They left their footprints on the sands of time; but times have changed so drastically and disinterest set in so vehemently over anything that has a history, that all such artistic contributions were wiped out in course of time. This is the most lamentable part of Indian culture and heritage: some are jettisoned, some face neglect, some others are marketed if price-worthy. While artefacts and architecture can come under the last two, men of letters/poets/musicians and such ‘human values’ are placed in the first category.
We abound in musician/composers who bestowed the pride of the place on Telugu language. Barring the Trinity (Thyagaraja, Dikshitar, Shyama Sastri), the earliest poet-composers who have so far adorned our musical firmament are Annamacharya, Kshetrayya, Ramadasu, not to talk of non-Telugu vaggeyakara (music composers). The present generation of musicians, music teachers and pupils are unaware of a host of worthy compositions by as many composer-poets who thrived in this region. It is not as if they left their works sans recognition. A rich legacy lies there waiting to be picked up, propagated, promoted and preserved for the next generation of music aspirants. But neither the music academicians/institutions of our region nor the practitioners of music make attempts to retrieve the near-lost compositions and uphold the heritage of Telugu poetic literature. Here are a few well-known vaggeyakara (music scholar-composers) who have penned and sung exotic sankeertanas, some having gone to the extent of providing the notation for their songs to be sung in a classical mode.
The foremost among such neglected composers was Santuru Krishnamacharyulu (Simhachala Krishnamayya), a devotee-singer who lived in the 13th century, prior to Annamacharya. Musicologists and scholars believe that Krishnayya’s writings bore an indelible influence on later poet-composers. For instance, the song, ‘Ye Kulajudaina Nemi’ was inspired by Krishnamayya. His compositions were rendered in simple prose format but encased the highest Vaishanavism. There is no linguistic ornamentation, so to say. He is venerated as the father of sankeertana by the later saint-poets of Telugu language. He was supposed to have carried his four lakh vachanam (prosody) on copper plates when he went on a pilgrimage. Of these, only 75 have been retrieved so far and are in existence as of now. They are full of devotional fervour and have been collected in a book form by T.P. Ramachandracharyulu of Simhachalam.
There are a few detractors who do refuse to categorise him under the ‘Vaggeyakara’ as his compositions were prosody (vachanam/gadyam) but the fact that there is ample testimony to state that he sung them tunefully at the temple and to this day, a few lines from his vachanam are still rendered musically as part and parcel of the regular ritualistic puja at the temple of Simhachala goes without saying that he was indeed a composer, says veteran mridangam player Vankayala Narasimham.
There is an interesting history of his birth which runs like a fable. Krishnamayya was born blind into a family of priests at Santuru close to Simhachalam in Visakhapatnam district. The village was suffused with fundamental educational facilities and more devotional fervour with its temple and a mutt. Since the boy was star-crossed according to astrologers, he was abandoned and later picked up by a swamiji of the mutt. He was said to have been blessed with vision in a miracle when he went to Simhachala temple and devotional verses gushed forth from him as he faced the deity. From then on, he made the temple premises his home and was lost in contemplation of God. His works can be divided into songs in praise of the presiding deity of Simhachalam, philosophical-spiritual verses establishing the relationship between God and man; and the avatars of Lord Vishnu. Like many an Indian soul, steeped in spiritualism, Krishnamayya perhaps never cared for preservation of his works for posterity as they were the outpourings of his devoted soul.