Annamayya gave me identity: Garimella Balakrishna Prasad

For Garimella Balakrishna Prasad, his association as a student with the TTD’s project became an enduring relationship

Garimella Balakrishna Prasad asserts that his identity as a musician derives, above all, from a long and enduring association with the Tallapaka Annamacharya Project. This bold claim, pertaining to the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam (TTD)’s flagship initiative, now into its fifth decade, could hardly amount to an overstatement from this venerable artiste turned 70 recently. The Asthana Vidwan of both the TTD and the Kanchi Math, Prasad has set to tune 800 songs of Annamacharya, the largest by any musician since the recovery of the copper plates bearing his lyrics. That accomplishment alone, arguably, is a vindication of the TTD’s vision to propagate the works of the 15th-century poet and philosopher.

The closest so far to Prasad’s record comes the contribution of the veena vidwan Manchala Jagannadharao, who is credited with composing tunes for some 300 songs. While there were several early pioneers instrumental in lending music to Annamacharya’s lyrics, such endeavours are bound to proliferate with the evolution of the TTD initiative over time. During a recent conversation at his Bhavani Nagar residence in Tirupati, the man, known among peers as Annamayya Varaprasad, reminisced about a life of singing and scoring music to the works of the composer.

It was a mid-1970s recording of Annamacharya at the behest of Nedunuri Krishnamurthy, for All-India Radio’s famed Bhakti Ranjani programme, in its Hyderabad studios, which marked a turning point, observes Sri Prasad. Soon thereafter, the talented youngster was tempted by the maestro with a potential trainee scholarship under the Annamacharya Project, then under active consideration by the TTD. An employee of a garments factory until then, Prasad had no inkling of what destiny had in store for him. But he was daring enough to accept what was but a tentative offer, reposing unconditional faith in his redoubtable guru.

Garimella Balakrishna Prasad

Garimella Balakrishna Prasad   | Photo Credit: C.V.Subrahmanyam

In the event, Prasad went on to become one of the first recipients of the prestigious TTD award, relocated to Tirupati and was eventually absorbed as a permanent member of the faculty. Training under Nedunuri meant a rigorous round-the-clock routine. It began with offering tambura accompaniment to the maestro’s morning ‘sadhana,’ a few lessons of Annamacharya kritis, individual practice sessions during the day and the many insightful conversations at other times.

Equally rapid, perhaps ironic, was the future turn of events. Prasad’s formal training under Nedunuri came to an abrupt end within a year, following the latter’s transfer to Vijayanagaram. Similarly short-lived was his official tutelage under D. Pasupathi. But the seeming void left by these unforeseen developments forced Prasad to tap his latent potential. In the years prior to his assignment with Nedunuri, he had begun composing songs in the classical style, drawing upon his formidable musical lineage.

His father Garimella Narasimharao, a classical composer in his own right, had taught at a school in Hyderabad, established by the Vazir Sultan Tobacco Company (now VST Industries Ltd.). The renowned playback singer S. Janaki is Prasad’s maternal aunt. The well-known vocalist Mavidlapalli Surya Balasubrahmanya Sarma had included Prasad’s kriti on Lord Venkateswara during a Brahmotsavam concert in the 1980s.

Annamayya gave me identity: Garimella Balakrishna Prasad

Such rich individual and familial moorings formed a fertile ground for Prasad to approach the diverse texts of Annamacharya with singular devotion and intellectual competence. The technical knowledge acquired in the course of writing notations for his father and Nedunuri greatly enhanced his confidence as he made forays into writing scores or composing original songs. Notable among the latter are the kirtanams he penned on Hanuman and the Navagraha.

The first Annamacharya kriti to which Prasad set tune way back in 1978 was ‘Vinaro bhagyamu Vishnu katha,’ in the raga Suddhadhanyasi. The speciality about ‘Mangambudhi Hanumantha,’ another Annamacharya song, which he set to tune in raga Dharmavati in those early years, is the ‘solkattu swaram.’

The veteran vidwan observes that scholars and performers with a background in classical music have tended to set Annamacharya’s lyrics typically in the established scales. But according to Prasad, the more important consideration ought to be whether the meaning of a given text lends itself to a certain tune. He cites the example of ‘Chakkani thalliki chaangu bhalaa,’ which Rallapalli Ananthakrishna Sarma tuned in ragam Paadi, not a mainstream scale.

The other example he offers is ‘Aadi deva paramaathmaa,’ which Nedunuri tuned in Sindubhairavi.

In closing, Prasad returns to our original proposition. The TTD project, he says, was launched especially to commemorate Annamacharya’s jayanthi. Until then, it was the punya thithi that was formally remembered. His association with the project has special significance for him.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 1:33:44 PM |

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