The Tallapaka family of poets, music composers and scholars in Telugu and Sankrit popularized the Srivaishnava faith in Andhra Pradesh in the 15th and 16th centuries. AnnamAchArya, the greatest of them, it is said, had a vision of Lord Venkateswara when he was 16 and then spent the rest of his life composing kIrtanAs and padams on Him, which totalled 32,000. Of these only 14,000 are available now engraved on copper plates which were hidden for centuries in a niche of Sri Venkateswara temple at Tirumala.
Annamayya was born in 1424 A.D. in TallapAka, a village in Cuddapah district. Born with a gift for poetry and song, the boy Annamayya would improvise songs on Venkateswara and was always preoccupied by Him. He ran away to Tirupati and fell asleep on a rock after and exhausting climb of the first steep hill at Tirumala. He dreamt of alamelumangA and composed a Shataka in her praise. Upon reaching the lord of Seven Hills he burst into a song of ecstatic praise.
He lived in Tirumala for some time and was initiated into Sri Vaishnava faith. Sometime later his people sought him out and took him home where he was married. His marriage did not interfere with his spiritual interests and he became a disciple of the saint Shathakopayati of Ahobalam and studied all the sacred texts. Although he propitiated other deities like RAma, Krishna, NarasimhA and VitthalA, he viewed them as forms of Venkateswara, the Ultimate Reality. He spent the rest of his life in His service and devoting his time between TAllapAka and Tirumala. Annamayya breathed his last in 1503.
Annamayya's songs, which he considered as "flower-offerings" to God are his outstanding achievements. In themh e praises Venkateswara, describes his love for Him, argues and quarrels with Him, meditates on His attributes, confesses his failures and apprehensions, and surrenders himself to Him. Traditionally his songs are classified into AdhyAtma and SringAra samkIrtanAs.
AdhyAtma samkIrtanAs affirm the primacy of spiritual values over the purely mundane, and express inevitable tension between these and oneself. They emphasize the need for bhakti and virakti. Despite such faith Annamayya was troubled by tensions because of opposing pulls in himself. "To live and move aimlessly has been my lot. When do I learn, O Lord, fixity of purpose ? So unsteady am I, while I desire renunciation .." ("KalakAlamunitte kApurapu badukAye", in PAdi). Temple festivities gave Annamayya many occasions for songs in which he sees symbolic enactments of cosmic truths. In the song "Alara Chanchalamaina" (Ahiri) he describes the dola of Venkateswara and His consorts in all its magnificience.
The SringAra samkIrtanAs express love and longing for the Lord and his surrender to Him. Here Annamayya speaks for himself and for others who similarly long for god in terms of rakti rather than virakti. Some songs describe AlamelumangA's love for Him ("Alarulukuriyaga Aadenade" in ShankarAbharanam). In "Palukutenelatalli" (SAlanganAta), he DESCRIBES HOW "MOTHER OF HONEY-SWEET SPEECH" PLEASES HIM AND possesses Him by surrendering herself to Him.
The samkIrtanAs have a common structural pattern. Each song comprises a pallavi, very occasional anupallavi, and usually three metrically and musically identical four-line charanAs. In general, the songs exhibit a high degree of literary craftmanship in which he uses both colloquial and literary Telugu.
ChinnathirumalAcharya, the grandson of Annamayya praises him as PadakavitApitAmahA. Annamayya was not the first to compose or invent padas, which had been evolving over many years and was used by SripAdarAyaswAmi and his predecessors for writing devotionals in Kannada. Annamaya who was probablyinfluenced by these composers seems as yet to be the FIRST writer of Padas in Telugu. The pada is a difficuly form to handle, and being bound by strict rule, meant to serve the purpose of both poetry and song. Annamayya used it with such mastery that it became a habit of his mind.
