The Telugus are a Dravidian speaking people found in South India, in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Their language, also known as Telugu, is spoken by 81,127,740 Indian citizens (according to the 2011 Census conducted in India). That is nearly the same as the populations of Turkey (82,003,882), Iran (81,672,300) or Germany (82,979,100). The population estimates for these three nations are from the year 2018. Telugu is the third most widely spoken mother tongue in India. A significant number of Telugu speakers are to be found in the neighbouring states and territories of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

A Telugu diaspora numbering in the hundreds of thousands is to be found in the United States, Europe, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and Malaysia. Having split from other Dravidian languages as far back as 1000 BCE (or even earlier), Telugu developed a rich literature over the millennia. It is classified as one of the ‘classical languages’ of the Indian Union. I will be posting Telugu folktales (translated into English) from a collection compiled and published by a Telugu author, GR Subramiah Pantulu. They first appeared in a journal named ‘The Indian Antiquary’ (brought out by the British archaeologist James Burgess). In 1919, they appeared as ‘Folk-lore of the Telugus’. Given below is the first folktale from the collection.

An Unseasonable Advice

In the country of Kandahar, a certain king, Mahavira by name, at a great expense, caused a tank to be dug, two palm-trees deep and a yojana wide, and constructed a bank around it. But all the water in it dried up, notwithstanding a heavy rainfall. The king, seeing that no water remained in the tank he had constructed at so great an expense, was sitting on the bank with a grieved heart, when one Erunda Muni passed that way. The king immediately rose, went and prostrated himself before the sage, seated him, and began to converse with him; when the sage, looking at the sorrowful countenance of the king, asked him the reason for it. To which the king replied:

“Sir, I had this tank dug at an enormous expense, but not a drop of water remains in it, and this is why I am feeling grieved.” The sage replied, “Why weep for this? If you mix boiled rice with the blood of a courageous and liberal king, or with the blood from the throat of a revered yogi endowed with all virtuous qualities, and offer it to Durga, whose temple is very near the tank, I dare to say that the water will never dry, and that the tank will be as full as the ocean.”

The king heard these words and thought of the difficulty of getting a king answering the description. Then he thought that the sage himself answered the purpose excellently well, being endowed with all the necessary qualities. So he drew his sword, cut the sage’s throat, mingled his blood with boiled rice and made the necessary offering to Durga. From that day forward, the rain stopped in the tank and it was full to the brim. Those, therefore, who tender advice to kings must do so in season, for otherwise they will assuredly come to grief.

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows a stepwell (known as the Pushkarini) in the ruins of Hampi. Hampi was the capital of the Vijayanagar Empire that flourished in South India between 1336 and 1646 CE. The rulers of Vijayanagar, like earlier dynasts, gave great importance to the construction of tanks and wells for temples, cities and villages. These provided religious establishments, and urban and rural settlements, the water they desperately needed during long, harsh summers. Excavation and maintenance of such tanks and wells was also seen as an act of charity that brought the concerned monarch religious merit. The image was uploaded by Adam Jones of British Columbia, Canada.

References:

  • Folk-lore of the Telugus by GR Subramiah Pantulu (1919)