Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Andhra Culture, A Synthesis

K. Lakshmi Ranjanam


Andhra stands as a bridge between the North and South of India, between Aryan and Dravidian cultures. It is a clearing house of cultures. Therefore we find that ‘synthesis’ is the key-note of Andhra culture. The very composition of the Andhra people is an illustration. Here is an admixture of the Aryan Andhra with Dravidian Tenugu. The Andhras were originally an Aryan tribe who were excommunicated from the Aryan fold, perhaps for laxity in life. They are mentioned in ‘Aitareya Brahmana’, which belongs to the Rigveda and is dated probably 1,000 B. C. This ‘Brahmana’ describes how Andhras were cursed and were grouped with non-Aryan tribes like Pundra, Pulinda, Mutiba and Sabara. These latter were Dravidian tribes living in the Vindhya region. The Sabaras, or Savaras, are to this day part of the Andhra people found in Visakhapatnam District. The river Sabari, a tributary of the Godavari, seems to be named after them. The Telugu or Tenugu people were the children of the soil. They were a Dravidian tribe. Tenugu means ‘the people to the south’. The word Telugu seems to be Sanskritised into Trilinga, ‘the land of three Siva lingas’. These holy shrines are found even now at Drksharama in East Godavari District. Kaleswaram in Karimnagar District, and Srisailam in Kurnool. The mention of ‘Trilingam by Ptolemy, the Greek geographer who lived about 130 A. D. lends respectable antiquity to the word Trilinga. But ingenious as the conception of Trilinga was, the truth seems to lie elsewhere. There was actually a tribe called ‘Talaing’ inhabiting the Telugu coast. It is their name that survives in the word Telunga or Telugu. This Talaing tribe sent forth its colonists to Arakan in Burma. The Andhras came south and mixed with the Talaing tribe to make the modern Andhra-Telugu people.

The evidence of a fusion of races is seen even in the Telugu language. Originally belonging to the Dravidian family of languages Telugu has heavily borrowed from Sanskrit and Prakrit for its word material, to such an extent that the older grammarians considered it to be an off-shoot of Sanskrit. Modern philology has corrected this mistaken notion. Why the Telugu language leans on Sanskrit and Prakrit so much, whereas Tamil and to some extent Kannada have retained their original Dravidian nature, is easily explained. The dominant force in the Telugu country was that of the Andhras who naturally spoke Prakrit. Prakrit was the official language, the language of inscriptions and literature under the Satavahanas, the Ikshvakus, the early Pallavas , and Salankayanas. The Vishnukundins patronised Sanskrit. It was not till the Eastern Chalukyas came on the horizon that Telugu was admitted as the language of inscriptions.

The admiration that Andhras felt towards Aryan culture expressed itself in their literature also. Late among the Dravidian languages to develop a literature of its own, Telugu occupied itself for nearly four centuries to bring out the best works of Sanskrit into itself. This was not due to lack of the original creative faculty on the part of great poets like Nannaya, Tikkaha and Potana. It was due to their sincere veneration for Aryan culture that these master-minds contented themselves with free translation of the Mahabharata and Bhagavata. It was a great service to the unity of Indian culture that the Telugu poets rendered. Our Saiva poets on the other hand developed a independent literature. From the Vijayanagara period onwards Telugu marked out a new line of progress according to its genius. Our great Prabandhas and the philosophico-tlidactic poetry like that of Vemana are a pride for any literature.

The composite nature of Andhra culture is further seen in our religion and our customs and manners. Side by side with Vedic Dharma which struck deep roots in Andhra, the Dravidian concepts of religion like worship of Lord Siva and his Consort, the worship of serpents and trees flourished. The Brahmin and some of the higher castes leaned towards Vedic Dharma. The bulk of the people, including the women of higher castes, were followers of the religion of the soil. The same synthesis of Aryan and Dravidian is effected in our customs. For instance in marriage, the Brahmins and higher castes adopt the Vedic ritual and mantras. The generality of people follow Desi customs, but even the Brahmins follow the custom of marrying the daughter of one’s mother’s brother. This is called ‘Menarikamu’ and is the most popular and cherished matrimonial relationship. This custom is as old as the Eastern Chalukya Kings. A slight variation of this, known as ‘counter-menarikam’ viz., marrying the daughter of the sister of the father, is also prevalent. This second form of marriage was practised even in the days of the Ikshvaku line of Kings who ruled in the 3rd Century A.D.

