Lecturer, St. Theresa College, Eluru


After the glorious age of the Tanjore Nayaks, despite a shriek here and a yell there, the voice of the Telugu poet was virtually silent for more than half a century. The reason for the inability of the poet to sing an independent song with full-throated ease and individuality lay in the adverse political and social conditions that were prevailing at that time. Along with his people, the poet was also groaning helplessly under the subjugation of foreign rule, and suffering from the dogmatic social beliefs and hard-pressed literary values, with the result, the literature of that period, i.e., the later nineteenth century, was marked with extreme devotion to form, adherence to a stereotyped diction, love of superficial polish and word-jugglery, lacking novelty, imaginative fervour and a distinct philosophy of its own.

When conditions were thus morbid and gloomy, the Swarajya movement was started in the country and whipped the people into activity. It led to a spiritual reawakening and the reawakening, in turn, led to the reformation of the society, establishment of new values of life and the exploration of new horizons in the literary world. This revival threw up an untiring social reformer in Kandukuri Veeresalingam and literary revolutionists in Gidugu Ramamurty and Gurazada Apparao.


Gidugu favoured the spoken tongue as against the inflexible and artificial language which was hitherto used in the books. Experimenting with this renovated language in the first decade of the 20th century, Gurazada inaugurated the modern age in Telugu literature. His social drama Kanyasulkam, written in the spoken tongue, became a source of inspiration for the later writers. Gurazada revolutionised not only the language but the poetic form and the spirit too. ‘Mutyalasaramu’ was a new verse pattern adopted, which became a favourite vehicle of expression for many poets afterwards. At the height of his voice, Gurazada shouted: “A ncw era is started, new song is sung, and new vistas are opened.” He became a spiritual teacher for many progressive writers, the striking features of whose poetry are: realism, optimism and socialism.


The other chief contributors to the dawn of the modern age are: Tirupathi Venkata Kavulu and Rayaprolu Subbarao. Tirupathi Sastry and Venkata Sastry collaborated themselves into Tirupathi Venkata Kavulu. With their ‘Sathavadhanams’, literary disputes, and with other popular, yet uncommon, compositions they sowed the seeds of literary interest in the Andhra public and thus became chiefly responsible for the renaissance in Andhra. Tirupathi Venkata Kavulu dominated the Telugu literary field for over half a century and, with their magnetic influence, they drew many young men to poetry. Their method is mainly traditional, slightly altering the past in view of the present and directing the present in the light of the past.


Realism and traditionalism being thus two distinct streams of modern Telugu poetry, romanticism is a third one, which had its origin in Rayaprolu Subbarao, a student at Tagore’s Shanti Niketan. The urge towards self-expression, untrammelled by text-books and dogmas, led him to try his hand in romantic poetry, which is mainly subjective with a melancholic tone. His books Truna kankanam, Lalita and Snehalata introduce platonic love, which afterwards became the subject-matter for many poets. Rayaprolu, who is also a poet of the national and the Andhra movements, chisels his poems with feminine grace and sweetness of expression.


Since a critical examination of the poetry of the chief spoksmen of these three main currents–realistic, traditionalistic and romantic–will give a fair estimate of modern Telugu poetry, an attempt is made in this essay to examine the contribution made only by such poets.




Among the realists, who afterwards called themselves ‘Progressive Writers’, Srirangam Srinivasarao–Sri Sri–is a very important poet. Inspired by the realism of Gurazada and the philosophy of Marx, Sri Sri wrote his book Maha Prastanam. Sri Sri is a celebrated rebel. His name became a by-word for revolt against conventional poetry, pious frauds, sanctimonious humbugs, social injustice and political hypocrisy. The word, the idea, the emotion and the music–all blend together into a poem or song in his poetry. With keenness of sympathy and boldness of imagination, he prophesied a new world, a world of equality and justice. He announced; “From a sleeping dog to a wakeful soul, anything on this earth is fit to be the theme of poetry.”


With a novel diction of orientalised English, peculiar expression and typical syntax, Arudra occupies a conspicuous place in the galaxy of progressive writers. He strikes the keynote of his philosophy in Twamevaham, in which he says: “The train you want to get into is always late by one life time. The T. T. C., does not allow the luggage of your ideals on the plea that it is excess. So, cursing your fate, remain where you are.”


