Pluralism in Telugu Poetry

Contemporary Telugu poetry comprises a rich, heterogeneous mix of voices from the region’s many struggles.

Telugu society has always been about struggle, which is reflected in its literature. Class struggle was followed by identity politics, while the last 25 years have witnessed movements that mobilised women, Dalits, Muslims, and the people of Telangana towards a more democratic and humane society. The new social movements have been critical of the organised struggles and philosophies of both traditionalism and Marxism, leading to a change in the Telugu ideological landscape. The language, idiom, style and aesthetics of its writing have been refreshed and redefined, setting the agenda of politics of change. Poetry has become a medium for emerging intellectuals to express their anger and social aspirations, and to contest hegemony. Contemporary Telugu poetry by feminist, Dalit and Muslim poets is committed to their own social experiences and celebrates dignity, self-respect and pride.

Progressive Literature against Feudalism

In Telugu society, progressive literature (Abhyudhava and Viplava) inspired by Marxism has set the standards and canons of literature. It is a revolt against classical literature (Sampradaya Sahityam) and romantic literature (Bhava Kavitvam) of the period from 1920 to 1940, while the ongoing revolutionary struggles of the 1970s led to revolutionary literature (Viplava Sahityam) that left its mark until the 1980s. The poets rebelled against the ideology of fascism, feudalism and capitalism in support of new democracy and socialism. Progressive poetry mostly revolved around the themes of humanism, revolution and a classless society (Rythu coolie rajyam). The period between 1950 and 1980 saw the poet Sri Sri (1910-1983) as an iconic figure of this tradition. Besides progressive literature, there were different streams of Telugu poetry such as Anubhuthi (experiential) and digambara (nude). However, in all these literary traditions, the writers and readers belonged mostly to the category of the upper caste middle class male. From the 1980s onwards, there was a rise in conscious intellectuals from among the lower castes and women, who exposed the shallowness of the modernity and progressiveness adopted by the literary world.

Feminist poetry against patriarchy

From 1985 onwards, feminist poetry emerged as a strong dissenting voice against patriarchy, and by 1990, it was established as a different genre of Telugu literature. Feminist writers punctured the myth of body, prativravytam (chastity), motherhood and domestic labour, and argued for freedom. Neelimeghalu 1 (1993), Gurichoosi Pade Pata(1990)2 were early collective anthologies of feminist poetry.

Jayaprabha3, Kondepudi Nirmala4 , Vimala5, Volga, Vasanta Kannabiran, Mahe Jabeen, Patibandla Rajini, Ghantasala Nirmala, Revathi Devi, Silololitha, S.Jaya, K. Geetha, Savitri, Mokkapati Sumathi, Mandavarapu Hymavathi, Ravulapalli Suneetha, K.Varalakshmi, B.Padmavathi, Challapalli Swaroopa Rani, M. M. Vinodini, Jupaka Subhadra, Jelli Indira are prominent feminist poets in Telugu poetry.

The movement I am told
it will burn me,
I want to embrace the sun.
Just once... That’s how I am.
I always want to do
What’s prohibited

(Mahe Jabeen, Physical Geography)

From two eyes
dart like needles
roam freely on lumps of flesh…..A day shall come
when women in this country have
not only in their eyes
but all over their bodies

(Jayaprabha, Choopulu6)

Dalit women poets came as internal critics of feminist poetry by introducing the issue of caste oppression faced by Dalit women, along with gender discrimination. As Dalit feminist writer Challapalli Swaroopa Rani says:

When has my life been truly mine
In the home male arrogance
sets my cheek stinging
while in the street caste arrogance
splits the other cheek open

(Mankena Poovu7, 2005)

Dalit poetry for self-respect

The Dalit literary movement emerged from among Dalit struggles against caste atrocities, particularly against the Karamchedu (1985) and Chunduru massacres (1991). Ideologically, they confronted both Brahmanism and alternative ideologies such as Marxism. They opened up the issue of caste as the primary social reality and supporteda casteless society. The condemned symbols (for instance, Sambhuka and musical instrument Dappu) and life styles (such as eating beef, asserting caste title and dalit language) are converted into symbols of protest. Poetry anthologies from the early 1990s, Chikkanavvutunna Pata8 (1995), Dalit Manifesto (1995) and Padunekkina Pata9 (1996) ), set the tone for Dalit poetry.

