjula Sivasankara Swamy’s Hridayeswari (1926) belong in this category. Some poets celebrate marital love and treat the man-woman relationship as the objective correlative of atma-paramatma (lower self and higher self) union. Viswanatha Satyanarayana’s Girikumaruni Prema Geethaalu (1953) is a striking instance of this kind.
As bhava kavitvam developed against the backdrop of the Indian nationalist movement, patriotic verse and poetry of social reform emerged as an important branch of this poetry. Songs of anti-imperial protest urging freedom, written in vers libre, gained immense popularity in the 1930s and 1940s. Chilakamarti Lakshmi Narasimhan’s Bharatha Khandam, Duvvooris’s Naivedyam (1921), and Grimella Satyanarayana’s Ma koddee thella dorathanam are some of the most powerful patriotic verses of this school. Biographical verses written on the lives of heroes from the past and contemporary life form a part of this kind of poetry. Gadiyaram Venkata Sesha Sastri’s Sivabharatham (1953, 3d ed.) on the life of Shivaji and Jandhyala Papayya Sastry’s many short lyrics on the life of the Buddha are good examples of this form. Gandhiji was the subject of countless Telugu poems written during this period; Devulapalli’s Gandhiyugam, Tummala Sitarama Murthy’s Bapuji Atmakatha (1951), and Basavaraju Appa Rao’s lyrics on Gandhi merit special mention. Bhava kavitvam urged social change and reform. Gurram Jashuva’s Gabbilam (1941) is a powerful critique of caste/ class structure in Indian society; Tripuraneni Ramaswamy Chaudhuri’s Suthapuranam (1954) makes a strong plea for the abolition of caste distinctions; Katuri Venkateswara Rao’s Gudigantalu demands that temple doors be thrown open to untouchables. Poetry thus became a social act.
Nature poetry evoking and celebrating the landscape of the Telugu land constitutes yet another important strand of bhava kavitvam. Devulapalli seeks total identification with nature in his Krishna Paksham (1925); Jandhyala empathizes with floral maidens in Pushpa Vilapam; Abburi shows how nature spurs love in Oohaganam (1918). Viswanatha’s Kinnerasani Patalu (1924) and Nanduri Subba Rao’s Yenki Paatalu (1925) are examples of the beautiful pastorals and moving rural romance that bhava kavitvam created. Poets composed lyrics to folk tunes that were popular among different regions of Andhra. Duvvuri captured the rhythms of farmers’ lives in Krisivaludu (1919). Nandoori’s Yenki and Naidu bava have become living legends in Telugu literature.
Finally, bhakti kavitvam, or devotional poetry, forms an important tributary in the streams of bhava kavitvam. Poetry became an act of self-surrender, and the poets submitted themselves totally to the will of God. Puttaparthi Narayanacharyulu’s Sivathandavam (1940) is a powerful poetic tribute to Lord Shiva; Devulapalli pays homage to a universal God in Mahathi; Jandhyala invokes the myth of Radha-Krishna to express his devotion to Krishna; Basavaraju’s Gopika Geethalu (1921), too, invokes Lord Krishna through dedication and devotion. These form a part of the philosophy of Krishna tatvam, in which the devotee takes the place of Radha the beloved and views God as Krishna, the “universal lover.”
Abhyudaya Kavitvam (Progressive Poetry)
Bhava kavitvam, which reigned supreme on the Telugu literary scene for three decades, started playing itself out by the 1940s, though its influence continued well into the second half of the twentieth century. It declined into a blind imitation of Rayaprolu and Devulapalli; subjectivity now was shrouding social purpose; and a countermovement to bhava kavitvam began. Poets such as Sistla Umamaheswara Rao, Srirangam Srinivasa Rao (Sri Sri), Pattabhirami Reddy, and Srirangam Narayanababu, who started in the vein of bhava kavitvam, turned away from that form. Their quest for novelty, exposure to Western literature, and the sociopolitical climate of their times influenced their poetry profoundly. The result was the rise of a new wave of poetry— abhyudaya kavitvam, or progressive poetry.
The first Andhra Progressive Poets (Abhyudaya Rachayitala Sangham [ARASAM]) conference, held in Tenali in 1943, was presided over by Tapi Dharma Rao. The 1943 conference, however, must be seen as only the first organized effort of ARASAM. By 1933, progressive writings were being published in Telugu. Such developments were, of course, the result of exposure to socialistcommunist literature and ideology. The years 1928-29 witnessed the underground distribution of socialist-communist ideological texts in Madras and Andhra districts. Bhagat Singh, who, through 1929-31, had evolved into a leading Marxist revolutionary, was executed in 1931; his martyrdom had a profound influence on the thinking of young men who later became important figures in the progressive poetry movement. In 1933, S. Muddukrishna started publishing Jwaala, a periodical journal, as a forum for progressive writers and thinkers to express their ideas of socialism and equality. The year 1934 saw the formation of the Congress-Socialist Party and the Communist Party of India. Working-class ideologies were becoming popular among the intelligentsia, and the universities and colleges in the composite Madras state (including the districts of Andhra) often became the centers of new, revolutionary thought.
