Early Sanskrit in the South

Confluence, Juxtaposition and Play of languages

Sujatha R
3 min readFeb 25, 2021

I stumbled upon this woderful talk from DAVID DEAN SHULMAN, Professor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He spoke about a lot of things.. I have captured 2 points.. Inception of Telugu literature and inception of Malayalam language..

Nannaya Bhattaraka of the 11th century AD is known for formalising Telugu Grammar inline with Panini’s Astadyayi. His Telugu retelling of Mahabharata is the first recorded work of Telugu literature and is sprewn all over with Sanskrit. In this opening verse..

“Nannayya bhattu became absorbed composing Mahabharatha in tenungu. While the great kavis were absorbed in the inner meanings (saara), the others were smitten by the elegant sounds (akshara ramyata)”

I have highlighted the telugu codes.

sAramatin kavIndrulu prasanna-katha-kaltArtha-yukti-lon
Arasi melu nAn itarul aksara-ramyatan Adarimpa nA-
nA-ruchirArtha-sukti-nidhi nannayya bhattu tenungunan maha-
bharata-samhita-rachana-bandhurud ayyen jagad-dhitambugan

The Naishadha-charita is one of the mahakavyas (great epic poems) and its subject is the story Of Nala and Damayanti adopted from a plot in the Mahabharata.

It was translated by Sriharsha as Naiṣadhamu. It seems more of a Sanskrit to Sanskrit retelling.. The longish Sanskrit compound words fused into one context were deftly converted to Telugu context endings.. and interlacing of Telugu phrases at the end to give a local effect.

The Swan describes the matchless beauty of Damayanti and her “size zero” waist kind of beauty in those times. What a twist of lines..

“Connoiseur of waters I am and my frivilous preoccupation of chasing the verb “to go”. Entertaining her in my eyes did her waist exist or not exist is still a matter of doubt.”

When Damayanti discovers the messenger is none other than Nala, she enquires his where abouts, parents and back grounds to which he replies..

“My name? Does it really matter?
WHAT sounds have been thrown together and in WHAT order..
For the PRESENT business that we are face to face, two syllables should suffice
Let’s just say ‘you’ and ‘me’..yusmad and asmat..

A sanskrit knowing person could almost decipher the first 3 lines below. Even the pronouns ‘you’ ‘I’ yusmad asmat have been retained in its Sanskrit form. The word contexts have been codified to telugu and the last phrase is in Telugu to give a local touch. I have highlighed Sanskrit codes here..

kuvalaya-netra samaksha
vyavahaarambunaku yusmad-asmat mul
sravana sraavana yogyamul
avuchundaga peru seppan adugagan ela?

Though Telugu is my mother tongue, I have no formal education in the language. The ‘mul’ ending seems more formal than the common ‘mu’ endings that we see in spoken Telugu.

The beautiful inception of Maṇipravāḷam and Malayalam

Unlike Telugu literature which used Sanskrit vocabulary and telugu case endings .. the rules for this language to inherit both Sanskrit vocabulary and case endings and yet sound like a new language.. Mani pravaalam expands to ‘Rubies and Corals’

“The pregnant lady listens to the works of Shakuntala and Malvika Agnimitra in Manipravaala language and has a nice feeling.. Soft words like mandaara, kunda were music to her ears but she would tremble like a vine if anybody spoke harsha syllables”

A beautiful eulogy on the language and the soft sounds it encompassed in contrast to the wide spectrum of sounds. Seems like Gita Govinda and Robindro Sangeet kind of soft words.

An interesting point he was mentioning. In native languages, there is a variety of ways to describe the verb mood and aspects. Structured Sanskrit seems to be limiting in this aspect though it was there in Vedic Sanskrit. For instance Telugu has ‘chesannu’ and ‘chesesannu’ both representing past tense with subtle mood changes. Work of shakalyamalla delves into this using arcane verb moods..









Naishada Charitam by Handiqui



Sujatha R

I write.. I weave.. I walk.. कवयामि.. वयामि.. यामि.. Musings on Music, Linguistics & Patterns