Colour of India

Colour of India

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Great Pioneer in Telegu Language During the Days of British Raj


Language has been the master tool which man, in his endless adventure after knowledge and power, has shaped for himself, and which, in its turn, has shaped the human mind as we know it. It has continuously extended and conserved the store of knowledge upon which mankind has drawn. It has furnished the starting-point of all our science. It has been the instrument of social cohesion and of moral law and through it human society has developed and found itself. Language is the house of Being. Language has been the soul of mankind. No one understood the significance of all this better than Charles Philip Brown.


Charles Philip Brown made a phenomenal contribution to the development of Telugu language and literature in the 19th century. If you go to any bookshop in Andhra Pradesh today, you can easily buy a copy of Vasu charithra, Manu charithra, Vemana Satakam, and many other immortal classics in Telugu literature. We enjoy this privilege today mainly because of the tireless exertions of one outstanding scholar called C P Brown. C P Brown is to the Telugu language what Mahamahopadhyaya U V Swaminatha Iyer(1855-1941) was to the Tamil language. Many people today are not aware of the life and times and achievements of C P Brown. The long list of his contributions to Telugu language is really staggering and breathtaking.

C P Brown announced in awe inspiring words how he came into contact with the Telugu language. He said: 'I came into contact with Telugu at a time when its literature was dying out with its flame glimmering in the socket'. Telugu language became his beloved mistress and by the end of his life in 1884, he had seen to it that practically all the classics in Telugu literature were recorded, many were published, some were translated and brought to the notice of the world. He left behind enough materials for further research to be undertaken by scholars in the Telugu language in the coming generations.

C P Brown was born in Calcutta on 10 November, 1798. His father, David Brown, was an unusual man. He was a devout Christian who came to India to manage an orphanage and became a highly respected missionary and scholar. Unlike many others of his generation, this Englishman was interested in comparative religion. He thought that a proper understanding of the religion of the natives would be helpful in spreading Christianity in India. To learn about Hinduism, he learnt the Sanskrit language. In order to get into the bones and the consciousness of the Indian people, he started learning and speaking the local languages of the people. He learnt several native languages. He had a powerful intellectual influence on his son C P Brown. Right from his childhood days, C P Brown developed a healthy respect for all languages. He learnt Hebrew, Syrian, Arabic, Parsi, Greek, Latin and Hindustani at the feet of his father. He was a voracious reader and developed an appreciation for Milton's Paradise Lost by the time he was twelve. His father's death in 1812 removed Brown and his family from India and took them back to England. While in England he was chosen for employment in Madras by the East India Company.

At the age of 19, Brown arrived in Madras. Englishmen who came to India those days as civil servants of the East India Company had to go to Fort St.George College in Madras for learning the local language. According to Brown, he had never heard of Telugu until 13 August, 1817, the day he arrived at the Madras College. The teacher who taught him the Telugu alphabet was Velagapudi Kodandarama Panthulu. Brown passed his Telugu Proficiency and the Civil Service Tests in 1820. He was appointed as deputy to Hunbury, the collector of Cuddapah. In Cuddapah he learnt more Telugu from Hunbury, who spoke it fluently, as well as from the local people. Brown felt that books alone could not teach a living language. He took care to see that he was in living and daily touch with all the members of the public who came to meet him. Everyone became a Telugu instructor for him for the moment. Such was his passion and enthusiasm for learning the Telugu language. However, he did not know much about Telugu literature until 1824. According to Brown, a few of his initiatives in this direction were shipwrecked because of the instructors being more interested in exhibiting their scholarship and not knowing how to introduce an Englishman to the niceties of Telugu literature.

After learning the prosody of Telugu and Sanskrit, Brown wrote an explanation of both and published a book entitled 'ANDHRA GEERVAANA-CHAMDAMMU: The Prosody of the Telugu and Sanskrit Languages Explained', which was printed by the Fort St.George College Press at Madras in 1827. This was the first published work of CP Brown. Quite unlike most of the Telugu Scholars of his time, Brown advanced the philosophy that prosody is an instrument and not an end in itself.

Brown collected many manuscripts of Vemana's poems and found that there were variations between them in several poems. That proved to be the case not only with Vemana's poems but with every work of literature he collected.

