How Annamaya conveyed the essence of love

Kuchipudi and Vilasini Natyam dancer and researcher Anupama Kylash

Kuchipudi and Vilasini Natyam dancer and researcher Anupama Kylash   | Photo Credit: Shaju John

The saint-poet was a master-craftsman of the art of comparative expression

Annamacharya is to be reckoned as the first among the hymnographers in Telugu, not only from the viewpoint of chronology, but also for his superb artistry and range of feelings and thoughts. He was a pioneer in the arena of Padakavitha, and could handle both amorous and devotional strains with equal felicity.

The Sringāra used by Annamacharya is of a different nature as compared to Telugu Padakavitha of any other poet. Annamayya’s references to the erotic strain are bold and unpretentious, direct, yet at the same time, subtle and hint at several connotations. Probably, no other Telugu Pada poet has succeeded like Annamayya in infusing the rasa of Sringāra with so many shades and minute intricacies.

There are several references to the songs of Annamacharya and their uniqueness in Annamacharya Charitram composed by his grandson, Tiruvengalanadha, better known as Chinnanna. Speaking of Annamayya’s handling of the Sringāra rasa, Chinnanna says, “Annamayya made heaps of Sringāra as he sang in several colourful ragas and tunes.”

The essence of the songs of Annamacharya, especially the Sringāra ones, are highlighted in the twelfth Padyam of Sankīrtana Lakshanam, where the poet says, “they are tunes and Shāstra, they contain Purānic stories and are repositories of wisdom. They are chants and educational preaching, and above all, they are the secrets of the love exploits of Lord Venkateswara in all their glory.”

These claims are further reiterated in Annamacharya’s work, replete with Sringāra rasa titled Shringāra Manjari, which is in the Manjari Dwipada format, and works, almost like a blueprint to all his Sringāra Sankīrtanas. The important facet of the work is the richness of language and the exquisite usage of all nuances of the Sringāra rasa.

Alarmelmanga is described by him as a fresh, fragrant flower arrow, whose heart blooms with love for her Lord as she waits for him with heightened anticipation. The ‘viraha’ of Alamelmanga is described in intensely sensitive terms with descriptions like, “Alarmelmanga lost interest in her friends and companions, in her long tresses and flowers, in birds and parrots, and watched out for his arrival and only his arrival!” A unique aspect of Shringara Manjari are the descriptions of ‘Manmatha Yagam’ performed by Alarmelmanga and her friends. Such a description finds place for the first time in a Manjari Dwipada work.

Annamacharya was a master craftsman of the art of comparison. The terms and expressions used by him are peerless. In numerous love lyrics, describing the most intricate of human emotions and interactions, we find several comparisons which not only touch an innermost chord within us for their sheer sensitivity, but also leave us wide-eyed at the ingenuity of this versatile poet. I discuss here some of these interesting phrases and comparisons, so unique to the songs of Annamacharya.

Talking about a shy, newly wed bride, in one song, Annamayya uses unique phrases, for example, ‘chigirinchina valapu’, (sprouting love), ‘pippigatte siggulu’, (sackfuls of shyness), ‘sanagulu jhallithēnu’, (sprinkle murmured words), ‘nindalu vesithēnu’ (hurl accusing words), etc. When the words are’murmured’, he compares them to a sprinkle, and when they are aggressive, he uses the term, ‘hurl’. This is but a small example of his usages!

While talking about dissatisfied nayikas, Annamacharya uses interesting and evocative comparisons. In a particular song, he states in the Pallavi, ‘Mūsina mutyamuvalē mungita nunna dāna nēnu’ (I lie here in this place like a pearl ensconced within a shell). Here, the comparison of the heroine to a sheltered pearl, immediately brings to our notice, her reticence and her lack of exposure. In another song in which the nayika feels that she is just one of his many wives, and not particularly dear to him, the poet expresses the feelings of the nayika in a series of comparisons which highlight the hopelessness of her situation. Some of the phrases he uses are, ‘Sēsa pettinatti thana chēthiloni dānanu’ (the day he took my hand in marriage, I became a puppet in his hands), ‘gūdina thana sathula gumpulaloni dānanu’ (I am one amongst the crowd of his wives), ‘kuvvagābosina thana koluvuloni dānanu’ (I am one amongst the women poured in a heap in front of him), and the most telling comparison here is, ‘yiyyeda thā pavvalinchē intiloni dānanu’ (well, I am the woman who sleeps in his house). She states the lack of a conducive relationship between herself and the nayaka, so emphatically through these phrases of disillusionment.