Some of the recurrent themes of this poetry are class conflict, legends of heroes of the past, realization of a socialist state. Abhyudaya poetry incites the weak and the lowly to shake off their complacency and resignation and fight for their rights. Progressivism spread the message of freedom and equality and an aversion to wars, which always result in large-scale massacre. Its dream is a classless society based on the principles of liberty and equality. The most important aspect of the abhyudaya movement was the emergence of Sri Sri as a powerful voice. Sri Sri, who may be seen as Gurajada’s intellectual heir, had moved away from bhava kavitvam and made his poetry a tool of progressivism. He struck his first note of revolution in a poetic fragment, Supsthasthikalu, in 1929. After that, he made revolution the major thrust of his work and declared his ideological commitment to socialism in Jayabheri (1933). His Mahaprasthanam (a long poem, 1934) is a landmark work in the development of abhyudaya kavitvam and encodes the manifesto of progressive writers. Sri Sri pledged himself to the task of working-class welfare and the uplift of laborers in Pratigna (1937). A socialist utopia beckoned him and the others who followed in his wake; Sri Sri became the ideological role model for many Telugu poets.
Pattabhirami Reddy demonstrated his dissent through Fidelu Ragaala Dozen (1939). He carried his dispute with tradition so far as to assert the dismantling of traditional meters and the grammar of Chinnaya Suri. Sistla proclaimed his revolt against bhava kavitvam through Navami Chiluka (1938), which, he hoped, would pave the way for a new, people’s poetry. Narayanababu opposed the idealism of bhava kavitvam and made a strong case for realistic and naturalistic modes of presentation. Abhyudaya kavitvam soon became a powerful movement and attracted a large number of poet practitioners. Chief among these were Puripanda Appalaswamy and “Papa,” whose lyrics anticipate the experimental poetry of a later period.
The publication of Niagara (1944), an anthology of progressive verse, gave voice to many abhyudaya poets, including Kundurthi Anjaneyulu, Bellamkonda Ramadasu, and Yechuri Subramanyam. Others who drew influence from Sri Sri and the movement published their progressive verses. Dasarathi’s Agnidhara (1949) and Rudraveena (1950), Somasundar’s Vajrayudham (1949), Arudra’s Tvamevaham (1949), Anisetti’s Agniveena (1949), and Gangineni’s Udayini (1950) are some notable examples of this phase.
One important strand of abhyudaya kavitvam concerns itself with the liberation of Telangana. Even after independence of India, Hyderabad remained under the feudalistic rule of the Nizams, through Paigahs, Zamindars, Jagirdars, and Inamdars. Poets of this region urged the freedom of Telangana from this oppressive regime. This movement was supported by the Communist Party. Dasarathi is the most important figure in this movement. Among other poets who spearheaded the Telangana movement through their stirring poetry, Kundurthi Anjaneyulu and Kaloji Narayana Rao are prominent.
Strands of Tradition
Even as the winds of bhava kavitvam and abhyudaya kavitvam were blowing across the Telugu land, traditional poetry continued to be in vogue, and good poetry written in classical style did not altogether lose its place or significance. One of the major literary figures who belonged to the traditionalist school was Jnanpith Award-winning Viswanatha Sathyanarayana. Though he handled both the traditional and modern forms with equal ease and felicity, he wrote his magnum opus, Srimad Ramayana Kalpa Vruksham (1962), a major text of our times, in traditional meter and style. Among the other traditionalists, Madhunapanthula Satyanarayana Sastri is well known for his Andhrapuranam (1954), history of Andhra written in verse. Vajjala Kalidasu’s Andhra Mahavishnuvu (1928) is a historical poem written in dvipada, or couplet form. Vaddadi Subbrayudu’s Bhakta Chintamani (1893) is a devotional work of 100 poems, satakam. Tirupati Venkata Kavulu wrote Buddha Charitra (1902), the life history of Buddha in verse. Other writers, such as Puttaparthi Narayanacharyulu, Sripada Krishnamurthy Sastry, Janamanchi Seshadri Sarma, and Vavilakolanu Subba Rao, continued to use the traditional poetic forms with remarkable felicity.
New Experimental Poetry
Although the progressive movement lost some of its momentum by 1955, it may be said to continue as long as there are social problems and poets who raise their banners of revolt. There was some disenchantment with the progressive movement, mainly because of a general disappointment with communism. While Dasarathi and Somasundar abandoned the progressive movement more or less completely, Sri Sri and Arudra remained steadfast in their adherence to the movement. In 1965, C. Vijayalakshmi wrote Vishadabharatham, which may be identified as the last important work of the progressive movement. A number of new trends developed in the post-1955 period, primarily due to the influence of European avant-garde writing.
Prose poetry, or vachana kavitvam, became significant, mainly because of the efforts of Kundurthi Anjaneyulu, who became its leading exponent. Vachana kavitvam thematizes the problems of common people in colloquial idiom. Here, rhythm that carries the reader through to the end of the poem on the wave of cadence is more important than metrical uniformity. Tilak, Narayana Reddy, Aluri Bairagi, Varavara Rao, and Guntur Seshendra Sarma wrote poetry of this kind.