Brown bought a house in Cuddapah in 1828 and used it as the Centre where scholars and scribes came together in his employment to work on the manuscripts he had collected. Employing scholars, purchasing manuscripts and procuring writing supplies etc. cost him dearly. Brown was forced, on many occasions, to borrow money both from the natives and his compatriots.

The first Brown edition of Vemana's poems was published in 1829 with 693 verses along with their English translation. The book also contained a glossary and an index of the first lines of verses. Brown continued to collect manuscripts of Vemana's poems. A second edition was brought out in 1839 with 1164 poems. Between these two editions, Brown was dismissed from his job in 1834 and that forced him to return to England. As a passionate lover of Telugu, Brown used his time in England to write “The Grammar Of The Telugu Language” and to prepare notes which were later to form the basis of his very voluminous dictionaries of Telugu-English and English-Telugu.

Brown returned to Madras in 1837 as a translator of Persian for the East India Company. Soon after that he was appointed to the Madras College Board. Brown's Telugu Grammar, certainly one of the best grammar books of Telugu, appeared in 1840 and his dictionaries, on which he continued his work, were published in 1854. His Telugu-English and English-Telugu dictionaries are considered as standard books of reference even today. Another innovation introduced by Brown was the inclusion of spoken words in his dictionary.

Among the first classical poems Brown corrected and published with commentaries were the Dvipada Kaavyas, 'Tale of Nala' by Raghava (1841) and 'The Calamities of Harischandra' by Gaurana Mantri (1842). Nannaya's Aadiparvam was published in 1843, Vasu Charithra in 1844 and Manu Charithra in 1851.

Brown's efforts in procuring, correcting and printing works of Telugu literature became soon widely known. Various individuals approached him for press-ready copies that could be published and sold for profit. Brown obliged them readily. Puranam Hayagreeva Sastry obtained the manuscript of Potana Bhaagavatam from Brown and published it in 1848 duly acknowledging Brown. Similarly Puvvada Venkata Rao, of 'Vartamaana Tarangini,' published the entire Mahaabhaaratam.Brown's scholarly study of Veera Saiva traditions in theTelugu country, which highlighted the religion's folk underpinnings and the role of Aaraadhya Brahmins in developing an elite form of the religion, has considerably enhanced our understanding of Veera Saivism beyond its conventional focus on northern Karnataka-based traditions.

In addition to his regular job, and his scholastic activities in procuring, correcting and printing Telugu literature, writing grammar and dictionaries for Telugu, Brown was also an editor of the 'Madras Journal of Literature and Science.' In his desire to bring the Telugu literature to the close attention of Westerners, he wrote summaries of the stories of the manuscripts he prepared for printing, and published them in this journal and in 'The Asiatic Journal (London).'

Brown paid careful attention to the natives' habits, their heritage, and their likes and dislikes and respected them very much. He wrote, 'Telugu people are as highly civilized as any in Europe.' He compared the modes of speech of Telugus with those of Italians. His knowledge of the different dialects of Telugu was such that he predicted at one time that Vemana might have belonged to the southwestern part of Telangana.

Brown's services as an administrator and a humanist were also of great importance to Telugus. His services as an administrator at the time of the great Guntur famine in 1832-1833 were highly commended. He opened schools for native children and maintained them.

Brown's poor health forced him to leave India in 1855. After returning to England, he continued his pursuits in Telugu. Brown was appointed Professor of Telugu in London University in or around 1865. He wrote an autobiographical account and published it in 1866. Brown continued to add new words to his dictionary almost till the end of his life. He passed away on the 12th of December 1884. In later years, several manuscripts left behind by him in the Madras Oriental Manuscripts Library were published without even an acknowledgment to his efforts.In the words of Bandi Gopala Reddy who did pioneering research work on Brown, “the contributions to Telugu by all the Telugu professors of the world, all the academies, and all the government-supported scholars put together do not come close to a tiny fraction of what Brown did.” Brown has indeed become the shining symbol of both the traditional and modern elements which have gone into the making of modern Telugu identity. Needless to say, lovers of Telugu language and literature will for ever remain grateful to this remarkable Englishman.

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