Sri Tallapaka Annamacharya – Annamayya (1408-1503)
Annamacharya was born on Vaishakha Shuddha Pournami in the year Sarwadhari (22 May 1408) in Tallapaka, a village in current day Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh, India. He was born into a nandavarika brahmin family. He later became a Sri Vaishnavite saint, initiated by Venkatesha. His wife, Timmakka, had written Subhadra Kalyanam, and is considered the first female poet in Telugu literature. Their son, Pedda Tirumalacharya, and grandson, Tallapaka Chinnayya, were also composers and poets. The Tallapaka compositions are considered to have dominated and influenced the structure of Carnatic music compositions. Annamacharya lived for 94 years until Phalguna Bahula Dvadashi (12th day after full moon) in the year Dhundhubhi (February 14, 1503).
Annamacharya is said to have composed as many as 32,000 sankeertanas (songs) on the god Venkateswara, of which only about 12,000 are available today. He is also the author of musical treatise called “Sankirthana lakshanamu”.
Annamacharya considered his compositions as floral offerings to Venkateswara. In the poems, he praises the deity, describes his love for him, argues and quarrels with the Lord, confesses the devotee’s failures and apprehensions, and surrenders himself to Venkateshwara. His songs are classified into the Adhyaatma (spiritual) and Sringaara (romantic) sankeertanas genres. His songs in the “Sringaara” genre worship Venkateswara by describing the romantic adventures of Venkateshwara and his consort Alamelu, while others describe the Bhakti of his devotees.
In his later keertanas, he espouses subjects such as morality, dharma and righteousness. He was one of the first few who opposed the social stigma towards the untouchable castes in his era, with his sankeertanas explaining that the relationship between God and human is the same irrespective of the latter’s color, caste and financial status, in his songs “Brahmaṃ Okkatē Paraḥbrahmamokkatē” and “ē kulajuḍainanēmi evvaḍainanēmi”. His prodigious literary career earned him a place among the all-time greats of Telugu literature.
While he enjoyed popularity in his days, his compositions were forgotten for over three centuries. Mentioned in 1849, they were later found engraved on copper plates, hidden for centuries inside the Sri Venkateshwara temple at Tirumala, just opposite the Hundi, concealed in a very small room. An English translation of 150 of these verses was published in 2005.
Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, also known as TTD, has been endeavouring to preserve the rich heritage of his compositions. In the year 1950, The State Government of Andhra Pradesh created a committee and appointed Dr M Balamuralikrishna as its head. He set music to over 800 compositions of Annamacharya and are still popular among the devotees. He has been the Āsthāna Gāyaka of the Tirumala temple at Tirupati since two decades. He is regarded as a legend in rendering devotional music in classical style, especially the Annamacharya Sankirtanas. He is also an acclaimed poet, singer, and a musicologist.
Shobha Raju is the first recipient of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams scholarship in 1976 to study and set a trend for the propagation of Annamacharya’s compositions, and was also chosen as the first exclusive artiste for the propagation of Annamacharya’s compositions in 1978. Her first audio album, “Vēnkatēśvara Gīta Mālika” is globally popular among Telugu community. She is the founder of Annamacharya Bhavana Vahini (ABV) http://www.annamayya.org in 1983, which is located in Hyderabad, India. She has been awarded Padmashri by Government of India, in 2010 in recognition of her efforts to promote Annamayya Compositions.