(Last Updated on : 16/02/2013)
Telugu Poetry in twentieth century is said to have started the phase of modern poetry in Telugu literature. Modernity with its pros and cons have had entered the arena of Telegu literature. Hence, Telegu poetry is said to have retained its original spice and mixed with the essentialities of modernism. C. R. Reddy's Musalamma Maranam (1900), though written in traditional metrical form, is a product of his modern outlook in his choice of social subject and option for tragic closure and is regarded as an important transitional event. The distinguished poetic duo Divakarla Tirupati Sastry and Chellapilla Venkata Sastry also made vital contributions to the shaping of modern Telugu poetry. Though they continued to write in traditional metrical forms, they predict a modern trend in their concern with social issues in works such as Panigrihha (1909) and Sravananandam (1909). In their performances of Satavadhanams (spontaneous responses, often in verse, to 100 queries), they struck a note of freshness, vigour, and simplicity due to the need for direct communication with the audience. This kind of a linguistic reformation had a productive impact on the contemporary language of poetry.
The grand entry of modern poetry in Telugu may be said to have been heralded by the publication of Mutyala Saralu (1910) by Gurazada Venkata Appa Rao
and Lalitha (1909) by Rayaprolu Subba Rao. Together, they form the vital force behind the modernist movement. Mutyala Saralu presents a new poetic vision and ushers in an era of lyrical poetry in Telugu. Traditional meter is replaced by a new lyrical and four-beat balladic rhythm that is close to folk meter and has resonances from the ghazal
. Though initially Gurazada wrote in traditional style, there was a gradual change in his view of literature. This was mainly due to his exposure to English romantic and Victorian poets and an awareness of the general social transformation which was under way in India.
This change is reflected in his narrative poems such as Lavanaraju Kala (1911), Kanyaka (1912), and Purnima (1912), all of which were written in the new four-line stanzaic form. Such poems could be distinguished from traditional poetry not only through the distinct metrical form but also through certain features such as an emphasis on the experience of common folks; language approximating common idiom; and, the use of poetic imagination to highlight the novel in the commonplace. Gurazada's philosophy of poetry, along with Rayaprolu's new ideas, provides the basis for a new wave of poetry, Bhava Kavitvam.
Rayaprolu Subba Rao dominated the Telugu literary scene for nearly five decades. He created memorable works in a variety of poetic forms: lyric, love poetry, pastoral verse, and patriotic songs. The two dominant influences on Rayaprolu's work can be traced to his acquaintance with British poetry of the nineteenth century and to his exposure to the literary movements of Bengal. In fact, he spent some time at Shantiniketan
with Rabindranath Tagore
around 1915. A romantic in vision, he dealt with the theme of love with rare sensitivity and sophistication in Trinakankanam (1912), Snehalatha (1914), and Swapna Kumaram (reprint, 1969). His philosophy of love, which highlighted the essential beauty of the emotion in its various forms- friendship, affection, tenderness, love- is popularly known as Amalina Sringara, a love that is abstract and spiritual, being centered on Vipralambha, that is, the impossibility of physical union, leading to an eternal love. The chief expression of his philosophy comes through Ramyalokam and Madhuri Darsanam both of which must be regarded as his philosophical statements.
In the second half of the twentieth century Bhava Kavitvam started fading away to give place to a new trend in Telugu poetry which was Progressive poetry or Abhyudaya Kavitvam. Social purpose now became an important subject of the poetry and there were a number of poets in the 1940's such as Sistla Umamaheswara Rao, Srirangam Srinivasa Rao (Sri Sri), Pattabhirami Reddy, and Srirangam Narayanababu, who had started out with Bhava Kavitvam, moved away from this form and incorporated a number of new elements in their poetry which was the result of the social and political conditions of the time as well as the influence of Western literature. The result was the rise of a new wave of poetry- Abhyudaya Kavitvam, or progressive poetry.
Some of the recurrent themes of this poetry are class conflict, legends of heroes of the past, realization of a socialist state. Progressivism spread the message of freedom and equality and an aversion to wars, which always result in large-scale massacre. One important strand of Abhyudaya Kavitvam concerns itself with the liberation of Telangana.
Although the progressive movement lost some of its momentum by 1955, it may be said to continue as long as there are social problems and poets who raise their banners of revolt. There was some disenchantment with the progressive movement, mainly because of a general disappointment with communism. In 1965, C. Vijayalakshmi wrote Vishadabharatham, which may be identified as the last important work of the progressive movement. A number of new trends developed in the post-1955 period, primarily due to the influence of European avant-garde writing. Prose poetry, or Vachana Kavitvam, became significant, mainly because of the efforts of Kundurthi Anjaneyulu, who became its leading exponent. Vachana kavitvam speaks about the problem of the common people in everyday language and idiom. Here, rhythm is more important than metrical uniformity. Tilak, Narayana Reddy, Aluri Bairagi, Varavara Rao, and Guntur Seshendra Sarma wrote poetry of this kind. The 1960's also saw the rise of a lot of revolutionary poetry in the forms of the works of the Digambara poets. With symbolic names such as Nagna Muni (Naked Saint), Jwala Mukhi (Volcano), Mahaswapna (Great Vision), Nikhileshwar (the Omnipotent) Bhairvavayya (the Hound), and Cherabanda Raju (Raju, Turned to Stone in Prison), the Digambara poets set out to startle society with naked truth. They were deeply agitated by the mechanical existence of humans and felt that such drab routine reduced human beings to an animal level. Their anguish turned to anger, and much of their work, written in the white heat of fury, displayed more aggression than poetry.
The year 1970 saw the founding of the Revolutionary Writers' Association (Viplava Rachayitala Sangham [VIRASAM]). Sri Sri became the president of this association of poets, who believed in Marxism and armed struggle against the establishment. VIRASAM used poetry and literature as a tool to propagate this ideology and further the struggle. Some Digambara poets also joined this movement. In yet another development, an organized group, Kavisena, came into existence in 1977. Led by Guntur Seshendra Sarma, Kavisena opposes slogans and aggressiveness and evinces faith in organized leadership. Intellectuals, the group believed, should provide proper direction to the masses through their creative work.
A note may be made here of the presence of traditional strands amidst all this revolutionary change in poetry. Even as the winds of Bhava Kavitvam and Abhyudaya Kavitvam were blowing across the Telugu land, traditional poetry continued to be in vogue, and good poetry written in classical style did not altogether lose its place or significance. One of the major literary figures who belonged to the traditionalist school was Jnanpith Award
-winning Viswanatha Sathyanarayana. Though he handled both the traditional and modern forms with equal ease, he wrote his magnum opus, Srimad Ramayana Kalpa Vruksham (1962) in traditional meter and style. Among the other traditionalists, Madhunapanthula Satyanarayana Sastri is well known for his Andhrapuranam (1954), history of Andhra written in verse. Vajjala Kalidasu's Andhra Mahavishnuvu (1928) is a historical poem written in dvipada, or couplet form. Vaddadi Subrayudu's Bhakta Chintamani (1893) is a devotional work of 100 poems, Satakam. Tirupati Venkata Kavulu wrote Buddha Charitra (1902), the life history of Lord Buddha
in verse. Other writers, such as Puttaparthi Narayanacharyulu, Sripada Krishnamurthy Sastry, Janamanchi Seshadri Sarma, and Vavilakolanu Subba Rao, continued to use the traditional poetic forms with remarkable felicity.
Thus Telugu poetry in the Twentieth century saw the culmination of a number of different trends and movements in the Telugu literary field.