Thursday 16 July 2015

History of traditional Telugu food culture A new-fangled interpretation Dr. G V Purnachand, B.A.M.S.

 History of traditional Telugu food culture
A new-fangled interpretation

Dr. G V Purnachand, B.A.M.S.

Food is the supplicant of vital energy of life. Every human activity is centered on food activity which place most dominant role in developing the course of life.

The production and preparation of food has been in accordance with the cultural concepts of each given race. It is the Indian custom to take the food with reverence as divine prasaadam whenever it is served in any form. Food is the chief agent of the immortal continuity of all the created.

The Telugu classical food culture, high in its antiquity, possessed qualitative, pure and rich food habits. But the ill effect of modern multi-cultural experience particularly after Globalization has affected all the aspects of human life particularly the food habits leading a confrontation of perception between the hygienic old and hyper sensitive new generations.

Telugu society is not an exception to this experience. The antiquity of Telugu Language and culture. It is generally believed that the Indus civilization might have sustained up to c.1750 B.C. Evidences are to show that, the Proto-Telugu People mostly were the inhabitants in Godavari and Krishna Basin in the same period. In his great work, “Agro- Echo System of South India”, Dr. K R Krishna made a mention of the wheat production by Telugu People in Telugu Land, during the Indus period.

They cultivated and consumed wheat and rice apart from other grains like sorghum etc. People might have developed trade relations with Indus Valley people and other civilizations.
The Stone Age in South India quietly passed into the Iron Age. As Foote has remarked, the iron industry of South India “is one of the great antiquity. This might occurred long before the Aryans of North India came into various kind of contact with South India. The invention of Iron in this area leads to invent the plough, which enhanced the Cultivation. Very durable pottery in large quantities which signifies that the people who made it must have attained a considerable degree of civilization.
In their work, “An advanced History of India”, R.C. Majumdar, H.C. Roy Chaudhary, and K Data expressed the following opinion: “the Indus Valley people were either Sumerians or Dravidians. These two races might have been identical or different.

The Dravidians at one time inhabited the whole of India, including Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan and gradually migrated to Mesopotamia”.

The Cultural heritage of Telugu People as a race

Sindhus and Dravidians earlier to 1750 B.C. must lay a base for Telugu Culture. The antiquity of food habits of Telugu People must be studied from this perspective. F.C. Southworth, Emeritus Professor of South Asian Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, in his paper, “Proto-Dravidian Agriculture” presented at the 7th ESCA Round Table Conference held at Kyoto in June 2005, identified late Proto-Dravidian with Southern Neolithic culture in the lower Godavari River basin of Andhra Pradesh, which first appeared in c.2, 500 B.C.

He assumed in agreement with Pro. Bhadriraju Krishna Murty, that the Dravidian loanwords into the late Vedic Sanskrit might be explained as a result of northward expansion of Dravidian speakers from the peninsula. FBJ Kuiper released a list of more than 350 loan words from Rig-Vedic Language. Most famous Skt. words like gaja(elephant), kaarpaas (cotton), mayuura (peacock),putra(Son), matsya(fish), taaLa(Toddy Tree) were found by him as Loan words in Sanskrit. Michael Witzel and Alexander Lubotsky are also in the same opinion that, these loan words mostly are from Dravidian or Munda sources. Living together (sahajiivana) or moving nearer (samiipavartitva) of Vedic and Dravidian and or Proto Telugu people can be the prime reason for the loan words in to Sanskrit. Similarly Telugu received many Sanskrit Terms and enriched itself. It is not a simple Influence of Sanskrit Language, but an inevitable social pressure might contribute more Loan Sanskrit words into Telugu. This assumption also proves the antiquity of Telugu language and culture.

“Deccan was found to be the safest place for so many Vedic Aryan People, Particularly in the early Buddhist period. Builders, Artistes. Artisans and Craftsmen went South because of the foreign invasions in the North. Trade flourished and Aryans found a welcome home to the immigrants could take shelter in the Andhra Kingdom which stretched from the Bay of Bengal” says, Padminisen Gupta. Several Dravidian or Telugu loan words in Sanskrit language might be due to their intensive interaction with Telugu region. Most of such loan words might have reached Sanskrit through Prakrit and Pali.