In 1965, one midnight in the month of May, a group of angry young men came out with a collection of poems and got it released by a rickshaw puller. These young men, who called themselves digambara kavulu (naked poets), assumed symbolic names: Nagna Muni (Naked Saint), Jwala Mukhi (Volcano), Mahaswapna (Great Vision), Nikhileshwar (the Omnipotent) Bhairvavayya (the Hound), and Cherabanda Raju (Raju, Turned to Stone in Prison). Digambara poets set out to startle society with naked truth. They were deeply agitated by the mechanical existence of humans and felt that such drab routine reduced human beings to an animal level. Their anguish turned to anger, and much of their work, written in the white heat of fury, displayed more aggression than poetry.
The year 1970 saw the founding of the Revolutionary Writers’ Association (Viplava Rachayitala Sangham [VIRASAM]). Sri Sri became the president of this association of poets, who believed in Marxism and armed struggle against the establishment. VIRASAM used poetry and literature as a tool to propagate this ideology and further the struggle. Some digambara poets also joined this movement. In yet another development, an organized group, Kavisena, came into existence in 1977. Led by Guntur Seshendra Sarma, Kavisena opposes sloganism and aggressiveness and evinces faith in organized leadership. Intellectuals, the group believed, should provide proper direction to the masses through their creative work.
A Class Apart
It is difficult to label some of the contemporary writers as romantics or revolutionaries, as they do not write poetry strictly of one kind or another. They may generally be called neoclassicists. Of these, C. Narayana Reddy is the most outstanding. He tried his hand successfully at different forms of verse—romantic, revolutionary, traditional. His masterpiece Viswambhara (1980), dealing with the theme of universal brotherhood, is one of the most powerful works of our times. Reddy, who won the Jnanpith Award for his meritorious work, may well be described as the representative poet of contemporary Telugu literature. Thus, Telugu poetry in the twentieth century is rich and varied, with tradition and innovation jostling with each other in their search for appropriate form of expression.
Of all literary forms, drama is considered the most impressive and powerful by ancient Indian aestheticians. Strangely, it is the least developed and most neglected form in Telugu. Many indigenous (desi) dramatic modes such as yakshaganam, veedhi natakalu, and bhagavaàtha melalu were in vogue in Andhra, but these did not develop into sustained theatrical movements. Till about the 1860s, there is no history of dramatic writing in Telugu. Korada Ramachandra Sastry’s Manjari Madhukareeyam (1860) is the first original drama to be written in Telugu, but most of the early plays that appeared in Telugu were translations either from Sanskrit or from English.
Translations from Sanskrit began with Kokkonda Venkataratnam’s Narakasura Vijaya Vyayogamu (1872), followed by translations of work of several renowned Sanskrit dramatists, such as Kalidasa, Bhasa, Bhavabhuti, Sudraka, and Harsha. Alongside appeared Telugu translations of English plays as well. In 1890, Kandukuri translated Comedy of Errors under the title Chamatkara Ratnavali, and it was staged by his students. Among the other Western playwrights to be rendered into Telugu were Goldsmith, Sheridan, Moliàre, and Gibbon. The influence of these translations on Telugu drama was rather limited, but the newly formed English Dramatic Associations aroused keen interest in play performance among Telugus. Besides, Parsi and Dharwar drama troupes touring Andhra around 1880 staged plays in Hindi that were enthusiastically received. This also gave a boost to dramatic writing in Telugu. Some of the important Telugu dramatic associations to be founded around the turn of the century were Sarasavinodini Sabha, Sumanorama Sabha, Surabhi Company, and Hindu Nataka Samajam. These contributed immensely to the emergence of Telugu drama into a distinct genre and the popularization of performance in Andhra.
The Early Phase
The early phase in Telugu drama is marked by an adaptation of mythological plots for theatrical performance. Sri Rama’s exemplary life, Sri Krishna’s pranks, and Kaurava-Pandava strife were among the popular themes. The most important writer of this phase was Dharmavaram Krishnamacharyulu, the founder of Sarasavinodini Sabha. He wrote over 30 plays and actively participated in the performance of these plays. He blended the conventions of Sanskrit classical drama with those of the Western theater and produced several stageable plays. Chitranaleeyam (1894), the story of Nala and Damayanti, was his most successful work. His Sarangadhara (1897), with its tragic closure, breaks the conventions of ancient Indian aesthetics and marks a revolutionary change in Telugu drama. In 1897, Vedam Venkataraya Sastry brought yet another innovation in his play Pratapa Rudreeyam by introducing character-specific speech for the first time. Prominent among the other writers of this period are Kolach-alam Srinivasa Rao and Vaddadi Subbarayudu.
Kanyasulkam and the Secularization of Drama
Telugu drama entered a new phase with the staging of Gurajada Appa Rao’s Kanyasulkam, the first social play in 1892. The play had several successful performances in the state before it was published in 1897. Gurajada’s work can be placed in the tradition of prahasanam, one of the 10 dramatic modes used in Sanskrit literature. Prahasanam is a satirical play that exposes social foibles and absurdities in a humorous vein. Kandukuri used this form to attack the social evils of his time and arouse apathetic masses. Drawing from these sources, Gurajada wrote the first full-length social play dealing with one of the most urgent issues of his time—bride price, the practice of selling minor girls to old men. Gurajada’s play becomes a landmark in the evolution of twentieth-century drama in several ways: the theme is secular and not mythological, characters are fully developed and lifelike, and the language used is the simple, everyday idiom. Above all, the gentle and sophisticated humor Gurajada brought to dramatic dialogue and situation made it an unprecedented success both on stage and in print. The trend started by Gurajada, however, found no immediate followers, and the Telugu social play as a subgenre took long to emerge. Kallakuri Narayana Rao revived the social play almost two decades later in his Varavikrayam (1921) and Madhuseva (1926).
