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LOCATION: India (Andhra Pradesh State)
POPULATION: About 81 million
RELIGION: Hinduism
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 4: People of India


The Andhras, who are also known as Telugu, are a Telugu-speaking people of India. Ancient Sanskrit texts describe them as non-Aryans (Anarya). In later times, however, some Andhras claimed Brahman descent and added the suffix -ayya to indicate their high status. The Hindu epic literature refers to them as a primitive, indigenous tribe inhabiting wild, inaccessible forests to the south of the Aryan region. The traditional home of the Andhra people is the land between the Godavari and Kistna (Krishna) rivers in southeastern India. Today, Andhras make up the dominant element in the population of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

Over 2,000 years ago, the Andhra region formed part of Ashoka's Mauryan Empire. It was strongly Buddhist and remained so for several centuries after the decline of the Mauryas. The 1st century BC saw the emergence of the earliest in a line of Andhra dynasties that were to rule much of central India. The Andhras subsequently came under the control of most of the important states that arose in southern India. These included the Pallavas, the Eastern Chalukyas, and the Cholas. At the time the Europeans arrived in India, the northern areas of Andhra country were in the Muslim state of Golkonda, while southern areas lay in Hindu Vijayanagara. During the colonial period, the British gained control of most of the Andhra region and administered it as part of their Madras Presidency. Northwestern areas remained under the Muslim princely state of Hyderabad, which accepted British paramountcy (overall British rule in India). Princely states in British India were supposed to accede to either India or Pakistan in 1947, but the Nizam of Hyderabad—ruler of the largest Muslim princely state in India—refused to join India. Hyderabad was invaded by the Indian army and integrated into the Indian Republic in 1949. Andhra pressure for a Telugu-speaking state resulted in the creation of Andhra Pradesh in its present form in 1956.


The population of Andhra Pradesh was reported at 76.3 million people in the 2001 census. To this number should be added Telugu-speakers who live in the border areas of the surrounding states, as well as a substantial Telugu population in Tamil Nadu State. Telugu-speakers are also found among the various immigrant Indian communities in Africa, Asia (especially Malaysia), and the West.

Andhra Pradesh falls into three geographic regions: the coastal plains, mountains, and interior plateaus. Running for some 800 km (500 mi) along the Bay of Bengal, the coastal lowlands are intensively cultivated and support dense populations. The central region is formed by the alluvial deltas of the Godavari and Kistna rivers. To the west, the plains are bounded by the Eastern Ghats, the hills that mark the edge of the Deccan Plateau. These reach an elevation of 1,680 m (5,513 ft) in the north, decreasing to around 1,000 m (3,300 ft) in the south. The Ghats are not a continuous mountain system, but are broken up by numerous rivers flowing eastwards to the ocean. West of the Ghats lie the interior plateaus of the Deccan, averaging about 500 m (1,600 ft) above sea level. This area is drier than the rest of the state (annual rainfall is less than 75 cm or 30 in) and supports only scrub vegetation. Parts of the Eastern Ghats, however, have an extensive cover of tropical deciduous forest and thorn forest. Annual rainfall in coastal areas, associated mostly with the summer monsoon, approaches 125 cm (50 in). Summers along the coast are hot, with maximum temperatures exceeding 40°C or 104°F. Minimum temperatures in winter, especially in the plateau region, can fall as low as 10°C (50°F).


The language of the Andhra people is Telugu. It is a Dravidian tongue which, along with Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam, is one of the four major languages of this linguistic family. There are several regional Telugu dialects such as Andhra (spoken in the delta), Telingana (the dialect of the northwestern region), and Rayalasima (spoken in southern areas). There are also specific dialects identified with social categories, i.e., Brahmans, non-Brahmans, and Untouchables. Literary Telugu is quite distinct from the spoken forms of the language. Telugu is written in its own script. This script is allied to Sanskrit but, because it was originally written on palm leaves, developed a cursive (i.e., rounded, flowing) form. Telugu is the official language of Andhra Pradesh, as well as being one of the regional languages officially recognized by the Indian constitution.


Hero worship is a significant element in Andhra culture and folklore. Andhra warriors who died on the battlefield defending their king, or who sacrificed their lives for great or pious causes, were deified and worshiped by the common people. Stone pillars or lingams (phallic symbols) commemorate their deeds. These memorials or "hero stones," called Viragallulu in the Telugu language, are found all over Andhra country. Hero worship has become something of a cult in Andhra Pradesh and is observed by annual rituals in various parts of the region. The Katamaraju Kathala, one of the oldest ballads in Telugu, celebrates the heroic exploits of the 12th-century warrior, Katamaraju.


