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Sitaramayya Ari (West Bloomfield, MI, USA) and

Sreenivas Paruchuri (Paderborn, Germany)



Today we can walk into any good bookstore in Andhra Pradesh and buy a copy of vasu caritra, manu caritra, vEmana SatakaM, or any one of the other classics in Telugu literature. This privilege was made possible by one individual, that too a foreigner, Charles Philip Brown. For someone unfamiliar with his work, the long list of his contributions to Telugu language might seem unbelievable. In Brown's own words, "he came into contact with Telugu at a time when its literature was dying out with its flame glimmering in the socket." At the end of his life in 1884, practically all the classics in Telugu literature were recorded, many were published, some were translated and brought to the notice of the world, and enough materials were left behind for research by anyone interested in the language. In the words of Bandi Gopala Reddy (a.k.a BanGoRey), who did pioneering research work on Brown, "the contributions to Telugu by all the Telugu professors of the world, all the academies, and all the government-supported scholars put together do not come close to a tiny fraction of what Brown did." All this was from an employee of the East India Company that did not always look kindly at his efforts. Needless to say, enthusiasts of Telugu literature will remain forever grateful to this remarkable Englishman, Charles Philip Brown.


C.P. Brown was born in Calcutta on November 10, 1798. His father, David Brown, was an unusual man. A devout Christian who came to India to manage an orphanage, David Brown became a highly respected missionary and scholar. Unlike many of his generation, this Englishman thought that a good understanding of the religion of the natives would be helpful in spreading Christianity in India. To learn about Hinduism, he learnt Sanskrit. He also thought that speaking the language of the populace would be useful in his work. So he learnt native languages. That was quite in contrast to the average Englishman's attitude that Indians and their languages deserved no respect. Most Englishmen didn't even know that there was ancient literature in the languages of the natives.


C.P. Brown was brought up with a healthy respect for all languages. From his father he learnt some Hebrew, Syrian, Arabic, Parsi, Greek, Latin and Hindustani. He was a voracious reader and developed an appreciation for Paradise Lost by the time he was twelve. His father's death in 1812 removed Brown and his family from India and brought them back to England. While in England he was chosen for employment by the East India Company. As a part of the training for a civil service job in Madras, C. P. Brown was sent to Haileybury College where, in addition to the other subjects, he also learnt some Hindustani. At the age of 19, Brown arrived in Madras. Englishmen who came to India those days as civil servants of East India Company had to go to college and learn the local language. According to Brown, he never heard of Telugu until August 13, 1817, the day he arrived at the Madras College. The teacher who taught him the Telugu alphabet was Velagapudi Kodandarama Panthulu. Brown passed his Telugu Proficiency and the civil service tests in 1820, and was appointed as deputy to Mr. Hunbury, the collector of Cuddapah. In Cuddapah he learnt more Telugu from Hunbury, who spoke it fluently, as well as from the locals. Brown felt that books alone could not teach a living language. Whoever happened to be in the police station - the plaintiffs, prisoners, witnesses, judges or the menials - everyone became a Telugu instructor for him for the moment. However, Brown did not know much about Telugu literature while he was in Cuddapah. In 1822 he was transferred to Machalipatnam as assistant judge in the District Court. Even there he had not made a serious attempt to learn about Telugu literature until 1824. A few of his initiatives were shipwrecked because, according to Brown, the instructors he chose to learn from were interested in exhibiting their scholarship and did not understand how to introduce a non-native to Telugu literature.


In order to appreciate the efforts that Brown was to initiate in 1824 and sustain for nearly 60 years, it is necessary to understand his self-declared motives. Brown was not interested in becoming a scholar in Telugu. His experiences in learning Telugu at the Madras College -with an "insufficient grammar," "two worthless native books of exercise," "no dictionary," and "tutors who spoke English but had few notions of grammar" -were frustrating. He wanted to make it easier for people who followed him. To do so, that is, to prepare a grammar, a dictionary, a workbook etc., Brown needed considerable knowledge of the language. He made an effort to find Telugu literature that a beginner could use to build up his acquaintance with the language and slowly acquire a command of the language. In this quest he had to consult Telugu scholars who could translate poems for him and provide commentaries on them. But the scholars of the day seemed ill equipped to introduce the language to a non-native. Their commentaries were often more difficult than the poems themselves. The scholars seemed to know the grammar of Sanskrit better than that of their mother tongue. They also often directed him to study bhaarataM and bhaagavataM while Brown's interest was in finding simpler literature. The native scholars recommended learning a lot of vocabulary by rote as a method of learning the language, but Brown thought that reading a book and finding the meanings of the unfamiliar words and understanding the context in which they were used was a better method of learning a language.


