C.P. Brown

(1798 – 1884)

Father of the Telugu Renaissance

            “To revive the literature of a language was an arduous task for one man and he a foreigner|”

C.P. Brown

            Charies Philip Brown stands out prominently among European Scholars who contributed to Telugu studies.  His service to Telugu in different branches like grammar, prosody, and critical studies of the Telugu classics is epoch making.  As a lexicographer, he undertook the laborious task of compiling two standard dictionaries.  He was the first Indologist to publish Telugu Classics with commentaries.  He collected a large number of palm-leaf manuscripts from the most remote corners of Telugu-speaking areas and employed about twenty pundits, at his own expense, to transcribe, provide indexes and commentaries and the much needed historical backgrounds for such ancient texts.  He also helped in bringing out fascinating insights of the language with the assistance of the pundits he worked with.  He gave to the ancient texts a standard and authenticity that had not existed earlier.

            Besides putting in strenuous efforts in collecting, correcting  and editing of Telugu literary texts, he also contributed to the growth of the ‘Kavya’ (literary dialect) and the much neglected ‘Vyavaharika'(spoken dialect) and attempted to effect a synthesis between the two by fostering democratic processes, that were long absent on the Telugu literary scene.  The literary culture in Andhra was at its lowest ebb at that time.  As he himself recalls, “Telugu literature was dying out, the flame was flickering in the socket”.  It was at such a time that Brown dedicated himself with missionary zeal to revive the  ancient heritage.  For this reason, he may be aptly described as the Father of the Renaissance in Telugu.

            Charles Philip Brown was born in Calcutta on November 10, 1798.  His father Rev, David Brown was Senior Chaplain of the East India Company in Bengal.  After the death of Rev. David Brown in 1812, the family moved to London. The young Brown was educated at Hailey bury College and later took up service in the East India Company.

            He arrived in Madras on the 3rd of August 1817 and studied at the Fort St. George College, Where he was taught Marathi and Telugu.  He passed his Telugu Proficiency and Civil Service Tests in June 1820.  Writing about his initiation into Telugu studies, he says in his English translation of the Telugu Reader (Madras 1852 P.55), “This Brahmin (Velagapudi Kodandarama Panthulu) taught me the Telugu alphabet when I entered the Madras College”.  Although C.P. Brown patronized Telugu, he was a polyglot.  Among the other languages he learnt were Greek, Latin, Persian and Sanskrit.

            On the completion of his training, C.P. Brown was appointed Second Assistant to the Principal Collector, Cuddapah, Mr.Hunbury, in August 1820.  He was greatly impressed by Mr.Hunbury ability to speak Telugu fluently.  He thought that Mr.Hunbury was a fit example for him to emulate, impelled by zeal as well as by necessity.  Brown not only acquired fluency in Telugu but also excelled Mr.Hunbury.

            In 1822 he was transferred to Machilipatnam as an Assistant Judge in the District Court.  This was a fortunate turn for him.  Brown felt that books alone were not enough to learn a living language and this is perhaps true, with every language.  Brown himself acknowledged this fact, when he said that plaintiffs, witnesses, prisoners, judges and even the menials he came into contact with, became his instructors for the moment.

            It was not until 1924 that Brown developed a serious interest in learning about Telugu literature, which passion continued for the next sixty years.  Brown had no intention of becoming a scholar in Telugu.  When he was struggling to learn the language with no dictionary, an inadequate knowledge of grammar and teachers who were not equipped with teaching skills, he found it quite frustrating.  He wanted to make it easier for people who followed him later.  To prepare grammar, a work book or a dictionary required considerable knowledge of the language.  He therefore, began to consult Telugu scholars who could translate poems and provide commentaries for him.  He felt that this would contribute to a greater understanding of and command over the language.  He began by collecting palm-leaf manuscripts of Vemana’s poems.  He found the poems of Vemana simple, thoughtful, rustic, profound and sometimes Irreverent.  It soon grew into a gigantic project.  He translated 693 of Vemana’s verses into English and published them in 1829.  He acquired Sanskrit and Telugu manuscripts numbering 5000.  He paid for them out of his own pocket, and where the manuscripts were not for sale, (because the owners felt that printing of the ancient texts was a profanation), he cajoled the owners into parting with them, with the promise that he would return the original to them, along with a copy on good English paper in course of time, Brown collected a vast number of manuscripts and got scholars to comment on them. He then realized that learning the prosody of the language would be very useful in appreciating classical poetry.  Having therefore, learnt the prosody of Telugu and Sanskrit, he wrote an explanation of both and submitted it for publication.