Unlike Arudra, Avantsa Somasundar is optimistic. He opened his magnum opus: Vajrayutham with the optimistic lines: “On the tomb of the old generation, a new plant of equality lifts its head.”


Bairagi is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. He is not even neutral. His “Nootilo Gontukalu” is a poem of doubts with an eternal question: Which is the right path? While the exhausted well stands as a symbol for lifelessness, fall and death, its three protagonists–Hamlet, Arjuna and Roskalnikov–represent the restless man, whose defects are retreat, worship of false powers and self-destruction.


If Anisetti craves for peace and justice in Agniveena, Patabhi warns the modern man in his ‘Fidel Ragaal Dozen’ not to proceed towards the sea of death in the darkness of ignorance.


Unlike the other progressive writers, ‘Rentala’ does not want to shear himself completely from the traditional heritage of the Vedic and the Puranic lore. That is why he introduces sacrifice in his Sarpayaga after the Vedic and Puranic fashion. But it is modern sacrifice. At the altar of Truth, Poverty is sacrificed under the auspices of Daya, Dharma and Santi.


Distinct and different from the progressive writers, Bala Gangadhara Tilak presents an unbroken thread of imagery, spun by a number of single-lined anecdotes. In the annals of Telugu literature his name goes down as an unrivalled master of verse libre.




The most conspicuous literary giant among the traditionalists is undoubtedly Viswanatha Satyanarayana. In his early days, he was the romantic poet of Kinnerasani patalu but as his mind grew more mature, and scholarship more confirmed, he emerged into the epic poet of Ramayana Kalpavriksham. He leaves scarcely any kind of writing untouched and touches nothing that he does not adorn. In all these works, he criticises contemporary life to the extent it is deteriorating and straying from Dana and Dharma.


Pingali Lakshmikantam and Katuri Venkateswararao occupy an important place in the list of traditional poets. They translated Aswaghosha’s Soundaranandam with the stamp of individuality and poetic afflatus. In a typical traditionalistic way, they respect the old verse form, poetic conventions and ways of expression, while the tone and the outlook are modern. Soundaranandam, which preaches universal love, is a book of poetry of the highest order.


Gadiyaram Sesha Sastry’s Sivabharatam, the heroic story of Shivaji, the Maharashtra leader, is modelled after the Mahabharata. The dignity of the tone and the seriousness of the treatment have earned a unique place for Sivabharatam in the history of modern Telugu literature.


The happy union of the varied beauty of the traditional style and the dynamic spirit of the modern expression can be noticed in Samavedam’s Varudhini, Indraganti Hanumacchastry’s Daksharamam and Cherukupalli Jamadagni Sarma’s Mahodayam. Of these three, the second poet started his career as a romantist, like Viswanatha and Pingali, to become a traditionalist afterwards.


Madhunapantula Satyanarayana Sastry, in his Andhra Puranam, sang the song of ancient Andhras, who were mighty builders of vast kingdoms and great cities and who contributed in abundance to the architectural, musical and literary wealth of the country.


Jashua, Jandhyala Papayya Sastry and Nanduri Krishnamacharya are often termed as the neo-classists of the traditional school. They usually select themes, incidents and characters from the puranas and mythologies and treat them with a novel tone, a modern spirit and a new fashion, akin to the romantists. They are extremely popular, with their lucidity, ease and chiselled beauty.


All these traditional poets have respect for the establish order both of substance and of form. Their respect for the old is not to re-establish it, nor to confuse the vital and the unessenntial, the real and the sentimental.




Amidst the din and clamour of realists and traditionalists, the voice of the romantists is not feeble; on the other hand, powerful at times. The romantic stream is widened with Pingali-Katuri’s­ Tolakari, in which the conventional expressions, monotonous rhythmic usage and stereotyped descriptions are gently ridiculed.


In Devulapalli Krishna Sastry, we find a powerful champion of romanticism. A new movement, namely, ‘Bhava Kavitwam’ started with him. In his Krishnapaksham, Krishna Sastry pre­sents a typical mood of romanticism, which is often melancholic. In Krishnapaksham, a morbid lover is painted, who loses not merely his love but even his-capacity for love. The poet exclaims: “Do you know who I am? I am the lord of melancholy and dark­ness. At the midnight hour of death, I hold my court wearing a crown of thorns and singing a song of woe, which tunes with the shriek of the owl.” As Sastry has a dual personality, he often liberates himself from the typical melancholy state of the romantist. In such a spirit, he longs in his heart to mingle with ‘Beauty’, devoid of ‘Form’. As a true romantist, he identifies himself with every object in nature, the leaf, the twig, the tide, the bee and the rivulet. The vowel harmony and the innate music of the Telugu language reach a high water-mark in his hands.