The Dalit movement has produced many promising young poets and Dalit leaders, too, have become poets. Among these are Madduri Nagesh Babu (Veliwada10, 1997; Meerevutlu11, 1998; Rachabanda12, 1997; Naraloka Prarthana13, 2002; Vidi Aakasam14, 1999), Kalekuri Prasad, Pydi Teresh Babu (Alpapeedanam15, 1999; Hindu Maha Samudra16, 1999; Nenu Naa Vintalamari Prapamcham17, 2007), Satish Chander (Panchama Vedam18, 1995), Kathi Padma Rao (Nallakaluva19 , 1996; Neeli Keka20, 1998; Mulla Kireetam21, 2002; Bhhomi Bhasha, 2004; Kattelamopu22, 2007), Bojja Tarakam (Nadiputtina Gonthuka23, 1983), K. G. Satyamurthy alias Sivasagar (Sivasagar Kavitvam24, 2004), Gaddar (Gaddar Patalu25, 1999), Gorati Venkanna, Masterjee, Yendluri Sudhakar (Varthamanam26, 1985; Kotha Gabbilam27, Vargeekaranam28, 2000), Sikhamani (Chilaka Koyya29, 1993; Kirrucheppula Bhasa30, 2000; Tavvakam31, 2009), Nagappagari Sunderraju (Chandala Chatimpu32, 1996), Vemula Yellaiah, Challapalli Swarooparani (Manankena Poovu33, 2005), Salandra, Sambhuka, Thullamalli Wilson Sudhakar (Dalita Vyakaranam34, 2011) M. Vinodini (Onti Nittadi Gudise35, 1995) Joopaka Subhadra, Darla Venkateswara Rao (Dalita Tatvikudu36, 2004), G. V. Ratnakar (Matti Palaka37, 1999), P. C. Ramulu, Juluri Gowrisankar (Paadamudra38, 1996 ) and Prasada Murthy.

Dalit poets protested against the social practice of untouchability and raised their voice for ‘a fistful for self-respect’:

I am still a prohibited human being
Mine is an expelled breath
..The moment he left a mark of prohibition on my face
My race
Was gradually murdered

(Yendluri Sudhakar, Varthamanam, 1992).

I’m the wound of the people, a communion of wounds.
For ages, a slave in a free country,
subject to insult, atrocity, rape, torture,
someone raising his head for a fistful of self-respect.
My very existence in this nation, drunk on caste and wealth,
is a protest

(Kalekuri Prasad, Pidikedu Aatma Gourvam Kosam39, 1991)

The poets constructed an alternate history to counter figures of Brahminical mythology by invoking alternative symbols like Ekalavya and Sambuka (Siva Sagar, Nadustunna Charitra).

From the stubs of those thumbs there now sprout nibs of steel
to write history anew.

(Sikhamani, Vade Asuddha Manavudu40, 1984).

Dalit writing is committed to demanding the citizenship and social justice denied to them for generations:

I want real citizenship
will you give it?...I want a touch
I want you to shake my hand with your heart

(Madduri Nagesh Babu, Nakem Kavali41, 1998).

Sharpening of Identity Politics: Madiga, Muslim and Telangana Poetry

The assertion of new identities such as Madiga, Muslim and Telangana, has transformed the terrain of Telugu literature. Dalit literature, too, has undergone a significant change with further assertion of social constituents of the Dalit category by the early 21st century. Madiga poetry (Madiga Chaitanyam), Bahujana Poetry (Ventade Kalalu, Poetry of Backward Castes) have further democratised Dalit poetry. After the Gujarat riots of2002, Telugu Muslim poetry has emerged as a new literary genre with the poetry anthology, Jal Jala42(1998) giving a voice to the anger and insecurity of the community.

