SAPTHAGIRI - December 2002
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The Legacy of

Tallapaka Poets

T. Kothandaramaiah

Tirupati is not only a place of pilgrimage, but a place of great literary activity also. 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. Thus the contribution of the family of Tallapaka poets forms a significant part in Telugu Literature.

The image of Annamayya having a Tambura in his hand, a holy cap made of cloth called' Kabbayi kullayi' usually worn by saints in those days in a standing pose of a devotee, is a matter of interest to the lovers of 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. These images are of great interest as we have no images preserved of any early Telugu poets. 

'Annamacharya Charitramu', the biography of Annamacharya written by his grandson Chinnanna in Dvipada metre was discovered and printed in 1948, As the work was written by the grandson of the poet, we can believe the authenticity of the biographical information furnished in the book. 

Annamayya, a Nandavarika Niyogi Brahmin, was born in the village 'Thallapaka' of Cuddapah district in the year 1346 of the Salivahana saka (1424 A.D.) in Visakha Masa in Visakha star. It will be interesting to note that Sathakopayati alias Nammalwar, one of the twelve Vaishnavite saints (Alwars) was also born in the month Visakha and in Visakha star. Visakha star in Visakha masa ordinarily falls on Purnima, the full-moon day of the month. 

Visakha Purnima is also the birth day of Lord Buddha. 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. 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. His father was Narayana Suri. Lakkamamba was his mother. 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. A similar incident is said to have happened in the life of Thyagarajaswami also. 

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. 

A similar incident occurred in the life of Pothana also who wrote Bhagavathamu in Telugu. Narasinga got wild and ordered him to be punished by 'Mururayara Ganda,' His hans 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. When Annamayya grew old, Purundara Dasa who composed several thousands of songs in Kannada and who is said to be the exponent of Karnatak Music, came to Tirumala and paid his respects to the great saint-poet. Purandara Dasa praised Annamayya that he was the incarnation of Venkateswara himself and Annamayya in turn praised Purundara Dasa that he was the incarnation of Sri Panduranga Vitthala. 

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 

Annamayya Lali, another lullaby is also popular in Andhra. 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. The other works are lost to us. 

The musical compositions of Annamayya and others of his family are treasures of great poetic beauty. They were inscribed on copper plates under the direct supervision of the poets themselves. Hence they form an authentic record of the language of the 15th and 16th centuries. The compositions were mostly extempore in spoken dialect unlike in the classics of the age which were written in the classical (Grandhika) style. It is seen in the musical compositions that the poets never hesitated to profusely make use of forms traditionally not acceptable to Grammarians of the day. The large number of the musical compositions of Tallapaka family forms a valuable source for linguistic study of Telugu of the medieval times. 


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