Madiga Literature

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The Dandora Campaign
Part 1 Notes
Roots 1
Roots 2
Performing arts 1
Performing arts 2
Performing arts 3
The Yellamma Cult
Part 2 Notes
Village order
Inter-caste rivalry
Anti-caste movements
Conflict and atrocities

Chapter 2

Literature: Madigas writing

Three Telugu poets in translation:

Yendluri Sudhakar
Vemula Yellaiah
Darla Venkateswara Rao



Yendluri Sudhakar 2002.
Nalladraksha pandiri / Darky:
A Bilingual Anthology of Poems 1985-2002. 
Secunderabad: JJ Publications.
©  Hemalatha 2002

Yendluri Sudhakar is a well known and widely respected Telugu poet and short-story writer. His poetry is more accessible in English than most, in this book especially
. It displays his Telugu originals on one side of each opening, the translations, by several different translators, on the other. There are also two informative appreciations of his work.

Four of the translations are included here: ‘An Autobiography’, ‘A New Dream’, ‘Dakkali Girl’ and ‘Mysamma’s Death’. They are an inevitably inadequate introduction to his large and exceptionally varied range. 'MO', the translator of these four, is the main translator for this volume.

For the impressive title poem, ‘Neelika / Darky’ and the many others, please enjoy them on the pages of the book itself.

Two paragraphs (p.185/6) from Tallavajjala Patanjali Sastry's appreciation make an appropriate introduction:


‘Look at what he has done. He is one of those Pochampalli weavers - most evocative motifs, elaborate artistry and if there is a grammar to weaving (and not technique) Sudhakar is an exquisite weaver. His seemingly straight style has a special charm and his cunning employment of metaphors, though not unfamiliar, sound fresh and untouched. Sudhakar does not care for brevity. Any number of his poems - on his widowed mother, Shakeela, his own diabetes, Godavari et al pitchforked him to the front of leading Telugu poets. But as I have been saying he has a niche as a different dalit poet. In saying this I also refer to his prose work though technically I am out of bounds.’

‘Street sweepers are a familiar sight in India. So when Mysammas die, earth doesn't exactly tremble. Look at his opening lines describing her. Clad in a blue saree with a blazing red dot on her forehead, Mysamma appears accompanying the dawn. The allusion is to the cult goddess Mysamma who presided over water and land. Like a Goddess cursed she walked the earth and perished. The legend of Mysamma in different forms appears in texts. He remembered her as a boy pedalling down the road where she worked. The boy in fact was trying to rescue her (on her powerful presence) from the mists of legends. It is a racial memory packed in four separate sentences. The give-away is in the name. Such cult allusions are strewn all over his poetry.’


                                    An Autobiography

My autobiography was released in the palace of wonders.

Felicitations on the open stage.

As garlands fall on my neck

Wounds of yester years startle.

When flowers are showered on my head

Deep inside thorny whips flail.

As felicitation addresses are read out

Inside my intestines knives of humiliation pierce.

As incantations ring behind me

In my ears are spread the flaming cries of smoking lead.

When they sat me on the dais

I recollect the face of my grand father

Made to stand at the outskirts of the village.

When glasses full with water are put before me

Scenes of kneeling and drinking water

Touch me as hot deserts.

As a shawl is spread around my shoulders

The vague figure of my blouseless

Grand mother cuts my heart.

As silk clothes are presented to me

The coarse rags of my grand father

Hang on the clothesline of my eyes.

When I am invited to festival feasts

Nights of cast away food

In the cattle sheds come to memory.

As time prostrates at my feet

Clay feet of my shoeless great grand fathers

Move in my mind.

If my childhood teachers are seen on any road

My thumb hides itself in the fist

As a hen encountered by a hawk.

When parrot like, admirers of Rama

Appreciate my poetry in exclamations

The poetry of my race sunk in the soil

Accosts me cruelly.

When colourful cross roads waiting

Invite me with festoons

Golden swans are all too eager to

Take just five steps with me instead of the seven.

The dust of my forefathers' bodies

Breathes anew from their undergrounds.

When women unseen by the sun

Compete in their choice of marriage for me -

Heads struck, limbs cut flare up in me still.

When temples and the new gods

Wait patiently to pay tributes,

Temple bells laugh ironically in semi-darkness.

I have risen as a fifth sun.

Tearing the dark clouds of the four walls.

My rays of blood today

Reflect on the face of the moon.

