Adding gestures to his lyrics

The MP3 player consisting of 601 songs of Annamacharya.  

Dancers, great and small, old or/inexperienced, international stars or those limited to their home-towns, should realise that the composers of these immortal pieces are infinitely greater than them and their gurus. Their sacrosanct creations should not be trifled with, no matter which hoary school does what. By all means take their wondrous music if you wish but throw out their libretti if found faulty. As the revered Muktamma told the singer for dance, Vijayalakshmi, “Take the corrections as far as the text is concerned but change not a whit of the music I taught you.” It is only the truly great servitors of music who realise the greatness of composers.

Of the songs of Annamayya which are seen on stage, only ‘Brahmamokkate’ allows the alternate ‘pallavi’ also, ‘Tandanana,’ meaningfully. Others don’t.

In two songs (‘Komma Tana Muthyala Kongu Jaraga’ and ‘Nakunjeppare Chelulu’), Annamayya refers to ‘panneeru.’ Even a child will tell that it means ‘rosewater.’

No. Not in his time. Neither roses nor the process of making ‘attar’ of roses (of which rosewater is a by-product) existed in the time and area of Annamayya. Then how is one supposed to show it in dance? Simple.

Refer to the decades’ old dictionary, B. Sitaramacharyulu’s ‘Sabda Ratnakaram.’ It says ‘pani neeru,’ cool water. And the context in both the songs goes with this definition. It says, ‘Don’t drink cold water when in the heat of viraha, pangs of separation.’

Synonym for ‘Tirunamam’

In the well-known lullaby, Mangalam ‘Jo Achyutananda,’ the final line is ‘Mangalamu Tirupatla Madanagopala.’ As there are many villages in Chittoor district with a similar ending, Pudipatla, Keelupatla, etc., people have assumed that Tirupatla is one such village, and showed it as a particular place by holding the raised left-hand in ‘alapadma’ hasta. Dr. D. Sivappa, whose published doctoral thesis is about the places and temples that Annamayya visited and the gods he named in his songs, says that he couldn’t trace this village anywhere in Rayalaseema, where most of the places are situated. Well, he couldn’t trace it because it isn’t a place but an epithet for Krishna/Venkateswara Annamayya used in Telugu. ‘Patte Namalu’ is a synonym for ‘Tirunamam,’ the holy Vaishnavaite marks on the forehead. In raillery, of which he is very fond, Annamayya makes a portmanteau word, out of Tirunamam and Pattenamalu, ‘Tirupatla,’ using it is an adjective for Madanagopala.

There are nearly 50 songs of Annamayya naming the 10 incarnations of Vishnu/Krishna, in order. The first seven are unfailingly Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaha (boar), Narasimha (man-lion), Vamana (not a dwarf but a young Brahmin with the sacred thread), Parasurama (man with an axe), Rama (man with a bow), and the last two, again unfailingly, Buddha (the proclaimer of ahimsa, non-violence) and Kalki (the harbinger of the final holocaust in which the unrighteous are put down and the pious, protected).

Only while describing the eighth, sometimes he mentions Balarama (the man with the plough) and less often, Krishna. In two songs, he mentions both. In a couple of them, the reference to cowherd, demon-slayer, etc. could be about either.

Ignorant of the stories pertaining to the Puranic Buddha, many dancers, apart from commentators who should know better, have blundered.

In ‘Indariki Abhayambulichhu Cheyi,’ there is a line, ‘Purasatula Manamulu Pollajesina Cheyi,’ which means ‘the hand that brought to nought the chastity of the women of the town.’ Here, the ‘purasatulu’ are the wives of the Tripura-Asuras, not the gopikas. Even sworn enemies of Krishna - Duryodhana, Sisupala, Jarasandha and Dantavaktra, who called him with all sorts of names, never ever said that he spoilt the chastity of the gopis.

The story, as told in the ‘Dasavatara Charitra’ in Sanskrit by Kshemendra (12th Century) is this: All the devathas and gods give their powers to Siva, to kill the three demons. He lets go an arrow but it fails to have any effect, because their wives are performing Sumangali Vratam. So the Puranic Buddha is used to tempt them so that their ritual is foiled, and the asuras are killed.

In the familiar Mukhari piece, ‘Brahma Kadigina Padamu,’ tuned and given a popular format by Sarvasri Rallapalli and Nedunuri respectively, there is a line, ‘Pamidituragapu Padamu.’ Some have held that it means ‘the feet of Garuda who destroys snakes.’ It’s sheer idiocy. For, the rest of the song is about the feet of the various manifestations of the Almighty, why would this line alone refer to the feet of his ‘vahana’?

Two kinds of songs

Annamaya wrote two kinds of songs, ‘adhyatma’ and ‘sringara’, the philosophical and the erotic. In the first kind, there are again two strains, one that exhorts humanity to eschew craving for the ephemeral and to latch onto His feet and His name. Then there are those in which he appeals directly to Venkateswara, saying ‘I’m the lowliest of the lowly. If you don’t come to my rescue, who will? and who can?”

The best guide to this kind of songs is ‘Annamacharya Sankeertanamritam’ by Dr. Samudrala Lakshmanaiah, in which the complete and correct text of 150 such kirtanas is given, with meanings of difficult words and commentary, in simple Telugu. Brought-out well, this TTD publication is priced Rs.75.

In English, there is a similarly titled volume, ‘Nectar Ocean of Annamacharya’ that includes all kinds of songs. The main drawback of this TTD publication (Rs. 65) is: it is defectively bound and the index for almost 500 songs is not given. A compensatory factor is the copious notes, clear and concise, given in 158 pages about Annamayya’s life and tunes.

Dancers mostly prefer the love-poems of Annamaya for two reasons; they are easier to comprehend and convey through dance. Songs of the heroine pining for her lord (‘Ponnalalo Vege Poddu,’ tuned by V. Sarala Rao and sung by her daughter-dancer Swapnasundari), sakhis describing her state (‘Komma Tana Muthyala Kongu,’ tuned and sung separately by M. Balamuralikrishna and Ghantasala Vijayakumar), songs limning the loveliness of Alamelumanga (‘Chakkani Taliki’ by Balakrishna Prasad) and the dilemma of Padmavati (‘Orapo, Merapo,’ tuned by Parupalli Ranganath, sung by S.P. Sailaja). Then there are songs of sheer joy, mostly on Krishna, ‘Muddugare,’ ‘Kolani Dopariki,’ ‘Ittimudduladi Baludu’ and the exquisite tune created by Ramesh Naidu and sung by Asha Bhonsle, ‘Sathyabhama Sarasapu Nagavu.’

Three gems, tuned and recorded by D. Pasupathi almost half-a-century ago, ‘Podagantimayya’ about the resplendent form of Venkateswara, ‘Itu Garudani’ on Garuda and ‘Veedekada Seshudu’ on Adisesha, capture in melody the celestial flight of one and the sinuous terrestrial gait of the other.

True, dancers are spoilt for choice as far as Annamacharya’s kritis are concerned.

TTD has come out with two MP3 players, one with 600 and the other with 601 songs, priced Rs. 40 each. In these 1201 sankirtanas, one will find at least a hundred to inspire them into meaningful dance.

Stumped for the meaning of a word or a phrase? Look into ‘Annamayya Padakosam’ compiled by Prof. Ravva Srihari and published by TTD, Rs.140.

It does not have all the words, that’ll be too much to hope for, but it should answer many a query definitively.

(This is the second and final of the two-part series on Annamacharya. TTD celebrated his Jayanti, from May 24 to 26, in Tirupati.)

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 7:32:15 PM |

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