Andhras are mostly Hindu by religion. They accept the fundamental philosophy of Hinduism, from the concept of dharma (right conduct) and its related beliefs, to ideas of ritual pollution, concepts of sin (pap) and merit (punya), and the caste system. The Brahman castes, as everywhere in Hindu society, have the highest social status, and Brahmans serve as priests in temples dedicated to the gods of the Hindu scriptures. Andhras worship Shiva, Vishnu, Hanuman, and other Hindu deities. At the popular level, however, Andhra religion is distinctly South Indian in character. Worship of ammas or village goddesses is as important as that of the major gods of Hinduism. Durgamma presides over the welfare of the village, Maisamma protects the village boundaries, and Balamma is a goddess of fertility whose anger causes sterility in women. These deities play a much more immediate role in daily life and are to be respected and feared. They are all forms of the great Mother Goddess, and their rites invariably require blood sacrifices. The lesser deities often have priests drawn from the lower castes, and low castes may use their own priests rather than Brahmans. Ancestor spirits have to be appeased, and ghosts and evil spirits cause trouble for the living. Ritual specialists are called on to deal with spirits, and also to protect against sorcery and witchcraft.


Important events on the Andhra festival calendar include Ugadi (the Telugu New Year's Day), Shivaratri (honoring Shiva), and Chauti (Ganesha's birthday). This is in addition to celebrations such as Holi, Dasahara, and Divali. Different castes also have their own caste festivals. For example, Rath Saptami is observed only by Brahmans and is an occasion for the worship of the Sun. In the northwestern Telingana region, the annual worship of Pochamma, the goddess of smallpox, is an important village festival. As described by Dube (1955) in a village near Hyderabad, the day before the festival the village drummers go around the village announcing the plans for the festival. Members of the potter caste clean the shrines of the village goddesses, and those of the washerman caste paint them with whitewash. Village youths construct small leaf sheds in front of the shrines, and women of the sweeper caste smear the ground around the booths with red earth. On the day of the festival, every household prepares rice in a new, decorated earthenware pot called bonam. The Madigas, the Untouchable caste that act as village drummers, worship and perform sacrifices at their own Pochamma shrine, then return to participate in the main ceremony. They lead the village in procession to the Pochamma shrine, where a member of the potter caste (Kummari) officiates as priest at the ceremony. Every family, in strict order of caste and standing within the caste, offers some rice to the goddess. Goats, sheep, and fowl are sacrificed at the shrine. Following the ceremony, families return to their houses where they feast on the rice and meat. Even Muslims, though they do not participate in the worship, take part in the ceremony and offer sacrifices. They, just like the Hindus, feel the need to propitiate the goddess Pochamma.


Although the specifics of life-cycle rituals vary among castes, in outline they follow the forms set out by the Hindu texts. On the birth of a child, the mother and other family members are considered impure. Rituals are performed to remove this impurity, which last up to 30 days for the mother. In villages, women from the barber caste act as midwives for the "clean" Hindu castes. A Brahman may be consulted to cast the infant's horoscope. The name-giving ceremony is held within three to four weeks, with the occasion marked by a feast for family and friends. Infants are raised by the women in the household, though young children are often left in the care of older siblings. As they grow up, children accompany their parents in their daily tasks and begin to learn their household duties and caste occupation at an early age. Higher castes often perform the sacred thread ceremony for males before puberty is reached. A girl's first menstruation is accompanied by elaborate rituals, including a period of seclusion, worship of household gods, and a gathering of village women for singing and dancing.

The higher Hindu castes usually cremate their dead, except in the case of death from snakebite and smallpox. Children are normally buried, and burial is also common among low-caste and Untouchable groups. The corpse is bathed, dressed, and carried to the cremation ground or graveyard on a bier. On the third day after death, the first of several purifying rituals takes place. This involves cleansing the house, washing all the linens, and discarding all earthen pots used for cooking or storing water. On the eleventh or thirteenth day, rites for removing the impurity of family members are performed. This includes shaving the head and face if the deceased were one's father or mother. Food and water are offered to the soul of the deceased, and a feast is given. The higher castes collect bones and ashes from the funeral pyre and immerse them in a holy river such as the Godavari. In exceptional cases, they are taken to the sacred Ganges in North India.


Andhras tend to be hypercritical and very sensitive in their interpersonal relations, especially in rural areas. There is a great tradition for argument that can easily progress to noisy quarrels or confrontations. There is a pervasive attitude of fault-finding, and people do not easily let pass the opportunity to criticize their neighbors. However, in situations that demand generosity and good neighborliness, Andhras are quick to rise to the occasion.


