THE FIRST NOVEL IN TELUGU
DR. C. R. SARMA
Regional Secretary, Sahitya Akademi,
The novel is a late-comer on Telugu literary scene, but by far most enduring and popular in today’s “pop culture.” But about a century back, it was not known. Even though the term novel has been retained in Telugu, with a negligible variation, namely, Navala, the earlier novels in Telugu, were called Vachana prabandhams. Perhaps, it was thought that any prose romance giving the story of a poem might be called a novel. It was only in 1897, the term Navala came into vogue. Since then it received warm and wide patronage from the writers and the readers alike. As in other Indian languages, Telugu novel appeared on the scene following our contacts with western literature.
has been a lot of discussion regarding the first Telugu novel, and three
different theories have been enunciated. According to the first, Narahari Gopala Krishnamma Chetti, a Deputy
Collector by profession, was the first Telugu novelist and his novel, was Sri Rangaraja Charitram, published in 1872. The second is that Kandukuri Veeresalingam Pantulu, one of the architects of modern Andhra, was the
first writer of repute to write a novel entitled Rajasekhara Charitram which
was first published in book form in 1880. Earlier, in 1878, it was serialized
in his paper Viveka Vardhini. There
is yet another theory attributing this honour to Kokkonda Venkataratnam, a
distinguished scholar of his day, who wrote in 1867 Mahasveta in high-flown language. This was never published as a book though
a portion of it was serialized in a literary monthly published from
we do not know much about the literary pursuits of Gopala
Krishnamma Chetti, he
appears to have taken a lively interest in modern Telugu literature. Inspired
by the advertisemant inserted in the Bengal Gazette
by Lord Mayo, the then Governor-General, he attempted a novel in Telugu
depicting the customs and manners of the Bengalis. The result was Sri Rangaraja Charitram also known as Sonabai Parinayam (the wedding of Sonabai). The theme is his own
though the characters are called after historical personalities. “This is
apparently the first attempt ever made in this part of
It is surprising and also unfortunate that Sri Rangaraja Charitram and its author had failed to receive due recognition though the press had hailed it as a novel. Dedicated to Lord Mayo, this novel has dealt with the caste differences, the age-old beliefs, the Sakunas (omens and auspices) and the like. Gopala Krishnamma Chetti had contributed prefaces both in Telugu and English. In the Telugu preface, he called his work as Vachana prabandham and he is, perhaps, the first writer to coin a Telugu equivalent for the term novel. This equivalent has gained currency and that even Veeresalingam had called his novel Vachana prabandham is worth-mentioning. As years elapsed, Vachana prabandham was replaced by the popular expression Navala.
Kasibhatta Brahmayya Sastry, a scholar and critic of eminence, was the first Telugu writer who popularised the term Navala. While writing a critique on Veeresalingam’s Rajasekhara Charitram, he observed that he was employing the expression Navala instead of using a Sanskrit term, since English “novel” and Sanskrit “Nava” have the same meaning, namely, new.
Let us now turn to Veeresalingam and his novel Rajasekhara Charitram which is otherwise known as Viveka Chandrika meaning Prudence of Moonlight. To me, the latter seems to be a meaningful title as the hero of the novel becomes wise after experiencing bitter truths in life.
Veeresalingam is undoubtedly a great man in several respects. In him we find a sincere social reformer and a distinguished writer. He was a pioneer in Telugu writing and had several firsts to his credit. He attempted playwriting, satire, biography, autobiography, literary history, science writing and children’s literature. He was a great master of prose. He was also the founder of modern Telugu journalism. And he is hailed as the father of the Telugu novel too.
is significant that the early Indian novelists had drawn inspiration from
western novelists. Bankim Chandra Chatterji,
the first novelist in
The story is poorly conceived,
though narration is remarkable. Rajasekhara, the
hero, hails from a well-to-do middle class Brahmin family, leading a happy
domestic life. He spends lavishly on his so-called friends and relatives. As a
result, he also runs into debt after celebrating his eldest daughter’s marriage
in the traditional way. Misfortunes invade him. In his anxiety to repay the debt,
he loses his real gold and silver believing an alchemist. His younger daughter
was kidnapped during his pilgrimage to
In the novel are vividly described the pride and poverty of the middle class families. The various customs of the orthodox Hindus including the practice of child marriage, the popularity of the alchemists, the evil of untouchability and the like are interwoven in the story. Thus Rajasekhara Charitram provides the social life of the Telugu middle class families. It is the first Telugu novel dealing with the Telugu men and women–their good and bad points.
It is significant that we find in Rajasekhara Charitram an urge for eradication of superstitions through rational approach, the necessity of providing education for women and of their betterment and also a great stress on the need of emergence of an honest society. It also indirectly points out the weaknesses of a feudal society. Being its true product, the hero of the novel fails to understand the value of money and hence indulges in extravagance which finally led to his ruin.
Besides being translated into other languages, Rajasekhara Charitram has been a source of inspiration to the later Telugu novelists. That it has undergone ten reprints is a clear indication of its immense popularity with the readers. In fact it is an extremely readable novel.
To conclude, it may be mentioned that Sri Rangaraja Charitram is the first attempt in Telugu novel-writing while Rajasekhara Charitram, is the first Telugu novel in its real sense.