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Notes on Telugu Script contd…


Evolution of Telugu Character Graphs

Prakrit was the official language of communication used by the Satavahana Kings who were also referred to as the SaatakarNis and Andhras (Andhra BhRtya) in the Puranas. There is some evidence that the kings used a mother tongue that is different from the official language. It is highly likely that this tongue was a mixture of the precursor to modern Telugu and derivatives from other languages such as praakRtaM. The official Prakrit dialect was based on Sanskrit. But several pure Telugu words had crept into it. In fact, many Prakrit texts such as 'gaathaa sapta Sati,' 'vajjaa laggaM,' etc., had many Telugu words. This Prakrit was originally written in the northern Brahmi.

This script was quickly subjected to change to accommodate the writing practices and additional sounds of south Indian languages. The evolution of the alphabet in the Telugu land over the centuries is given in the two figures below (click to open the figures).


Fig. T1a Script in the Telugu land through the centuries


Fig. T1b Script in the Telugu land through the centuries



The first row in each figure represents current Telugu alphabets. (Modern Telugu has 56 primary alphabets). The second row gives the Mauryan Brahmi from 3rd Century BCE. This is the script used to proclaim the imperial edicts about Buddhist principles of compassion and empathy.


Fig. S1 Asokan Brahmi inscription (3rd Cent. BCE) (Click to open)


Fig. S1 is an example of Asokan inscriptions from rumminDE. The reference to dEvAnapiyEna piyadasina indicates aSOka (dEvaanaaMpriya, priyadarSi) and sakyamuni refers to Buddha. Similar inscriptions have been found in Kurnool Dt. of Andhra Pradesh.

Row 3 (Fig. T1) is the 3rd Century BCE script found on the urn containing a portion of Buddha's mortal remains. The urn was the central object at the great monastery in BhaTTiprOlu in central Andhra Pradesh. There were other such famous sacred containers housing Buddha's teeth or bones at Amaravati, Nagarjuna Konda, Danta Puram and other Stupas. Some of these Stupas were constructed by the Naga kings of Andhra even before the Mauryan and Satavahana rule.

Row 4 (Fig. T1) describes the 1st Century CE script used by Paisaci, Maharashtri Prakrit, and other southern dialects under the Satavahana dynasty. This dynasty ruled modern day Andhra Pradesh and parts of Karnataka and Maharashtra from the 4th Century BCE till the third Century CE. Several kings of this dynasty had Maharashtrian wives among others. In the example below notice the reference to Kshatrapa king Nahapana. Kshatrapa (Kshatrava) was the title of Saka kings. This particular Saka king was defeated by Gautamee Putra Satakarni (reign:78-102 CE). Kings of this dynasty performed several acts of religious merit. Among those was the creation of cave dwellings for Buddhist monks. Several such caves are found in Andhra Pradesh (e.g., unDavalli, mogalraajapuraM-Vijayavada) and Maharashtra (e.g., Nasik and Kanheri-Bombay).


Fig. S2 Satavahana cave inscription of the first century CE from Nasik in Maharashtra
(Click to open)


After 218 CE the Satavahana dynasty was succeeded by its vassals, the Ikshvakus, whose script is shown in row 5 of Fig. T1. Although only three kings ruled in this dynasty, they commanded the love and affection of the people. Even today, anything very old is referred by Telugu people as 'that from the time of Ikshvakus.'


Fig. S3 Ikshvaku inscription of the 3rd century CE
(Click to open)


The sixth row of Fig. T1 shows the north Indian Brahmi used by the Gupta empire in the 4th Century CE. Although the northern and southern scripts are still very similar, we can notice the divergence from this point onwards.

The Salankayana script of the 5th Century is given in the 7th row of Fig. T1. Salankayanas and Vishnukundinas were two of the many dynasties that succeeded the Ikshvakus. From their time, the script for Telugu and Kannada languages began clearly separating from that of the other south Indian and north Indian dialects. The following is an example of SaalaMkaayana inscription from 4th Century CE. They ruled between 300 CE and 420 CE with vEngee as the capitol. Both Salankayanas and Vishnukundinas were vassals under pallava kings who ruled from southern Telugu and northern Tamil lands. Notice the change over from Prakrit to Sanskrit during this time.


Fig. S4 Salankayana Nandivarma inscription of the 4th century CE
(Click to open)


Salankayanas were succeeded by viShNukuMDina kings from vinukoMDa. In fact, viShNukuMDina is a Sanskritized name for vinukoMDa. They ruled three or four central coastal districts between 420 and 611 CE from vinukoMDa, vEngee and vijayavaaDa. They seem to have patronized the great Kumarila Bhatta (c.686?-c.745?) who propounded 'poorva meemaamsa' philosophy and his disciple Prabhakara Pandita. An inscription from their time is given below. Notice the reference to Lord Parvata Swami (of kOTappa konDa) and eleven Asvamedha yajnas! These kings followed the lead of Ikshwaku kings in performing the Horse sacrifices. The Pallavas also followed the same lead.