In the light of the new sun

Time will read my autobiography

As a text book


- Translated by ‘MO’


A New Dream

You -

Skinning the five elements,

Once nailing the sky

Once nailing the under world

Soaking skin on the

Seven seas.

For you

The sun and the moon should

Become a pair of shoes !

Head lowered, may be with

Hunger or is it insult -

Making shoes with your own skin,

Grand Father !
            I dream of this world 
            Becoming a toe strap
            Kissing your greater toe


- Translated by ‘MO’

[pp 47-51]

Dakkali Girl

Believe it or not!

Really that young Dakkali girl

Weaving a date mat

Is a Queen!

As her mother follows her like Renuka Devi,

And father with trap ropes on his shoulder,

Singing Jambu Purana, playing on the solo string,

A bunch of hounds around him -

The earth, a spinning nomadic top

Around their stomachs.

That untouchable girl

Used to move in my tender heart like a puppet.

As the girl entered our ghetto

Riding a donkey

It looked as if Jesus entered Jerusalem.

As winged white ants hovered over her like

Three crore deities

She came tugging up a rainbow to the donkey's tail.

In the whiteness of her calf eyes

Sticky moon shone like red meat.

            Her smile with tartar of teeth

Was beyond all measures of beauty.

For that lass's non-Brahmin slang

Even Saraswati can't write the music key.

In childhood I used to drink

Donkey milk as well as mother's milk.

I saw my mother in the donkey the lass used to bring along.

I felt as though a season of milk set foot in my stomach.

Donkey Milk! Donkey Milk!! At her call

The face of our street shone like Arundhati star

Becoming braying donkeys, we gathered round.

With one look at us -

There floated the bliss of a mother breast - feeding

In the maternal eyes of that donkey.

The lass looked like a Buddhist beggar girl

Before our huts for a mouthful of rice or gruel

Of a cupful of hands.

Even the four faced God looking at her

Forehead couldn't tell

Whether her guts are crying or her lips smiling.

If only rice had eyes

Every dry particle would have cried.

The girl wriggled between

Untouchability and hunger

Like a fish in a dried up tank.

We had at least a hut for our heads
Under the roof of the sky.

The girl wandered like a nomad.

In a nation where the foul urine of cows

Becomes pious libation

The untouchable girl had faith only in the donkey.

I always think of that girl.

I talk even in sleep, giving her a morsel

Taking it out from my own stomach.

I dream of her being a step higher than mine.

That Dakkali girl is not seen any more,

Nor my childhood donkey mother!

Both move round inside me.

She stands at the junction of reservations

Demanding her share.

I hear the horn of a buffalo blowing inside me

I see soft grains of rice as knives sharpening within me

Waging a new war against my own ‘higher than thou.’

        (6. 9.1998)

- Translated by ‘MO’

Dakkali      : Those born of Jambavant's flank. Sub caste

of Madiga, a fifth caste. Nomads.

Jambu Pura : A very ancient myth, tribal in character.
                Four-faced God : Lord Brahma.

[pp 129-31]
                Mysamma's Death
Our alley in the morning
Used to shine like a silk lalchie pressed.
She used to sweep the lanes
With love as of bathing children.

Her coarse blue saree

An apron-like cloth with checks across

A broom like the waist of a python

A dot on the forehead like a red signal in darkness,

Our Mysamma

Looked like a Municipality Mother.

Menstrual cloths, and dirty linen

All collected

And carried off in a push cart

She looked like Mother Ganges

Washing away all pollution.

Waking up with the morning star

I still remember the strange sound of sweeping.

I who wasn't even as tall as

Her broom stick can never forget our Mysamma.

Mysamma ! Mysamma !

I see a mother in you, Mysamma

For cleaning my own dirt just for love

Though not related by blood.

Coming as yourself a gift,

Asking for a few coins to buy a cup of tea,

At Christmas or the morning after Diwali night -

Is a never fading memory.

'Don't throw rubbish at door steps,' Mysamma,

Whoever listened to your lessons of cleanliness?

Like the cine actor's black money

Dirt grew by the day, foul smell spread

Through the rotten dustbin.

I thought you had fever and so didn't come.

Never thought you would go away leaving no trace

Letting loads of dust remain in our unchanging lives.

Mysamma ! Mysamma!!

As I ride my bicycle

Through the lane of the grave yard

Your memory touches me like a fragrance.

The lane that looked like a washed dhoti

Now hangs its head with the crown of pollution.

Our black dog wails at nights

Rolling in the dust heap -

Maybe remembering you.


