Classical Telugu Poetry: An Anthology

By Velcheru Narayana Rao; David Shulman | Go to book overview

TEN
Annamayya
1424–1503

According to the hagiographical account written by his grandson, Cinnanna (Tiruveṅgaḷanāthuḍu), this singer of padams to Lord Veṅkaṭeśvara was born in Tāḷḷapāka in Cittūr District. As a young boy, he was already intoxicated with the god and made his way to his temple at Tirupati—a massive cultic complex spread over the Veṅkaṭam hills, today the outstanding pilgrimage site in South India. Although legend also connects Annamayya (also Annamâcārya) with the royal palace at Pĕnugŏṇḍa and the Vijayanagara king Sāḷuva Narasiṃha—whom the poet is said to have refused to praise in song—the poet must have lived most of his life in Tirupati. Tradition says he composed a poem each day for the god, producing a corpus of some 32,000 sung padams. Roughly half this number survive, engraved on copperplates during the lifetime of Annamayya's son and kept in the temple. Annamayya founded a family of poets who flourished in Tirupati for several generations and who created an entire literature centered on the Tirupati cult.

Annamayya's padams are addressed to the god, the Lord of the Hill, whom he imagines in a seemingly inexhaustible series of modes and moods, each moment unique and irreplaceable. The poems have been divided (after Annamayya's death) into the two categories of sṛṅgāra, “erotic, ” and adhyātma, “metaphysical. ” We might rephrase this slightly artificial distinction to include poems in which the poet sings to Veṅkaṭeśara, out of his own knowledge of the god's love life and feelings, about this god, and those in which the poet sings about himself and about his relationship with and understanding of the god. In the first mode, the poet usually adopts the voice and persona of Veṅkaṭeśvara's wife, Padmāvati, or of one of his female lovers.

In contrast to the kāvya tradition in the high courtly style, Annamayya's diction is largely non-Sanskritized and idiomatic, reflecting spoken rhythms.

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