In northern Andhra Pradesh, villages are usually linear in form, with occasional isolated outlying hamlets. Settlements in the southern areas of the state can be either linear or square, but they also may have tributary hamlets. House types and creature comforts vary according to the economic circumstances of the owner. The average cultivator in a village in Telingana typically has a square house built around an internal courtyard. The walls are made of stone, the floor is made of mud, and the roof is tiled. There are two or three rooms, used for living, sleeping, and housing livestock. There is invariably one room used for the family shrine, where family valuables are also kept. The doors are often carved, and designs are painted on the walls. Most houses lack latrines, the inhabitants using the fields for their natural functions. There may be a backyard used for growing vegetables and keeping chickens. Furnishings are sparse and may consist of a few bedsteads, wooden stools, and a crude chair or two. Kitchen utensils, except for metal plates for eating, are usually of earthenware and are made by the village potters. In cities, houses are more substantial, have modern conveniences such as running water, and are better furnished.


Andhras must marry within their caste or subcaste. These endogamous social units are divided into exogamous clans (gotram), each of which may be further subdivided into lineages (vansham). One must marry outside one's own clan. And, as different clans have lineages of the same name, one has to make sure to marry outside one's own lineage. (Members of the same lineage, even though of different clans, are regarded as brother and sister. A sexual union between members of the same lineage is viewed as incestuous.) Marriages are arranged, and cross-cousin marriage is common. The details of marriage practice vary according to caste, but in outline they follow normal Hindu practices. Newlyweds usually move into the household of the groom's father. The extended family structure is regarded as ideal, although the nuclear family is also found.

Women occupy a subordinate role in Andhra society, being responsible primarily for rearing children and household chores. Among the cultivating castes, women also engage in agricultural activities. Divorce and widow remarriage are permitted by lower castes, though not by Brahmans and other high castes. Property is equally divided among sons.


Male clothing consists of the Indian loincloth, or dhoti, tied in a distinctive Andhra manner and worn with a long kurta that comes down to the knees. In many rural areas, the material used is a slightly brownish, village-made khadi (handspun cloth). A cloth with a colored border is also thrown around the shoulders. Villagers commonly wear a turban. Women favor the sari and a bodice, the latter often brightly colored and embroidered. Saris are traditionally dark blue, parrot green, red, or purple in color. Young people, especially in urban areas, are turning to synthetic fabrics and ready-made, Western-style clothes. The sari is the preferred formal wear of women.


The basic diet of the Andhras consists of rice, millets, pulses, and vegetables. Nonvegetarians who can afford it eat meat or fish. All Hindus avoid beef (although Untouchable castes eat carrion meat), and Brahmans and other high castes abstain from any kind of meat, fish, or eggs. Economic standing also influences the diet of individuals. The relatively well-to-do eat three meals a day. A typical meal would be rice or khichri (rice cooked with lentils and spices) or paratha (an unleavened bread made from wheat flour and fried in oil); this would be taken with a meat or vegetable (e.g., eggplant or okra) curry, hot pickles, and tea. Coffee is a popular drink in coastal areas. Savories are preferred to sweets. Betel leaves, twisted into rolls and filled with nuts, are served after a meal and considered a delicacy. In a poor household, a meal might consist of millet bread, eaten with boiled vegetables, chili powder, and salt. Poorer-quality rice would be eaten, and meat would only rarely be consumed. As is common throughout South Asia, men dine first and the women eat only after the men have finished. Children are served as soon as the food is ready.


Literacy in Andhra Pradesh is relatively low. Recent data are not available, but the 1981 census records a literacy rate of only 29.72% for the state. Even though this figure includes children and can be expected to have risen over the last few years, it still compares unfavorably with many Indian states. Variations in literacy rates range from 14.10% among women in rural areas to a high of 61.05% for urban males. Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh's largest city and the state capital, is an important center of learning with several universities and institutions of higher education.


The Andhra people have made major contributions to India's culture in the areas of art, architecture, literature, music, and dance. The early Andhra rulers were great builders and patrons of religion and the arts. From the 1st century BC on, they developed a style of architecture that led to the creation of some of the greatest Buddhist monuments of Central India. The stupa (a monument built to hold a relic of Buddha) at Sanchi, and the ruins at Amaravati and other sites, attest to the achievements of the Andhras. Many critics see sculptures of the mature Andhra period (c. 3rd century AD) as among the finest in India. Some of the paintings of the famous Buddhist caves at Ajanta are ascribed to Andhra artists.

The Andhras developed a style of classical dance known as kuchipudi. This is a dance-drama, presenting religious themes, that is performed by certain Brahman families and passed down from generation to generation. The Andhra region and its people have contributed greatly to the development of South Indian classical music. South Indian compositions are mostly written in Telugu because of the smooth, rich, flowing sound of the language. Telugu literature dates to the 11th century AD. Major contributions were made by Shaiva (followers of Shiva) poets of the 13th century. However, Telugu literature reached it greatest heights under the patronage of the Vijayanagara kings around the 16th century.


