Etymology of the word Telugu

Contributed by Ramana Juvvadi (

The most popular explanation that is given to the word telugu is that it comes from the word trilinga, i.e. from the three temples at Srisailam, Drakasharamam, and Kaleshwaram. However, not many scholars accept this view. Let us examine some of them here.

Khandavalli Lakshmi Ranjanam
It probably comes from the word talaing . Since tala refers to head, talaings refers to leaders. Probably, talaings were civilized people and conquered the tribals in the area of current Andhra pradesh. Hence the name talaings. Later this must have given rise to the words telungu and trilinga .

Godavarti Ramadasu
Some say that the word telugu comes from the Sanskrit forms trilinga or trikalinga: Actually, the word kalinga itself is a Dravidian word. In Kui language, rice is called Kulinga. Since Kuis were mainly rice eaters, Aryans might have called them kulingas or kalingas.

Marepalli Ramachandra Shastri
In Gondi languahge, unga is form for plural. telu means white. Hence, telunga probably refers to people who are white in complexion.

Ganti Jogi Somayaji
ten refers to south in Proto-Dravidian. Hence tenungu refers to Southerners.

Which of the two words is older? telugu or tenugu ? Some say that tenugu is older than telugu because Nannaya used the word tenugu and Ketana who is younger than Nannaya used the word telugu in his Andhra Bhaashaa Bhushanam. Malliya Raechana wrote a grammar book (Lakshana Granthamu) called Kavi Janaashrayamu. But he didn't use this word in the place of 'praasa' anywhere, so we are not sure what he really used.

The popular notion is that the first person to use the word trilinga is Vidyanaatha in Kakatiya era. Actually, the first person to use the word trilinga is Rajashekhara in Vidhdhasaala Bhanjika. He is the first person to use trilinga with a ra vattu . Markandeya and Vayu Puranas mention only tilinga. One of the oldest works in Tamil called Agattiyam says Konganam Kannadam Kollam telungam . On the whole, it is more probable that the word telugu is older than the word tenugu.

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