            Like one of the legendray kings,  Krishnadeveraya, in olden times, who used to preside over meetings of scholars to decide the merit of a great work, Brown too presided over scholars’ disputations to renovate a great book.  We find in all such things the scientific attitude of the Westerner operating amidst difficult oriental conditions.  C.P. Brown was the first man and perhaps the only notable foreigner who paved the way for “the European method of study” in Andhra Pradesh, for subsequent generations of writers and critics to follow.  Now it is for us to appreciate and emulate his selfless and devoted work.  While in Cuddapah he purchased a bungalow and garden attached.  He let out part of it and used a part for himself.  The rest was used for accommodating his retinue of pundits who could work without interruption while he was away on official tours people referred to it as the ‘Brown College’, for it was always filled with scholars who were busy at work.  The C.P. Brown Memorial Library stands on this venerable site today.  It was constructed largely due to the efforts of Sri Janamaddi Hanumath Sastri, who was its Founder-Secretary.  It was later taken over by the Yogi Vemana University, Kadapa, and upgraded into a Research Centre for Languages.

            It is interesting to know how he carried out the task of getting the manuscripts corrected by pundits.  Every text was faulty and the way in which he settled the text of a classic is remarkable.  He employed scribes to make a fair copy of 60 or 70 stanzas daily on an average, and paid them one rupee each towards wages for 200 stanzas.  He paid ₹ 15/- a month to a pundit, ₹ 12/- for correcting the script, ₹ 8/- for reading out the manuscript and ₹ 1/- towards making a fair copy of 100 stanzas.  He also employed three or more scholars, and put each in charge of five of six manuscripts.  The variations in each manuscript were compared, discussed, and after a consensus was reached, it was recorded.  He fixed the responsibility of testifying to the correctness of these fair copies to a pundit who would examine and sign them.  He gathered information about payment of wages  from other institutions in India in order to ensure discrimination –free and just payment to the Pundits.  He also used to impose a penalty on those who were negligent and failed to identify errors or who did not correct the variations in the different texts.  He followed the same procedure with other manuscripts also.  The purchase of manuscripts, writing material and the employment of scholars, cost him, according to his own admission, more than ₹ 30,000/-.  He says, “My leisure for these pundits was between five and ten in the morning, six days a week”.  While his monthly salary was only ₹ 500/- at that time, he spent ₹ 2714/- on the fair copy of “The Mahabharata” in Telugu, which amounted to five months of hard earned salary.  He confesses that he had to borrow money sometimes, not only form his compatriots but also from others.  Such was the painstaking and dedicated effort he put into his work.  All this was a labour of love for him and he was not the richer by a penny.  His books never brought him money.  “By some I lost the money expended” he says cheerfully, “but I looked for this result and was satisfied”.

            Brown’s landmark works were  was however, his compilations of  dictionaries .  The Telugu-English and the English-Telugu Dictionaries, which contained mixed dialects and foreign words used in Telugu.  These appeared in 1852, ’53 and ’54 and were printed at the expense of the ‘Society for the Promotion of Christian knowledge.’  The Telugu-English Dictionary contains a fairly comprehensive collection of quotations from Telugu Classics in support of the various meanings of each word.  His dictionaries are still considered significant and relevant today and are often reprinted.  Though he did not spare the vain pedantry of pundits, he was not without appreciation for them, for he says, “I discovered some excellent scholars, poets, grammarians and critics, half of whose learning I never attained living in poverty as mere mendicants, and who were glad to be thus employed, on wages as moderate as those we pay to our menials”.

            Among other books written by Brown were his Telugu Reader, Telugu and English Dialogues, English Irregular Verbs explained by idiomatic sentences in English and Telugu, and the Vakyavan or Exercises in Idioms, English and Telugu.  He also wrote “Wars of the Rojas” in English and Telugu.  Some of these were translated into Kannada, Tamil and Hindustani.

            Other works that were equally important were the Zilla Dictionary, Cyclic, Tables of Hindu and Mussalman Chronology and Ephemeris, showing the corresponding dates according to the English, Telugu, Malayalam and Mahommedan calendars from A.D. 1751 to 1850, The Memories of Hyder Ali  and Tipoo Sultan, translated from Marathi and the Tatochari Tales.  He wrote a Latin translation of 22 cantos of the Lalitopokhyanam (anecdotes of Lalita, another name for Parvati the wife of Lord Shiva).

