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Annamacharya Kritis – A Guide to a Better World

Salabhanjika talks to Shri.G.B.Sankara Rao, research scholar,to decode why the fifteenth century Annamacharya Kritis can be the right medicine for burning topics around the world today.

Centuries ago, a childless young couple in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh decided to visit the powerful deity of Lord Venkateshwara, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu in Tirumalai. Lakkamamba and her husband Narayana Suri fervently hoped that the Lord of the Seven Hills or Vekatesha would bless them with a child soon. As Lakkamamba was praying in the sanctum sanctorum, she felt Mahavishnu’s sword Nandakam entering into her womb and experienced a divine pleasure. She realized that the lord had answered her prayers and soon enough the duo were blessed with a son. They lovingly named him Annamacharya, who the saints predicted was destined for greatness. This boy soon grew up to be a maestro and pioneer in music compositions. The life story of the musical legend was penned down by his grandson Chinnanna in the form of dwipadas or couplets. These writings are the only authentic source available now that extensively depicts his life along with over 32,000 lyrical compositions.

Annamayya Image

Annamacharya or Annamayya as he began to be known was fascinated by his love and devotion for Lord Venkateshwaraand started composing songs at the age of 16. He soon became the official songmaster of the Tirupati temple and spent a lifetime writing about and singing to the Lord. His form of devotion is called madhurabhakti where the devotee turns into the Preyasi (Jeevatman) and the Lord or the Parmatman is the centre of their universe. The devotee’s love for the Lord was the central theme of Annamayya’s padams. He was one among the first composers to sing about the surrender of the self.

Before Annamayya, music was composed in the padyasahitya form – a format that was inherently more complex and could be understood only by poets or scholars. To a layman, the relevance of this format was minimal. All of this changed when Annamayya introduced the padasahitya format. His imagination, talent for building up emotions, and native Telugu diction were all key factors for his rise to popularity. His writing style consisted of a pallavi or the main theme followed by charanams which were a set of ideas linked to the main theme. The number of charanams or subsets ranged from 3 to 25, which is his longest known composition. The beauty of Annamyya’s compositions is enhanced by his use of the yatiprasa. This is a form of poetry writing where the same letter or letters from the same family or with the same pronunciation are repeated. Here is a simple example depicting this

KondalalO nelakonna Konetiraayaduvaadu
Kondalanta varamulu guppeDuvaaDu

'Ko'of Kondalalo and ‘Ko’ of Konetirayadu forms the yati.
The second letter ‘da’ identical in both lines forms the praasa.

His compositions can be identified through his mudra in the last charanam. A mudra is a signature phrase left behind by composers that can help readers identify the creator easily. In Annamayyas kritis, the mudra was always Lord Venkateshwara.

Annamayya was a prolific writer in Telugu and has composed over 32,000 kritis. Out of these, only 12,000 are available now. In addition to this, his legacy has been carried forward by his son and grandson who have composed nearly 3000 songs. A majority of these are being restored by the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam (TTD), the governing body of the Tirumala temple. Initially written on palm leaves by Annamayya, they were later engraved on copper plates by Annamayya’s son Tirumalacharya and are now preserved atthe TTD museum.

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