SPIRITUAL HERITAGE OF ANNAMACHARYA — Vol. 3: M. S. Ramesh; Pub. by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, Tirupati-517507. Rs. 48.
It was V. Raghavan and Ramanujacharya who first came out with the gem of a title, The Spiritual Heritage of Tyagaraja for their epoch-making publication. Since then, many scholars have downloaded into English the varied beauties of form and content in the Telugu contribution to the Bhakti Movement.
M.S. Ramesh has been pursuing topics related to Vaishnavism with a single-minded zeal all these years. Her latest book on Annamacharya draws us further into the world of faith, the close inter-connectedness of everyday life with a philosophical outlook and India's own methodology of documenting history.
Indian history is a living continuum where the past and the present hold hands to usher in the future. Consider the values of convention: “In another song, Annamacharya described the vahana krama [the sequence of the Lord's mounts] followed during the Brahmotsava celebrations. It is amazing to see that the order followed today is exactly the same as was observed during Annamacharya's days, i.e., nearly six centuries ago. It is this hoary antiquity which adds to the holy significance of many of the rituals in the temple even today.”
The temples in the Hindu tradition are not just venues for religious assemblies. Verily, “the house of God on earth”, a temple promotes high morality, compassion, and spirituality. Coming within its precincts, man learns the value of his sensory functions, finds his mind led gently from darkness to light when realisation dawns upon him that existence is pervaded by the splendour of God. This transformation is undeniably wafted to us when we go to Tirumala for a darshan of Lord Venkateswara.
Why do the temples conduct festivals (utsavas)? The term utsava means “removal of worldly sorrows.” True enough, since for the nonce we do forget our mundane existence as we take part in drawing the chariot or in any festival.
From the chapter on the festivals of Tirumala, it is amazing to learn of the various guidelines and procedures meticulously prescribed to ensure the safety of the deity and the ornaments as also the ritualistic responsibilities that need to be adhered to with sincerity.
Ramesh describes the daily rituals as well as the special ones associated with different festival days. The history of these festivals is not easy to track but the author does not give up easily. Thus the suprabhatam in Tirumala is traced to the brief sojourn of the idol of Lord Ranganatha there, when an Islamic invasion sacked the holy city of Srirangam. It is also fascinating to learn that the ‘Ashtadala Swarna Padma Puja' is performed with the 108 golden lotuses offered by a Muslim devotee.
With the background of such a rich history, the deity glows as an unfailing guardian in Annamacharya's songs, which exude an unquestioning faith. Sometimes, the saint-composer raises queries to indicate the answer contained in them. Going up the spires of bhakti, he pleads for the gift of kainkarya (servitude to the Divine) and nama smarana: “Let it be heaven or let it be hell, it matters not; it is enough if I utter your beautiful enchanting name.”
Spiritual Heritage of Annamacharya has a collection of choice songs by Annamacharya on the festivals in the Tirumala temple, along with a lucid English translation. That the work has been scrutinised by M. Narasimhachary, a distinguished scholar in Sanskrit and the Srivaishnavism literature, goes to enhance its value. All this and a sheaf of photographs bringing Lord Venkateswara in various vahanas make the sky and earth one for the reader, to quote Annamacharya himself!