We have seen the indebtedness of Andhra to Aryan culture. Let us put ourselves the question, had it anything to give in return? The answer is: “Yes. Andhra gave to Indian culture as much as it received.” To begin with, in the field of Government and political organization, the Andhras count among the prominent empire-builders in India. Lust for conquest and dominion was not their motive. When Dharma was in danger they rose in defence of it, kept Adharma at bay, gave peace and security to the people and incidentally showed their genius for organization. The first essay in empire-building by the Andhras was in the times of the glorious Satavahanas, who ruled the major part of Southern India and part of Northern India also for nearly four centuries. Upon the fall of the imperial Mauryas, India was thrown into confusion by the invading hordes of Salva, Yavana and Pahlava. Buddhism threatened the existence of Vedic Dharma. At such a critical juncture the Satavanan Andhras stood like a rock of safety for the people, checked the depredations of foreign invaders at least into the South, taught Vedic and Buddhistic religions to flourish like sisters by their spirit of tolerance. The Andhras have a genius for tolerance and reconciliation. That, I claim humbly, is the hall-mark of Andhra culture. From the Satavahanas down to the Sultans of Golkonda, whom we rightly claim as Andhra rulers in spite of their difference in religion, tolerance was the guiding principle of our ruling dynasties. How the arts of peace flourished under the Satavahanas, the pages of history will bear testimony. As to the might of the Andhras, Megasthenes says in his ‘Indika’: “Next come the Andhras, a still more powerful race, which possesses numerous villages, and thirty towns, defended by walls and towers, and which supplies its King with an army of 1, 00,000 infantry, 2,000 cavalry, and 1,000 elephants.”

Yet another great task of empire-building was undertaken by the Andhras during the Vijayanagara period. I pass over the Kakatiyas and the Reddi Kings who were bastions of Dharma, due to considerations of space. Every student of history knows the challenge offered by the Muslim conquerors to Hindu religion. The Vijayanagara empire was the answer to this challenge. The Andhras took up the gauntlet. Wisely, they joined hands with the people of Karnataka, and together these people defended Vedic Dharma for three centuries. The material and moral prosperity of the country under the Vijayanagara empire can be studied in books of history. Suffice it to say that the Andhras can unite among themselves and organize other peoples for great tasks. That the Mahrattas under Sivaji drew inspiration from Vijayanagara is common knowledge.

Turning to the contribution of the Andhras in the field of religion, Andhra has offered Acharya Nagarjuna to Buddhism, and Kumarila Bhatta and Vallabhacharya to Vedic and Bhakti religions. At a time when narrow dogmatism ate into the vitals of Buddhism, Acharya Nagarjuna, the great Andhra philosopher, founded the Mahayana Buddhism, renovated that religion and gave it along lease of life in India. But for Nagarjuna, the Martin Luther of India and his reform movement, Buddhism would have disappeared from Indian soil in the early centuries of the, Christian Era. This great man lived at Nagarjunakonda in Guntur District in the last days of the Satavahanas. He was not only a great philosopher but also a great chemist and a profound humanitarian. It is said of him that he got the rules of health and maxims of medicine inscribed on public pillars so that people might read them and be rid of disease. What Asoka did for the minds of men, Acharya Nagarjuna attempted to do for their physical bodies. In the field of Indian philosophy, Nagarjuna is a name to conjure with. He laid the foundations of the Bhakti cult. The great Sankaracharya, the founder of Advaita philosophy, learned his Mayavada from the Sunyavada of Acharya Nagarjuna.

