Telugu Language in Mauritius

Telugu Language in Mauritius

T.L.S.Bhaskar Ph.D.

The present article attempts to outline various agencies that are associated with the teaching and promotion of Telugu language in Mauritius. To begin, a brief history of Telugu migration to Mauritius is provided to appreciate the article. 

Telugu Presence in Mauritius
The Telugus migrated to Mauritius islands began as early as 1834 936 as a part of the indentured labourers system, to work on the sugar plantations. The first batches of Telugus have landed on the island on the ship Ganges from the port of Korangi (near Kakinada) in coastal Andhra Pradesh. In successive periods, Telugus were called askorangis, and their language as korangi bhasha and their festivals as korangi festivals. But over generations, the term has been considered derogatory. Telugus were recorded under various heads like Coringas, Jentoos, Telings, and Kalings. They had origins mainly from areas of Bimli (Bheemilipatnam/Bheemunipatnam), Vizagapatam (Visakhapatnam or Vizag), Thoonee (Tuni), Uncole (Ongole), Bimlipatam (opp.cit), Oopada (Uppada), Alleepuram (Alleepuram), Nabobpettah (Nawabpeta), Ganzam (Ganjam), Vizianagaram (Vizianagaram), Alamunda (Alamanda), Cocanada (Kakinada), Berhampur, Chicacole (Srikakulam), Rajahmundry, Guntur, Masulipatnam, Nellore, Cuddapah, Anantapur, Chittor and Hyderabad. After arrival they worked initially on sugar plantations Quatre Bornes, St. Pierre, Riviere Du Rempart, Chemin Grenier, Flacq, Mahebourg, Casis (Port Louis), L’escaillier, Goodlands, and Tayak. Presently, there are more than 60,000 Telugus spread all over the island. on the island. But in most cases many of their names are distorted at the time of their emigration from India by the officers, who didoes not how the language of the migrant, and who could not pronounce. The migrants themselves are very afraid at the same time as they are unsure of their destiny and are mostly illiterate in most cases. They could not pronounce their name to the satisfaction of the officer. So, many names got distorted at in the very first instance.
How did the Telugus who left the shores of India more than 180 years ago keep the language of Telugu alive in a foreign land? The present article attempts to explain how various agencies in Mauritius have shaped the teaching and promotion of Telugu language.Telugu Language Teaching

The Telugu language and teaching of the language has seen dramatic changes over years. The following section gives a brief introduction of the language situation in the initial years after the first batch of Telugus who arrived here. The situation after the independence is explained under two major heads- formal and informal teaching of the Telugu language.

Readings in the Mauritian Telugu history depict how the first generation of Telugus used to teach their children the Telugu alphabets on sand after the day’s work on the plantation. Telugus have tried every possible way to promote and protect their language from the beginning. The migrant labourers, who are ignorant of the fluency and proficiencies (consider using the word syntax and grammar in the place of words like fluency and proficiencies) of the language, have often taught the language to their children on the beach sand, palm leaves etc. apart from the verbal teaching through various mechanisms like song and drama. Mechanisms like bhajana, keertana, naatakam, slokam, etc have provided enough space to teach initiate interest in the language and promote it successively in the following generation of Telugus. Often they gathered in the evening and sang songs in praise of the God, like Ramadasu keertana and Nrusimha satakam. 

Over the next two generations, the language was promoted through folk performances such as Burrakatha etc. Gradually, books like Ramadasu Keertanalu, Pedda Balasiksha were available for the Telugus (brought to the island by those coming to work on plantations). A renewed interest in learning the language was seen at theBhaithaks where the language was taught through song or bhajan. But the entrance of Arya Samaj movement had an affect in the process as Hindi was given prominence, and at the same time, European languages like French and English gained importance. Around 1920s, there was some uncertainty in the Telugu language’s existence. 

The birth of the MAMS (Mauritius Andhra Maha Sabha) (MAMS) with one of its main objectives:- to propagate the Telugu language and; to establish branch sabhas to open Telugu schools- revived the declining situationinterest in the Telugu language. In the early stages of MAMS, the contribution of Pandit Gunnaya Otto (who learnt the language by visiting Vizianagaram) and Pandit Ramasamy are notable in making the people learn the language. After Mauritius gained the independence, the Mauritius government determined to promote the ethnic languages and ethnic cultures that formed the core of the Mauritian cultural fabric.Formal teaching of the Language

The formal teaching implies a class room interaction between the teacher and a student, with a definite course outline for a given level. The teaching ends with an exam conducted to assess the student’s performance.

Teaching in the schools and the Mahatma Gandhi Institute, Moka, Mauritius (MGI)** at Primary (CPE), Secondary (SC), Higher Secondary (HSC) and Degree level

