Telugu Lessa

The Eastern Chalukyas and Telugu

Note: Chalukyas != Western Chalukyas != Eastern Chalukyas

Pulakesi II expanded his Chalukyan kingdom to Eastern Deccan in the first quarter of the 7th Century. After his death in a battle with the Pallava king, Narasimhavarman I, the Easterners predictably branched off to form at Vengi, the Eastern Chalukyan kingdom, which outlived the parent-kingdom by a few centuries. The new Chalukyan royalty were patrons of Jainism and Saivism – their period marked the decline of Buddhism in the region and on a more optimistic note, the growth of the Telugu language. The Kannadiga Eastern Chalukyans played an important role in the creation and growth of rich Telugu literature. Telugu verse made it’s first modern appearance in the 9th Century in the form of poetic inscriptions found in present-day Ongole and less than 200 years later, the Mahabharata was translated into Telugu by Nannayya.

nannayya“Aadikavi” Nannaya Bhattaraka was the teacher (guru) of the Eastern Chalukyan king, Raja Raja Narendra (after whom Rajahmundry is named). The story goes that the king asked his guru to translate the greatest epic into Telugu. We use the word ‘translate’ quite loosely here – in the poet’s own words, the king asked him to “compose in Telugu a book that makes clear what Krishna Dwaipayana spoke” and “compose” he did; he omitted large parts of the Mahabharata and condensed others. He made it his own. Nannaya developed his own style of poetry for the “translation” – he pioneered the use of prose within his poetry and addressed his compositions to his listeners, creating a grand narrative structure that would be used by poets for the next few centuries. Image Source: Adikavi Nannayya University

The 11th Century Mahabharatamu thus marked the genesis of Telugu literature and the Chalukyan Kings deserve a fair amount of credit for it. Consider the introductory lines of Nanne Choda‘s Kumarasambhava (nothing to do with Kalidasa’s work of the same name):

“Earlier, while there was the margi (Sankrit) poetry,
the Chalukya king and many others caused desi (Telugu) poetry to be born
and fixed in place in the Andhra land.”

Sure, the lines don’t exactly scream “literary genius”, but they do tell us about the prominent role the (Eastern) Chalukyans played in supporting the language.

We must mention here that Nannaya didn’t quite finish his work – the Telugu Mahabharatamu was over 300 years in the making. Nannaya died during the 3rd chapter and after the Chalukyas, Telugu literature found patronage elsewhere – prominently in the coastal and the “non-telugu” kingdoms. It wasn’t until a hundred years later that someone picked up where Nannaya left off. Tikkana completed the translations of Chapters 4 – 18 but he refused to translate the part of the 3rd Chapter that Nannaya couldn’t. This was done, a further 100 years later, by Errana, who bridged the gap between Nannaya’s and Tikkana’s translations. The three of them constitute the Kavitrayam (the Trinity of Poets). Mahabharatamu, however seminal, represents only one facet of Telugu literature. Where there was the purist work by Nannaya, there was also the anti-Brahmin Saivite poetry of Somanatha, the court poetry of Srinatha and the temple poetry of Annamacharya. It is also said that Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah wrote poetry in Telugu, but this claim is rather contentious.

In retrospect, Telugu often found more support from the ‘non-Andhra’ courts of Vijayanagara, Tanjavur and Madurai than from those in the thick of it. The Telugu Kakatiyas, for e.g., supported Sanskrit literature while the Kannada Eastern Chalukyas felt that literature should be in the language of the masses, Telugu. The linguistic/cultural divides we make for ourselves today seem rather ridiculous when you consider the porousness of the medieval borders.


Durga Prasad. (1988). History of the Andhras.

Ramesan. N. (1975). The Eastern Chalukyas of Vengi.

Sheldon Pollock. (Ed.). (2003). Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia.

About Double ka Meetha

Chronicler of all things Hyderabadi. And old.
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