Lyrical beauty, dancer’s delight

Songs appeal to all and the low pricing suits all pockets  

(This is the first of a two-part article to coincide with Annamacharya Jayanti, which falls on May 26.)

Annamacharya (1408-1503) is known as Padakavita Pitamaha, the grand-sire of the Telugu Song. Of course, there was song in Telugu before him. Palkuriki Somanatha (early 13th century) mentions many kinds of them in his works, but they were in the folk mould, author unknown. They were the property of itinerant singers seeking alms, mothers lulling their babies to sleep, workers seeking a respite from their toil, seeding, weeding, harvesting, winnowing and pounding.

It is by Annamayya’s sankirtanas in those moulds that we have their systematised form. He took inspiration from the existing genres, addressed them to the double-edged Godhead he knew, Krishna/Venkateswara, and created a corpus of lyric literature for a language, unequalled in number (32,000 according to his biographer-cum-grandson Chinnanna; around 12,000 are now available) and in stature.

Kshetrayya and Sarangapani, to name only the more famous two out of a score of composers who authored dance-oriented songs known as padams in Telugu, have followed in his footsteps. There are differences. Annamayya saw Krishna/Srinivasa in the mundane and the sublime, in the ascetic and the erotic. Kshetrayya dipped his pen in the colours that dripped out of a heart struck by love. Sarangapani illustrated the mire and muck, the rhyme and rhapsody of everyday, rustic life and conscripted Venugopala’s name to it.

Annamayya called his compositions sankirtanas. Around 100 of his compositions are in Sanskrit; the rest in Telugu. In both, there are those written in simple language such as ‘Bhavayami Gopalabalam,’ ‘Vinnapalu Vinavale’ and ‘Adivoalladivo.’ A few are a challenge even to scholars. Some of the difficulty in understanding his songs springs out of the fact that his Telugu is what was current six centuries ago. Some words have dropped out of use and have not made it to the dictionaries; ‘Srihari Nighantuvu’ (2004), and ‘Annamayya Padakosam’ (2012) both compiled by Prof. Ravva Srihari, are the exceptions.

Some words have acquired different shades of meaning; ‘ichhakalu’ then meant ‘pleasant words’ but now means ‘insincere words to curry favour.’ To complicate things further, Annamayya used the same word to mean different things in different contexts. For instance, the word ‘domati’ could be a picnic meal for a group much like ‘kartikamasam vanabhojanam.’ It could be a wedding feast. Or a quiet repast for two, a romantic rendezvous. It could also be a penalty meal offered by an erring man to be accepted back into the caste/tribe/society which ex-communicated him for a peccadillo.

Sisters Rekha and Geeta Seshachalam were the first to present on stage a composition of Annamacharya, ‘Alarulu Kuriyaga,’ in Sankarabharanam, tuned by Rallapalli Ananthakrishna Sarma, and polished to popularity by Nedunuri Krishnamurthy. This was about 40 years ago.

A little earlier, I had the opportunity to present many of them at the Sakshatkara Vaibhavam festival of Sri Kalyana Venkateswara at Srinivasamangapuram, near Tirupati. It was a dance offering, Nrithya Nivedana, as part of temple festival celebrated on Ashadha Suddha Saptami. In the selection of the songs, I had the support of D. Pasupathi, late B. Gopalam and Tirupati Veeraraghavulu, their vocal accompaniment. In unravelling their meanings, I had the guidance of Udayagiri Srinivasacharyulu, who edited some volumes of Tallapaka songs for TTD.

Around ten of these, I passed on to my guru in abhinaya, Kalanidhi Narayanan. Dozens have learnt them from her and spread the Annamayya song through dance around the world. Her students were the first to do so.

There were two reasons for taking all this trouble. My guru Malladi Ramakrishna Sastri’s story, ‘Vanamala,’ acquainted me with the details of Annamacharya’s life. This led to a fascination for his songs.

The songs had lilt, both in word (Annamayya’s) and melody (contemporary tunesmiths including Rajanikantha Rao and the late Mallik). The lyric, apart from saying many things beautifully and explicitly, also hinted at certain situations that simply cried out for dance exposition.

It is said that there was dance in the Tirumala Temple, according to inscriptions. Whether it was so in Annamayya’s time or not, it is clear that he was knowledgeable about dance, the technical terms in ‘Alarulu’ to prove it. In many songs, he refers to the dance of the celestial nymphs, apsaras, as part of the Brahmotsavam festival.


That he knew much about dance is really no surprise. He knew about the potter’s craft, the weaver’s, and the day-to-day chores of the ordinary folk, clarifying butter ( Ghummaniyedi sruti koodaganu), preparing for a ceremonial bath ( Sandadi viduvumu sasamukha), churning/curd ( Itti mudduladu). He knew of the sundry wares that were sold in the ‘maila santhalu’ (market fair). He knew life. As an observer. As a participant. As an author who linked everyday businesses of the common man to a paean to the Ultimate.

No matter who the composer is, the dancers should take care that they have the correct text before them, and its correct meaning. A singer can get by, knowing the general trend of the song. Not so the dancer, who has to match the stance, the hasta and the facial expression, word to word. The right pronunciation is imperative. The difference between ‘ga’ and ‘ka’ is minimal in Tamil. In Telugu, they give opposite meanings. ‘Allari Cheyagara’ means, ‘Come to be naughty’ and ‘Allari Chayakaram,’ means ‘Come without being naughty.’ A knowledge of the implied nuances is also essential. In Ghanam Seenayya’s famous padam recorded with her own veena to the accompaniment of Veena Shanmuga Vadivoo, 80 years ago, ‘Sivadeeksha Paruralanura’ is all no-no, go-go off the tongue and come-come, do-do from the heart.

Annamayya wrote ‘Sankirtanalakshanam,’ a Sanskrit work on prosody. Only its Telugu translation by his grand-son is now available. By this, it is clear that there is no ‘anupallavi’ in his songs. True, only a few seem to have a secondary ‘pallavi’ but neither by their textual structure nor by their musical form do they serve the specific purpose they serve in the padams of Kshetrayya.

So it is wrong to take the second line, imagining it to be the ‘anupallavi,’ and start with that. Just as it does to a Kshetrayya padam, it demolishes the careful construction of the vaggeyakara and misconstrues the intended meaning. To give two well-known examples (not Annamayya’s but from the traditional repertoire of dancers): ‘Mogudochi Pilachedu’ is the sad plaint of a pubescent girl involved with Krishna from her childhood. Her husband has come to take her far away to his home. To start with the ‘anupallavi,’ ‘Sogasukada Natho, Suguna Venugopala’ is to mislead the audience into thinking that the hymn is about the beauty and good qualities of Krishna! Similarly, ‘Yarukkagilum Bayama’ is a defiant young miss proclaiming ‘What do I care! Let them gossip about me.’ Taken and repeated ad nauseum by the ‘anupallavi,’ ‘Porukkul vijayan, ‘gives the impression that the song is in praise of the valorous deeds of Modi Linga Durai.

Songs of the Trinity pay more attention to the music. Annamacharya’s to sahitya, the literature. They have to be split at the right place to keep the ‘dwitiyakshara prasa’ and ‘yati’ intact.

Kolani dopariki gobbillo, yadu

Kulaswamikini gobbillo

Should be sung that way. The second letter rhyming, Kola and Kula, and the prasa, alliteration in each line, Ko and Go, Ku and Go, should be intact by the rhythm cycle.

(To be concluded)

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2020 9:37:39 AM |

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