In the year 1958 on 1 Aug the Telugu language teaching was formally initiated in the schools on August 1, 1958. The training for the first four primary teachers (late Venkatasami Veerasamy, Linga Ramasamy, and Veerabhadroo Elliah and Somanah Somiah) began at the Beau Bassin Teachers Training College (TTC) and the tutor was late Sanassee Gooriah. In the beginning there was no syllabus for CPE. The existing Hindi syllabus was translated into Telugu (write in the English/French script- and listen to it). Beginning from SeptSeptember 1958, during a typical week, the trainee teachers have spent five days in the school, and Saturday in the TTC. Initially teachers have used Grandhika Telugu from the available books- the Sanskrit Swayam Sikshak and the Andhra Bharatee Vaachakamulu and this continued till 1978. In the year 1978 the Vyavaharikam (the ‘Gramya Bhasha’) was introduced at the SC level with the efforts of Dr. Veturi Ananda Murthy (the ITEC Expert from Andhra Pradesh between 1966-1970 & 1976-1979) and Somanah Somiah. Experts like Prof. N. Sivarama Murthy (former registrar of the Telugu University, Hyderabad), Shri Reddy Lutchmodoo (of MGI), Nursimloo (senior supervisor of Telugu, Ministry of Education and Scientific Research, Mauritius) and Pandit Satyakam Appiah are working towards the language promotion. Presently the language is language (as part of Asian languages) is taught in over 100 schools with nearly 125 Telugu teachers, and is even taught at SC, HSC and graduate levels. 
I had the opportunity to visit two schools and attend two teacher’s remedial workshops in Mauritius. I have observed the following-
   Telugu is not the teacher’s language at home (as Creole is the mother tongue of almost all the Mauritians)
   teaching entirely a new language (Telugu) which is not spoken by either pupil or teacher in daily life
   teaching mostly through interaction and repetition (students are made to repeat and learn the language)
   lot of effort put in by the teacher to make them pronounce the words correctly and show interest
   parents although initially are interested in sending their children to Telugu classes at Primary level, they do not show much interest later on
But the effort to make the students learn better Telugu and preserve the culture continues.
Teaching in the Evening Schools of the MAMS
Almost all the branches of the MAMS run evening schools teaching Telugu with active co-operation from the Telugu Teachers Association (TTA). The teaching ends with MAMS conducting Annual Telugu Language Examinations (ATLE) for standard I to form V. Students learn Telugu at three different levels- the primary and secondary and tertiary. MAMS conducts exams for the first two levels of students. Some students may opt for private teachers for learning the language, but cases of this nature are rare. Apart from MAMS, presently, the Telugu Cultural Centre Trust is coming up with plans to promote the language on the island.
Informal teaching of the Language
The Telugu language is promoted and encouraged by many government institutions as described below which indicates the commitment and interest the government has in promoting the ethnic languages. Apart from the government institutions, Telugu temples ( my questions: are these Hindu Temples? If so, how do they exclusively cater to Telugus only? Do the Tamilians have their own temples?) have been effective platforms in encouraging the children and adults to learn and talk in Telugu, at the least in temple.
All the Telugu temples in Mauritius have a compulsory Friday Telugu Bhajan (earlier it used to be called as Satsang and this term is widely used even now). A photocopy of the songs (written in Roman script) is given to the devotees thus making them sing easily. The Pravachanam (in Telugu language) follows the Bhajan by the local Aacharya (purohit). A local bilingual expert subsequently translates it to the devotees into Creole which is the mother tongue for almost all the Telugus ion the island. Despite the fact almost many Telugus can neither speak nor write Telugu, they have the spirit and enthusiasm to promote their Telugu language and culture. Over the years the language loss is due to its non-economic value in terms of jobs and career.
The Mauritian Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and the Mauritian College of Air (MCA)
The Mauritian College of Air produces and prepares audio and video programmes with regard to Telugu language teaching and techniques. These programmes are designed to the students who opt Telugu in their schools. The teaching is extended beyond classroom (it is like India’s UGC classroom programmes). The variety of the programmes that MCA prepares include-
   preparing Telugu songs and rhymes for the primary school children
   programmes for the Telugu language teaching- reading, pronunciation, speaking etc (extension of class room learning )
   programmes on how to celebrate festivals, and certain traditionsAll the above programmes are telecasted/broadcasted by the Mauritian Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). Apart from the above, the MBC has Telugu radio programme daily, and has special programmes like Janaranjani etc through out the week. The MBC also shows four Telugu movies in a month. Efforts are under way to allot more time to the Telugu programmes. At most times, MBC live telecasts the Telugu programmes from temples, cultural halls etc.
The Ministry of Education and Scientific Research
The Ministry has a separate unit for the promotion of Oriental languages (of which Telugu is a part). The unit supervises the teaching of the Telugu language at all levels, evaluate the performances of the candidates at all levels, and work towards a policy to promote the language on a constructive basis. Every Monday the Telugu supervisors meet and discuss the various issues related to above aspects with the senior supervisor of the Telugu language. He is like an invaluable link between the Ministry and teachers. There are one senior supervisor, one supervisor and four assistant supervisors for the 100/270 (eight regions) schools where Telugu is taught at the CPE level. In most cases a Telugu teacher available for a given school. In some cases there are two Telugu teachers for a given school where the number of students opting Telugu are more in number. Nearly, 10000 students opt Telugu at the CPE level.
Ministry of Arts and Culture

The Ministry of Arts and Culture promotes the Telugu language by encouraging active participation in the Telugu Drama festival conducted every year by Ministry’s Drama Section It gives all kind of financial and infrastructure support to the participants to encourage. The motivation group of the Drama Section helps/advises the prospective participant drama groups. There is also a committee for the whole purpose of organising the festival, which consists of representatives from the Ministry, MAMS, the MGI, the Indira Gandhi Centre for Indian Culture, and the representatives from regional federations etc. The committee helps/advises the organisation part of the festival. The Ministry also conducts seminars/workshops to encourage people to participate in the dramas. There is also a script committee that advises/suggests the Ministry to select the dramas for enactment which see the language/errors/and advise the Ministry. Over the last two decades, Telugu drama festival has been very active and each year nearly 15-20 drama groups participate with enthusiasm.


I have tried to put my experiences in the above paragraphs and highlight the role of the government and Telugu community in promoting the language. As Pandit Sanjeeva Appadoo opines language as is the key to learn about Telugu culture and tradition. All the government and non- government institutions have realised this fact and are investing (socio-cultural and economic investment) towards promoting the language on the island, to protect the invaluable and rich Telugu culture and pass it on to the future generations.

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