The process was more accelerated in the Mauryan Period. Later, Buddhists also concentrated on Andhra region for the same reason, besides the propagation of their own dharma. Jains and others also joined this convoy, which ultimately lead to superimpose vegetarianism among Telugu communities and earliest Aryanisation of Telugu People than other Dravidian tribes. Meat eating might had been a moderate habit by that time. It doesn’t mean that all Telugu speaking people are vegetarians. There had also been Islamic influence on Non Vegetarianism of Deccani cuisine from the Delhi sultanate. It was enriched during Mughal period and by the Persian interactions.

The new cooking methods of Telugu food

The new cooking methods of cuisines prepared with rice, wheat and other grains have been developed by Telugu Buddhists, Shaivaits, Vishnavaits, and Jains. Vegetarianism became a common dietary trend in Telugu society. Early Telugu People of Pre Historical Period and Aryanised Telugu People of pre-Mauryan or Mauryan Period ate Wheat as their Staple food.
Most of the Telugu Food Items of good olden days were prepared with Atta (wheat flour) only. Chakraalu, jantikalu, chekkalu, gavvalu of present day, are a few to mention among the wheat preparations. The prasaadam of Lord Satyanarayana Swamy, prepared with wheat powder, reflects an age old traditional contacts of Telugu People with wheat. Several historians have quoted XuangZang, the Chinese chronicler of 7th century AD stating that there were no steaming vessels in India.

This statement needs critical examination and one must confirm it with the original work of Xuangzang. This traveler had visited places like Nagarjuna Konda, Bezawada and Amarawati where he lived for consider-able number of years to learn Mahaayaana principle. He talked about the Purva shaila and Avara shaila theories which justify his close contact with Andhra region. By that time the Andhra country distinguished itself in the knowledge of medicinal preparations too. Siddha Nagarjuna who propagated Rasa Sastra, much before the visit of Xuangzang to India.

The rasa aushadhas, otherwise called as vantaaushadhalu… because several medicines were being prepared using various techniques of vanta (cooking) techniques like baking (putapaka), fermentation (aasava or arishta) and Steaming (Arka) preparations. Dishes like Iddenu, Rotte, Undraallu, Mandegalu, sukiyalu, nippatlu popular among Telugu Classical Cuisine are best examples of the preparation in Baking, fermentation or steaming methods. Many Telugu dishes are cooked with vegetable oils while Mustard oil is more commonly used in eastern India. Gingili (sesame) oil is common in Telugu land as it gives a fragrant aroma. Ghee and butter were used very frequently.

Eating Habits of Telugu People

 Bhavamishra of 15th century published a popular medical text book Bhavaprakasha, which is consi-dered as one among the three small works, popularly known as laghutrayi. He belonged to former Kalinga country, which comprises the southern parts of present Orissa and the northern parts of coastal Andhra. He therefore dealt with the life style of eastern Deccan which certainly includes Telugu. He made a mention of the healthy habits of taking items like, kuura, pappu etc., as follows :ఘృత పూర్వ౦ సమశ్నీయాత్కఠిన౦ ప్రాక్ తతో మృదు / అ౦తే పునర్ద్రవాశీ తు బలా ద్రోగేణ ము౦చతి (ghRutapuurvam samashNiyaat kaThinam praak tattoo mRudu/ Antee punardravaaSi tu balaadroogeena munchati). He advised to take oily and hard items like curry (Kuura), Daal (pappu) etc in the beginning of the principal meal. Later soft items like chutney (pachadi) etc.,are to be taken, followed by liquid items like broth or Soar Soup-pulusu, sambaar etc., again and at the end curd or buttermilk. Desserts also can be had after completing the principal meal. Crisps and pappads toasted moderately can also be taken together with any curry or chutney.
Telugu people still follow the same manner. He also mentioned the food habits of north- Indian people, at places like Varanasi and other areas. This book further advised to take a grinded mixture of ginger and salt as the foremost item, “భోజనాగ్రే సదా పథ్య౦ లవణార్ద్రక భక్షణమ్/ అగ్ని స౦దీపన౦ రుచ్య౦ జిహ్వా క౦ఠ విరోధన౦ – bhojanaagree sadaapathyam lavaNa aardraka bhakshanam”-
He advised to eat the ginger and salt mixture as the foremost item in the principle meal, as it acts as an appetizer and stimulates the taste buds on the tongue.