It was in 1824 that Brown came upon a French translation of Vemana's poems. The French people, who were in the Telugu country before the English, also showed interest in the Telugu language and compiled a French translation for more than a thousand Telugu phrases. A missionary by the name of Le Gac apparently discovered Vemana's poems and was so impressed with them that he sent a manuscript to the library of Louis XV. It was probably this manuscript that the Frenchman Abbe Dubois had found, translated into French and published. This is thought to be the first ever publication of a Telugu work of literature and also the first translation of a Telugu work into a western language. It must have been the kind of literature that Brown was long searching for: simple, thoughtful, rustic, irreverent and profound. He began collecting hand-written and palm leaf manuscripts of Vemana's poems. It soon became an effort that mushroomed into epic proportions. He started collecting manuscripts not only of Vemana, but also of other authors. Very often he collected manuscripts in other languages also. But, his main focus was on Telugu. He paid for the manuscripts. To those who did not wish to sell the manuscripts in their possession, Brown promised to return the original along with a copy made on English paper.


In the course of collecting the Telugu manuscripts and having the poems commented upon by scholars, Brown realized that learning the prosody is very useful in appreciating the classical poetry. Having learnt prosody of Telugu and Sanskrit, he wrote an explanation of both and submitted the manuscript for publication. This book entitled "aandhra geervaaNa-chaMdamu: The prosody of the Telugu and Sanscrit languages explained," printed by the College Press at Madras in 1827, was the first published work of CP Brown. Brown subscribed to the philosophy that prosody is an instrument and not an end in itself as the scholars of the time appeared to believe.


Brown collected many manuscripts of Vemana's poems and found that there were variations between them in several poems. That proved to be the case not only with Vemana's poems but with every work of literature he collected. To prepare Vemana's poems or another piece of literature for publication, Brown used the following method: He first had a copy made of the manuscript which appeared to be the oldest or the most accurate. A scribe would sit with this copy. In front of him sat three or more scholars each in charge of five or six manuscripts that had variations with the main copy. Each verse that had variations was read out several times and the scholars commented on the differences. A consensus was reached on the most probable original version and was written down by the scribe. The opinions expressed by the different scholars in coming to the consensus were also recorded. Brown followed this practice with every manuscript he prepared for publication.


So that this work would not suffer when he was transferred from place to place in his civil service job, Brown bought a house in Cuddapah in 1828 and used it as the center where scholars and scribes came together in his employment to work on the manuscripts. Employing scholars, purchasing manuscripts and procuring writing supplies etc. cost him dearly. By 1836, manuscripts alone cost him a whopping sum of Rs. 30, 000. Brown was forced, on occasion, to borrow money both from natives and his compatriots.


The first edition of Vemana's poems was published in 1829 with 693 verses and their English translation. The book also contained a glossary and an index of the first lines of verses. Brown continued to collect manuscripts of Veman's poems. A second edition was brought out in 1839 with 1164 poems. Between the two editions, Brown was dismissed from his job in 1834 and that forced him to return to England. Being the ultimate lover of Telugu that he was, Brown used the time in England to write "The Grammar Of The Telugu Language" and prepare notes on what would become very voluminous dictionaries of Telugu-English and English-Telugu. Brown returned to Madras in 1837 as a translator of Persian for the East India Company. Soon after that he was appointed to the Madras College Board. Brown's grammar, certainly one of the best grammar books of Telugu, appeared in 1840 and his dictionaries, which he continued to work on, were published in 1854. The dictionaries are consulted as standard reference books even today.


