World Telugu Conference 2017: Retelling Telugu glory and origins

The beauty of any language is its consistent evolution over time and geographical spread, and the way it gets enriched with literary influences from varied sources. The desire to experiment and yet adhere to a grammatical construct contributes to its longevity. The debate about using a regional language’s expressional range and making it accessible to a common man is a universal one. The history of ‘Telugu’ literature over 1000 years isn’t about its ornate word play alone — it has often mirrored the society of a particular time-frame and many a time have foretold what the future holds for us —Vemana padyalu for instance.

That Hyderabad plays host to the World Telugu Conference in the youngest state of the country comes with immense historical significance, in a land that Dasaradhi fondly dubbed ‘Koti rathanala veena’ and one that produced Ranganatha Ramayanam, the first-ever Telugu adaptation of the epic penned by Gona Buddha Reddy in ‘dwipada chandassu’. Telangana’s contribution to the language comes with a lot of firsts — the first female poet Kuppamamba, to heralding ‘kanda padyalu’ in Karimnagar region to laying the foundation for the language’s first Yakshaganam (by Ekaamranadhudu) and modern storytelling with the likes of Madapati Hanumantha Rao.

It’s an opportunity to cherish the variety within the language, the stress on ‘yaasa’, its exclusivity in a few stories forgotten in the lap of time, region and politics besides reminding C Narayana Reddy’s words yaasalu veruga unna, mana bhasha Telugu bhaashanna. It’s an event that promises to be a right bridge to connect ‘gatha Telugu vaibhavam’ to its ‘vartamanam’. The sheer variety of litereteurs storytelling, the wide range of poetry-from geya kavitavam to tatva kavitvam to vachana kavitvam, the capacity of the language to absorb nuances of other languages (Kaloji, Dasaradhi Rangacharya representing the Nizam-era through his literature) have given authority to the words ‘desabhaashalandu Telugu lessa’. The beauty of the language has been its ability to stand up to its submerging threats by rulers of many origins.

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The word ‘Telugu’ took its time to arrive in literary texts, a few historians claim the roots of the terms lie in the usage of Trilinga, Telinga and Tenugu — the words Andhramu and Andhra Bhaasha were the earliest substitutes to the word in texts like Bheemasena Jatakam and Serivanija Jatakam. The latter was mostly a reference to the language spoken in a particular region. The likes of Somanadhudu, Nannaya, Tikkana, Pothana, Molla, Annamayya, Gurajada, Sri Sri, Jashua and Dasaradhi are credited with promoting Telugu language (Telugu bhasha poshana) over centuries, to have kept the language alive, vivid and fresh in their own times.

One must accept the fact that though Telangana literature did have a voice among many literary associations, there were no major efforts to make it mainstream. Meanwhile, the formation of Telangana state notwithstanding, the extensive promotion of Telangana over Telugu prior to the conference has raised many eyebrows surrounding the intent of the conference. It’s justified, says Ayachitam Sridhar, chairman at Telangana Grandhalaya Parishat and a core committee member of Telangana Sahitya Akademi.

“Telangana, the state, the culture and its history, has been neglected and an aspect of secondary importance for long. I believe this event is a foundation to revive its significance on a global scale. The beauty and essence of the land lies in its folklore and we feel it our duty to ensure its wide reach. We are Telugu people and respect our identity, but the focus on Telangana is much-needed this time.” It’s the land that gave birth to those like Bammera Pothana, Srinatha, Suravaram Pratapareddy, Vara Vara Rao and P V Narasimha Rao after all. He reiterates, Telugante pushpamu, Telangana gubalimpu.

The literature produced over four decades post the first World Telugu Conference in Hyderabad gave rise to stories that reflect the plight of common man, women, Dalits and minorities and those that questioned society. This wave of new writers giving a new dimension to Telugu literature was welcome indeed, the recent Telangana struggle-based writings completing the arc. Prior to the 70s, the likes of burrakatha, harikatha, dramas and musicals, formats like dhoom-dhaam too thrived across the Telugu states.

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Poet and chief organiser of the World Telugu Conference 2017 Nandini Siddareddy clarifies, “The initial efforts to propagate Telugu literature happened through this land — Telangana is a word that originated from Telangu ganamu. The language originated in this land and spread to various quarters of the country. The formation of Telangana state, and efforts to revive long-lost traditions will hopefully be fulfilled through this conference.” Besides providing encouragement to writers, the event’s aim is also to help a generation understand the depths of the language and ensure wider readership.

“It’s also important to look at Telangana and its literature apart from the movements, and respect that its readers appreciate life in many dimensions and rasas, with poetry surrounding nature, philosophy and brotherhood. We’re releasing a book that celebrates this facet of Telangana literature. Youngsters are interested in literature, technological advancements and social media have helped in this, though the depth and intellect in it has taken a toll. Events like these aim at streamlining their potential,” he adds. Literature and culture serve their purpose when they give direction to a society and the time looks ripe now.

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