He also recommended of having a sweet item at the end bhojanaante madhurasam”. A sweetened “kappuraviDemu” or taambuulam (Meethapaan) in the end of the meal helps to improve appetite. According to the Sruti, one must have finished one’s lunch by noon and night meal by dusk i.e. before 7-00pm – “సాయ౦ ప్రాతర్మణుష్యాణా మశను శ్రుతి బోధితమ్ saayam praatar manushyaa Naa maSanau shruti bodhitam”.

Teluguness in sugar

Sugar has been produced in the Indian subcontinent since ancient times. Sugarcane was a native of tropical South Asia and Southeast Asia. One of the earliest historical references to sugarcane is in Chinese manuscripts dating back to 8th century BC, mentions the fact that the use of sugarcane originated in India.

Crystallized sugar was discovered by the time of the Imperial Guptas. Buddhist monks, as they travelled around, carried sugar crystallization methods to China. During the reign of Harsha (606–647 AD.) in Northern India, Indian envoys to Tang China taught them the methods of cultivating sugarcane.

Sugar crystals were prepared by cooling the sugar syrup in large flat bowls. In the local Indian language, these crystals were called as khanDa which is the source word of “candy”.
In Telugu, sugar is called as panchadaara. I believe that it is a compound word of panchan +daara; panchan meaning a Buddhist monk and daara denoting “a gift”. History proves the Telugu shores as radiating centres for the spread of Buddhism in all parts of the east, and on account of Telugu bhikkus associated with the spread of sugarcane cultivation along with the spread of Buddhism, the word panchadaara might have come to a stay in Telugu.

It is a significant point to note, that most of the Coastal Andhra people alone use the word panchadaara, while others use chakkera. It may be assumed that Telugu chakkera, Skt. Sharkara, Arabic Shukkar, and English Sugar might be commonly originated from any Dravidian source. As, according to G Bronnikov’s work, Dravidian Etymology, Proto-Telugu cheruk or cher-ak means sugar cane or sugar juice. We can extend our enquiry about the origin of the word chekkara from proto- Dravidian Source. Also, in the proto- eastern Chadic language “car-k” means a kind of herb. Since it is closer to the proto-Telugu word, those Proto- Telugu people might have started the cultivation of sugar cane first, which might have spread to the other parts of the country later.

Kalidasa, of the 4th century AD., described the sugar cane cultivation of Telugu People (Raghuvamsa, 4thsarga, 20thshloka)
“ikshuchhaayaanishaadinyastasyagopturgunodayam- The women of Telugu farmers who were guarding their rice crops, taking shelter in the shadow of sugar cane plants sang the songs of welcoming Raghu maharaja, who invaded the Telugu country.
This explains the largest harvest of sugar cane by Telugu people and sugar candy manufacturing activity in the early parts of Christian era. It may also be assumed that, Telugu Buddhists might be responsible for sugar exports in those days.

Annam is the synonym of Telugu people

Food history of Telugu people begins with annam (the cooked meal). amba and andha are synonyms of annam in Sanskrit. amba means annam. Right hand is called as ambaTi cheyyi as it is used to take food. ambaTi vELa is food time. antha also means annam. People who eat annam might be named as andhas. Apte’s Sanskrit Dictionary mentions annam as a name of a race (Antha). amrutaandhas means the immortal andha race.

