With reference to the news report “Telugu traces to Indus script,” published on April 26, Iravatham Mahadevan, Indus Research Centre, Roja Muthiah Research Library, Chennai, writes:
“I have seen the news item under the headline ‘Telugu traced to Indus Script’ published in the Hyderabad edition of The Hindu on 26th April. As the headline is somewhat misleading and the reporting is selective, I wish to clarify what I said that day in my lecture.
After pointing out several advantages enjoyed by the ancient Andhra culture and Old Telugu language, I had also drawn pointed attention to the disadvantage that Telugu has when compared to Old Tamil for Harappan studies due to the relatively late emergence of literacy in Telugu.
The following quote is from my lecture. “The earliest Telugu inscription is dated in sixth century CE, and the earliest literature in the 11th century CE. Tamil is the oldest Dravidian literary language with inscriptions in the Tamil Brahmi script dating from about the 2nd century BCE, and a vast body of literature (the Sangam works) from about the first century CE. Moreover, the Sangam anthologies contain many allusions to events from a dimly remembered past, which are worth investigating for possible connections with the Indus civilisation.”
The main thrust of my lecture was on the use of bilingual parallels from both Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages to search for vestiges of the Harappan culture and languages in them. I gave several examples of such parallels from Old Tamil, Old Telugu, Prakrit and Sanskrit in my lecture.
I did not make any reference to the Telugu script which, as is well-known, is derived from the Brahmi script of the Mauryan period.
While I believe that the people of the Indus civilisation spoke an ancient form of Dravidian, that language cannot be called ‘Tamil’ or ‘Telugu’, which evolved much later from Proto-South-Central Dravidian which is itself an offshoot of Proto-Dravidian. However, it is legitimate to look for survivals of the Indus Civilisation linguistically in modern Dravidian languages and culturally in Indo-Aryan languages (Sanskrit and Prakrit).