Verse dramas continued to dominate the scene in the first two decades of the twentieth century, and mythological plays retained their prime position. Chilakamarthi Lakshmi Narasimham’s Gayopakhyanam (1909) and Panuganti Lakshmi Narasimha Rao’s Paduka Pattabhishekam (1909) were among the most popular plays of the period and had several successful performances all over the state. The stories of the Mahabharatha have a very special attraction for Indian people. The stories of their culture-heroes—Krishna, Harischandra, and Pandava kings—rendered into the dramatic mode with the added interest of popular poems from the epics set to impressive musical scores never ceased to interest the Telugu public. Some of the most popular mythological plays based on the Mahabharatha tales include Pandavodyoga Vijayam (1911) by Tirupathi Venkata Kavulu, Satya Harischandreeyam (1922) by Balijepalli Lakshmikantham, and Sri Krishna Tulabharam (1922) by Mutharaju Subba Rao.
Another form of verse drama that developed into an important trend during 1900-20 is the historical drama. These plays offered an imaginative rendering of certain important historical incidents in the dramatic mode. Sripada Krishnamurthy’s Bobbili Yudhdham (1908), Kolachalam Srinivasa Rao’s Rama Raju (1920), and Duvvuri Rami Reddy’s Kumbha Rana (1921) exemplify this trend. Kopparapu Subbarao’s Roshanara (1921), a very successful yet controversial play, triggered a sectarian stir and was banned. Around this time, a number of historical plays apparently dealing with centuries of Islamic rule were actually camouflaging resentment against the British rule. The British government soon discovered the political motives behind these plays and ordered the closure of theaters. The era of historical plays, which began around 1910, thus came to a halt by 1925.
The Independence Movement and Revolutionary Drama
The historical drama of the earlier period began to acquire echoes of political innuendo, and political drama emerged as an important trend in the 1920s and 1930s. Some of the earliest plays to contain political messages in poetic dialogue were Kallakuri Narayana Rao’s Padmavyuham (1919) and Damaraju Pundari-kakshudu’s Gandhiji Vijayam (1921). The writers often used historical or mythological frameworks to allegorize contemporary reality. Damaraju’s Panchala Parabhavam (1922), Somaraju Ramanuja Rao’s Tilak Rayabaram (1921), and Budhdhavarapu Pattabhiramayya’s Matrudasya Vimochanam (1924) exemplify this trend. Under the impact of the widespread anticolonial movement and the upsurge of a nationalist spirit, the writers felt the need for re-creating a national history and sculpting a national identity. This accounts for a fresh renewal of interest in historical themes, which provided the suitable terrain for dramatizing patriotic fervor and nationalist emotions. Sripada Kameswara Rao’s Kalapahad (1913), Muttaraju Subba Rao’s Chandragupta (1932), Viswanatha Satyanarayana’s Venaraju (1934), and Gundimeda Venkata Subba Rao’s Khilji Rajya Patanam (1935) form a part of this development. There was a rereading of the history of Andhra as well, as seen in Grandhi Venkata Subbaraya Gupta’s Andhramatha (1913) and Kavuluri Hanumantha Rao’s Andhra Patakam (1939).
The next set of political plays came around the time of the Quit India movement (1942), with which the Indian independence movement entered its final and most forceful phase. The years 1943-46 witnessed the publication of a large number of plays revolving round the theme of political liberation: Vedantakavi’s Telugu Talli (1940), Utukuru Satyanarayana Rao’s Sapa Vimochanam (1943), Jasti Venkata Narasayya’s Congress Vijayam (1946), and Pattigodupu Raghava Raju’s Delhi Kota (1946) dramatize the political struggle for freedom and celebrate the liberation of the Indian people. The purpose of these plays was to spread the message of liberation to common folk and consolidate the nationalist movement.
The progressive movement in the 1940s provided further impetus for the political drama. The Praja Natya Mandali (people’s theater movement) provided the forum for the performance of revolutionary plays. Sunkara Satyanarayana and V. Bhaskara Rao jointly brought out two plays: Mundadugu (1945) and Ma Bhoomi (1947), dealing with the atrocities of zamindars and the autocratic rule of the Nizam of Hyderabad, respectively. This movement adopted folk forms such as burrakatha (storytelling) to reach out to the masses with their political messages. The establishment banned the performance of these plays; besides, the propagandist slant of these works lost the movement its audiences.