Fig. S5 Vishnukundina inscription of the 6th century CE
(Click to open)


Around the time of Vishnukundinas, a development of great significance in the history of Telugu language took place in the modern day raayalaseema. All the royal inscriptions till that day used either Prakrit or Sanskrit. This was in spite of the fact that there was a well developed local language in the Telugu land. Beginning with the ikshvaaku dynasty, the Royal courts started to increasingly replace Prakrit for its predecessor, the Sanskrit. By the time of vishNukunDina dynasty, Sanskrit had gained a pre-eminent status. This powerful trend towards increasing Sanskritization was reversed by the cOLa kings who ruled from rEnaaDu. This corresponds roughly to the modern day Cuddapah, Eastern Chittoor, Southern Nellore and surrounding areas). They were vassals under the southern Pallava kings. They broke with the prevailing fashion and introduced the tradition of writing Royal proclamations in the local (Telugu) language. The earliest available inscription containing Telugu sentences comes from these cOLa kings and is dated to 573-576 CE. These Telugu cOLa kings had eventually gained prominence and filled the vacuum left by the end of Pallava dynasty. During the next fifty years, Telugu inscriptions appeared in the neighboring Anantapuram and all the surrounding regions. Their act of patronizing Telugu over Sanskrit had caught on and other kings in the Telugu land had begun to follow their lead. The first available Telugu inscription in the coastal Andhra Pradesh comes from about 633 CE. Around the same time, the Chalukya kings of Telangana also started using Telugu for inscriptions.


In the meantime, Pallavas were gaining prominence in the Tamil country. The origin of Pallavas is still a subject of speculation. They were perhaps the descendents of the Saka Pahlava warriors from ancient Iran. Over the centuries, they wandered over western India and sporadically waged wars with many dynasties. Satavahana kings subdued them around the time of Christ. They might then have settled in the northern Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. This area is still referred to as Palnadu or Pallava Nadu and is the scene of one the central events in Telugu history (war of Palnadu, 12th Cent.). These Telugu Pallavas eventually gained prominence and set up small kingdoms. As they grew more powerful, a branch of these Pallavas had migrated to the Tamil country. There they had established one of the most cherished kingdoms in Tamil history. Their capitol was Kanchi, close the border between Tamil and Telugu lands. Although they were responsible for the destruction of much of the composite Hindu-Buddhist-Jain legacy of Ikshvakus in terms of education, fine arts and architecture, they also took on the Ikshvaku zeal for building and sculpture and evolved their own styles. The earliest available inscriptions with Tamil content were from the time of the rise of Pallava influence. By the time Pallavas moved to the Tamil country from Telugu lands, Sanskrit gained its prominence in South India and displaced Prakrit. The Pallavas took this newfound interest to Tamil Nadu and patronized some of the most illustrious Sanskrit poets like Bharavi and Dandin. At that time, Tamil (and Sanskrit in the Tamil land) used to be written in the "pallava grantham" script. Row 8 of Fig. T1 lists this script. Modern Tamil script eventually descended from it. A great number of south-east Asian languages including Thai and Malay had adapted variants of this grantham script and Telugu script over the centuries. A detailed example is given below. The language used is Sanskrit.


Fig. S6 Pallava Narasimha Varma I inscription of 640 CE in Tamil Grantham Script.
(Click to open)


Although Kannada evolved from the southern sub-family of old Dravidian and hence has a greater affinity with Tamil than Telugu, the scripts of the two languages were tied together for over two thousand years. This was mainly possible because telugu nADu and its neighbor karri nADu (mostly consisting of the present day states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh) were ruled by several kings for over two thousand years who owed their origins and/or allegiance jointly to both regions. The Satavahanas influenced the northern Karnataka region for a long time before and after Christ. In fact, the earliest references to Satavahanas occur at the border between the modern day Andhra and Karnataka States. Bellari, Anantapur and Kurnool districts seem to be the first home of these kings. This region was the first to be referred to as Andhraapatha. Between the 5th and 9th Centuries, Rashtrakutas who ruled from Maharashtra and parts of northern Karnataka dominated the Telugu land for brief periods of time. In the sixth century, Chalukyas began their ascent over Kannada country and eventually over Telugu lands. From many indications, it appears that the present day Rayalaseema in Andhra Pradesh was the first home of Chalukyas. As early as 1st Century CE, they were mentioned as being the vassals and chieftains under the Satavahana rule. Their place of residence at that time was the Cuddapah area. They apparently migrated to the northern Karnataka area after suffering loses at the hands of Pallava kings. They eventually established one of the most brilliant and powerful empires of South Indian history. At their peak, they controlled the better part of western and southern India. They reentered the Telugu land via the present day Telangana. This region was their strong hold for over six centuries. Although they tended to favor Kannada in the beginning, it is in Telangana that they re-learned Telugu. When the dynasty had branched off into Western and Eastern kingdoms, the eastern branch(es) had completely become Telugu speaking. Both branches continued to patronize Telugu and Kannada. The 'trinity' (ratna traya) of early Kannada literature Pampa, Ponna and Ranna all lived in Telugu lands far from the border (because of their origin or patronage). More than any single ruling clan, it is the Chalukyas who influenced the modern form of Telugu script and its affinity with modern Kannada script.

