(This article has been contributed by Aditya Chunduru.)
Telugu people all over the world have one thing in common- we are incredibly proud of our literature. And we should be too, because being able to call one of the six classical languages of India, your mother tongue is really nice.
We celebrate our literary heroes well- Annamayya, Vemana, Pothana and so forth, but we seem to have forgotten one man, without whom we might never have discovered these gems- Charles Philip Brown. It is definitely an irony that a it took a foreigner to discover a then 800 year old literary legacy and introduce it to the world and later on, to common people.
Charles Philip Brown was born on 15 November, 1798 in Calcutta to a devout Christian Missionary father. He came to Madras in 1817 hoping to join the Civil Services.
Already a polyglot(he knew Persian, Latin, Sankrit and Greek amongst others), he fortunately chose Telugu as the local language civil servants were statutorily required to know.
According to Brown himself, he was completely unaware of the language before 1817, and he was soon amazed by the complexity and beauty of it. He took barely 10 years to master it.
He passed the examination in 1820 and started his work in Cuddappah district as a Deputy Collector. He remarked about the situation of Telugu Literature, “Telugu literature was dying out; the flame was flickering in the socket”. Thankfully, for us, near the end of his career, he stated, “in 1825, I found Telugu literature dead. In 30 years I raised it to life”. He devoted 60 years of his 86 years in service to Telugu.
He painstakingly translated Vemana’s poems as his maiden effort in 1829. He unearthed classics like Manu Charitra and Vasu Charithra and got them printed. He employed 49 writers and 23 pandits(from his salary as a civil servant) and got 18 volumes of Telugu classics by 1842. He also compiled the first bilingual dictionary of Telugu and its grammar in 1859.
While these were amazing accomplishments indeed, his greatest achievement was probably encouraging an intellectually conservative Telugu elite to embrace the power of printing. It is a strange thing to note that Brown’s efforts to print Telugu texts was met with disdain and protest from pandits. Thankfully, they soon started seeing the bigger picture.
Here is our very own Tanikella Bharani and Suddala Ashok Teja paying their respects at his memorial grave…
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