Friday Review

Songs and stones

Veturi Prabhakara Sastry  

Few people are aware that there are stone slabs on the Tirumala hills with songs carved in them, complete with ragas and their notation inscribed. While the origin of these carvings are unknown, one does know that Archakam Udayagiri Srinivasacharyulu discovered these slabs in1949 and brought them to the notice of his guru Veturi Prabhakara Sastry, a great scholar of Sanskrit and Telugu, known for bringing into focus Annamacharya’s compositions that were found inscribed on copper plates fished out from a ‘Bhandaram’ in Tirumala temple. Prabhakara Sastry had got them printed in 1939.

After visiting the place (in the precincts of ‘Champaka Pradakshina’) and assessing the unique nature of these inscriptions on stone, Prabhakara Sastry wrote that this might be the work of Tallapaka poets of 15th and 16th centuries who worshipped the Lord with music. . Prabhakara Sastry retrieved and published the contents.

Ten years later, his disciple Srinivasacharyulu took over the job of deciphering the inscriptions and study. Till then learned musicologists were of the opinion that notated lyrical compositions had evolved in the later part of the 19th century.

The discovery showed a few stones with lyrics and their notation chiselled on them. The available stones with lyrics were four feet wide, seven feet long and nine inches thick. Since they were numbered as ‘4’ and ‘2’, scholars felt there must have been some more stones, but either lost, or not found. These two slabs were transported in a lorry to the museum at Tirupathi.

There are 94 lines in 47 pairs on the slab No. 2 summing up to eleven lyrics. And the hundred lines on slab No.4 constituted 10 lyrics. All these songs were written in Sanskrit but scripted in Telugu, adapting ‘Suladi’ (pre-determined order) method. All of them bore ‘Sankirtana Lakshana’, like those composed by Annamacharya in Sanskrit. One of them carried the ‘Mudra’- ‘Sri Venkateswara’. The calligraphy corresponds to Chinna Tirumalacharya’s works, dispelling fears as to how they sang in those days.

Veturi Anandamurthy, Prabhakara Sastry’s son, also a researcher, confirms they belonged to Tallapaka poets and quoted in a book he wrote that parts of these lyrical lines with devotional content had rhyme, rhythm and metrical variations. He said, “the retrieval of the inscriptional melody content and singing mode of the ‘Uga-Aabhoga’ format found therein should be possible, for further probe into the contents of the inscriptions.” The general features of paleography clearly indicate that the characters belong to midway between 15th and 16th centuries.

Though the lyrics are composed in Sanskrit, terms like ‘Pallavam’, Abhogam’ ‘Caupadadolam’, ‘Ata Talam’, ‘Eka Talam’, ‘Jhampa’, ‘Raganam’, ‘Racham’ and other abbreviations like ‘Uga’ for ‘Udgraha’, 'Adi’ and so on seem to be written in Telugu. The talas indicated as ‘Eka Talam Mugisenu’ (end of Eka Talam); a Telugu expression, brings to notice the Tanjore palm-leaf texts on music. The compositions are immaculate and flawless in their structure with all prosodic embellishments.

There have been attempts by scholars and epigraphists to decipher the songs on slabs completely. Veturi Anandamurthy, Tirumala Ramachandra, P.V.Parabrahma Sastry; musicians Akella Mallikarjuna Sarma, N.S.Srinivasan; with the help of Sanskrit scholars Ravva Srihari, Pullela Sriramachandrudu and others succeeded in deciphering some of them and also studied musical part of the inscriptions. With the initiative taken by the then Principal Secretary Revenue, Rambabu and TTD Executive Officer M. K. R. Vinayak; these compositions were published.

A three day workshop was also held in association with Veturi Prabhakara Sastry Memorial Trust on these stone slabs. Each line opened with figure of ‘0’ (zero), a practice found on Vijayanagara epigraphs, to indicate the margin. They found dates too denoting the period of Tallapaka poets. They found similarities to the copper plates of the Tallapaka poets found later. Basing on these lettering found in paleography, the period was ascribed to the end of fifteenth century - between 1460 and 1512 A.D.

The lyrics carved on stones had sahitya in the upper line and their notation below; obviously intended to learn and sing with ease and perfection. But authorship of the inscriptions is not found. While copying and printing the compositions, editors followed a method to retain every detail, even in these edited versions.

You find these details in Dasavatara composition on the slab written in ‘Suladi’ format. Later ‘Dasavatara’ with charanas and related notation was made into a CD, with the voice of Sattiraju Venumadhav.

Later to exemplify this effort TTD published a book The Tirumala Music Inscription in 1999, nearly 50 years after their discovery. Critics say TTD keeps everything in cold storage, instead of bringing them out , either as books or CDs. A search for some more missing slabs must be conducted; the available compositions found on the inscriptions should be popularised. They fear that as days pass, one may not find scholars, who can work on these slabs.

Meanwhile, Veturi Anandamurthy informs that he brought these discoveries to the notice of Music Academy, Chennai.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 7:47:45 AM |

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