The Buddhist and Jain records mentioned Andhras as andhas. In Latin, anthos means “man”. Anthropology, the human science derived from this word anthos. Anthos was originated from the Proto Indo European root “anth”, which means a man. So, early Aryans might have called the Andhras with the name andh,(not the blind people) denoting a human race.

Interestingly, Vietnam was earlier called as Annam until 1940s. Annam means “southwards” in Chinese Language. Since Vietnam was located south of China, it was called as Annam. Similarly telugus might have also been named so, as they moved to south. (ten+agu… moving towards south) Unlike “saapaDu” and Roti, Telugu people caalla their principle meals as annam.
ChekODi and pakODi

The grass kind of grain కూడి kooDi denotes sorghum (jonna) in Telugu. Certain Telugu food items like చెకోడి, పకోడి chekooDi, pakooDi contain కోడిkooDi which stand for sorghum grain. చోడి, చోళ్ళు ChooDi and chooLLu are synonyms of sorghum in Telugu, and కోడి kooDi may be the original form of these words. There is another grain by name ఆళ్ళు aaLLu otherwise popular as కోడ kODa (Millet: Paspalum scrobiculaium L). It is కోరాడుష or కోద్రవ kOradusha, kOdrava in Sanskrit and వరగు waragu in Tamil. This confirms again that, కోడి kODi, kODa, chODi are the ancient Telugu names for certain food grains. ATTu-exclusively of Telugu People ATTu means a toasted thin pancake of moderate size. It is now popularly called asdOSa or dOSai. It might have originated from a proto- Telugu word “aTT”, meaning “making dry”. aTTamu means a fried or burned food. aTika means a broken pot made of mud used as a pottagepan for the purpose of making aTTu. Telugu people still call the nonstick pan as aTla penamu or penku. penku denotes a broken pot. Poota reekulu, a sweet variety popular in the Godavari belt are prepared by drying up the thin flour layers on this broken pot, placed on fire.

The Telugu aTTu is a little different from dOsai of Kannadigas and Tamilians. Now the entire world is eating dOSai, but Telugus only could preserve their ancient Dravidian term aTTu.
One of the important festivals of Telugus is aTlataddi (Attu Eating Festival). Telugu style of aTTu preparation is different. There is a considerable change of taste between the dOsai available at hotels of other language speakers and the aTTu prepared in Telugu homes.
Shrinatha described both aTTulu and dOSiyalu,which testify the fact that aTTu was different from dooSaeven by 15th century. It can therefore be surmised safely that aTTu is specific to Telugu culture.

Chillies changed the Telugu Food style

The food history of Telugu People can be divided into two periods: one is before and the other is after the introduction of chillies into Telugu land. The exact date of this entry of chillies was not known. Portuguese Traders might have introduced them either in early 16th Century or in the last part of Vijayanagara rule.

Chilli peppers originated in Chile, in America. Christopher Columbus discovered America exactly onOctober 12, 1492. And after the Columbian Exchange, the spread of chilli peppers to Asia was most likely a natural consequence.

Portuguese traders soon realised the trade value of chilli pepper and promoted its commerce in the Asian spice trade routes then dominated by Portuguese and Arab traders.

Telugu cultivators were encouraged by these traders to grow more and more chili pepper. Telugu People also showed interest and hugged these spicy items. This was recognised as better alternative to pungent pepper (miriyam), long pepper (pippaLLu), ginger (allamu) etc.
Portuguese and Dutch also encouraged Telugu people to prepare mango pickles for export to western countries. Chili pepper made it easier and cheaper to prepare mango pickle like aavakaaya, magaaya and tokkuDu pacchaDi.

The Telugus made several experiments and introduced several forms of pickles. They invented varieties like the one with jaggery, (bellamaavakaya), coriandam(dhaniyaalaaavakaya), sesame (nuvvuavakaya) and fenugreek seeds (mentikaaya), all meant for export to west. Usually, most of the Europeans do not like such pungent food items. But it seems somehow they welcomed the Telugu pickles.

