On the origin of Telugu people

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MVVS Reddy

May 27, 2013, 6:36:05 PM5/27/13
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Last time we met, NSRP asked us about the origin of Telugu people.  While I don’t have an infallible response to this query, following points should enlighten your thinking.

  •  Andhra refers to the people (or tribe) while Telugu refers to the language and region. Early indications of Andhra tribe is seen in Mahabharata in which Andhras fought on behalf of Kuaravas. Historians peg the time of Mahabharata around 800-1000 BC. Apparently Aitareya Brahmana Upanishad (~800 BC) references to Andhras. Around 300 BC Megasthanese, the Greek ethnographer who traveled India (and wrote Indica) reported to Chandragupta Maurya that Andhras populated villages and towns around Godavari area. Andhras were part of Emperor Ashoka’s kingdom.
  • But we had many other tribes/groups of people moved into various parts of today’s Andhra Pradesh. After the fall of Mauryan empire (after Ashoka’s death) Satavahana kings ruled Andhra with Dharanikonda near Amaravathi as capital (~200BC-200AD). Their kingdom included many central Indian states of today. Then Cholas ruled Andhra (with Vengi near Eluru as capital) that included parts of coastal Andhra and Telengana. They were subjugated by Rastrakutas around 8th century AD. Later Chola kings took over parts of Andhra. Raja Raja Narendra chola was the King behind getting the first Telugu literature – Mahabharata translation by Nannaya, considered the first Telugu poet.
  • Earliest epigraphical evidence of Telugu was found in Bhattiprolu, Guntur district. The inscriptions were estimated to be written around 100-400 BC.
  • Origin of the word Telugu (alternatively Tenugu) is unclear. In our childhood text books used to say the name derived from Tri Linga (Sri Sailam, Daksharamam, and Kalahasti sivalingams) and the word Tenugu derived from Tri Naga (three mountain ranges). But it’s disputed now. Some say it refers to people of fairer complexion (telu = white), and some even say (ten = south) it refers to the language spoken in southern parts of a region.
  •  Telugu belongs to the family of languages which are predominantly spoken in South India today. One exception is Brahui which is spoken in Baluchistan (Pakistan/Afghanistan). There is some speculation that the people of proto-Dravidian language lived in Godavari area of Andhra Pradesh. The concept of Dravidian family of languages was proposed by Robert Caldwell, a Scottish Bishop and linguist, in 1856.
  • Structurally Telugu sounds a lot closer to Tamil than Sanskrit although during its formative years (300 BC-1000AD) the language was heavily influenced  by Sanskrit vocabulary and according to some linguistic scholars retained closer resemblance of some sounds as in Sanskrit vs. Sanskrit-derived languages like Hindi.
  •  Now, looking at the biological background of Telugu folks, we seem to share the same M mitochondrial DNA (that is transmitted from mother to a child) or it’s several variations, as do most of other Indians. The origin of this particular mtDNA dates back to 60,000 years. As for the y-chromosome which gets transmitted from a father to a son, many of the Telugu people seem to share a close link to Central Asians, East Europeans and many other Indians. Relatively speaking the origins of various y-chromosomes we inherited seemed to be less than 18,000 years old. The degree of our DNA resemblance to the DNA of Central Asians, Eastern Europeans, and other Indians varies between 40%-80% depending on the caste. The DNA map of Indians shows widest variation and mutations indicating waves of populations coming and settling in various parts of India. As we know now, the caste system seemed to be hazy and was less iron-clad until the Gupta period (~4-6 century AD). Many historians believe that caste system became regimental after Hindu revival subsequent to the decline of Buddhism. As we know there was a lot of historical evidence even from the Hindu texts that suggest mixing of castes. There is even some contention that the caste system didn’t exist in the south.Regardless, my conclusion is that there is no purity of race, caste or other divisions that permeated the Indian society in the last 2000 years. We are all mutts in the end! :)


sekhar manne

May 28, 2013, 12:51:59 PM5/28/13
to aprst group
excellent compilation...should be publishable.

Date: Mon, 27 May 2013 15:36:05 -0700
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Subject: On the origin of Telugu people
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