Puranas and Itihasas defining the Telugu Identity
The Andhra Mahabharatam by the Kavitriyam and the Andhra Mahabhagavatam by Mahakavi Potana, are the two major works forming the cornerstones of the cultural legacy of the Telugu speaking people. They are as significant to the Telugu culture as is the Ramacharitamanas in the plains of the Ganga.
The two are close though not exact adaptations of their Sanskrit sources produced by Maharishi Veda Vyasa. Such is the case with adaptations to the Sanskrit texts in the rest of the languages of Bharat.
It is definitely true that Telugu literature precedes these great works by several centuries. Such magnificient works would not have spontaneously appeared from the void. But very little content survives from previous eras.
Kavijanashrayam is an older text, a study of Chandas in the Telugu language. A work by Malliya Rechana, about whom nothing else is known. It is the oldest discovered scholarly text in the Telugu language. This excellent text, dating from the 9th century CE, establishes the antiquity of Telugu definitely early into the first millenium CE, possibly earlier. But naturally a text on prosody will not be so widely know or celebrated as the Mahabharata and the Bhagavatam.
These two works are widely regarded as the foundational basis of the modern Telugu identity.
There is some learned commentary of the distinction between the language of the Andhras and Telugu. That is a different topic. But it may be asserted without controversy that the two have been identical atleast since the date of the Shatavahana empire centered in the modern day Andhra – Telangana regions since around the 2nd Century BCE.
Kavi Triyam – The poets of the Andhra Mahabharata
The Andhra Mahabharata was the earlier of these two great works. And it was produced by three great poets. In three eras.
- Nannaya Bhattaraka – Guru and poet of Raja Raja Narendra, a Chalukya emperor of the eastern Chalukya dynasty. He produced the first two and a half parvas of the Andhra Mahabharata. This work alone amounts to about half of the total volume of the entire Andhra Mahabharatam. He produced several other important works, including the oldest surviving Telugu grammar, Andhra Sabda Chintamani. Interestingly this work is in Sanskritam. He has been widely recognized as the “Adi Kavi”. Though recently there has been some scholarly debate whether he was indeed the first Telugu poet, it is beyond controversy, that the most significant foundational legacy in the Telugu language is his work. He lived in the 11th century CE in Rajamahendravaram the capital of the Eastern Chalukyas.
- Tikkana Somayaji – Guru and poet of Manumasiddhi, the king of Nelluru (Nellore). He was a contemporary of Ganapatideva of the Kakatiyas, from whom he received military assistance for the defence of his king, Manumasiddhi. He lived in the 13th century CE. He translated the remaining fifteen parvas of the Mahabharata. This work amounts to close to half of the total volume of the Mahabharata.
- Erra Pragada – Erra Pragada was a minister and poet in the court of Prolaya Vema Reddi, the hero that had expelled the Turkish invaders from Kondaveedu. It was tumultous period in the history of Andhra. The Turks had invaded and defiled the entire Telugu country and the whole of Southern India. The Hindu restoration, though partial and incomplete, was not long in the coming. A coalition of aristocracy and commanders of the Kakatiya empire quickly overthrew the occupiers in Orugallu (warangal) and restored the independence of the greater part of the Telugu country. A similar feat would be repeated by the Vijayanagara led coalition over the rest of southern India. Erra Pragada’s works therefore are a reassertion of the unbroken national independence and cultural resilience of the Hindus in the face of unprecedented adversity. Erra Pragada too was a prolific writer and produced many important works. He completed the unfinished part of the Aranya Parva that Nannaya had left incomplete. His work seamlessly merges the styles of his illustrious precedessors.
Tikkana – https://www.vepachedu.org/tikkana.htm
Erra Pragada – https://www.poemhunter.com/yerrapragada/biography/