The foreign traders of this period placed orders for large quantity of pickle packing-. This is how chillies helped the promotion of foreign trade on this land and significantly contributed to its economy, besides making aavakaya the most favorite food item of Telugu house hold.
The great Karnatic composer Purandara das (1480-1564) sang of the chilli: I saw you green, then turning redder as you ripened, nice to look at and tasty in a dish, but too hot if an excess is used. Even to think of (the deity) Panduranga Vittala, the Savior of the poor, enhancer of good food is difficult” (see Historical Dictionary of Indian food, by K T Achaya- page no. 43). This reference throws light not only on its entry but its high popularity all over Deccan.

Mariichi is the Sanskrit term for pepper. Pepper is called miryam in Telugu. The pepper fruit “miriyampu kaaya” from which the mirapakaaya is derived which has become a popular spice of modern age. The other synonym of chili pepper is mirchi, more popular in Hindi belt, could be a derivative from mariichi. Foreign fruits and vegetables on Telugu land Sri Krishna Devaraya in his classic Amuktamaalyada said “vaaNijyamu penchi yElagaa nagun-The king must rule his country by encouraging the trade and commerce”. It was his policy to allow foreign traders both for purchase and selling.

Chili pepper, papaya, guavas, tobacco, maize etc. were introduced to Telugu people by Portuguese. The Dutch people brought a sort of orange fruit from their capital Batavia to Palakole of East Godavari district. Now, this Batavian fruit is popular as battaayi kaaya in Telugu.
Earlier to this, we knew only naarinja kaaya or naaranga kaaya (Citrus Orange fruit). By dropping “n” from naarinja / naaranga, the foreign Traders developed a new name “orange” for sweet citrus fruit.

In their broader interest of trade, these foreign traders including the British established their factories at Masulipatam, Nizampatam, Vizagpatam and other port areas. They attracted our formers to grow their fruits for their overseas trade and more often than not, benefitted largely.

Tiffin-the newly introduced term into Telugu

 Tiffin, the Indian English term is originated in British India. The word originated when Indian custom superseded the British practice of an afternoon tea, leading to a new word for the afternoon meal. It is derived from the obsolete English slang “tiffing” which meant taking a little drink or sip which was used for snacks being taken between two principal meals-lunch and supper. Much later tiffin was applied to the morning food taken much before lunch, taken as breakfast.

The British officials of Madras Province started relishing the taste of certain alpaahaara items like dOSai, idli, vada, puuri, upma, etc which they called as tiffin. But snack items like buundi, chekODi etc, were not attached to this label.

In other parts of India, such as Mumbai, the word mostly refers to a packed lunch of some sort. Dabbawallahs, sometimes known as tiffinwallahs, are used as a complex courier system to send thousands of lunch boxes by the house wives, to their spouses and/or children working at distant places. The lunchboxes in Mumbai mostly contain rooTis or chapaatis.

This may be another reason that items like chapaati or puuri are labeled by Telugu People as tiffin. Tiffin time is a lunch time for Bombay people, whereas snacks time for Telugu people. Food items, other than cooked rice and curries etc., used in a meal, are popular in Telugu land as tiffin, which is a recent development in its cooking history.

Traditional Telugu food items

The great Telugu poet of 15th century, Srinatha gives a long list of more than 70 food items with their Telugu names of middle ages in his SRungaara naiShadha. These food items were meant for serving to the guests attending swayamvara function of Damayanti. Some more such names of Telugu food items may be obtained from the literary works of Tenali Ramakrishna, Peddana, and Timmana of Vijayanagara Period.

Sri Suravaram Pratapa Reddy in his monumental work “aandhrula saanghika charitra (The Social History of Telugu people), observed that some of these names were confusing, as they were no more in vogue and required the attention of scholars for further examination.
More meaningful terms like tEmanam was lost in usage, as we use instead majjiga pulusu. The reason is obvious. People are slowly urbanized and a sort of indifference prevailed in their mind towards their mother tongue and culture.

