12 Famous People You Didn’t Know Were Telugu!

My internship with the State Government Of Andhra Pradesh has been confirmed. I am doing joyous cartwheels in my head even as I write this. But okay, I am pinching myself back to reality. So, why did I think of writing this post? Because –

  1. It matters.
  2. It is an interesting issue that we usually don’t think of.
  3. It is important to be aware of these underrated people, who actually did us proud.
  4. Because I am writing it.

Now that I am done blowing my own trumpet, let me actually tell you why I love my native place so much. I come from Vijayawada, which is a peaceful, serene metropolis in the state of Andhra Pradesh. For all I know, it is one of the most important business centers in the state, and is also called ‘The Business Capital’ of Andhra Pradesh. Most of my childhood was spent reading in my closet, but as I grew into my teens, I started going around the city. I have eaten in the best of places, met the brightest of minds, seen the greatest of events, and what not. I am very proud of where I come from, despite the fact that most of my North Indian friends have never even heard the name. Not like I mean offence to anyone, but most of my friends back home fake their native place. They tell people they are from cool cities like Bangalore or Hyderabad, which is of course their personal choice, but you know what I am trying to say. Which is why I decided to do this post today, to help me date back to my roots and cherish the veracity of my existence.

So, let me cut to the chase. I researched at length about these ten people who I didn’t know were Telugu. I feel so proud to be coming from a culture that bred these masterminds –



C’mon, who hasn’t grown up hearing stories of Krishnadevaraya and this jester poet? Commonly known as ‘Vikatakavi’ or ‘Tenali’, this man is renowned for his wit and humor. He is a noted poet, with prominent works on Hinduism.

Do try watching ‘The Adventures Of Tenali Raman’. It is one of my most favourite cartoons. If I am not wrong, Cartoon Network used to telecast it when I was in third grade.

P.S, the image on the left is from the cartoon series I am talking about, and the image on the right shows the face of Dr. Akkineni Nageswarao Garu, who is an all-time favourite. This still is from the film titled ‘Tenali Ramakrishna’, where ANR and NTR (another legend of those times). It is a super awesome movie, and I also distinctly remember that Ghantasala had sung two really nice songs for the movie! Do watch the film.



(India’s first President and second Vice President)

It is this noble man’s birthday, 5 September, that is widely celebrated as Teachers’ Day in India. I don’t want to get started on his achievements. They are endless. But although the Bharat Ratna and others are widely known, what very few people know is that he was the first recipient of the prestigious Sahitya Akademi fellowship. Also, Oxford University has named the Chevening Scholarship after him. What else could make us prouder?

The famous quote “When we think we know, we cease to learn” was given by this statesman.




(Composer of the National Pledge Of India)

14vzviskcityreg2su_1208738eIsn’t it amazing that the National Pledge that we recited in school “All Indians are my brothers and sisters” (with loads of crazy people who added a ‘except one’ tag at the end) was first written in Telugu, and then translated to other languages?

This great man was not just an author, but also a naturopathy doctor and a polyglot, having mastered Sanskrit, Telugu, English and Arabic. I know of no other polyglot of his times!



(One of the first stand up comedians in India)

Having acted in more than three hundred films, this noted comedian has a huge following, that includes celebrated Bollywood celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan, Naseeruddin Shah, Sharukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Varun Dhawan, Kajol etc.

The story behind how he got his name is as funny as his performance onscreen. Formerly known as ‘John Rao’, he inherited his current name during his stint at Hindustan Levers. It is said that he mimicked his co-workers at office one day, and he did it so beautifully that all the employees decided to rechristen him ‘Johnny Lever’.

Despite the fact that Lever had to struggle a lot through his journey to Bollywood (trust me, he sold pens and mimicked famous actors on the road, for a living), he learnt the art of comedy in Yakutpura (an old city in Hyderabad) and went on to become the President of Cine and TV Artist Association (CINTAA) and also, the Mimicry Association of Mumbai (MAAM).





I decided to mention them together, because both aunt and niece have successfully carved a niche for themselves in the cinema industry. They were born into a muslim family in Hyderabad, and consider themselves Telugu by all means.