The Emergence of Modern Drama
Gurajada’s Kanyasulkam, as seen earlier, marked a departure from the traditional dramatic forms and the beginning of a new era. However, the traditional forms continued to dominate the scene, and modern drama as an established form took long to emerge. Modernism in the context of Telugu drama implies secularization of dramatic subjects, contemporization of dialogue, and formal/ technical experimentation. Here again, the impact of Western literature is an important factor. The novelty of Ibsen’s work impressed the Telugu playwrights so much that there were serious attempts to revolutionize playwriting and play production along the lines of Ibsenian drama. Writers tried to replace the conventional lies of the stage with some necessary though bitter truths of life and bring the plays close to actual life. P. V. Rajamannar’s Tappevaridi (1929), written under the influence of Ibsen, is considered the first modern play in Telugu. This play dramatizes the liberation of a much-harassed woman from the shackles of an unhappy marriage. It called age-old traditions into question and underscored the need for a reevaluation of traditional sociocultural institutions. P. V. Rangaram’s Dampathulu (1931) and Ballari Raghava’s Saripadani San-gathulu (1938) both belong to the same trend and center round marital and familial problems. The stage became a forum for an intellectual debate of social problems in this phase. As a part of this theatrical revolt, a new brand of mythological plays emerged around the same time. Muddu Krishna’s Asokamu (1934), Chalam’s Harischandra (1937), and Amancharla Gopala Rao’s Hiranya Kasipudu (1937) attempt revisionist reinterpretations of mythological stories. However, these plays could not be staged for a long time, because people considered it a sacrilege to meddle with the sacred texts.
The revival of Andhra Nataka Kala Parishad in 1941 was an important attempt to sustain the theater movement. The Parishad conducted regular competitions and made awards to talented playwrights. Acharya Atreya, Muddu Krishna, and D. V. Narasaraju established their credentials through these competitions. In the 1940s and 1950s, the thematic range of plays widened significantly, and a realistic drama addressing contemporary social issues such as caste system, class structure, and gender discrimination emerged as the dominant trend of this period. Acharya Atreya’s NGO (1949) dramatized the problems of a meagerly paid clerk, and its success on the stage proved that the ordinary and the commonplace could be turned into powerful drama. Kopparapu Subba Rao’s Inapa Teralu (1950), Kodali Gopala Rao’s Peda Raithu (1952), and Pinisetti Srirama Murthy’s Kulam Leni Pillalu (1951) are all written in the same vein. Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastry’s Tiraskriti (1957) and Bellamkonda Ramadasu’s Panjaram (1956) deal with the emancipation of women and address specific women’s issues. Buchibabu’s Atmavanchana (1951) and Bhamidipati Radhakrishna’s Keertiseshulu (1960) focus on the paradoxes of the human condition and dramatize psychological conflicts and complexes. Telugu drama thus tapped a variety of thematic tropes and widened the horizons of its concern by the end of the 1960s, after which it described a steady decline. The growing popularity of television and film practically rang the death knell of Telugu drama.
The Contemporary Scene
Despite sporadic efforts to revive and sustain Telugu theater, drama in Telugu has not been able to secure a significant place either in Telugu literature or in the tradition of performance. Andhra University established an open-air theater and later started a Department of Theatre Arts. So did the Osmania University subsequently. The efforts of the university departments and the state-financed institutions have barely managed to keep the tradition alive, but a total lack of popular patronage blocks the revival of drama in Andhra. What revival there is in recent Telugu drama comes mainly from Western enthusiasts but has not met with much success. Very few good plays appeared in the last 25 years: R. S. Ramaswami’s Galivana (1968), N. R. Nandi’s Maro Mohenzadaro (1969), Rentala Gopala Krishna’s Rajani (1972), Arudra’s Radari Banglow, and Gollapudi Maruthi Rao’s Kallu merit special mention. These plays show the influence of the Western avant-garde movement and ably adapt the new dramatic techniques to Indian themes.
Telugu drama is more than a century old now. There have been several significant changes in the themes and forms of drama in these 100 years, but the essential structure of the play has not altered. Mythological subjects were replaced by social and secular themes; verse yielded place to prose, which, in the course of time, turned into colloquial idiom; the long play with elaborate scenes and several characters gradually became condensed into short and often one-act plays; new modes of presentations, including realist, symbolic, and expressionist techniques, were attempted, but no new forms with indigenous roots have yet emerged.
A variety of narrative forms and storytelling habits existed in the oral tradition of Indian literatures. Katha, gatha, akhyayika, and nitikatha are terms and forms related to narration one comes across in Sanskrit as well as regional literatures of India. So katha, or storytelling vital to the novel form, was nothing new to the Indian aesthetic experience. But the novel as an original story written in prose largely to be read by and for oneself is a concept that grew out of a complex network of sociocultural factors: spread of literacy, popularity of the print medium, English education, rise of the middle class, emergence of newspapers and magazines in regional languages, increase in the size of the reading public, and the influence of the English novel.
The first novel in Telugu, Sri Rangaraju Charitra, was written by Narahari Gopalakrishnama Setty in 1872. When Kandukuri Veeresalingam published Rajasekhara Charitram in 1878, he was obviously not aware of the earlier work and hence claimed that his was the first attempt at “novel” writing. Kandukuri did not use the word “novel” but chose to call his work vachana prabandham. His purpose in writing this work was to fight superstition and obscurantism in contemporary society. The Telugu equivalent for novel, navala, was first used in a review of Kandukuri’s work and declared the arrival of a new genre in Telugu. Chintamani, a literary magazine in Telugu, conducted annual competitions and gave awards to talented novelists. This provided the impetus for the growth of this new literary form. Some of the nineteenth-century novels that received the Chintamani Award were Chilakamarthi Lakshmi Narasimham’s Ramachandra Vijayam (1894), Hemalatha (1896), Saundaryatilaka (1899); Tallapragada Suryanarayana’s Sanjeevaraya Charitra (1893); and Khandavalli Ramachandrudu’s Malathi Raghavam (1895).
