Sri Annamacharya Project of North America (SAPNA)
TAX ID # 36-3866482
May 9, 1408
94 year,Feb 23, 1503
Promoting Vaishnavism through Performing Arts, Traditons
Life & Works of Annamacharya
The Sangeeta Ratnakara of Sarnga Deva observes that man can achieve all the four objectives (Purusharthas) in life through music, but devout composers of hyms have treated it as a means to attain only religious merit (dharma) and salvation (moksha) .
Annamacharya is to be reckoned as the first among the hymnographers in Telugu, not only from the view point of chronology but also for his superb artistry and range of feeling and thought. He was a pioneer in the field who could handle both amorous and devotional strains with equal felicity.
The eroticism evident in Kshetrayya’s love lyrics and Thyagaraja’s rapturous praises of the glories of Rama are undoubtedly reminiscent of Annamayya’s treatment of these elements in his hymns. Annammayya pioneered singing of pada or sankeertana in Telugu language. Annamayya seems to have started composing lyrics at the age sixteen, when he was fascinated by his devotion to Lord Venkateshwara.
This devotion is called Madhura Bhakti because it is ‘godlove’ in which the devotee is the beloved or ‘preyasi’ or jeevatma and the ‘Lord God’ is the supreme hero or Paramaatma. Alamelmanga and Venkateshwara represent Radha and Krishna in Vaishnava parlance and they stand for ‘prakriti and purusha’ in Sankhya terminology.
The same divine pair represent ‘sakti and siva’ in Saiva parlance. After the Saivite Naayanars of 3rd Century and Vaishnavite Alwars between 7th and 12th Century, we have Annamacharya, the earliest composer of lyrics in Telugu in the 15th Century. Annamacharya was greatly influenced by the legacy of the God intoxicated poet composers, the Alwars.
The term Alwar means, “one who is immersed”. In the present context it denotes an ardent devotee ever immersed in God. Twelve such devotees of Vishnu who lived between the sixth and ninth century in the Tmil speaking region of South India are traditionally recognized as the Alwars.
The Alwars are held in such high veneration by the Vaishnavas that each of the 108 places they sang about have consequently come to be regarded as a divine place. Annamacharya was well acquainted with the hymns of the Alwars for at least two reasons, one, he was himself a latter-day Alwar.
Secondly, the foremost exponent of the Vishishtadvaita school of Vaishnivism,Ramanuja, rightly thought that “the real proof of the being of God is the being in God” and accepted the utterances of the Alwars as authoritative as the word of God in the Vedas.Popular accounts of the lives of saints freely blend fiction with fact and invest ordinary natural events with the shades of miracles.
It is not therefore surprising that descriptions of some miraculous events should find a place in the earliest biographical account of the poet saint Annamacharya. A poetical work in Telugu titled ‘Annamacharya Charitram’ written by his grandson, Chinna Tiruvengalanadha, popularly known as Chinnanna. It has however much value as history for two reasons. Chinnanna gathered information about the main events in his Grandfather’s life from the members of his family, and he composed the poem when people who were acquainted with the saint were still alive and it received their approval.
Annamacharya’s period has almost unanimously been specified to be between 1408-1507 A.D.(6) Annamacharya was born of Nadavaraka Brahmiin parents in Tallapaka, a somnolent hamlet situated not far from Tirupati, in early fifteenth century, most probably on 22nd May 1408. His fore fathers obviously acquired the name ‘Tallapaka’ from their association with the village for long.
Though Annamacharya’s parents Narayana Suri and Lakkamamba belonged to the
smartha seet whose adherents hold Shiva and Vishnu in equal veneration. It is said that desiring a male child the parents of Annamayya went on pilgrimage to the shrine of Venkateshwara on top of the hill Venkatadri and met with an unusual experience. Within the precincts of the temple they saw in a vision, the ‘nandaka’ sword, and in due course were blessed with a son in answer to their prayers.
“The story about the mystic vision of Nandaka sword and the subsequent birth of Annamayya is in consonance with the traditional belief of the Vaishnavas that their saints are embodiments of the objects and attendants of Vishnu in Vaikuntha. Periyalvar was considered an incarnation of Garuda and Poygai Alwar of Panchajanya Shankha.(7 Annamacharya like Nammalwar before him was born under the star, vishakha in the Vaishakha month and both miraculously received spiritual enlightenment at the age of 16.
