Telugu literature is one of the dominant literature in South India. It consists of Puranas, poems, essays, novels, short stories and dramas. It has a rich and long literary tradition that can be traced back to the early 11th century period when the Mahabharata was first translated into Telugu. It flourished under the rule of the Vijaynagar empire where Telugu was one of the languages spoken in the royal courts. It still retains some of the primitive Dravidian characters, though heavily influenced by Sanskrit and Prakrit.
Early Telugu literature is predominantly religious in the subject matter. Most of these works were translated from the epics, such as, the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavata and the Puranas, all of which are considered as the storehouse of Indian culture.
From the sixteenth century onwards, the episodes from the Puranas are made te the basis of Kavyas or poems under the name Akhyana or Khanda. The title of Charitra, Vijay, Vilasa and Abhyudaya that centred around a single hero became the most common subject matter of poetry.
In the eighteenth century, the wedding episodes of heroes under the title Parinaya, Kalyana, and Vitaha became popular. In this period religious literature consisted of biographies of the founders of different branches of religion, their teachings or Sara and commentaries or Bhashya.
In modern period Telugu literature flourished with essays, novels, short stories and dramas. The various forms of Telugu literature are Prabandham or stories in verse (Prakhyatam—famous story, Utpadyam—purely fictional story, Mishranam—mixed story), Champu (a mixture of prose and poems), Kavyam (religious poems), Kavita (poetry), Navula (short story), Katha (religious stories), and Natakam (drama).
In the early period, Kavi Trayam or Trinity of poets are Mannata (Adi Kavi), Tikanna and Yerrapragada (Errana). They translated the Mahabharata from Sanskrit into Telugu.
Sumati shatakam one of the most famous Telugu shatakams was composed by Baddena Bhupaludu (1220-1280). Srinatha (1365-1441) popularised the Prabameha style of composition. His works were concerned with history and mythology. Bammera Potanamatya (1450-1510) is best known for his translation of Bhagavata Purana from Sanskrit to Telugu. Tallapaka Annamacharya (1408-1503) is known as the Pada Kavita Pitamaha of the Telugu language. Tallapaka Tirumalamma who wrote Subhadra Kalyanam (a story from the Mahabharata) is considered the first female poet in Telugu literature.
Among the middle age writers, Allasani Peddana was ranked as the foremost of the group of eight poets in the court of Krishnadevaraya, a ruler of the Vijaynagar empire. He wrote Manu Charitra which is a development of an episode in the Markandeya Purana. His work is treated as one of the Pancha Kavyas, the five best works in Telugu. Dhurjati was also a poet in the court of Krishnadevaraya whose period in the sixteenth century is treated as the golden age of Telugu literature. Garalapati Tenali Ramakrishna was another sixteenth-century court poet. Kshetrayya (1600-1680) was a prolific poet and composer of Carnatic music. Kancherla Gopanna (1620-1680) was a seventeenth-century writer and composer of songs in the Telugu language. Tyagaraja (1767-1847) of Tanjore composed devotional songs in Telugu. Paravastu Chinnaysuri (1807-1861) wrote Bala Vyaakaranamu in a new style after doing extensive research on Andhra grammar which is his greatest gift to Telugu people.
In the modern period, Kandukuri Veeresalingam (1848-1919) was widely regarded as one who first brought about a renaissance in Telugu literature. His Satyavati Charitam was the first social novel in Telugu. He wrote Rajashekhara Charitamu inspired by Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘The Vicar of Wakefield’. To him, literature was an instrument to fight social evils. M. Balamurali Krishna (1930) was acclaimed as a poet and Carnatic vocalist. Acharya Atreya (1921-1989) was a notable playwright and story writer of the Telugu film industry.