Among the first classical poems Brown corrected and published with commentaries were the dvipada kaavyas, "Tale of Nala" by Raghava (1841) and "The Calamities of Harischandra" by Gaurana Mantri (1842). Brown's preference for simple poetry free of "wretched pedantry" was well documented. He did not however permit his preference inhibit work on the procurement and publication of other Kavyas. Nannaya's aadiparvaM was published in 1843, vasu caritra in 1844 and manu caritra in 1851. For the latter two, Brown had Zuluri Appaya write commentaries. Brown wrote that the purpose of the commentary was to make the poem understood clearly without the need for oral instruction. Brown could not suffer scholars who used the commentaries to exhibit their paanDitya prakarsha.


Brown's efforts in procuring, correcting and printing Telugu literature was soon widely known. Various individuals approached him for press-ready copies that could be published and sold for profit. Brown obliged them. Puranam Hayagreeva Sastry obtained Potana BhaagavataM and published it in 1848 duly acknowledging Brown. Similarly Puvvada Venkata Rao, of "vartamaana tarangiNi," [1] published the entire mahaabhaarataM.

In later years, especially after Brown left India in 1855, several manuscripts he left behind in the Madras Oriental Manuscripts Library were published without acknowledgment to his efforts.


Among other classical poems prepared for printing were basavapuraaNaM, panDitaaraadhya caritra, ranganaatha ramaayaNaM, uttara raamaayaNaM, vijayavilaasaM, saaraMgadhara caritra, harivaMSaM, kaaSii khaMDaM, aniruddha caritra (ushaa pariNayaM), kucElOpaakhyaanaM, raadhikaa saantvanamu, and vikramaarka caritra. It is not an exaggeration to say that every classical poem now available in Telugu was either published by Brown or prepared for publication. Brown himself wrote that he had notes appended to all the leading Telugu poems. Most were published from the press-ready manuscripts he left behind.


Among the other works Brown prepared for publication, with translation, was the sumatii SatakaM (for a wRITten text of the Satakam Click here). A. P. Sahitya Academy published it in 1973. palnaaDu veera caritra (Wars of the Palnadu) was a favorite of Brown because it was a local story of the Telugus and it was in dvipada. Brown published it in 1852. Brown's scholarly study of veeraSaiva traditions in Telugu country, which highlighted the religion's folk underpinnings and the role of aaraaDhya Brahmins in developing an elite form of the religion, considerably enhanced our understanding of veeraSaivism beyond its conventional focus on northern Karnataka-based traditions [2].


In addition to his regular job, his activities in procuring, correcting and printing Telugu literature, writing grammar and dictionaries for Telugu, Brown was also an editor of the "Madras Journal of Literature and Science." In his desire to bring the Telugu literature to the attention of Westerners, he wrote summaries of the stories of the manuscripts he prepared for printing, and published them in this journal and in "The Asiatic Journal (London)."


Brown translated raajula yuddhamulu, a story about the history of Ananthapur. The book contained folktales popular in and around Ananthapur. musalamma maraNaM, the well known kaavyaM by C. R. Reddy, was based on a story from this Brown's book. Besides translating Telugu works into English, Brown translated several works of Christian literature from English into Telugu. looka cEta vraayabaDina Subha vartamaanamu was one of them.


Given his monumental efforts to get Telugu literature published, it was only natural that he introduced a few changes into the Telugu alphabet. He changed the ra vattu, which looked like a half circle placed under the alphabet, into the shape of ‘L’ and placed it on the left side of the letter. He also introduced an alternate ra vattu that looked like a ‘9’ placed after the letter. These innovations were helpful in printing. Another innovation, for which he was hated by the Pandits of his time, was the deletion of arasunna and SakaTarEpha (banDi-Ra) from the alphabet. In the first edition of Vemana's poems (1829), he included both; but by the time second edition was printed in 1839, he decided that these two alphabets were archaic and had no use to the language. Another innovation for which the scholars despised Brown was the inclusion of spoken words in his dictionary.


Brown paid close attention to the natives' habits, their heritage, and their likes and dislikes and respected them very much. He wrote, "Telugu people are as highly civilized as any in Europe." He compared the modes of speech of Telugus with those of Italians. His knowledge of the different dialects of Telugu was such that he predicted at one time that Vemana might have belonged to the southwestern part of Telangana.


He noticed that when white examiners went to test the students at Madras College, the native instructors were not allowed to sit in their presence. Brown successfully campaigned for changing this practice.