(An elegy to our Municipal Sweeper)

- Translated by ‘MO’

Nalla Regati Sallu (Black Soil Furrow)
Short stories of Madiga Sub-castes Women Eds Joopaka Subhadra & Gogu Shyamala


Vemula Ellaiah born 1973

Original poems © Vemula Ellaiah 2008


Translations & bio-note:  Dr K. Purushotham

© K. Purushotham 2008


A maadiga by sub-caste, Mr Ellaiah is one of the most promising contemporary Dalit writers in Telugu. A post-graduate in Telugu, he has so far published two Dalit novels, namely Kakka (2000) and Siddi (2004). As a poet he has published Dalit poems in the dailies and in anthologies. As a stage artist himself, he employs the resources of Dalit street-plays in the narration of his novels. He is presently working on his third, a sequel to Siddi, planning to publish it this year. He is employed as an ancillary labourer in the Food Corporation of India (FCI) in Nalgonda district, Andhra Pradesh, and takes part in the Dalit debates and activism. Pursuing his Ph.D. in the Department of Telugu, Osmania University, Hyderabad, on "The History and Heritage of Gosaangis in Andhra Pradesh", Mr Ellaiah works with determination to record the heritage of the Dalits in general and maadigas in particular.



1. The sun fastened to a knife


We are the ones living below your habitation

And we are the lighter ones

We are the ones inhaling the stink

Discharged by your elevated mansions

When I was amputated

Pounding stones to fortify your foundations,

It was the limb that I lost

The limb that grew into such a tall mansion

When I collapsed, neck wounded,

Pulling the cart of manure on an untrodden way

When our feet suffered sores

Carrying you in a palanquin and

Massaging your unstrained bodies,

Haven’t you called me a buffalo?

Haven’t you termed us beggars?

We are the ones living below your habitation

And we are the lighter ones

How long can you keep the lids shut on our eyes?

To open the eyes with vengeance is imminent.

Fastening the sun to a knife,

When we walk thunderously

Filing my waist’s knife on flint stones

When the sickle’s handle in my fist squeaks

While chopping diagonally,

The forest should now shudder;

It should now produce

The sound of an uprooting tree

The minority caste-Hindus

Should now step down

At the shrieks of chendalas, the wretched

Who gauged the earth

Telugu original: “Poddunu Kattiki Gatti

2. Stench of Cemetery*


I am the one burning dead bodies

Thrusting down the blazing body with a stick

Shoving the burning pyre-wood into a heap.

I am untouchable

I gather in my loincloth fistfuls of rice

Left at the penultimate destiny of the body 

Only after the bier is shifted

When I was the crow among the crows

Awaiting the food offered to the souls of the dead

When I was the one

Offering a couch to the dead body

Fastening sticks of length and breadth

Scaling hillocks and cutting the trunks

Chipping thorns and chopping twigs

When I was the log burning the body into ashes,

It’s you who would

Knock away everything, as an eagle grabs chicks

You, the one who penned the stinking-nonsense of

Cock and bull stories,

In the mind’s silt my body is stirred

By the crowbars of repeated atrocities

, the twice born!

You branded me the wretched

I set my foot in the hymn of your incantation.

You only know the delight of incense sticks

I would show you the burial-stink

And the stench of the cemetery.

Here you listen now

I will sing with my filthy voice

The noise of your skulls

Even before you reach the pyre

Telugu original: “Begaronni”, one belonging to a Dalit sub-caste

whose traditional occupation is to burn/bury the dead bodies.

3. Faeces*


Carrying on the back

A bucket, a broom and a tin tray

My trace on the earth having been slippery

At the site that’s touched by me

Outcast that is

Drawing faeces from shitting-enclosures

Washing the stink and odour of time

In the manholes of sewers,

I would cap the stench into a snuff-casket

I wouldn’t mind being termed a pariah

In the lingo of your tongue

But when I’m called the wretched caste

It rings in my ear as a buzzing fly

Offering a pitcher of water for washing your anus

And shoving off heaps of shit, 

When I stretched out the tin tray for a copper

Didn’t you name me a scavenger?

Being scolded, sporting an innocent face,

Did I ever scorn anyone?

Having endured the stench,

I covered myself

With my occupation as the quilt.

I’m not a rogue to drag into the street

Someone’s squabbles.

The service of the priests,

Filling their bellies to the brim in temples

Chanting credible hymns and the clans of devotees

Was it of any use to anyone?