Kumarila Bhattacharya, the great Andhra missionary for Vedic Dharma, flourished in the 7th Century A. D. He gave the coup-de-grace to the tottering religions of Buddhism and Jainism;  and restored the Vedic religion to its ancient glory. He popularised the study of the Vedas and the practice of holy sacrifices. Even to the present day the Andhra Brahmins are reputed for their correct intonation in the chanting of the Vedas. They are also great exponents of the tradition of Vedic sacrifices.

Vallabhacharya was a Teluga Brahmin. He was born in 1479 A. D. Like Chaitanya in Bengal, Vallabhacharya preached the gospel of Krishna Bhakti. Bala, Krishna and his amorous sports with the Gopis were at the of his message of Bhakti. His philosophy is called ‘PushtiVada.’ Vallabha’s teachings spread, in the North and West of India.

The contribution of the Andhras to all-India literature is equally impressive. Foremost to deserve mention is the GadhaSaptasati Kavya. This is a great Prakrit collection of verses, aone at the instance of the Satavahana monarch Hala. It conditions poems of exquisite beauty replete with love, humour and pathos. Several of the poets whose writings were collected in Gadha-Saptasati must have been Andhras. Andhra life is well pictured in these verses. Another great Prakrit work the ‘Brihat-katha’ was the store-house of story literature; This was written by Gunadhya and received the patronage of a Satavahana King. The contribution of the Andhras to Sanskrit literature is too well-known. Among the great writers on Dharma Sastra, Apastamba is pre-eminent. He was an Andhra sage. He was not only a law-giver. In his Silpa Sutras, Apastamba laid the foundations for Indian geometry. Some claim the great Sanskrit dramatist Bhavabhuti to be an Andhra. Dignagacharya, the great Buddhist philosopher, dialectician and dramatist flourished in Andhra. The Andhras specialised in commentary writing. Mallinatha is universally acclaimed as the best commentator on Kalidasa. Our Reddi Kings Kataya Vema, Kumaragiri, Pedakomati Vema and the Velama King Singa Bhupala were all authoritative Sanskrit writers. Vidyanatha and Panditaraya Jagannatha were conspicuous writers on Sanskrit poetics. The latter was patronised by Emperor Shah Jehan and Dara Shuko.

In the field of Art, wherein the aesthetic soul of a nation is enshrined, the Andhras have left a great legacy. Architecture was their pre-occupation where solid rock was available. Where stone was not within easy reach, they used brickwork. During the Satavahana period Buddhism was the motive that inspired Telugu architects. Kings and rich magnates vied with each other in excavating caves out of solid rock, beautifying them as the genius of man could desire, and presenting them to Buddhist monks. The cave dwellings and chaityas of Karla and Kanheri are sights for angels. The Sanchi stupa in Central India, and the great Amaravati stupa near Guntur are a few of the monuments which immortalise the skill of the Andhra architects. The stupa at Bhattiprolu is a colossal brick structure. Nagarjunakonda in the Krishna Valley contains innumerable gems of architecture. In later days the Kakatiyas of Warangal were great builders in stone. The Swayambhu temple in Warangal fort, the thousand pillared temple at Hanamkonda and the exquisite temple of Ramappa at Palampet, where the science of dance was engraved on leaves of stone, are a few of their monumental structures. The ruins of Hampi constitute an elegy in stone for their love of art. In the fine art of painting. Andhra work is memorable. The earliest cave paintings at Ajanta are the handiwork of Andhra painters. The paintings at Macherla in Palnad, and at Lepakshi in Anantapur District are a few remnants of this art. Our country painting is still kept alive by the makers of Kondapalli dolls.