Brown's services as an administrator and a humanist were also of great importance to Telugus. His services as an administrator at the time of the great Guntur famine in 1832-1833 were highly commended. He opened schools for native children and maintained them.


Brown's poor health forced him to leave India in 1855. After returning to England, he continued his pursuits in Telugu. Brown was appointed professor of Telugu in London University in or around 1865. He wrote an autobiographical account and published it in 1866. Brown continued to add new words to his dictionary almost till the end of his life. He passed away on the 12th of December 1884.


With the advent of post-colonial, subaltern studies, the motives of the British orientalists of colonial period, including Brown, are in question. It is claimed that Brown's compilation of vocabularies, composition of grammars, translation of texts and production of dictionaries was not an innocent exercise in aiding the communication with the natives, but an effort aimed at constructing an image of India which could then be represented to Indians as the authentic object, which, by implication, only colonialism could produce [3]. The opponents of the above school of thought find the subaltern studies paradigm not convincing, and suggest that there was a crucial dialogue between the indigenous Telugu literati and the British, and that most of the colonial cultural practices were a result of such a dialogue [4].


This legendary Telugu enthusiast gave us chronicles, ephemeries, essays, grammars, lexicons, readers, treatises and translations besides publishing Telugu classical poems. His scholarly legacy continues to serve as an important and insightful source for studying and re-conceptualizing Telugu culture. Brown left behind a vast treasure of Telugu literary/historical documents. Innumerable works are lying in the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library, Madras, India office library, London, and at Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati. It is in the interest of Telugu people everywhere to have these materials well preserved and researched not only because of their literary value, but also because they provide a valuable window into Telugu history and social life of his time.


Brown's contributions have been extensively commented upon. Click here for an account of C.P. Brown's contribution as published in The Hindu newspaper, Sunday, 15 Nov, 1998 on the occasion of the bicentennial of Charles Philip Brown.



[1] vartamaana tarangiNi is one of the earliest news dailies in Telugu.

[2] Personal communication from Daniel D’Attilio, Univ. Of Wisconsin, Madison.

[3] For a pioneering analysis of British orientalists’ methods, motives and their studies: Bernard S. Cohn, The command of language and the language of command, In: Colonialism and its forms of knowledge - The British in India, Princeton Univ. Press, 1996.

[4] Brown himself disclaimed any grandiose ambitions of changing Telugu, declaring that he never "admitted a new Telugu phrase without duly warning the reader. To coin a new phrase is easy: but no foreigner has the power to give it currency. I am not one of those who fancy that we can alter or improve the languages used in India." Brown in his: Preface, English-Telugu Dictionary, Madras, 1854. On the contrary, as he critically collated several recensions of texts collected as a preparatory exercise to the compilation of his dictionary, Brown contended that the manuscripts "swarmed with errors." After discussion with the Pandits he had gathered for the purpose, Brown decided which version was "correct," "just as a judge frames a decree out of conflicting evidence." Literary autobiography of C. P. Brown, Bangorey (Ed), Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, 1978.



"braun jaabulu - telugu jarnalijam caritra 1832-1857," Bangorey (Ed), Nellore Historics Publication No. 3, 1973.


"Essay on the language and literature of the Telugus: In 2 Parts," C.P. Brown, Asian Educational Services,New Delhi, 1991. Repr. from: Madras journal of literature and science, 1839 - 1840.


"sumatee Satakam with English rendering" by C. P. Brown, edited by C. R. Sarma. Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Akademi, 1973.


"vEmana padyaalu [C. P. Brown 1839 naaTi sankalanaM]," BanGoRey (Ed), Yogi Vemana Telugu Vijnana Kendram, 1980.


"C. P. Brown (1799-1884)," Kottapalli Veerabhadra Rao, Published by the author, 1988.


Sitaramayya Ari (West Bloomfield, MI, USA)

Sreenivas Paruchuri (Paderborn, Germany)

An earlier version of this article was published in TANA - XI (Los Angeles) souvenir.
The present version was published in TANA patrika, Nov. 1998.
CPB's painting reproduced above is originally from
misimi monthly.
It is an imaginary portrait, based on CPB's father's picture that appeared in an old issue of "bhaarati."

Corrections including typos, suggestions, and additions to the above will be gratefully appreciated.
Kindly contact the Authors, or


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