            Brown also made a valuable collection of documents, extracts from newspapers and research material running into 54 volumes containing over 20,000 pages, which he donated to the India Office Library.  He gave 5751 manuscripts to the Government Oriental Manuscript Library, Madras.  He also took great care to see that the Mackenzie Manuscripts were neatly written and published in the Madras Journal of Literature and Science, serially.

            Brown was in perfect resonance with Indians, their religion, their beliefs, practices and traditions, their literature and culture.  While printing ‘Nistara Ratnokaram’ – a short account of Christianity in Telugu metre, he deleted a derogatory reference to Hinduism and Instead wrote.  “The Apostles preached Christianity without reviling idols.  Why should not modern preachers imitate this courteous method?”.  This remark demands daily practice by the fanatics of any religion.

            From 1820 to 1829 Brown remained in the Subordinate Services. He was elevated to the status of a 1″ Class Servant in 1852.  He was the Acting Collector of Guntur District at the time of the devastating Guntur famine of 1832-33.  It was he who first reported the gravity of the famine and deaths due to starvation. He had to face the displeasure of the Secretary of the Judicial Department for the sin of using the word ‘I amine’ in his report!

            Brown attempted to make the spelling of ‘Cuddapah’ more rational by showing how unphonetic and  illogical  the spelling was.  He therefore, spelt it in his manuscript note as “Cadapa” ‘Kadapa’ and ‘Cuddapa’, surprisingly.  In his foresight, he was not far from its present modification in its spelling.  He was also interested in arts and crafts which led him to collect antique museum pieces from different parts of South India.

            Being of a philanthropic bent of mind, he opened free schools for native children at Cuddapah, Machilipatnam and Madras, the places where he had worked. His European friends whose life style in India was luxurious and quite different from Brown’s considered him quite a character. In fact Brown himself though at times, as recorded in his Literary Autobiography, that he was not sane in the usual sense, but he reassured himself that he was in fact quite sane and sensible in every way.  It is no wonder that Brown, a great intellectual with the traits of genius in him, was considered odd and idiosyncratic by his fellowmen, though he was often referred to as ‘the great Telugu scholar’.

            Brown was employed for twelve years in the revenue, magisterial and judicial work in the Telugu districts.  In 1838 he was appointed Persian translator to the Government and in 1846 he became Post Master General, and Telugu translator to the Government.  He resigned from service in 1855 and returned to London.

            He was regarded as a living authority on India in 1865.  He delivered lectures in 12 towns on Post mutiny India.  His work as Telugu Professor in the University of London and as Telugu Examiner for the I.C.S.  recruits, has not been clearly recorded.  He brought out a revised edition of his ‘Literary Autobiography’ in 1872.

            To perpetuate his memory and thereby promote Telugu Research as well,  The C.P. Brown Research Project was started in the Department of Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati.  Prof.G.N.Reddy was the Chief of the Project and Bangorey (the shortened form of Bandi Gopal Reddy) was the Research Officer.  The Project worked for a period of three years with meagre funds.  During this time, Sri Venkateswara University collected vast and valuable material concerning Brown’s contribution to Telugu studies.  Books, predominantly in or on Telugu, whether printed or in manuscript, were always staple food for C.P. Brown, who all through his life preferred to remain a dedicated Telugu scholar.  It is but natural that he gave priority to his work when he mentioned it in his last will and testament.  A typed copy of the text of his ‘Will’ was secured form London by Dr. G. Krishnamurthy and sent to V.R. Narla, who was good enough to pass it on to Bangorey for the benefit of the C.P. Brown Project.  Prof. G.N. Reddy, a former Vice-Chancellor of Sri Venkateswara University and Director of the C.P. Brown Research Project, in his tribute to him, rightly observes, “Never in the history of the Telugu country has an individual worked so much and for so long a time for the revival and development of its language and literature”.

            Even in the midst of his official responsibilities and consequent difficulties, compounded with professional jealousy and the dishonesty and apathy of his own countrymen, Brown stuck to his Telugu studies and in consequence, remained contentedly poor.  He wrote in his diary, “Want of leisure so often lamented in India usually denote want of iodination. I have always had leisure”.  All his leisure was devoted to his studies in single concentration of purpose and accomplishment.

            C.P. Brown lived and died a bachelor.  He was a humanitarian who made his mission in life, helping people in distress, in addition to restoring and preserving the lost cultural land literary heritage of the Telugu people.  Bishop Caldwell described Brown as a ‘restless pundit’.  This restless pundit finally rested in peace, and contentment, an octogenarian, on December 12, 1884.  He had accomplished a task of such stupendous proportions, that it acquired for him, not only recognition in his life time, but immortality, for generations to come, in the hearts and heartland of the Telugu people.