Traditional Telugu food items that are high in their antiquity, rich in their nourishment, and pure in their preparation provide good evidence of Telugu taste from ages.

The eating habits of Telugu People are in according to the Ayurvedic Text books namely Charaka Samhita, Susruta Samhita and Vagbhata Samhita of ancient times (bruhatrayi) and Yogaratnakara, Bhaava Prakasha and Basava raajiiyam of Middle Ages (laghutrayi). PulihOra (tamerindrice), gaarelu (vadai), maDugulu (akind of Parotas), drabbeDa (traditional fried rice of Telugu style), uurpu (a special soup prepared by frying a vegetable on fire), angaarapOlika (an ancient type of Telugu butter naan-prepared in tandoori method) paalakaayalu (a sort of sweet item prepared with the cream of milk, that helps to develop good vision among the children who are mostly exposed to computer monitors and television screens) are the best examples of traditional

Telugu food items. Let us examine a few examples:


drabbeDa was mentioned by pOtana Mahakavi of 14th Century – oka konni drabbeDa loka konni taalimpu loka konni vidhamula yorrachErulu. In this passage he mentioned about drabbeDalu as a special cuisine to be served in the principal meal. But the commentators failed to decipher what really drabbeDa meant. In Sanskrit MahaBhagavata, we come across a word- sthaalii puriisha in the passage: kaNa piNyaaka phaliikaraNa kalmaaSha sthaalii purii Shaadii namrutava dabhyava harati (Skt. Bhag. 5.9.11) where it means sthaalii lagnam dagdhaannam, a much deeply roasted rice layer stuck inside the bottom of the cooking pot, which should not be eaten as it would lead to cancer.

This passage is in the context of JaDabharata’s life. Potanaamaatya in his Telugu Bhaagavatamu translated this `sthaalee pureesha` as “maaDu drabbeDa”. …uuka, tavuDu,telikapinDi,poTTu, maaDu drabbeDa yaadigaa gala dravyambu layanduna mrutambu pagidi ruchecheesi bhakShinchuchu (5.1.128)…it means jaDabharata lived by eating the husk, bran, oil cake(the stuff of sesame seeds that remains after the oil was pressed out ) and maaDu drabbeDa, a deeply roasted layer of rice.
If spices and vegetables are added to the cooked rice and fried moderately, we will get the delicious drabbeDa, which equals to `fried rice’of present day. drabbeDa was a popular traditional Telugu food item, a special variety of rice by 15th Century.


MaDugulu-also known as maDagulu, maNugulu, or maDatalu was a traditional cuisine mentioned by various writers of middle ages. maDagu in classical Telugu means compromise or surrender. maData means a fold or a folding. As far as preparation of a rooTi is concerned, folding adds to its taste. Folding the wheat- layer twice is doupati, three times is tripati and four times is chapati. In each time of the folding, oil and dry powder are added. They increase the taste.

The difference between a pulka and a chapaatilies in its foldings only. maDugulu or maDatalu contain many foldings. paalagujju (cream of the milk) is applied after baking the maDatalu, which equals butter naan or parOTa of present day.

Angaara pOlika:

Angaara pOlika – a mudda or a wheat-ball is to be prepared and placed on burning coal. After the upper layer of the ball is roasted, it has to be taken out, and the blackened crusts are to be peeled off. The core part of the ball appears like a white flower.
Hence, Srinaatha of 15thcentury described it as angara puuviya. This can be prepared either as a sweet or a salt item and can be taken along with soup or sweetened milk. This is a good example of the indigenous tandoori method developed by Telugu Vijaya Wada Prajalu


The present paper is to give only a brief sketch of the traditional Telugu cuisine and its history. It is one of the neglected areas of historical study. In fact, history extends to all important spheres of human activity and food history is also a branch of history like political history or social history or economic history.

The food history of Telugus therefore demands a justified focus of research in order to present the Telugu culture in its comprehensive form