The Early Phase
A number of publishing houses that came into existence in the early twentieth century lent tremendous support to the growth of the novel. Saraswathi Granthamala (1898), Vignanachandrika Granthamala (1903), Andhra Pracharini Granthamala (1911), and Veguchukka Granthamala (1911) were, to a large extent, responsible for the consolidation of narrative tradition in Telugu. The spread of English education brought Telugu youth into contact with nineteenth-century novelists like Scott and Goldsmith. More important, the novel in Bengal had already grown into a powerful literary form and began playing a vital role in the cultural revival, and this had a definite impact on the developments of the Telugu novel in its formative phase.
One of the most important developments of this phase is a sudden spurt of translations of Bengali novels. Venkata Parvateesa Kavulu rendered several of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s novels into easy and readable Telugu. These include Rajasimham (1912) and Krishnakanthuni Marana Sasanam (1914). Chaganti Seshaiah’s Durgesa Nandini (1911) and Navab Nandini (1915), too, were received with great enthusiasm by Telugu readers. Among the other Bengali novelists to be translated into Telugu were Sarat Chandra Chatterjee and Rabindranath Tagore. These translations not only aroused a keen interest in novel reading but also provided inspiration and a sense of direction to Telugu novels.
In this phase, the Telugu novel widened the scope of its thematic interests but made little progress in terms of technical sophistication. A number of social and historical novels were written during this phase. The social novels of this period, such as Matru Mandiram (1920) by Venkata Parvateesa Kavulu and Chilakamarti’s Ganapathi (1920), focus on the customs and cultural conflicts of Telugu Brahmin families during the transitional period. Although the writers urge social reform, they do not look to the experience of the socially deprived for their fictional subjects. The historical novels by far outnumber the social novels during this phase. The cultural revival of the early twentieth century, the nascent spirit of nationalism, and love of freedom filled the writers with a patriotic fervor. Narrating history may be viewed as a part of the retrieval of the past and a revival of lost glory. Chilakamarthi’s Vishnuvardhanudu (1927), Ketavarapu Venkata Sastry’s Rayachuru Yudhdham (1914), and Bhogaraju Narayana Murthy’s Vimala (1910) are some notable examples of this trend. Even in historical novels, the writers rarely let go an opportunity to urge change and social reform.
Changes, Challenges, and Narration
The period between 1920 and 1950 was marked by hectic political activity, rapid social change, and intense cultural conflict. The Telugu novel, coping with these changes and challenges, came of age during this period. This phase produced major novelists and their masterpieces. Colonial rule, consequent cultural conflicts, and anticolonial movement form the sociopolitical context of these texts; but the narrative discourses that developed are so diverse that they cannot be grouped into a general category like “anticolonial novel” or “national allegories,” to use a more recent critical label. Two important trends, however, may be identified: (1) a discourse of critical realism that calls into question not only the dominant imperial authority but all forms of authoritarian systems, including feudalism, caste system, class structure, and patriarchal ideology, and (2) fictionalizing the traditional ethos of a vanishing past and exploiting the textual space for the conservation of cultural values.
Unnava Lakshminarayana’s Malapalli (1922), one of the major novels of this phase, inaugurates the former trend. Unnava was a close associate of Kandukuri and lent the latter strong support in his reform activities for child widows. The political upheavals of the time drew him into the vortex of political activity. He was influenced by the political philosophy of Bala Gangadhara Tilak, socialist ideologies of the Soviet Union, and the idealism of the Mahatma Gandhi. For his involvement in the nationalist movement, Unnava was arrested, and the epic novel Malapalli, encompassing the entire sociopolitical situation of the times, was written while he was in prison. Malapalli is a trendsetter in a number of ways: for the first time, the social underdog becomes the subject of a literary work; the life of the inhabitants of a Harijan hamlet is rendered in the local dialect used by those people; a work of fiction is turned into a powerful forum for foregrounding social tension and ideological conflicts. Another important writer who was motivated by a strong sense of rejection of the existing socio-cultural institutions was Gudipati Venkata Chalam, popularly known as Chalam. His focus was on the here and the now, and he protested against the oppression of women in unequivocal terms. The question of political freedom was never an isolated issue in Andhra; it was invariably linked with the liberation of the peasant and the worker, freedom of the untouchable, and the emancipation of women. Chalam’s works, Daivamichina Bharya (1923), Maidanam (1927), Aruna (1935), and Ameena (1942), all offer a critique of patriarchal power structures, including family and marriage, that reduce women to a subordinate position. These novels celebrated female sexuality and aroused resentment in orthodox circles.
Viswanatha Satyanarayana, a scholar of Sanskrit and Vedic texts, a traditionalist in outlook, was skeptical of the forces of Westernization and modernization gripping contemporary society, and his work is an earnest effort to conserve the indigenous culture against this onslaught. Viswanatha, a gifted writer and a mature thinker, wrote 57 works of fiction, and there was hardly any aspect of life that was left out of his fictional universe. His magnum opus, Veyi Padagalu (1961), is an epic novel covering the lives of three generations and unfolding alongside the political and social history of the Telugus for over half a century. The writer upholds the ancient Hindu dharma and underscores the spirituality that forms the basis of Hindu life and thought. Adavi Bapiruju re-creates the history of Andhras in a series of historical romances such as Gona Gannareddy (1958) and Himabindu (1960). More of a romantic, he brings the past alive through symbolic representation and sensitive images. Rewriting history, political or cultural, was a part of the celebration of the past, a movement of cultural nationalism.