With several national and international awards to their credit, both these actresses have made a name for themselves in mainstream and independent cinema, over the years.



#6. C.N.R RAO (Chintamani Nagesa Ramachandra Rao)

(one of the world’s foremost solid state and materials chemist)

With honorary doctorates from sixty universities around the world, he has authored around 1,500 research papers and 45 scientific books. He is the third scientist to have received the Bharat Ratna (after C.V.Raman and A.P.J Abdul Kalam), and currently serves as the Head of the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister Of India.

Surprisingly, Rao is ‘technophobic’. He is said to have removed computers and other gadgets from his tables. Also, he never checks his email by himself, and uses the mobile phone only to talk to his wife.




(director, screenwriter, and cinematographer of blockbusters like Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Ek Tha Tiger)

This multi-talented man was born to a Telugu mother and Muslim father, who was one of the founding professors of Jawaharlal Nehru University (where he taught Political Science). Before starting his career in mainstream cinema, he was a cinematographer for the Discovery Channel.




(a pre-eminent engineer whose birthday India celebrates as Engineers’ Day)

With some of the finest contributions ever made to the education and engineering sectors, Visvesvaraya was known for his sincerity, time management and dedication to a cause.

He was the chief engineer responsible for the construction of the Krishna Raja Sagara dam (the biggest dam in Mysore State), the chief designer of the flood protection system for the city of Hyderabad; introduced a new system of irrigation called ‘block system’, designed and constructed automatic gates patented by him at Lake Fife Storage Reservoir, helped design the city of Visakhapatnam to avoid floods in the city etc.

Refer to ‘The Visvesvaraya National Memorial Trust’, which manages a memorial of Visvesvaraya at his birthplace Muddenahalli. The memorial exhibits his awards, titles and personal belongings, including his living room, spectacles, cups, books and a block with which his visiting cards were printed.



#9. Sarojini Naidu

(infamously known as ‘The Nightingale Of India’)

Naidu began writing at the age of twelve. She is known for her poignant poetry and independence activism. However, what people don’t know is that she was the first woman to become the governor of an Indian state (United Provinces of Agra and Oudh), and also the second woman (First INDIAN woman) to become the President of the Indian National Congress.

Her inter-caste marriage was also quite a revolutionary act in the times she lived.

I love ‘Palanquin Bearers’, ‘The Coromandel Fishers’ and ‘In The Bazaars Of Hyderabad’. They are her finest works. Do give them a read.




(The name is a record in itself, isn’t it? Haha. On a serious note, he is a noted social reformer and writer from Andhra Pradesh)

8448153556_b517ec5cbc_oDespite coming from an orthodox Brahmin family, he was one of the earliest social reformers who encouraged women education and remarriage of widows, which were not supported by the society during his time. He is widely known for his fight against dowry system. He was the first person in the country to have opposed the whole concept of dowry in the institution of marriage.

Also, his novel Rajasekhara Charitramu is considered to be the first novel in Telugu literature. For those of you who didn’t know,  his statue has been established on Beach Road in Vishakhapatnam.



(Lawyer, politician, economist, ex Prime Minister)

The first holder of this office from a non-Hindi-speaking background? Wow.

He spoke 17 languages. Double Wow. (His mother tongue is Telugu, and he is said to have had a good command over Marathi.  In addition to eight other Indian languages (Hindi, Oriya, Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Sanskrit, Tamil and Urdu), he spoke English, French, Arabic, Spanish, German and Persian.

Often referred to as the ‘Father of Indian Economic Reforms’. Triple Wow.

He knew Literature and Computer Programming (do you even realize how killer a combo that is. I am disgusted with myself. I am CS grad, and you already know what I’d say). Quadruple Wow.



#12. V.V. Giri

(the only independent candidate to become the President Of India)

As the fourth president of this country, Giri subordinated the office of the Presidency to the Prime Minister and came to be known as a rubber stamp President. His contribution to our freedom struggle is nothing short of commendable!



I am sure there are loads of other pre-eminent people of Telugu origin, but these are just some special mentions. Do let me know if I missed out on someone!


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