Unforunately, little is known about Annamayya's music and his musical thought. While his poetry was preserved, his music could not be, for resons not known. Not only is there no written record of his music, there is no living tradition of singing his songs, although several centuries after him, his songs are sung in Tirumala. The copper plates only mention the rAga for the song, but what musical form and tAla did he assign to it is not known. He did not have the advantage of an institution like DAsakUta which has, in a way preserved the tradition of singing DAsarapadagalu. However, since Annamayya's samkIrtanams are very similar in structural patterns to DAsarapadagalu, it is likely that they resemble musically also.
The fact that Annamayya knew all musical modes and forms of his times is obvious from his works. But he conceived his PADAS PRIMARILY AS DEVOTIONAL POETRY. MUSIC WAS MAINLY AN AID to render them effectively. The krithIs of ThyAgarAja and others are conceived generally as musical compositions, and their poetry, however impressive, is mainly a verbal scaffold for raising a musical structure. Therefore while singing Annamayya's compositions, importance has to be given to the meaning since sAhityam takes precedence over the music. The rAgas used by Annamayya in his songs are about 100. A good number of them like AbAli, Amarasindhu, Kondamalahari, and SourAshtragujjari, etc. have either become rare or extinct now. Even the commonly used ones today like SankarAbharanam, MukhAri, Kambhoji, DevagAndhAri and Sri have probably undergone subtle changes since his time.
The Tallapaka family of poets, music composers and scholars in Telugu and Sanskrit popularized the Srivaishnava faith in Andhra Pradesh in the 15th and 16th centuries. They were the honorary court poets of Lord Venkateswara. Annamacharya, the greatest of them is widely regarded as the Telugu pada kavita pitaamaha (Grand old man of simple poetry).
In the Dwipada the story of Annamacharya goes back three generations to his grandfather Narayanayya. As a boy Narayanayya was not keen in studies and it was customary in those times for the gurus to subject the students to different kinds of torturous methods to create concentration on studies. When nothing worked for the young boy, he decided that death would be better than the life filled with torture, humiliation, and shame. He heard about the venomous cobra in the snake hole at the temple of Chinthalamma the village Goddess. In an attempt to take his life away, Narayanayya put his hand in the snake hole at the temple. To his surprise, the village Goddess appeared before him and advised him not to take his life away since a boy with an element of Hari or Vishnu would be born in the third generation of Narayanayya. Narayana Suri, the son of Narayanayya, did not have children for a long time. Narayana Suri and his wife Lakkamamba visited Tirumala Temple and while they were prostrating in front of the Holy Mast (Dhwaja Sthambha) a dazzling brilliance from the sword of Lord Venkateswara struck them like a lightening.
Annamayya was born a Nandavarika Niyogi Brahmin, in the village 'Thallapaka' of Cuddapah district in the year 1346 of the Salivahana saka (1424 A.D.) in Visakha Masa in Visakha star in 1424 A.D. His father was Narayana Suri. Lakkamamba was his mother.It is said of Vedanta Desika that he was born as an Amsavatara of the Big Bell in the temple. Likewise Annamayya is said to have born as an Amsavatara of the sword (Nandaka) of Lord Vishnu.
From his boy-hood Annamayya was a devotee to Lord Kesava, a local deity at Thallapaka. In his sixteenth year he had a vision of Lord Venkateswara and from that day onwards he began composing songs on the Supreme Lord. Whatever he uttered was becoming a poem (kavya), whatever he sang turned to be excellent music.
On one fine morning, without even informing his parents, he left for Tirupati on a pilgrimage on foot. He reached the place in a few days. Unaware of the tradition that one should not climb up the hills with foot-wear on, he walked up but felt tired' and asleep in the midway of the hill. While he was asleep the consort of Lord Venkateswara appeared in his dream and advised him to climb the hills barefooted.