Over three-quarters (76.75%) of Andhras live in rural areas, making their living mostly from agriculture. Rice is the dominant food grain. Sugarcane, tobacco, and cotton are grown as cash crops, in addition to chilies, oilseeds, and pulses. Periodic village markets throughout the region afford the opportunity for selling and trading one's goods.

Once basically agricultural in nature, Andhra Pradesh has emerged as one of the most highly industrialized states in India. Industries such as aeronautics, light engineering, chemicals, and textiles are found in the Hyderabad and Guntur-Vijayawada areas. As well as being an important port, Visakhapatnam has India's largest shipbuilding yard.


Young girls play with dolls, dressing them and celebrating doll marriages. Boys play ballgames and indulge in the usual pastimes of tag, hide-and-seek, and similar children's games. Playing with dice is common among men and women, and traditional amusements such as cockfighting and shadow plays are popular in rural areas. Modern sports such as cricket, soccer, and field hockey are played in educational institutions across the state.


Folk culture predominates in rural areas. Wandering entertainers put on puppet shows for the amusement of villagers. Professional ballad singers recount the exploits of past heroes, or tell stories from mythology. Modern media such as the radio have been used to make urban dwellers aware of folk traditions, as well as to expose rural people to Andhra's classical heritage. Andhra Pradesh has its own movie industry, making films in the Telugu language. The late N. T. Rama Rao, a popular movie idol who starred in over 300 Telugu films, rose to become chief minister of Andhra Pradesh.


Andhra has a variety of traditional handicrafts. It is known for its wooden toys, which are carved and skillfully decorated. The subjects include birds, animals, human beings, gods and goddesses, and legendary beings from Hindu mythology. Other crafts include lacquer ware, hand-woven carpets, hand printed textiles, and tie-dyed fabrics. Bidri ware (silver inlay on metal), filigree silver work, embroidery, painting on ivory, basketry, and lace work are also products of the region. The making of leather puppets was developed in the 16th century under the Vijayanagara rulers.


With a population exceeding that of many of the larger European nations, Andhras are subject to the full range of economic and social problems that afflict India in the late 20th century. In contrast to the emerging middle classes, rural populations are frequently faced with excessive population growth, poverty, indebtedness, illiteracy, and lack of social infrastructure. Consumption of arrack or country liquor has been such a problem that pressure from women in recent years has led to the imposition of prohibition in the state. Economic problems are worsened by the destructive cyclonic storms (the last occurred in 1996) that sweep in from the Bay of Bengal. Currently, Andhra Pradesh State is involved in a longstanding dispute with Karnataka over the use of the waters of the Kistna River. Sporadic outbreaks of crime and violence are associated with the Peoples War Group (PWG), a quasi-political Maoist leftist organization that assassinates local government officials and political leaders as "class enemies" and "caste oppressors." Through all of this, however, the Andhras retain a very evident pride in being Andhra and have a strong sense of identity with Telugu culture.


Telegu women face the same gender issues as other women in South Asia—arranged marriages, child marriage, complaints over dowries and dowry deaths. In April 2008, SIFF (Save Indian Family Foundation) filed a memorandum with the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh complaining about the inadequacies of IPC (Indian Penal Code) Section 498A and the Dowry Prohibition Act by which people have been arrested without the complainant's charges having been investigated by police and demanding that laws (e.g. adultery laws, laws against rape and sexual harassment, domestic violence laws, divorce laws, child maintenance laws and child custody laws) should be gender neutral. The memorandum claims that innocent women have been incarcerated and even committed suicide because of the arrests made under these laws.

Despite the fact that Andhra Pradesh's performance in schooling of girls is better than many other Indian states, gender bias in schooling for girls still persists in the state.


Innaiah, N. A Century of Politics in Andhra Pradesh: Ethnicity & Regionalism in Indian State. Hyderabad: Rationalist Voice Publications, 2002.

Krishna, G. The Story of the Telugus and Their Culture. Hyderabad, India: International Telugu Institute, 1983.

Krishna Kumari, M. Facets of Andhra Culture. Delhi: Gyan Sagar Publications, 1998.

Parthasarathy, R., ed. Andhra Culture: A Petal in Indian Lotus. Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh: District Gazetteers Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh, 1984.

Subramiah Pantulu, G. R. Folklore of the Telugus: a Collection of Forty-two Highly Amusing and Instructive Tales. New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 2003.

Tapper, Bruce Elliott. Rivalry and Tribute: Society and Ritual in a Telugu Village in South India. Delhi: Hindustan Publishing Corp., 1987.

—by D. O. Lodrick