The great Vijayanagara emperor Shri Krishnadevaraya was a great poet of Telugu.
He called himself “Andhra Bhoja” and he wrote an epic Telugu poem Amuktamalyada. (His mother Nagala Devi was most probably a Telugu woman)
Krishnadevaraya wrote “దేశభాషలందు తెలుగు లెస్స”.
This has been interpreted to mean that “among all languages of the country, Telugu is the best”.
However, that is not what he meant.
To begin with, this phrase was not originally coined by Krishnadevaraya. It has been used by Telugu poets of the past. Most notably, the phrase was used by the great Telugu poet Srinatha. Vallabharāya used the same phrase in Krīḍābhirāmamu 150 years before Krishnadevaraya.
The phrase దేశభాషలందు తెలుగు లెస్స literally means that among all “Deshabhashas”, Telugu is the best.
Now, what are these “Deshbhashas”? Ancient Indian literature is quite clear on this matter.
Kuvalayamala Kaha (8th century CE) actually provides a list of them. These Deshabhashas are regional languages like Telugu, Magahi, Gujjara, Kashmiri, Kannada, Tamil etc.
Please note that the Devabhasha (=Sanskrit) or even Prakrit is not included in the list of Deshabhashas.
So, when Krishnadevaraya and the great Telugu poets proclaimed that ‘దేశభాషలందు తెలుగు లెస్స’ they clearly meant “among all regional languages, Telugu is the best”.
This will be further clear when the entire phrase is taken into consideration.
It reads as “జనని సంస్కృతంబు సకల భాషలకును దేశభాషలందు తెలుగు లెస్స”
The first part of the phrase ‘జనని సంస్కృతంబు సకల భాషలకును’ clearly means ‘Sanskrit is the mother of ALL languages’.
So, the entire phrase translates as “Sanskrit is the mother of ALL languages, but among all regional languages, Telugu is the best.
The very next line talks of the relation between Sanskrit and Telugu as that between mother and her child (తల్లి-బిడ్డ).
Even when great kings like Krishnadevaraya and great Telugu poets like Srinatha were proclaiming the supremacy of Telugu, they avoided clubbing Sanskrit among other languages and uttered in the same breath that Sanskrit is the mother of all languages including their own.
They saw Sanskrit as the mother of their language. And the mother deserves greater respect than the child. They did not see Sanskrit as a sister language to their mother tongue but rather as the mother of their mother tongue and thus deserving of greater respect.
It is natural & justified to feel love and pride for one’s own mother tongue, and rightly so.
Yet, before Christian missionary scholar Robert Caldwell coined the phrase “Dravidian languages” it was widely believed in South India that Sanskrit is the mother of all languages.
It’s time we embraced and took pride in our history instead of believing British-propagated myths that were intended to divide and rule us.