“One cannot talk about Telugu literature without talking about Sanskrit”- Prof Srinivas Reddy

Gandhinagar: As a part of the sixth edition of the Indian Knowledge Systems (IKS) elective course, the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar (IITGN) held two online lectures, ‘Sweeter than Honey: The Advent and Rise of Classical Telugu Literature’ and ‘Conquest of the World: Krishnadevaraya’s Amuktamalyada’. Distinguished author, translator, and musician Dr Srinivas Reddy delivered these talks on January 20 & 21, 2022.


In his first lecture, Dr Srinivas provided a glimpse into the interesting history of language, identity, and region with respect to Telugu literature. He started the session by highlighting several conjectured origins of the word ‘Telugu’. One of them involved Trilinga, the three great Shivalayas (coastal Andhra, Telangana, Rayalaseema) that mapped out a certain territory. Another traced the word to tene, meaning honey. Telugu is sweet like honey, which inspired the first lecture’s title. Dr Srinivas emphasised that one cannot talk about Telugu without talking about Sanskrit, at least from a literary perspective. A significant portion of Telugu literature is defined by models derived from Sanskrit (e.g., grammar). He elaborated on the advent and rise of classical Telugu literature, with a focus on the multifaceted process of vernacularisation, by discussing poets like Nannaya (Andhra-Mahabharatamu), Somanatha, Potana, and Srinatha. In the process, an initially ‘desi’ line of literature rose to the status of ‘marga’ or classical.


The second talk by Dr Srinivas threw light on one of the Pancha-Mahakavyas (five great poems) of Telugu, the Amuktamalyada penned by the sixteenth-century Vijayanagara king Krishnadevaraya. The period of the Vijayanagara empire is sometimes called the Golden Age of Telugu literature as the majority of the courtiers were Telugu poets, especially eight of them sitting in a great hall called ‘Conquest of the World’ – which refers not to military conquest, but to poetry’s power to conquer the universe.


Before Krishnadevaraya’s poem, almost all Telugu literature was primarily based on stories from the Sanskrit tradition (e.g., Mahabharata, Ramayana, the Puranas). Krishnadevaraya departed by composing a story drawn from the Tamil tradition instead of Sanskrit: Amuktamalyada, written in ornate classical Telugu, extols the Tamil Alwar saint Andal and her devotion for Krishna, which weaves together themes relating to vernacular literature, courtly power, and bhakti. Dr Srinivas explained how those traditions evolved over time, and how perceptions about languages, their status, functions and interactions, also keep changing over time. Both lectures concluded with lively Q/A sessions.


Dr Srinivas Reddy studied classical South Asian languages and literature at UC Berkeley and currently teaches at Brown University and IITGN. He is also a concert sitarist and studied in the traditional guru-shishya parampara with Pandit Partha Chatterjee, a senior disciple of the late sitar maestro Pandit Nikhil Banerjee of the Maihar Gharana. Dr Srinivas has also authored some notable books, including Raya: Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagara (2020), Meghadutam: The Cloud Message (2017), Malavikagnimitram: The Dancer and the King (2015), and Amuktamalyada: Giver of the Worn Garland (2010).


This is the sixth edition of the Introduction to Indian Knowledge Systems elective course, being held online on the theme ‘Precolonial India’s Treasure House of Literatures’. The course is open to students and anyone interested in India’s knowledge systems and cultural heritage. They can join the course for free by registering online at: http://iks.iitgn.ac.in/. All lectures will be live-streamed on IITGN’s YouTube channel.

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