By profession an advocate of the high court, he also took a vigorous share in literary, social, municipal and political work, as well as in the affairs of the University of Bombay, over which he presided as vice-chancellor from 1892 until his death.
At the age of five Telang was sent to the Amarchaud Wadi vernacular school, and in 1859 entered the high school in Bombay which bears the name of Mountstuart Elphinstone. Here he came under the influence of Narayan Mahadev Purmanand, a teacher of fine intellect and force of character, afterwards one of Telang's most intimate friends.
From this school he passed to the Elphinstone College, of which he became a fellow, and after taking the degree of M.A. and LL.B., decided to follow the example of Bal Mangesh Wagle, the first Indian admitted by the judges to practise on the original side of the high court, a position more like the status of a barrister than a vakil or pleader. He passed the examination and was enrolled in 1872.
His learning and other gifts soon brought him an extensive practice. He had complete command of the English language, and his intimacy with Sanskrit enabled him to study and quote the Hindu law-books with an ease not readily attained by European counsel. Telang, finding his career assured, declined an offer of official employment. But in 1889 he accepted a seat on the high court bench, where his judgments are recognized as authoritative, especially on the Hindu law.
He was syndic of the university from 1881, and vice-chancellor from 1892 until his death. In that year also he was elected President of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. These two offices had never been held by a native of India before. The decoration of C.I.E. conferred on him in the 1884 Birthday Honours was a recognition of his services as a member of a mixed commission appointed by the government to deal with the educational system of the whole of India. He was nominated to the Bombay legislative council in 1884, but declined a similar position on the viceroy's council. He was the first secretary of the Indian National Congress.
Along with Pherozshah Mehta, he was the originator of the Bombay Presidency Association. When a student he had won the Bhugwandas scholarship in Sanskrit, and in this language his later studies were profound. His translation of the Bhagavad Gita into English prose and verse is a standard work, and available in Max Müller's monumental compilation, the Sacred Books of the East, vol. 8, as the Bhagavadgita With the Sanatsugâtiya and the Anugitâ (published 1882). Also notable is his publication, in 1884, of the historical Sanskrit play, Mudrarakshasa of Vishakhadatta under the auspices of the Education Department and the Government Central Book Depot, Bombay. He criticized Albrecht Weber's hypothesis that the story of the Ramayana was influenced by the Homeric epics. While devoted to the sacred classics of the Hindus, Telang did not neglect his own vernacular, Marathi literature being enriched by his translation of Lessing's Nathan the Wise, and an essay on Social Compromise.