Rows 9, 10 and 11 of Fig. T1 show the Chalukya scripts belonging to the 7th, 10th and 11th Centuries. The later two are traditionally referred as the Vengi script -after the capitol of Eastern Chalukya kingdom in modern day West Godavari District. Examples of this script were found all over the Telugu Nadu. Figures below give detailed samples. Figure S8 gives the script at the time when the great poet Nannaya was composing Maha Bharatam at the court of Rajaraja Narendra.


Fig. S7 Chalukya Bhima II inscription of 10th Century.


Fig. S8 Chalukya Rajaraja Narendra inscription (11th Cent.).


The period of 12th to 14th Centuries was a glorious era in Telugu history. It was the time of the Kakatiya Empire that spread from Warangal in Telangana to control all of the Telugu land directly or indirectly. The Kakatiya emperors presided over a multi fold flowering of arts and literature. Row 12 of Fig. T1 shows the script used by them. The detail below comes from the time when the greatest of Telugu writers, tikkana sOmayaaji was composing Maha Bharatam.


Fig. S9 Kakatiya Ganapati Deva inscription (13th Cent.).


After the demise of the Kakatiya Empire, Telugu was ably supported by the Reddi kingdoms in central coastal districts during the 14th and 15th Centuries. To them belongs the credit of nurturing the great Errana and the incomparable Srinatha. The scripts of that time are shown in rows 13 and 14 of Fig. T1. Notice the Telugu idiom of Fig. S11.


Fig. S10 Inscription from the time of poet Errana (14th Cent.).


Fig. S11 Inscription from the time of poet Srinatha
(King Peda Komati Vema Reddi: 1409-1410)


The end of the Kakatiya Empire also sowed the seeds for the rise of the finest Empire in the South Indian history at Vijayanagara. This empire over saw the development of all the four southern languages for several centuries. Much has been written about this period. The script used for Telugu and Kannada during this time is shown in the last row of Fig. T1. This is very similar to the modern day written script.



Fig. S12 Inscription from the time of Emperor Krishnadeva Raya (1516 CE).


The figure below shows one of the first instances of Christian Missionary writings in Telugu. It was published by Rev. Benjamin Schultze in Halle/Magdeburg (modern Germany). About half a dozen Telugu works were published in Europe at that time. Tamil had Christian writing and Bible translations from an even earlier time.



Fig. S13 Christian writings in Telugu (1747).

{The text in the figure above should be understood as stating that the original book is stored in the Serampore library (in West Bengal). It is not an indication that Rev. Schultze was connected with the Serampore mission.}


The only major change after this time is the regularization of the letters with the advent of modern printing.



Fig. S14 Printed Telugu from the 1817 grammar by William Brown


Over the years, several subtle changes took place in the Telugu character graphs and spelling patterns.

C.P. Brown, an English employee of the British East India Company and eminent scholar played a significant role in adapting Telugu to the printing press. He and some others introduced changes in the script to better reflect the pronunciation patterns. A brief note by Dr. Sitaramayya Ari on these changes can be read here. Other brief notes at the same site by Sri Palana (Dr. Narasimham L. Paranandi) [1 & 2], Sri Ramana Juvvadi [1 & 2] contain very useful information.

In addition to the above examples of formal script, written form of Telugu included a continuous writing style called "golusu kaTTu" akin to English hand writing where each letter of a word is combined with the previous letter in one continuous stroke of the pen. This form, although very popular till about the middle of the 20th century, is not used any more.



Further Reading and Acknowledgements

Two of the standard works in the study of the progression of Telugu script are:
1. tirumala raamacaMdra (1916-1997). "mana lipi puTTu poorvOttaraalu"
2. paMcaagnula aadinaarayana Saastri (1890-1951). "aaMdhra lipi pariNaamaM"
The second work is some what out dated but has useful material.

Books on Telugu history usually contain some information relevant to the development of the script, e.g., ETukooru balaraama moorti, 1953, "AMdhra saMkshipta caritra," Visalandhra Pub.

There are several works of scholastic nature dealing with ancient records in Telugu. Old issues of Bhaarati magazine are a treasure trove for any one interested in epigraphic inscriptions in Telugu. Many of the available stone and copper plate inscriptions have been collected and published under the title of Epigraphia Indica and Epigraphia Andhrica. The two tables listing the progression of character graphs for Telugu script as well as the samples of inscriptions were painstakingly scanned by Sri Srinivas Paruchuri from "telugu vij~naana sarvasvamu," Vols. 3&4, History & culture, 1959-61, Telugu Bhaashaasamiti, Madras. In fact, the write-up is only a padding to the figures he dug up. For several Telugu people on the net, the figures are self-explanatory. As mentioned at the beginning, a more scholastic write-up than the present one would be of much greater help.






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