In the divine arts of dance and music the Andhra gave proof of great originality. The dance system in Andhra is based on the ‘Abhinaya Darpana’ of Nandikeswara. This rare work, on dance is available in the Telugu country only. During the Kakatiya period, Jayapa Senani composed a great manual on the art of dance known as ‘Nrittaratnavali’. Jayapa was the brother-in-law of Emperor Ganapati Deva and the commander of his elephant forces. As previously mentioned, the Ramappa temple at palampet is an illustration in stone of the theory of Jayapa. This art is kept alive to this day in a flickering condition by the dance masters of Kuchipudi, a village in the Krishna District. The ancestors of Kuchipudi masters took this art into Southern India and popularised it there. They are great exponents of Bharata Natya in its classical purity.

In the field of music the Andhra contribution to Indian culture is distinctive. The Telugu language is pre-eminently suited for music. Even foreigners were impressed with the melodious nature of Telugu and aptly described it as ‘the Italian of the East’. Wielding such a pliable instrument of the vocal art, the Andhras easily became supreme in the musical field south of the Vindhyas, though of late they seem to have yielded the palm to Tamil musicians. The system of music known as Karnataka Sangita was first evolved in Andhra and perfected there. It took a definite shape during the Vijayanagara epoch. Aliya Ramaraya patronised a great scholar named Ramayamatya who wrote the ‘Swaramela Kalanidhi’, the first great work on Karnataka music. Raghunatha Nayaka, the Telugu ruler of Tanjore, was himself a great musician. Under his patronage a scholar named Venkatatamakhi wrote a great work on music ‘Chaturdandi Prakashika’. Of the great masters of the art we should first mention Annamacharya, a Vaishnava devotee who lived at Tirupathi. He composed many ‘sankirtanas’ on Lord Venkateswara of Tirupathi. These were inscribed on plates of copper. The next great master was Kshetrayya. ‘Gopala-Padamulu’, are divine cups of melody and sweet thoughts. Last but not least in importance was the great Bhakta, Thyagaraja Swami. His impassioned and unpremeditated outpourings of the heart in music are a matter of common knowledge. There is no profound master of music in southern India who does not sing the Kritis of Thyagaraja, Another great name in the music world is the Saint Narayana Thirtha whose Tarangas composed in Sanskrit contest the palm with the songs of Jayadeva. He hails from Andhra. The modern period has produced excellent masters of music like Tumarada Sangameswara Sastri, the Vainika, and the great violinists Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu and Hari Nagabhushanam, and Adibhatla Narayanadas, the great Harikatha exponent.

This survey will be incomplete without a reference to the spread of Andhra culture abroad. Possessing a long sea-board, the Andhras had a natural advantage to take to the bosom of the ocean; and this they did eagerly from the pre-Christian era. The people had the spirit of adventure in them. There were forests near the coast which supplied excellent wood for making ships big and small. The Buddhistic ‘jatakas’, the ‘Periplus of the Erythrean Sea’ and the ‘Geography’ of Ptolemy contain many references to the ports on the Andhra coast. During the Satavahana period there was brisk maritime activity on the Andhra coast. Ships laden with goods sailed to Rome in the distant West and to China in the East. The coins of Yajna Sri Satakarni display the figure of a ship, indicating ocean voyages. When the Ikshvaku Kings ruled, Andhra Buddhists set out for distant lands carrying the divine message. During the Salankayana period Buddhism spread to the countries of the East and the islands of the Pacific. With the revival of Hinduism in the Chalukyan age, Andhra missionaries and colonists spread the message of the Trinity in the eastern islands. Andhra culture sailed along with Andhra religion and commerce. Place-names like Trilinga, Amaravati, Kakulam, Simhapura and many others occurring in countries like Burma, Siam, Indo-China, Malaya and the islands of Java, Sumatra and Borneo reveal the establishment of Andhra culture in these regions. The use of the Salivahana era, which is peculiar to Andhra and Karnataka, in the inscriptions of Java is another conclusive evidence of the spread of Andhra culture. Andhra art and sculpture, influenced the art of Java intimately. The great stupa at Borobudur was modelled on the art of the Sangharama at Amaravati. To conclude, in the words of Dr. Subrahmaniam, “the colonial expansion of Andhra civilised savage tribes in greater India, gave them a new religion, art and literature, and created a zest in them for a higher life”.

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