Literature – Sindhi, Tamil and Telegu


The language of a province now in Pakistan, which is spoken in India by Sindhis who migrated here after the formation of Pakistan, settling largely in Mumbai, Delhi and Jaipur. Sind was the first place in the subcontinent to be invaded by Arabs, in 712 AD, and thereafter its literature and culture was highly coloured by Islam.

The earliest known Sindhi literature is in a verse form called gahu and in ballads, both panegyrics to the Sumra and Samma kings of the region (1050-1520 AD). From about 1520 to 1843 AD, mystic Sufi philosophy, influenced by Vedanta philosophy was in vogue. Poets of this period included Ruhal, whose message prevailed in northern Sind and who settled in Kandri near Umarkot (where Akbar the Mughal was born). The saying “We saw god in Kandri,” originates from the legend of Ruhal and spawned a poetic movement called Kandri verse, whose proponents were Murad Fakir, Shahu Fakir, Ghulam Ali Fakir and a love lyricist Darya Khan, who specialised in a lyric form called kafi.

Another medieval Sufi – Vedantist was Dalpat, who campaigned for communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims through his Cyan Margi(path of knowledge) poetry, written in the verse form. The cycle of seasons and tales of Sufis, especially the story of six blind men and the elephant are enduring pieces from this period.

The Sufi poet, Qazi Qazan (1465- 1551) a contemporary of Surdas wrote the Bayamul Asrifin, on the lines of the Hindi doha (couplet), influenced by the wandering Bhakti poets who visited Sind. In the late medieval period Shah Abdul Karim 0537-1622) wrote 94 dohas in pure Sindhi, while Shah Inayatullah (1652- 1713) wrote Surud Ramkali, a poem based on the Raga Ramkali. He wrote Bait and Kafi verse romances using fresh images and stories of pilgrimages to Puri, Konkan and Malabar. Abdul Rauf Bhatti Makhdum (1682-1762) wrote devout Muslim poetry, extolling the mercy of God, the beauty of nature and the life of the common folk. He composed the first Sindhi maluds (poems in praise of the Prophet).

But the greatest Sindhi poet was Shah Abdul Latif (1689-1752), also called Latif Bhitar or Bhita Ghot. He was the grandson of Shah Abdul Karim of Bulri, the great Sufi. Latif was born in Hala Haveli in Hyderabad (Sind) but after his father’s death he lived on a mound (Bhit), three to five km away. He died there and today his dargah is a place of pilgrimage.


The oldest living language in India, written originally in a script called Grantham, almost purely Dravidian. Its origins are distinguished by the existence of the Sangam, the only known literary assembly of the time. There were three Sangams between the 1st and 4th centuries AD. Of the first, believed to be convened by Shiva and attended by legendary sages, there is no trace. Of the second, only the early Tamil grammar, the Tolkappiam survives. The third Sangam is best known, with 200 – 500 poets as members – wandering bards who assembled regularly at Madurai, the Pandyan capital, to set the conventions of the language.

About 2,000 poems exist from the third Sangam, classified into eight anthologies ‘ (Ettu Togai), divided into two types of poetry – ‘internal’ (agam), dealing with love and ‘external’ (purana), praising kings.

Besides the Ettu Togai, Sangam literature also contains the Pathu Patu (The Ten Songs), which are longer poems separately collected. A distinct feature of Tamil poetry is the initial rhyme or assonance, in which the first syllable or syllables of each couplet must rhyme – a device unknown to any Sanskritic or western language, which usually have end-rhymes. Kapilar, Avvaiyar (called the Tamil mother) and Paranar were three Sangam poets whose work is still known and taught.

Post – Sangam literature shows more Aryan influence, especially Jaina. Two moral texts from this age ‘are particularly famous – the Naladiyarand Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukeural, an enduring work by an inspired weaver. It had brief, metrical proverbs, full of sensible, practical advice. By the 6th century, Aryan influence pervaded Tamil Nadu and Sanskrit literature began to influence Tamil, especially the kavyas (long poems). The earliest and still most revered of these is the Siiappadikaram (The Jewelled Anklet), in a style very different from Sanskrit poetry. It tells of the ill-starred couple, Kovalan and Kannagi. The poem is attributed to Ilango Adigal, a grandson of the great Chola ruler Karikalan and its fiery heroine Kannagi is venerated even today.

A little later, Manimeealai, a sequel to Silappadiearam, appeared. It was attributed to a Buddhist writer, Sattanar. A third Tamil epic was the Jivaka Chintamani, by a jain, Tiruttakkadevar, on the exploits of a jain hero.

But of all northern themes, it is Kambar’s Ramayanam, 9th century, that is much more than a mere translation of Valmiki and endures as a loved classic in Tamil Nadu. Kambar frequently deviates from the original and offers different interpretations of key characters, notably Ravana.

