| Home | Prabandha | Sataka | Script |


Restless British Pandit - Legacy of the Raj


This article was published by The Hindu, Sunday, 15 Nov, 1998 on the occasion of the bicentennial of Charles Philip Brown (born November l0, 1798). This East India Company official rejuvenated Telugu literature at a time when it was moribund, writes C. V. RAMACHANDRA RAO.


The 18th century is a dark-age in the history of the Telugu language and literature. Because of several political and social factors during this period, it was devoid of any creative effort, and in a state of dormancy. It was deprived of the patronage it received earlier, from the kings and feudal lords, during the Vijayanagara times and later during the period of Nayaka kings, who were Telugus ruling over the Tamil land.


At that time only a few could identify, assess and enjoy a rich literary legacy that was 800 years old. Most Telugus were illiterate. Even among the literates, those interested in the perusal and study of literary works and classics, did not have easy access to them. Only a few copies of these literary or poetical classics, such as palm-leaf manuscripts, were available in the private libraries of the well-to-do and Telugu pandits.


Charles Philip Brown (1794 -1884), a civil official of the East India Company, became the "Telugu Sun," to dispel the darkness that had enveloped the language and literature and awaken Telugus to their rich literary heritage.


Brown or C.P Brown was born in Calcutta in l 798 to Rev. David Brown who was in the service of the English East India Company, and to Mrs. Francis Cowle. He had his education at Fort William College, Calcutta up to 1812. After his father died that year, he left for England along with his mother. There he was trained for two years, from 1814, at the Haileybury College to become a prospective civil servant of the English East India Company Government in the Madras Presidency.


Brown disembarked at Madras on August 4. 1817 to join the service. According to the rules, learning languages was a must, so, for three years he studied the South Indian vernaculars -Telugu and Marathi -as optional languages, at Fort St. George College. This was his first foray into Telugu, though by that time he was a polyglot -proficient in Hebrew, Latin, Greek, Persian, Arabic, Syrian. French, Italian, Sanskrit and Hindustani.


After passing the examinations in 1820, Brown was appointed as assistant to Collector in Cuddapah. He had made Cuddapah the centre of his efforts to resuscitate and rejuvenate Telugu literature at a time, when, to put it in his own words, "Telugu literature was dying out; the flame was flickering in the socket". He has described the pathetic and deplorable condition in which Telugu literature was: "in 1825, I found Telugu literature dead. In 30 years I raised it to life."


In Cuddapah he bought an old bungalow where competent Telugu pandits worked to carry out his task of the discovery and recovery of Telugu literary works and poetical classics. Later, it came to be called as Brown's College.


In 10 years, Brown became a master of Telugu language and literature. He began his study of the language with the verses of Vemana, "a rustic epigrammist." He was fascinated by the easy and colloquial Telugu in which these verses were written. As a maiden effort, he translated the verses of Vemana into English and got it published in 1829. Later, with assistance, he delved deep in the study of Telugu poetical classics. From the time he landed in Madras in 1817, till his death at London in 1884, he devoted the 60 years of the 86 years of his life to the study, revival and promotion of Telugu.


There were three aspects in Brown's self-imposed and magnificent task. These were: his own writings on several aspects and in several genres of Telugu, the discovery and recovery of Telugu poetical works and classics from the oblivious state in which they were, and the printing and publication of Telugu classics -well edited with easy commentaries.


Among the works that Brown authored, we have dictionaries, treatises on grammar and prosody, Telugu readers, chronicles, tales, translations of poetical works and essays and monographs in literary journals.


A.D. Campbell, William Brown and J. C. Morris, civil servants and contemporaries of Brown had published dictionaries of the language. C.P. Brown brought out a grammar of the Telugu language in 1840 and his bi-lingual Telugu dictionaries (brauNya nighaMTus) in 1852. But at the same time it should be emphasized that all the writings of Brown on different aspects of Telugu language and literature would not match in weight and importance the services he rendered by way of discovery and "recovery" of poetical works and classics. The services he rendered by way of discovery, recovery, printing and publication alone would have been enough to ensure that he was called as the "Telugu Sun."


Brown, in his self-imposed task of the discovery and recovery of Telugu classics, collected manuscripts from all over the State, and even outside it (such as the Saraswati Mahal Library in Tanjavur).