Some of Annamayya’s most exquisite comparisons happen in the pallavis of his songs. For example, the song, ‘Emako chigurutadharamuna yedaneda kastūri nindenu bhāmini vibhunaku rāsina patrika kādu kada.’ The poet compares the lips of Alarmelmanga to love letters and the kasturi that is smeared on her lips (because of kissing the forehead of Lord Venkateswara), to unintelligible words of love! In the same song, there is yet another comparison of intense beauty. The poet says, “The lovely lady’s eyes appear red like rubies, pray why do you think so? Is it because the pointed arrows that she shot at her Lord, have come back to their abode (her eyes), carrying the tell-tale marks of the blood from the heart of the Lord, which they pierced?” Such a comparison does not occur in the padams of any other poet of the Telugu language.

Two brilliant compositions of Annamacharya stand as testimony to his powers of comparison. The first song compares the various aspects of Alarmelmanga with different kinds of birds and other elements of nature. The poet says, ‘Maruni balamulellā maguvaku chuttālē virahamennadu lēdu veladiki nīkunu’. This translates as, “All the powers of Madana are the companions of our lady. There is no separation for you and her.” Madana, the God of Love, has several attendants, like the birds, bees, fragrant breezes, etc. Here the poet says, when all these companions have befriended the nayika, then Madana cannot use them against Alarmelmanga or the Lord.

He goes on to say, “When she was recounting your deeds to her friends, in the forest, she was surrounded by a group of twittering parrots.” The import here is that, her words were so sweet like the chirping of parrots, that the parrots, thinking she was one of them, surrounded her! He further says, “When she took off her upper garment, to dry the sweat on her breasts, the Jakkava birds landed on her breasts, all of a sudden.” The Jakkava or Chakravaka birds are usually described as a pair, in literary convention, therefore, here the import is that, her pair of breasts made the Chakravaka birds think that there was another pair of birds there!

In the second charanam or stanza, the poet says, “Thinking of you, when she joined her palms in devotion, a swarm of bees surrounded her delicate fingers,” meaning that, the bees mistook her joined palms to be a gently budding, delicate lotus! He further states, “When she set out to where you were waiting for her, she was followed by a flock of strutting peacocks.” This description compares her walk to that of the peacocks. Annamacharya says that when Lord Venkateswara gazed upon the face of Alarmelmanga, Chakora birds flocked to her, meaning that, her face was like the moon, therefore irresistible to the Chakora birds.

The second song is a primary example of Annamayya’s skill in comparing Puranic lore to love activities. The poet says, “What extreme attachment the Lord has for you, my Lady! In an instant, he enthroned you in his heart.’

The comparisons that the poet makes in the charanams are crystal clear and most unique. He says, “Seeing that your gait is royal, graceful like that of an elephant, your husband, out of desire for you, came to the rescue of the mighty elephant, Gajendra. Knowing that your delicate hips are round in shape, your Lord held the circular disc (Chakra), in his hand.” After comparing Alarmelmanga’s gait to an elephant’s and her hips to the Chakra, he goes on to say, “Knowing that your abode is the lotus, he took the form of Jalajanaabha, and looking at your shell shaped neck, he wished to take hold of the conch named Pānchajanya. O Alarmelmanga, knowing your tresses to be midnight black, he willingly came to be known as the dark-bodied one, and gazing upon your high breasts, he chose to be Venkatapati, the Lord of the seven hills.” The comparisons here are self-explanatory and highlight the highly imaginative mind of the poet.

In the theology of Sri Vaishnavism, the concept of ‘Sri’ has great importance. Sri is the consort of Lord Vishnu and is co-eternal with him. She incarnates with him, and is the mother who intercedes with him on the behalf of all his devotees. It is this philosophy of Vishishtadvaita, and eternal ‘Sharanāgati’ or surrender to the beloved deity, or ‘Ishtadaiva’, that runs through all the compositions of Annamacharya. This is the reason why, a song which appears to be highly erotic, filled with allusions to lovemaking, has several connotations running through it which are highly philosophical and metaphysical. A love song of Annamacharya is a song of intoxicated devotion and immersion in his Lord.

The writer is a well-known Kuchipudi and Vilasini Natyam dancer and researcher

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 8:27:03 AM |

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