The medieval age (10th to 11th century) is given to Bhakti poetry, particularly of the Shaiva Nayanmars and the Vaishnava Alwars. Of the former, Manikkavachakar’s Tbiruuacbagam Cri lyrical poems), Appar’s and Sambandar’s Tevaram (a vast collection of Shaiva hymns), Sundarar’s poems, and the 4,000 poems of the 12 Vaishnava Alwars, collectively called the Nalaiyara Dioya Prabandbam, are eminent.

Colonial influence, in what became the Madras Presidency under the British, pushed Tamil literature into modern genres. The first Tamil novel, Pratapa Mudaliar Charitram was written in 1879 by Vedanayakam Pillai.

But it was Subramania Bharati who, at the start of this century, revolutionised Tamil literature with his vast output of poetry and song, fervently urging nationalism, dreaming wildly of a free India and using folk song forms. His Kilipattu (parrot songs) are taught in schools today. Bharati became a model for successors like Bharati Dasan (Pandiyan Parisu, a romance in verse), Ramalingam Pillai, Desikavinayakam Pillai and lyricists like Kannadasan and Surata.

The last 50 years has seen the advancement of novel and short story writing. The best known, besides Vedanayakam Pillai are Natesa Shastry and B. Rajarn Iyer. ‘Kalki ‘ is acknowledged as the father of the historical novel (like Parthiban Kanauu), while social and contemporary themes were explored in the works of writers like jayakantha, Akhilan, Lakshmi and Shivasankari.

Short stories became the forte of Kalki, Devar, Sundara Ramaswamy, Jayakanthan and K. Alagiriswamy. Satirists like ‘Cho’ Ramaswamy have written political plays like Tugblac and even founded a satirical magazine of the same name.

Tamil magazines have played an important role in popularising the short story.


The first evidence of the language is found on rock inscriptions ordered by Dhananjaya Chola in 575 AD at Renadu. Other inscriptions are found in Cudappah district. The first known poet is Nannaya, patronized by the Vengi king, Rajaraja Narendra who translated part of the- Mahabharata and brought order into the evolving language.

Then followed a flood of translation right down to the 14th century. Tikkana (12th century) and Errapragada (14th century) form a sort of triumvirate with Nannaya.

Original work in Telugu begins with Srinatha, a 14th century poet at the court of the Reddy Kings of Konda Veedu. He was called Kavi Sarvabhauma (Poet Emperor), for his contemporary satires, the new idiomatic and metrical trends he set and the sheer felicity of his language, in works like Pallanati Viracbarita, Maruttara Cbaritaand Saluabana Sapia Shati. Other original works like Bhogini Pandaea, Virabhadra Vijaya and Narayana Shatakawere written by Potana, who was also the first to translate the Bhagauata Purana into Telugu with the help of his disciples.

Music entered Telugu poetry in a major way in the 15th century with prolific composers like the Vaishnava Tallapakka family, especially Annamacharya. The age of Krishnadevaraya, the most renowned ruler of the Vijayanagar empire was known for prabandha (compositions). His court poets were called the Ashta Diggaja (named for the eight mythical elephants supposed to be, shouldering Mother Earth from all points of the compass). They wrote poetic compositions that lent themselves to theatre, to music and public recitation. Some of the best were by Peddana, called Andbra Kavita Pitamaba (the grandsire of Telugu poetry), Nandi Timmana, Ayyalaraju Rambhadra, Dhurjati and the witty Tenali Raman, whose quicksilver conversation with Krishnadevaraya passed into folklore, just as Akbar and Birbal’s exchanges did in the north.

The 15th century is also marked by Pingala Surana 0520-80), whose Kalapurnodaya, a comedy of errors is a milestone in original writing. He was also a pioneer of Shlesba Kaoita, full of puns and wrote Ragbava Pandaviya narrating the story of Rama and the Panda vas in one poem.

For 150 years after the 16th century, Thanjavur was the scene of hectic literary activity. The poet Chenakari Venkata wrote Vijaya Vilasa, full of pun and irony. Raghunadaraya (1600-33) wrote Valmiki Charita, Ramayana and Sbringara Sauitrio The dancers in his staged Ramayana were the court dancers (devadasis) of Thanjavur.

Others like Sheshan Venkatapati Samukaharn, Venkata Krishnappa ayaka and Muddipalam, portrayed contemporary life under a Puranic veil. In this age Yakshagana ballads flourished. Viswanath Nayaka wrote a prose work Rayavachakam, bridging the forms of poetry and prose. In lyrical poetry, the best-known works were by Ramadasu.

Thyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastri further enriched Telugu lyric poetry. Vemana wrote verses like the Vemana Shataea, replete with pithy and epigrammatic expressions which satirized contemporary society. Chellapilla Venkata Shastry and Devakarala Tirupati Shastry (author of Buddbacbarita and Devi Bhagavatam) are the link poets between the medieval and modern ages. Like their predecessor Srinatha, they toured extensively and though there was nothing original in their work, they served as a conduit for modern writing, especially for 20th century social realists like the novelist Vakati Panduranga Rao.

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