The boy Annamayya appears to have been quite bright in his studies and his songs bear sufficient testimony to the fact that he had received sound instruction in classical learning at an early age. It appears that he grew weary of the ways of the world when he was only a boy of 8 years. During his childhood he was given several chores by his parents and
relatives which he detested.
One day when he was sent to cut grass he observed a happy band of pilgrims on their way to Tirupati, they were singing songs of the Lord, and the temptation to follow them was irresistible to Annamayya. He left his village ad family and followed the pilgrims all the way to Tirupati.
They sang songs like : “Vedukondaama Venkatagiri Venkateshwaruni”, shall be pray to the great Venkateshwara. It is said that before entering Tirupati one had to pay obeisance to a grama devata ‘Tallapaka Gangamma’. Chinnanna feels this name must have stuck after Annamayya visited her. From Tirupati he started early morning and visited Narasimha Swami, Talayerugundu, Peddayekkudu, Kapurapungalu and reached Mokkallaparvata by evening. After crossing a tamarind tree in Talayerugundu he came across the ‘shripadas’.
Peddayekkudu was very difficult to climb, a culvert called Karpurapungalavu comes before reaching the mokaallaparvata, the water there was said to be very fragrant. As a custom, the mokaalla parvata should be climbed with the knees. Legend goes that without realizing it Annamayya climbed the mountain with his slippers and was unable to go any further due to exhaustion, when Alamelumanga appeared before him in the guise of an old woman and advised him to give up the slippers. She gave him divyaprasadam and disappeared at which point he recited spontaneously a shatakam on Alamelumanga.
Annamacharya then reached Tirupati safely. He visited the Swamy Pushkarini and recited several songs. On entering the temple he is said to have recited this song. On finally having darshanam of his Lord, he recited a song expressing his joy at finally being able to see in person the peerless form of his beloved Venkateshwara “Podaganti mayya mimmu purushottama mammu nedayaka vayya konetiraayada”.
Sometime thereafter Annamayya returned to his village and became a ‘grihastha’, man with a family by marrying two girls, Tirumalamma and Akkalamma, in deference to the wishes of his parents. Tirumalamma also known as Timmakka was herself a poet, who wrote the narrative poem ‘Subhadra Kalyanamu’, and acquired the distinction of being the first noteworthy woman poet in Telugu.
Annamacharya appears to have spent the last years of his life in relative tranquility. Spending his time mostly at Tallapaka and Tirupati by turns and participating in the annual Brahmotsava festival of Sri Venkateshwara without fail. He received several grants of land, besides other gifts unasked, from his admirers and spent the income from those sources quite lavishly in the service of the Lord by instituting new festivities and food offerings.
Annamacharya lived to a ripe old age, and could look back with satisfaction on his extensive service as the cief hymnist of Sri Venkateshwara himself. It is known that he performed the Brahmopadesa of one of his gransdons China Tirumalacharya, and according to reliable inscriptional evidence, he entristed the sacred task of offering a fresh hymn to the Lord every day to his song Peda Tirumalacharya, and passed away on 23rd February in 1503.
Annamayya left behind him worthy successors who were great scholars and poets in their own right. Peda Tirumalacharya was the son of Akkalamma. His son was Chinna Tirumalacharya. Tirumalamma’s son, Narsimhacharya, was also said to have been a great poet.
Peda Tirumalacharya ably assisted by Saluva Narasinga Raya was the one who started the process of storing Annamayya’s songs on copper plates. He had many poetical works to his credit. The contribution of the Tallapaka poets was recognized by many poets of future generations.
Annamacharya had always regarded life as a theatrical show, full of pretences and vain pursuits, as he says in one of his songs, ‘life is no more than play-acting, and heaven, the fruit of ceaseless striving’ (Naanati bratuku naatakamu). Never for a moment did he waver in his faith that attainment of the realm of Vishnu should be the prime objective of human life.
It is certain that Annamacharya played his role in the theatrical show with consummate skill, and when the appointed hour arrived, he made his final exit from the stage with a profound sense of fulfillment.