He wondered at the vision, he had. Overwhelmed with joy Annamayya composed .one hundred stanzas extempore in praise of the Mother Goddess. As the stanzas were with the Makutamu of 'Venkateswara ' it was later on known as, 'Sri Venkateswara Sathakamu.' Then he climbed up the hills, took his bath in the sacred Pushkarini, went to the temple and had darshan of Lord Venkateswara. He visited the holy tirthas-Gogarbham, Akasaganga, Papavinasanamu and so on and had a holy bath in those places. At every bath he used to compose sathakas on Sri Venkateswara extempore before his clothes got dried up in the sun. One day he came late to the temple by which time the doors of the temple were closed. Then Annamayya sang in praise of God requesting him to give him darsan and to the surprise of one and all assembled there, the doors opened of their own accord and Annamayya got in and worshipped the Deity.
Annamayya lived on the hills for some days during which time he got himself admitted into the fold of Vaishnavism. Adhi Van Sathakopa Jiyyar at Tirumalai took him as his disciple and made him study the Sampradaya Grandhas i.e., the works relating to Visishtadvaita Philosophy. He had the Mantropadesa of the sacred 'Ashtakshari' and Mudradharanam-the preliminary rites to be observed at the time of conversion to Vaishnavism having the marks called Dwadasa Tripundras (The twelve vaishnavite marks) on his body. He studied Mahabhashyam, Nalayiram-the Dravida Prabandha and other works of the ancient Alwars under the feet of the revered Jiyyar.
While he was thus engaged in the study of Vaishnavite thought, his mother Lakkamamba came in search of him. She persuaded him to come back to the village. But Annamayya refused to do so, saying that he would be losing the benefit of service to the God. But at last on the advice of his learned Guru, the Jiyyar - he agreed to go along with his mother. After the marriage with Tirumalamma and Akkalamma he stayed in the village for a short period and again went to Tirupati. From there he went to Ahobalam where he composed his songs based on Valmiki Ramayana. During this period after marriage, he composed many romantic hymns which were called Sringara Sankirthanalu' on Lord Venkateswara.
Annamayya was famous for his musical compositions. It is only at this time that he came into contact with Saluva Narasinga who was a Chieftain at Tangutur. Saluva Narasinga came to know of Annamayya's talents. He invited him to Tangutur. They were moving so closely as the people of the village compared them with Arjuna and Sri Krishna. Annamayya used to compose songs on Lord Venkateswara and sing them in the presence of his friend, Narasinga. Narasinga had all appreciation for the poetic talents of Annamayya. One day Saluva Narasinga sent word to Annamayya and asked him to compose songs on him similar to those on Lord Venkateswara. Annamayya was shocked to have such a request from his friend. He refused very boldly, saying .
'Hari Mukunduni Goniyadu nii jihva
Ninu Goniyiidanga Neradu.....'
which means: My tongue which is accustomed to sing in praise of God will not sing in praise of a human being.
Narasinga got wild and ordered him to be punished by 'Mururayara Ganda,' His hands were tied with shackles and he was thrown into prison. Then Annamayya sang a song and to the surprise of the gate-keepers the shackles ' Mururayara Ganda '-fell down on the floor. They informed this to the king. The king ordered them to present Annamayya before him. He was brought before the king. The Mururayara Ganda was once again put on his hands. Annamayya sang the same song. He got himself relieved from Mururayara Ganda. Narasinga repented for his ill-treatment to the poet and apologised to him. Annamayya excused him whole-heartedly and continued his friendship with him. Afterwards Annamayya made Tirumala as his permanent abode and led a happy and long life in the service of the Lord.
It was his practice to compose not less than one song every day from his 16th year during which he had the vision of God. In Annamacharya Charitramu it is said that Annamayya composed thirty two thousand hymns on Lord Venkateswara. During the time of his son, Peda Tirumalacharya, the hymns were inscribed on copper plates and were preserved safely in an apartment called 'Sankirthana Bhandaramu' inside the main temple. The musical compositions of Annamayya are divided into two divisions 'Adhyatma Sankirthanalu' and 'Sringara Sankirtanalu'. There are some more works written by him both in Sanskrit and Telugu.
