by Alexandra Song
“In 1825, I found Telugu literature dead. In 30 years I raised it to life”.
– C.P Brown
C.P Brown’s life is an amazing story of dedication and love for the Telugu language. When Sri Kaleshwar was asked about C.P Brown’s role in the Ancient Mission and the work he did to preserve the Telugu Language, Sri Kaleshwar confirmed that C.P Brown was a divine soul.
C.P Brown’s dedication to Telugu from the beginning was rooted in selflessness. Frustrated with his own experience of learning Telugu upon necessity as a civil servant of East India Company, he wanted to create grammar books and a dictionary so that it would be easier for people who followed in his footsteps to learn the language. Knowing that in order to create such learning tools for the general public he would need an extensive depth of knowledge of Telugu himself, C.P Brown set out on what would became 60 years of service dedicated to Telugu.
“Telugu literature was dying out; the flame was flickering in the socket”
– C.P Brown
C.P Brown found that even the Telugu Scholars of the day had in-sufficient knowledge to really help others learn Telugu. Through the process of his own trial and error studying the language, he found one of the best techniques to learn Telugu was through reading a book, picking out un-familiar words, and understanding the context within which they were used. In 1824, C.P Brown discovered French translations of Yogi Vemena’s poems. Yogi Vemena was a poet saint who wrote extensively on states of high spiritual awareness. C.P. Brown immediately responded to his poetry – this was the kind of literature he had been looking for as a resource to help publicize Telugu and to help other’s learn it.
He became a leading authority on Yogi Vemena, and collected the saint’s original poems on palm leaf manuscripts. The collection and study of palm leaf manuscripts became another pillar in C.P Brown’s remarkable dharma. He also published Vemena’s work for the first time, as well as other Telugu literature through an in-depth process that continued to prove his amazing dedication to preserving Telugu in the most authentic way possible:
“A scribe would sit with this copy. In front of him sat three or more scholars each in charge of five or six manuscripts that had variations with the main copy. Each verse that had variations was read out several times and the scholars commented on the differences. A consensus was reached on the most probable original version and was written down by the scribe. The opinions expressed by the different scholars in coming to the consensus were also recorded. Brown followed this practice with every manuscript he prepared for publication.”
C.P. Brown spent the later years of his life living and working in London as a Telugu professor at London University. He continued to add words to his dictionary until his death, on December 12th, 1884, in London. His full Telugu-English dictionary can be accessed and used here, through the University of Chicago.