The Age of Experimentation
The Telugu novel enters the age of experimentation in the 1950s because the writers have, by this time, come under the influence of some of the important intellectual and ideological developments of the time, such as Freudian psychoanalysis, Marxian socialism, and European existentialism. Besides, the modernist writings of the West, too, have had considerable impact on the creative minds of the time. Furthermore, the writers of the 1950s, coming after the literary giants like Unnava and Viswanatha, needed to do something different and original in order to emerge out of the shadows of their predecessors. A quest for form and penchant for experimental constructs, hence, become the most dominant features of the Telugu novel in this phase.
The psychological novel, probing the inner conflicts and complexes of the human psyche, found favor with a number of writers of this time. Gopichand’s Asmardhuni Jeevayatra (1960) is a powerful fictional rendering of the tragic strife of a common man to come to terms with the society around him. Buchi Babu’s (S. Venkata Subba Rao) Chivaraku Migiledi (1946) traces the predicament of a sensitive young man struggling to grow out of a strong oedipal complex. Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastry’s (Ravisastry) Alpajivi (1981), Naveen’s Ampasayya (1982), and Latha’s Prema Rahityamlo Stree (1978) are some of the other successful attempts at the psychological novel, and the authors use the interior monologue and stream-of-consciousness techniques for recording the psychological processes and unraveling the deeper layers of the human psyche.
As in the case of all postcolonial literatures, political satire became the mainstay of the Telugu novel in the postindependence phase. The writers focus on the aftermath of the colonial rule and offer a satirical delineation of the new bourgeois government. Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao’s Chaduvu (1952) deals with the social and cultural changes that took place in middle-class families during the colonial times and exposes the incongruity and absurdity that arose out of a collision of dissimilar cultures. Viswanatha, who continued to write well into the experimental phase, produced delightful satires in Vishnu Sarma English Chaduvu and Pulula Satyagraham. Ravisastry’s Govulostunnai Jagrata and Palagummi Padmaraju’s Bathikina College are among the other notable examples of this trend.
The more overtly political novel, fielding specific political issues, is yet another significant development of this period. The writers, who came under the influence of the progressive writers movement found the novel an extremely effective medium for communicating messages of revolution and progress. A strong faith in the Marxist socialist ideology inspires these writers and their works. G. V. Krishna Rao’s Keelu Bommalu (1952) and Balivada Kantharao’s Dagapadina Tammulu (1961) merit special mention in this category. Novels that thematized the Telangana struggle for freedom form a part of this trend. Bollimunta Sivaramakrishna’s Mrutyunjayulu (1947), Vattikota Alwar Swamy’s Gangu (1965), and Dasarathi Krishllamacharyulu’s Chillara Devullu (1970) offer a moving account of the sufferings of poor farmers under the zamindari system and urge revolutionary action.
A notable feature of the Telugu novel is that this genre has encouraged many women writers. Women’s writing, in fact, forms a distinct and considerable segment. Writers like Jayanti Suramma, Suram Subhadramma, and Kanaparthi Varalakshmamma were among the earliest to have used the fictional mode to project women’s issues. Between 1960 and 1980, a number of women writers took to the novel form and achieved considerable success through serialized periodical publication. There is an impressive thematic variety in their writing, which covers practically every aspect of women’s experience: the position of women in the Hindu joint family; problems faced by career and single women; the dowry system; marital maladjustments; pleasures and problems of motherhood; and female sexuality.
A close study of women’s texts reveals two distinct trends. Writers like Mup-pala Ranganayakamma, V. Sitadevi, and Lata show that women should break the shackles of social and familial bonds and seek freedom, whatever the price may be. On the other hand, Illindala Saraswatidevi, Ramalakshmi, Parimala Someswar, and Dvivedula Visalakshi, who are equally sensitive to the problems faced by women, advocate not total rejection of the existing systems but a thorough overhaul. Another group of women writers, including Yeddanapudi Sulochanarani, Madireddy Sulochana, and Koduri Kausalyadevi, are all gifted storytellers with evident predilection for romance and popular fiction. The major contribution of women’s writing is the emergence of an alert and alive woman with vibrant passions and a strong voice to articulate them. The new women created in these stories deconstruct the conventional “stereotypes” of virtuous women and declare their autonomy. Women writers, however, have not gone beyond the traditional modes of narration and expression, which become clear restrictions on their writing. They are yet to find their own idiom and language and write themselves into their texts.
The Contemporary Scene
The novel continues to be the most popular form in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly through periodical serial publications. Thematically, we can identify two important trends in the vast corpus of fictional writing in the last decade and a half: progressive writing addressing the problems of the socially deprived and underprivileged, as in Ravi Sastri’s Sommulu Ponayandi (1980), Allam Rajaiah’s Vooru (1982), and Beena Devi’s Captain Katha (1984), and the feminist novel, offering a systematically worked out feminist ideology, as in Muppala’s Janaki Vimukti (1981) and Volga’s Swechcha (1987). In both these movements, the hitherto marginalized sections are brought into focus, and the privileged centers of the past—the bourgeosie and the male—are displaced. The anxiety to sound different and original resulted in a great deal of contrived and mediocre writing. A large number of novels written according to popular formulaic structures depend heavily on sex, violence, superstition, and exorcism. The value of much of this writing is questionable. However, the comprehensive hold that the novel has on the Telugu literary scene is an undeniable fact.