I am the only one who’s authentic

I would plaster you with faeces

Till the roots of your caste are crumpled

Telugu original: “Jaathnaara” (Excommunication)

4.  Hard bullock meat


Attending to the time’s turns

Being the residue of hunger around the threshing floor

Being the hard meat of cultivation’s services

Our labour agreement the floor on which we are threshed

The bonded labour having become a yoke

Is anyway stirring on our necks!

When my skeleton keeps sentry

At the ridges of wet-fields,
The merciless thorns of the caste fence

Shredded my body

While your caste is the sunflower

At the way of your farm-shed;

Either a dry palmyra frond or a worn-out chappal

Beckons as a symbol of our occupation and

The trace of our house 

We could outline the imprints on leather

Only when your feet moved about on our finger-tips;

My face a round black stone beneath your white feet

Folding together

The travails of hunger and

The stirring bowels of the belly,

The yield of my skin processed leather

Melting cassia
Soaking in lande, the trough1

While chewing a piece of the liver

As the solid walk of your chappal

Trampled on my heart,

I am the one who could see

The generations of my ancestors

Crushed under your walk

It’s anyway known to me - 

The knack of skinning by

Binding the feet of the calves of caste.

Having become the bubbling up of

Marking nuts boiled in the earthen casket of oil,

I am filing my tools, awaiting

The moment of glimpsing my full length shadow

In raw blood

Telugu original: “Saanem Tunakalu” (hardened pieces of dry bullock-meat)

5. A novel knock on the eyes


My harvesting-floor, when an animal dies,

Is but the slaughtering slab.

Peeling off the skin to mix with lime

Smearing alum with the hands that butchered

Sifting cassia to soak the skin in lande, the trough1

Carrying the stench day long,
We processed the skin stubbornly.

Fastened the leather of bucket-hose3

Wetting with drops of tears.
My caste's

The early factory of artisan occupations

We’re the ones who honoured our occupation

The tail of life being a bullock’s neck-strap

Our trace having become a blister in the knot

Our pot being at the end in the row at water,

Our abode is wailing behind the village


A grand name for the bonded labour.

What’s there to find by measuring immeasurable depths

Each step of this pit has a generation of insult

How else can my crushed pulse throb

Except as pain when compacted by trampling feet

Being a leader either ritually or as a ploy

Bowing to the one of the caste Hindu

How’s it that you’re fishing as a beggar ra?

Did you negotiate to mortgage the caste

In the mystical game of dice?
Do you feel ashamed or insulted?

Hasn’t the chewed up residue dried out?

You the Dalit betrayer,
Don't ever bow as a hangman!

If the reserved seat goes astray in future

Is there anyone to pity you?

Is there a term to address you?

Struggle to walk on

The moulded path laid by the leader4

Join the Dalit masses

Lest you might spill over or get disturbed in the pathway

Be vigilant!
As a knocking-bird(2) on the magical banyan tree
As the one serving from our bowl,
He, the caste-Hindu, is ready
To prick these eyes ra!

Telugu original: Kallameeda Kotha Varnasaaruva

6. Feats of drum-beats


I am the one who glued my palm
To the heel of your foot's thinned sole

I am the one

Who adorned your worn-out chappal

Grafting my skin

Lacing my nerves into strings of your tender feet,

When the bullock’s eyes wailed as flowers

On the straps of your chappal that I decked,

I joined them wailing!

My grits are the grains

Under your feet in the washing-pan5.

I’m the butcher sharing raw meat on the slaughtering slab

When offered an aged bullock for slaughter

I am the one who lifted first

The fathoms-deep fountain-spring

In the bucket-hoses2.

Is there someone to calculate

The perforations on my palm?

My resonating drum at your ritual is

The very skin flattened with moulds and tools

Yet … When the chisels of 'whore son' and 'widow son'

Pierce my bosom,

The scrap left in the lande1 is our treatment

You, the one of caste-arrogance

The one of amorous tunes and bathing games

My drum, hanging on the peg, knows my gushing agony

I am the one
Who picked up a rupee placed in the soil

Tumbling myself – the belly and the brow – in the dust

To present you amusement

I remain untouchable in spite of the feats I perform

This body had been mortgaged before we were born
This wealth sank in the marsh of your caste men

Beckoning us with waving hands,
It's our own drum that begot tinkling flames

Dripping tender rhythm

The skin that we peeled the layer from with the knife

The leather that’s fastened on the frame of the dappu

The drumsticks have changed the rhythm

We are now stepping our feet to approach with

The feats of the tiger

Telugu original: “Oddulu Tirukkuntu

Lande is a huge oval-shaped earthen container dug into the ground up to the edges; it is used by the madigas for soaking and processing animal leather.

