Debate Music

So where was Annamayya born?

Today the name and lyrics of Tallapaka Annamacharya are well-known. Some thousands of songs have been recorded by singers of varied ability and appeal as lilting light music and demanding Carnatic mode. Many are available off the modern cornucopia aka internet. At least a three-score theses, mostly humdrum, hollow and repetitive, would have been milked out of lax examiners and uncaring universities, resulting in self-serving doctorates that leave many questions about his life unanswered. And worse; they circulate fiction as fact.

Before delving into them, it must be recognised that there are only two authentic sources. One is Annamacharya’s biography by his grandson Chinnanna, Annamacharya Charitram by Tallapaka China Tiruvengalanatha. This is reliable but it covers only a part of his life. The other is the internal evidence embedded in the nearly 12,000 songs by the father, son Peda Tirumalacharya and grandson China Tirumalayya. However, this is more open to individual interpretation.

First question: where was Annamayya born? Yes, according to early scholars it was in Tallapaka. But this is not mentioned in the biography. I think it must have been in Madupuru, the native village of Annamayya’s mother Lakkamamba. True, there is no mention of this either in Annamacharya Charitram (AC) but traditionally women have gone to their parents’ for first confinement and remained there for a period before returning to their husbands.

The next question: where did he die, in Tirumala, Tirupati, Ahobilam where he lived for a period, or in Tallapaka? There is no mention of this in AC. A song, ‘Dinamu dwadasi’ mentions the ‘tithi’ (in April, AD1503). Why isn’t there a cenotaph (Tulasi Kota) to mark the place where he was cremated or buried? Odd, as by then his family was affluent and enjoyed the patronage of the local royalty.

Knowledge of music

In AC, a part is missing but the end is intact. It does not mention his death. Annamayya was born into a Smartha Brahmin family so his traditional learning is not surprising. But where did he come by his knowledge of music? His songs are in almost a hundred different ragas. And his familiarity with the intricacies of dance as evidenced by ‘Alarulu kuriyaga?’ Were there dancers offering service in the Tirumala temple at that time? Even if there were, how would he have imbibed the science of it!

His knowledge of various aspects of worldly life, is amazingly vast and intimate, as though it was gained first-hand. An example. His in-depth familiarity with the art of weaving, is astounding. In ‘Vaadavaadala venta’ (ostensibly about an itinerant weaver-seller) he refers to ‘patavaali’ saris. In Annamayya Padakosam compiled by Acharya Ravva Srihari, (a generally trustworthy lexicon of the Tallapaka vocabulary published by TTD, 2012; 640 pp, a steal at Rs.140) both the meanings given — a sari with vertical or horizontal stripes and a sari in which the warp and woof are different, known as ‘kalanetha’ in the Telugu weaving community and ‘dhoop chhaon,’ literally sun and shade, elsewhere — are wrong. Patavaali refers to Ikkat weaving in which parts of a hank of cotton are given different colours to produce a design when woven (Sambhalpur and Pochampalli are centres famous for it). In Annamayya’s time, the twin-weaving centres — Chirala-Perala in Andhra — were known for such saris.

He was married off to two women at the same time. Were they related to him? There is a suggestion of this in AC, true, rather oblique. Possibly, they were daughters of a couple related to Annamayya’s parents in a way suitable for a matrimonial alliance. A song of his, ‘Eley eley maradala (murappen)’ points in this direction.

There is a reference to ‘anna’ and ‘vadine’ (brother, sister-in-law), who badger the eight-year-old Annamayya to go and fetch fodder for cattle instead of singing His praise, at noon, dusk, night and morning, early in AC. There is no mention of Narayana Suri (Annamayya’s father) having any brothers. Then from where did these two come from?

My presumption for which there is no evidence. Narayana Suri’s widowed sister, came back to live with him, along with her married daughter and live-in son-in-law (illarikam/illaram). They would be considered Annamayya’s brother and sister-in-law. They could be so harsh on a young lad because they weren’t blood relatives.

In the Tirumala temple, there is a deity in the ‘Potu’ (kitchen) referred to as Vakula Matha, the lady who was Venkateswara’s foster mother. This identification is wrong by two references. One song of Annamayya (Vaalina rajasamuthone-Alamelumanga sits stately in the kitchen) and another which refers to her as the Lakshmi of the kitchen, who cooks and feeds Venkateswara; and a passage in AC, which says that Annamayya saluted Lakshmi before coming by the Yagasala (Alamelumangaku nabhivandanamulu-Salipi chengati yagasala keerthinchi). This describes the order in which Annamayya was seeing the parts of the temple.

A clincher: this idol is in the same posture as the goddess Alamelumanga in Tiruchanur, seated, right-hand in abhaya, left in varada. This is not clearly seen in the ‘Potu’ idol as it is smothered with garlands, only her head barely visible. In a small shrine in the ‘Sampangi Pradakshina’ not accessible to the pilgrim, a similar icon exists in a small shrine. Ditto near the old ‘Kalyanam’ venue.

When and if the missing part of AC is found some of the above questions might be answered. Till then we wait...!

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Printable version | Sep 14, 2021 9:13:36 PM |

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