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History of Telugu Language

Compiled by Vasu Reddy

Origin of the word Telugu

The most popular explanation that is given to the word telugu is that it comes from the word trilinga, i.e. from the three temples at Srisailam, Drakasharamam,

and Kaleshwaram. Many scholars may not accept this view.

Some diverse views on Telugu:

Khandavalli Lakshmi Ranjanam

It probably comes from the word talaing. Since tala refers to head, talaings refers to leaders. Probably, talaings were civilized people and conquered

the tribals in the area of current Andhra Pradesh. Hence the name talaings. Later this must have given rise to the words telungu and trilinga.

Godavarti Ramadasu

Some say that the word Telugu comes from the Sanskrit forms trilinga or trikalinga: Actually, the word kalinga itself is a Dravidian word.

In Kui language, rice is called Kulinga. Since Kuis were mainly rice eaters, Aryans might have called them kulingas or kalingas.

Marepalli Ramachandra Shastri

In Gondi language, unga is form for plural. Telu means white. Hence, telunga probably refers to people who are white in complexion.

Ganti Jogi Somayaji

Ten refers to south in Proto-Dravidian. Hence tenungu refers to Southerners.

Which of the two words is older? Telugu or tenugu? Some say that tenugu is older than Telugu because Nannaya used the word tenugu and Ketana who is younger than Nannaya used the word Telugu in his Andhra Bhaashaa Bhushanam. Malliya Raechana wrote a grammar book (Lakshana Granthamu) called Kavi Janaashrayamu. But he didn't use this word in the place of 'praasa' anywhere, so we are not sure what he really used.

The popular notion is that the first person to use the word trilinga is Vidyanaatha in Kakatiya era. Actually, the first person to use the word trilinga is Rajashekhara in Vidhdhasaala Bhanjika. He is the first person to use trilinga with a ra vattu. Markandeya and Vayu Puranas mention only tilinga. One of the oldest works in Tamil called Agattiyam says Konganam Kannadam Kollam telungam. On the whole, it is more probable that the wordá Telugu is older than the word tenugu.

Telugu script: Onamaalu

The Telugu alphabet is called Onamaalu. There is a good reason and a little bit of history for this.
Just as Buddhism was widely practiced in the ancient Telugu country, Jainism flourished in the Kannade country. The writers of the earliest Kannada literature were Jains. They were the religious leaders and educators of that day. Common folks sent their children to Jain gurus for education. The gurus initiated the Aksharabhyasam of the children with a prayer to the Thirthankaras and Siddhas.That prayer started with "Siddham Namaha."
The close ties with the Kannada country helped spread the Jain traditions in the Telugu country. There is even a school of thought that the Jain and Buddhist literature that existed before Nannaya was destroyed by scholars and kings who embraced Hinduism. Even if the literature was destroyed, the traditions survived and Aksharabhyasam continued to be initiated with the prayer - Siddham Namaha.
In later years, between 10th and 14th centuries, Saivism became wide spread in the Telugu country (Paa So wrote Basava Puranam during this time). Now the religious leaders and teachers were the Saivites and they initiated Aksharabhyasam with a prayer that started with "Onnamassivaaya." But the Jain tradition did not die away. The initiation prayer generally took the form of
"Onnamassivaya Siddham Namaha." Over the years it became O-Na-Ma-See-Vaa-Yaa-See-Dham-Namaha and the alphabet that was learnt with this prayer came to be called "O-na-ma-lu."
Source: Mana lipi puttupoorvotharaalu by Thirumala Raamachandra.


Telugu script: cha, tcha, chha; ja, tja, jha.

In Telugu we have three distinct pronunciations for "cha" and "ja". While the soft sounds of "cha" and "ja" and the harsh sounds of "chha" and "jha" are not uncommon, found in many if not all-Indian languages, the "tcha" and "tja" of Telugu are rather unique and have interesting history both in terms of their pronunciation and the way they are written. As you know, "tcha" and "tja" are written as "cha" and "ja" but with the Telugu numeral 2 written on top of the letter.

"Tcha" and "tja" are found in Marathi also. But unlike Telugu, Marathi was derived from Sanskrit and Prairie, neither, of which have "tcha" or "tja." Hindi, which also derived from Sanskrit and Prakrit, does not have these sounds. So, how did Marathi get them? It is believed that the sounds were adapted from Telugu. Some scholars believe that Telugu and Bengali in turn acquired them from Pali.

Kakanuri Appakavi, a grammarian from the 17th century, wrote that a dot placed on "cha" indicates the pronunciation of "tcha" and similarly a dot on "ja" indicates "tja". That tradition, if it was ever practiced, has long since disappeared.

Who started the current tradition of writing the Telugu numeral 2 on top of "cha" and "ja" to note their pronunciation as "tcha" and "tja" respectively? Looks like the credit for that goes to Charles Philip Brown (popularly known as CP Brown). His reason for this notation is simple: a Telugu person knows the difference between the pronunciation of cha in Chandrudu and Chali (cold) but how will a foreigner reading a Telugu text know the difference? To make it convenient for non-Telugus to learn proper pronunciation, Brown placed Telugu numeral 1 on top of "cha" and "ja" for standard pronunciation and Telugu numeral 2 on top of "cha" and "ja" when they are to be pronounced as "tcha" and "tja" respectively. This notation became popular and was recognized in 1836 in the Telugu grammar written by Ravipati Gurumurthy Sastry. With the passage of time the printing presses dropped placing 1 on "cha" and "ja" but continued to place 2 on the letters to indicate "tcha" and "tja."

Source: Mana lipi puttu purvotharaalu by Thirumala Ramachandra.

Tags:History, of, Telugu, Language, Political, Entertainment, Telugu, English

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