2 The predator bird that strikes the eyes of the rabbit-prey to kill and eat it.

3 A bullock-drawn spherical bucket of about 100 litres, fastened at one end with a diameter of 12-inch leather hose, that holds and releases water as the bullocks tread to and fro drawing the bucket. This device, called mota, was the means of irrigating fields, especially in Telangana, till the emergence of diesel pump-sets in the 1970s.

4 Dr B.R. Ambedkar.

5 As the bride’s mother pours water, the father washes the feet of the groom who stands in a brass pan in the Hindu marriage ritual. The left-over grains of rice used in the ritual are taken away by the maadigas who beat dappu for the ceremony.

Kakka - Ellaiah's first novel (2000)

Siddi - Ellaiah's second novel (2004)

Dr Darla Venkateswara Rao receives award, Delhi Dec. 2007

Darla Venkateswara Rao

Is it an offence to be born here?

English rendering: Dr  J.Bheemaiah


I feel a shiver down my spine

If any comments on my birth


I don't know how many theories exist

To show the birth of the universe


But, there exists a single premise

It is the women of my caste folk

Who are hereditarily made

To be their mistresses


For the feudalists

I am a sexual object

I am destined

Only to amuse their heart


I am a prey to their sexual thirst

I have been crushed as Mathangi1 for centuries


About their birth

The puranas are piously recited

I too feel like dragging pochamma or poleramma2

Onto the racchabanda3

To grill them to declare

To whom I was born, and

Who was born of me through whom.


For one thing I am in doubt:

Except those born of the feet of the gentry

Will not those gods taste the ‘youth' of others?



1. A woman from a lower caste is also known as Mathangi, Basvini or Jogini. In the name of the village deity, she is thrown open for marriage with anyone coming forward to take her. Already married dominant upper castes use her to satisfy their sexual thirst. They never treat them as their wives of their own caste. Rather they keep them as mistresses. In that way almost all people take advantage of the nature of her ‘marriage' and sexually exploit her.

2. Poleramma/Pochamma: The village deities worshipped by the dalits.

3. Racchabanda: A round platform constructed in the heart of the village where disputes are resolved.


In school and in the lap of mother

English rendering: Dr.J.Bheemaiah


Had I not been born in this caste

I would have thought in a different way

It is good that I was born here, in this caste

For I know now what humiliation is …

For I learn what love is …

And what is to love one and all


My countenance would change

Whenever classical literature became the lesson

I would think whether I should disappear

Or I should flee or I should protest

All eyes would focus on me en masse

I would feel like questioning the creator

As to how many times he would kill


I don’t know

Whether I escaped humiliation

Even in my mother’s womb …

The other day I asked my mother

Why my father’s sore in the leg

She said in confusion

Assuming that I was learning to question


“When you were still in my womb

A terrible storm struck

All the villagers thronged the headman’s house

I entreated for a little space

I was not allowed even to touch the shed

For a fear of death by defilement


Terrible winds

Terrific thunders

Tumultuous rain:

Nobody knew what would happen

In that moment

The uprooted trees came to my rescue


The storm receded the next day

I quivered with hunger

I felt dizzy and fell down.

To the headman’s house

Your father went again

He begged to save me


We are destined to serve the upper castes

He begged for little gruel;

They said they would give it for firewood


While collecting firewood

He hurt his leg - there was a deep cut

His stomach was empty

Despite all that, he won gruel at last


I gulped it a little

But it did not stay in my stomach

Your father knew why after tasting

That it was only rice water!”

May be innumerable instances of grief

Hidden in the depths of the hearts of my parents

Which, though one may plead

They never,

Never have they revealed


It is good that I was born in this caste

For I have learnt to love human beings


I have suffered humiliations

I have suppressed my fury

Or else, innumerable murders

I would have committed!


For Telugu originals of Dr Darla's poetry, see his Madiga Kavulu site.

At the 23rd Dalit Writers National Conference in New Delhi, 9th/10th December 2007, he received the Dr. Ambedkar National Award of the Bharatiya Dalita Sahitya Akademi, presented by Dr. S.P. Sumanakshar, National President (see photograph above). For the paper he presented, please click here.

Home Page: http://vrdarla.blogspot.com 

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