He got commentaries written on poetical classics like the manucaritra and the vasucaritra, which were easy to read, by competent pandits like Juluru Appayya Sastrulu and Mulupaka Bucchayya Sastrulu. To copy the manuscripts and getting commentaries written on the texts, Brown employed 49 copy writers and 23 pandits, all of whom were paid from his earnings as a civil official. It is on record that by 1840, he got ready for print 18 critically edited texts of Telugu poetical classics and easy commentaries written on nine of these classics. Nearly all were printed by 1842.


Before Brown took up the task of printing Telugu poetical works and classics, no Telugu kaavya had been printed. Leave alone poetical works, before 1816, when the Teloogoo Grammar by A. D. Campbell was published, no Telugu work of any importance was published either from Madras, which was then the hub of all Telugu literary activities, or from any place in Andhra. Thus the credit of being the first printer and publisher of Telugu poetical works and classics in the history of Telugu language and literature goes to Brown. Brown says that when he took on the task of printing Telugu kaavyas, which were available till then only as palm-leaf manuscripts, the printing of such works was considered by Telugu scholars as profanation. It was the efforts of Brown, for nearly two decades, that awoke the Telugus to the advantages of printing.


About the state of printing, Brown wrote: "Printing has been used among the Tamils for more than a century. Among the Telugus, it commenced about 1806, but made little progress till 1830."


To facilitate printing in Telugu, Brown introduced certain changes in the letters and fonts. The following extract shows the changes that Brown brought: "In those days Telugu printing was tedious because the (crara) letter ‘R' was shaped as a cup containing another letter. To remedy this I invented two substitutes one resembling a rectangle like 'L' and the other like numeral `I'. The compositors found that this contrivance removed the difficulty. Numerals on pages, running titles, printers' stops, divisions of chapters, and, in a slight degree, space between words; all these and other innovations are coming more and more into vogue, as I perceive, in the Telugu volumes printed in the 1860s and 1870s." A few other changes were as follows:


In printing, to use only saadhu rEpha (soft 'R') and give up the SakaTa rEpha (hard 'R').

To use only the soft sounds of ‘cha' and 'ja', and give up the hard ones

Dropping of the ardhaanusvaara sign ('(') in certain Telugu words such as proper names.

In printing poems, to break each line into two at the point of Caesura (yati sthaana), and indicate the caesural letter by an asterisk (*).

These are still in vogue.

Brown collected, spending several thousand rupees, more than 2,000 Sanskrit and Telugu works which he donated to the Madras Literary Society in 1847. Later, these works were transferred to the Madras Government Oriental Manuscripts Library.

In retirement in England, from 1855 to 1884, because of his great love for the language, he accepted the professorship of Telugu at the London University; this enabled him to pursue Telugu studies to the last days of his life.

Bishop Caldwell, great Dravidian Indologist, met Brown on a voyage from England to India and learnt Sanskrit on board. Caldwell in his Reminiscences (published in 1894) describes C. P. Brown as "a restless Pandit, Mr. Brown." But for the pioneering, untiring and unparalleled efforts of Brown for over half a century, to resuscitate and rejuvenate the Telugu language and literature from the moribund state in which he found it, in 1825, we would not have had an integrated history of Telugu language and literature.


The writer is a senior fellow, Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi.

Brown's contributions have been extensively commented upon. Click here for an article originally published in TANA-XI (Los Angeles) souvenir and the TANA patrika, Nov. 1998.



The article above was taken from The Hindu newspaper dated Sunday, Nov. 15, 1998.
The electronic version has been prepared from the original print edition
(it was not available in the online edition of The Hindu).
It is posted here with the intention of disseminating knowledge about
the remarkable contributions of C.P. Brown.
We extend our thanks to The Hindu and the author Sri C. V. RAMACHANDRA RAO.

Kindly notify us in case of any copyright problems. An appropriate action shall be taken.

Sreenivas Paruchuri (Paderborn, Germany)

Corrections including typos, suggestions, and additions to the above will be gratefully appreciated.

Kindly contact Sreenivas Paruchuri or adluri@engr.mun.ca

| Home | Prabandha | Sataka | Script |