Long before I was born
my name was listed among traitors….Yes, my birthmark is me
my existence, my citizenship
It’s my ancestral property
inherited from the earth
the sky, the air
the surroundings I live in
It’s a wound that never heals

(Khadar Mohiuddin, Puttumacha43, 1991)

Skybaba (hg. Jaljala, 1998), Khaza (Fatwa44, 1998), Shajahana (Nakhab45, 2005), Anwar (hg. Aja46, 2002), Iqbal Chand (Black Voice, 1995), Khasim Shaik, Afsar (Valasa47, 2000), Yakoob (Sarihaddu Rekha48, 2002), Haneef and Mahe Jabeen are among the prominent Muslim voices.

Telangana poetry was established amid the backdrop of the struggle for the separate state of Telangana. It is a celebration of the pride of Telangana, its culture against exploitation of the region, and the aspirations of its people. Dalit, Bahujan, Muslim and women writers as well as cultural performers such as Gaddar and Gorati Venkanna through Dhoom Dham (Grand cultural display) played a key role in Telangana literature. The Dalit performance poets Gaddar, Gorati Venkanna, and Andesree set the politico-cultural tone of a separate Telangana.

At present, Telugu poetry is at crossroads, and is looking for a democratic way forward.


  1. ‘Blue clouds’
  2. ‘The Song that is Sung as you Target’
  3. Yuddhonmukhamga (On War foot),1986; Vaamanudi Moodo Paadam (The Third Leg of Vamana)1988; Ikkada Kurisina Varsham Ekkadi Meghanidi, 1991; Yasodharaa YeeVagapemduke, 1993
  4. Kondepudi Nirmala Kavitvam (The Poetry of Kondepudi Nirmala), 2012
  5. Adavi Vuppongina Ratri (The Night of the Forest’s Uprising),1990; Mrugana (Searching),2008
  6. ‘Gaze’
  7. ‘The Red Mankena Flower’
  8. ‘Thickening Song’
  9. ‘Sharpened Song’
  10. ‘Untouchable Locality’
  11. ‘What People Are You?’
  12. ‘Village Square’
  13. ‘A Prayer of This World’
  14. ‘A Separate Sky’
  15. ‘Depression in the Ocean’
  16. ‘The Great Hindu Ocean’
  17. ‘Me and My world of Wonders’
  18. ‘The Fifth Veda’
  19. ‘Black Lotus’
  20. ‘The Blue Call’
  21. ‘The Language of Earth’
  22. ‘The Bundle of Fire wood’
  23. ‘The Voice that gave Birth to the River’
  24. ‘The Poetry of Siva sagar’
  25. ‘The Songs of Gaddar’
  26. ‘The Present’
  27. The New Bat’
  28. ‘Categorization’
  29. ‘The Wooden Hanger’
  30. ‘The Language of Sandals that make a Kirru -Sound’
  31. ‘Digging’
  32. ‘The Public Announcement of Untouchable’
  33. ‘The Red Mankena Flower’
  34. ‘Dalit Grammar’
  35. ‘A Single Pillar Hut’
  36. ‘The Dalit Philosopher’
  37. ‘The Clay Slate’
  38. ‘Foot Print’
  39. ‘For a Fistful of Self-Respect’
  40. ‘That Fellow is the Unclean Human Being’
  41. ‘What Do I Want’
  42. ‘Earth quake’
  43. ‘Birthmark’
  44. ‘Decree’
  45. ‘The Veil’(Muslim Feminist Poetry)
  46. ‘Prayer Call’
  47. ‘Migration’
  48. ‘Borderline’

Dr. P. Kesava Kumar is a writer and professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Delhi. He received Ph.D. degree from University of Hyderabad. He authored ‘Political Philosophy of Ambedkar: An Inquiry into the Theoretical Foundations of the Dalit movement’, ‘Jiddu Krishnamurti: A Critical study of Tradition and Revolution’ and ‘Dalita Vudhyamam: Velugu Needalu’ (Compilation of essays on Dalit Movement in Telugu). He associated with Telugu Journal, ‘Bahujana Keratalu’. He maintains a blog, ‘’
P. Kesava Kumar