Viswanatha Satyanarayana, the great traditionalistic poet, was also a great romantic poet in his early days. His poem Kinnerasani composed at that period is a striking example of highly imaginative poetry of the first order. The hero of the poem being a mountain­ and the heroine a mountain stream, inanimate nature in the poem, takes on life and the story moves in dramatic sequences with a tempo rare in any literature.




The works of most of the poets mentioned, irrespective of­ the school to which they belong, are Khanda Kavyas, collections of small poetic pieces, each piece being an emotional picture of the poet’s single thought, experience, imagination or loose sally of the mind. The form may be an accepted and conventional verse, or a new verse invented for the purpose, or lines governed by no rule of prosody otherwise called verse libre. Verse libre is mostly used by progressive writers, whose poetry exhibits certain distinct features. Their main concern is for the future, their poetic material being socialism and the problems around them, while the medium is realism. The traditionalists often turn to the past for their material of eternal values to be presented in the medium of classicism. The Romantists’ main concern is for the present, love being their common theme, which is presented in a highly lyrical manner. Almost all the poets in these three classes are keenly alive to the conditions around them and hence we find patriotic poets in all these three schools.


In Vedula Satyanarayana Sastry’s Deepavali, which is an important milestone in the history of romantic poetry, we find the song of patriotism. A flower in his Deepavali announces: “I have no desire to adorn the heads of either idols or ladies, nor do I enjoy the company of the bee and the lulling caress of the west-wind. My ardent desire is only to spread my fragrance around the tombs, where the heroes of the freedom struggle are taking perpetual rest.”


Nanduri Subbarao described the love of Yenki and Nayudu Bava, a folk heroine and her lover, in his book Yenkipatalu. It is at once romantic and mystic. Duvvuri Ramireddy’s Parnasala and Nayani Subbarao’s Soubhadruni Pranaya Yatra are filled with exquisite lyrical beauties. Ordinary incidents in life gain poetic colour in the hands of Basavaraju Apparao. Hence, his lyrics are filled with simple and unadorned poetry exhibiting wonderful sincerity and freshness.


Boyi Bheemanna, in his Pairupata, made a fresh departure. He immortalised the rural beauties of Andhra. Narayana Reddy belongs both to the realistic and the romantic schools, as he started his career as a progressive writer supporting the Telangana movement and gradually emerged into a romantic poet. Divvelu Muvvalu, Nagarjunasagar and ‘Collection of Songs’ are some of his works which throb with poetic imagery and novel expressions.


Dividing even broadly the poetry of the modern age into three phases thus is, of course, not justifiable as the present age is full of complexities, each representing a different movement, a separate school and a distinct voice. That is why the attempted classification is simply tentative and not final, because we find at times the same poet belonging to two different schools.


For instance, Dasarathi, each line of whose works, either pulsates with poetry of high order or burns with the flame of emotion, is not only progressive but also romantic and traditional.


In his famous poems Agnidhara, Rudraveena and Mahandhrodyamu, he handles the burning political problems after the fashion of a progressive writer who cherished an ardent hope of a better future. His Punarnavam and Navamanjari present him as a romantic poet, a writer of love themes with a concern for the present alone. But, throughout his works, we notice the hand of a traditionalist respecting everything that is great in the past. He himself said: “I deny neither the past nor the future, when I embrace the present. With a dimple in my cheek and a smile on my lips, I cheerfully wear the garland of time.” Dasarathi’s progressive  tone and lyrical exuberance are wedded in these lines:


“Let war be arrested and hanged

While peace spreads its petals

And treads here slowly and silently

Like a dumb Jasmine bud.”


Thus, with these three bright facets, the diamond of Telugu modern poetry shines brightly in the dazzling necklace of Bharata Saraswati, respecting everything that is good in the old and great in the new, reflecting in it the spirit of the society around it and imbibing the conflicting influences of the present age to form a happy synthesis.