Short Story: Developments
As with the novel, the short story is a popular prose form that finds a symbiotic sustenance in the relationship with periodical publications. Of the many periodicals that gave encouragement and support to the short story, special mention must be made of Bharathi (1924) for the service it rendered to this genre. Besides, Sahiti Samithi, a literary organization founded by Tallavajjhala Siva-sankara Sastry, also encouraged the writing of short stories.
Gurajada Appa Rao’s “Diddubaatu,” published in 1910, is regarded as the first short story in Telugu. He published a slim volume of stories entitled Ani-mutyalu, addressing different social problems. The potential of the short story form to address various issues without the constraints of the verse form or the diffusion of the novel form attracted a number of able practitioners. Among the pioneers of the Telugu short story, Chinta Deekshitulu, Veluri Sivarama Sastry, Viswanatha, Munimanikyam Narsimha Rao, and Chalam figure prominently. Veluri wrote interesting stories about the social life of the middle class. His well-known story “Depression Chembu” ridicules the vanities of educated youth. Chinta Deekshitulu’s stories, written in a humorous vein, expose the absurdities of obscurantism and orthodoxy. Chalam addresses women’s issues, and his “Hampikanyalu” is considered an important work. Munimanikyam recreates the rhythms of middle-class domestic life in “Kantham Kathalu.” Stories of these writers are anthologized as Tolinati Telugu Kathalu (1936-45) by the Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Akademi. Adavi Bapiraju, Karuna Kumara, Tripuraneni Gopichand, and Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao also figure among the pioneers whose work was reviewed and assessed through Aksharabhishekam by Gorrepati Venkata Subbaiah in 1952. Many of these writers continued to write well into the decades that followed.
Technical sophistication, the use of colloquial language, and international recognition mark this phase. A fairly representative selection of stories from 1946 to 1955 published by the Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Akademi under the title Oka Dasabdi Telugu Kathalu (1980) testifies to this fact. These stories demonstrate an ability to combine formal, technical accomplishment with social awareness and responsiveness; the skill and sensitivity that went into the work, surely, proclaim the maturity of the genre. Palagummi Padmaraju’s Galivana won second prize in an international competition held by the New York Herald Tribune in 1952. Puranam Subrahmanya Sarma’s “Neeli” won first prize in the Telugu section of the 1953 version of this competition. Such achievements indicate that the gains of the early period had now been consolidated.
Wide thematic variety is the chief feature of the stories of this period. The lives of the socially deprived classes are mirrored in Puranam’s “Neeli” and Karuna Kumar’s “Rickshaw Wallah.” Jamadagni’s “Marupurani aa Vooru,” Kavikondala Venkat Rao’s “Zamindaru,” and Veluri’s “Arachakam” depict the life and landscape of the various regions of Andhra Pradesh and reflect village politics while re-creating rural life. The complex inner life of an average person is powerfully portrayed in the psychological stories that probe the depths of human thought, emotion, and experience. Palagummi’s “Galivana,” Hitasri’s “Nijanijalu,” and Amarendra’s “Panjaram” belong to this category. Women’s issues figure prominently in Balivada Kantha Rao’s “Paadulokam, Paaduman-ushulu,” Gopichand’s “Karyasurudu,” and Buchibabu’s “Thananu Gurinchina Nijam.” Such stories reflect the changing relationship between man and woman and debate the validity of marriage as an institution. The common person’s dream of an egalitarian society and the struggle of an emergent new society with the forces of stasis and corruption find expression in stories such as Kali-patnam Rama Rao’s “Palayithudu,” Ravisastri’s “Puvvulu,” and Munipalle Raju’s “Bicchagalla Jenda.”
Even as the established writers of the 1940s and 1950s continued to be prominent, other writers entered the field, adding variety and experiment to it. R. Vasundhara Devi, Seela Veerraju, and Saurees exploit a wide range of narrative possibilities in their stories. In general, the newer writers continued to build on the foundations provided by the established writers. The thread of continuity, however, also gives some glimpses into certain common weaknesses of the Telugu short story: a tendency to make explicit end statements or an option for some contrivance to make a closed ending possible, prolongation of the narration beyond a good technical ending, and a weakness for purple prose. Such weaknesses mar the impact of many a good story. Yet, to read Ravuri Bharadwaja’s “Paristhitula Varasulu,” Ravi Sastri’s “Lakshmi,” or R. S. Sudarsanam’s “Madhura Meenakshi” is to become aware of superb craftsmanship, excellent plotline, fine sense of ending, engagement with contemporary society, and aesthetic refinement. Such stories affirm that the Telugu short story is equal to the best practice anywhere in the world.
What may be said by way of a summing up about Telugu literature in the twentieth century? It would be most appropriate to observe that we are, at the turn of the century, too close in time to make an objective assessment. It is well worth remembering the maxim that what has been long preserved has been subjected to repeated scrutiny. Twentieth-century Telugu literature is yet too young to pass this test of time. But there are indications that, as a literature fully alive to human developments, both at home and abroad, it will surely find its niche in the history of world literature.