Venkatachala Mahatmyamu and Sankirtana Lakshnamu are his Sanskrit works. His Sankirtana Lakshnamu in Sanskrit was translated into Telugu by his grandson Chinna Tirumalayya. But it is unfortunate that the Sanskrit version of the book is not available at present. Dwipada Ramayanamu, Sringara Manjari, Venkateswara Satakamu are his works in Telugu. Among these works the Dwipada Ramayanamu is not available. Annamayya Jola, a lullaby composed by Annamayya is very popular in Andhra that every mother sings this to make her child asleep. The beginning of the lulluby is as follows:
Jo Acyutananda Jo Jo Mukunda. Also popular is the song,chandamaama raave jaabilli raave by Annamayya,During his long and prolific career, Annamacharya composed and sang 32,000 Sankirtanas, 12 Satakas (sets of hundred verses), Ramayana in the form of dwipada, sankIrtana lakshaNam (Characteristics of sankIrtanas), SRngAra manjari, and vEnkaTAchala mahAtmamyam. His works were in Telugu, Sanskrit and a few other languages of India. He is said to have composed twelve satakas in praise of the presiding deities at different places, but Sri Venkateswara Satakamu alone is available now. Unfortunately, little is known about Annamayya's music and his musical thought. While his poetry was preserved, his music could not be, for resons not known. Not only is there no written record of his music, there is no living tradition of singing his songs, although several centuries after him, his songs are sung in Tirumala. The copper plates only mention the rAga for the song, but what musical form and tAla did he assign to it is not known. Also it is now known that Purandara Daasa, who is considered as the pitaamahaa of carnatic music, during his youth visited Tirupati to meet the old-aged Annamayya. It is said that the song "naaraayaNa tE namO namO" was jointly composed by Annamayya and Purandara Daasa. Annamacharya wrote the sankIrtanas on palm leaves and later his son Tirumalacharya got them engraved on copper plates. But for reasons not known, most of these copper plates lay hidden in the Tirumala temple unnoticed for over 400 years. In 1922, twenty five hundred copper plates, comprising of about 14,000 sankIrtanas and a few other works, were found in a rock built cell, later named as Sankirtana Bhandagaram, opposite to the hunDI (donation box) . Ever since the discovery of this lost treasure, Tirumala Tirupati Devastanams (TTD) and other organizations in India are working hard to promote the music and literature of Annamacharya.
Annamacharya died in 1503 A.D. on Bahula Dwadasi of the month Phalguna in Dundubhi year and hence he lived a full and useful life of 79 years.
The Poets of Tallapaka family sang the glory of Lord Venkateswara in song and verse for over two centuries. From the times of Annamayya (I5th century) who was the progenitor (Mula purusha) of the family, they were the honorary court poets of Lord Venkateswara. Even to this day there is a tradition in the temple at Tirumala that a descendant of the family of Annamayya sings a song composed by Annamayya, tuning a Tambura at the time of Ekanta Seva, the last ritual of the day in the temple when the God is put to sleep. Annamayya's first wife Timmakka wrote 'Subhadrakalyanamu' and historians consider her as the first poetess known in Telugu Literature. Narasinganna, his eldest son who was identified to be Sankusala Nrisimha Kavi, the author of 'Kavikarnarasayanamu' was also a poet of great merit. The third son Peda Tirumalacharya continued the tradition of his father in composing' Padas ' in Telugu on Lord Sri Venkateswara. Chinna Tirumalayya, the eldest son of Peda Tirumalayya was also a great poet. Peda Tiruvengalanadha, Chinnanna, Tiruvengalappa were also celebrated poets of the family. Revanuri Venkatacharya, the author of 'Sakuntalaparinayamu' and 'Sripadarenumahatmyamu' was a descendant of Annamayya's grandson by his daughter. 'Annamacharya Charitramu', the biography of Annamacharya written by his grandson Chinnanna in Dvipada metre was discovered and printed in 1948. Thus the contribution of the family of Tallapaka poets forms a significant part in Telugu Literature. The image of Annamayya and that of his son Peda Tirumalayya are engraved on the stone wall to the either side of 'Tallapaka Ara' in the Tirumalai Temple.