Annamayya and my guru Malladi
VAK Ranga Rao It's heartening that today there is perhaps no Telugu person who hasn't heard of Annamacharya. Yet not much is known, conclusively,...
VAK Ranga Rao It's heartening that today there is perhaps no Telugu person who hasn't heard of Annamacharya. Yet not much is known, conclusively, about his life. It remains shrouded in mystery, discrepancies and loose ends. Even the very place and time of his birth are not established beyond dispute. Annamayya's surname was Tallapaka, but one cannot ipso facto decide his place of birth as Tallapaka. It can't mean that all the people with a particular surname have been born at the same place. Some of them could have been, whereas others may have taken their birth at different places. Isn't it a custom for the first-time mother, not only in Brahmin but also in non-Brahmin families, to deliver her (first) child at her parental home? If that be the case, Annamayya should have been born at Madukuru, the place of his mother's parental home, and this writer, because of his urge, happened to visit this place. Someone has queried whether there is any epigraphic evidence in support of Madukuru. But then there is no such evidence in favour of Tallapaka either. In the biographical sketch of Annamayya done by his grandson Chinnaiah, there is an elder brother who along with his wife reprimands Annamayya for whiling away the entire day and night in singing of devotional songs, not caring about the material aspect of the household. They bid him to go out, father grass and get it for the cattle. But in just the preceding page, we learn that Annamayya's parents, Narayana Suri and Lakkamamba, having no children, visit Tirumala, and with Lord's grace Annamayya was born. It is also enigmatic that Annamayya's elder brother and sister-in-law appear but only once in the book by Chinnaiah. Annamayya's father Narayana Suri had an elder sister who was married and in course of time had a daughter who was duly married. And in what is known as illarikam, the son-in-law also lived with them. Later when Suri's sister became a widow, she went to her parental home along with her daughter and son-in-law. In the hierarchy of the extended family, this son-in-law happened to be the elder brother of Annamayya. This is, of course, my conjecture. When this writer consulted Arudra, he ventured a guess that Narayana Suri could have had a younger brother and he could have begot children earlier than Suri, in which case the elder brother referred to in Chinnaiah's narration could have been the son of Suri's younger brother. In Chinnaiah's narration, there is a mention of the names of both of Annamayya's wives, and it's not known whether they were related to Annamayya before marriage. When Annamayya is written off as an ineligible bachelor for his round-the-clock immersion in singing devotional songs, a gentleman approaches Narayana Suri and tells him that Lord Venkateswara appeared in his dreams the previous night and told him to give his daughter in marriage to Annamayya. Along with this girl, another girl also was got married to him. However, it's not known if these two girls were related, or if Annamayya had been related to them before marriage, in any way. In a sankirtana � "Maradalaa, oh maradalaa" - Annamayya addresses his "maradalu" (daughter of maternal uncle or paternal aunt) in singular number, and never in plural, not even in the other related sankirtanas. So my guess is, one of the girls was certainly his maradalu. To me it appears, one of his wives could be the daughter of his maternal uncle and the other of his paternal aunt. This is only my conjecture, and there is no evidence for it. The difficulty is, the only biographical account on Annamayya, by his own close kin, that is his own grandson Chinnaiah, remains ambiguous about this. According to Chinnaiah's version, Annamayya right from his childhood never ate anything except when it was God's prasadam. And prasadam of which God? Well, if it is Chennakeswara Temple at Tallapaka, there was one at Madukuru also, it is said. The family of Annamacharya were smartas (worshippers of both Vishnu and Shiva) but beginning with Annamayya they became Vaishnavas (worshippers of only Vishnu and His facets). And in exclusive Vaishnava spirit, Chinnaiah must have written Annamayya's life story only in so far as it related to the Vaishnavas. Even as Annamayya's place of birth has not been resolved beyond debate, his time of birth also dithers between 1408 and 1424 AD. And in Sri Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry's Vanamala-2, we see Sri Krishna Deva Raya and his minister Timmarusu go to Tirumala to meet Annamacharya, but then it is only a historical fiction. Then what is the way out to knowing the great saint's correct time and place of birth? There is an astrological branch of learning � Naadee sastram. If you furnish your thumb impression or the details of your birth, like birth star or time of birth or place of birth, the Naadee experts, taking recourse to their Naadee Grantham and making their own computations, determine the correct place and time. The readings of the past by the Naadee experts have 98% accuracy, going by my own and my relatives' personal experiences. Of course, it's also true that predictions of future have 98% inaccuracy! But here we are concerned only about Annamayya's past, so Naadee could help. Why predictive astrology is inaccurate, is, of course, traced to a curse by Goddess Parvati Devi, and anyway, it's beside the point here. Even the place of Annamayya's death is not definitively known. By the time he passed away in 1503, he and his son had acquired great name, wealth and influence. Why is it then that Annamayya doesn't have a Tulasi kota (a Samadhi with a sacred basil plant)? I haven't seen any one raise this question so far. Tarigonda Vengamamba, another celebrated devotee of Lord Venkateswara, has a Tulasi kota, but Annamayya doesn't have one. Or had Annamayya taken to sannyasa by the time of his death? Even if he were a sannyasi, his body wouldn't be cremated. According to their respective customs, the body of a sannyasi would be put in a sitting posture and buried. There is no rule that a Tulasi kota shouldn't be erected over the burial spot. Where exactly did Annamayya die? � at Tirumala or Tirupati or Tallapaka or Ahobilam? Nobody knows it for sure and there is no evidence whatsoever in this regard. Why is it that many important questions like this haven't been raised? There is one more mystery. In the temple kitchen of Tirumala, Potu, there is an idol of Vakula Mata, said to be the foster mother of Venkateswara. This is sheer falsehood. Annamayya himself sings, in many of his sankirtanas, "O Lakshmi in the kitchen! Prepare the food and serve it to your husband." The posture of Lakshmi Devi including the position of her hands at Tiruchanur temple and that of Vakula Mata at Potu of Tirumala temple are identical. Likewise, at Sampangi praakaram (precincts) of Tirumala, in a small temple, there is another idol of Alamelu Manga in the same posture, as recorded by Dr. KV Raghavacharya, a researcher on this subject. Somewhere else away from Tirumala, some digging or excavation took place at a hilly place, atop where is located a temple reputed as Vakula Mata temple. Since the hilly path was dug up, now we can't climb up, but I visited the spot and the temple, thirty five years ago. There was no idol in it. But it is not known how and since when this temple has come to be associated with Vakula Mata. There is no inscription whatever about it, in the vicinity. So where do we look for the clinching evidence here? It's only within Annamayya's sankirtanas. In many of his sankirtanas, he sings: "O Lakshmi in the kitchen! Cook and prepare the food, and serve it right to your Lord." So it's not Vakula Mata but Lakshmi in the aspect of Alamelu Manga. Since when the idol came to be identified with Vakula Mata, nobody � not even those who focused on the affairs of Tirumala temple - is in a position to throw any light. That Vakula Mata is an incarnation of Yashoda is part of our folk culture by way of stories, Hari-kathas and movies. If I am drawn and devoted to Annamayya with an irresistible fascination and fervour, there are reasons for it. For the last forty five years, I've been regularly going to Srinivasa Mangapuram, six miles from Tirupati, on every Ashadha Shuddha Saptami to do 'nritya nivedana' that is, performing devotional dance. Initially I was doing it alone and for two hours. Ever since the TTD took over the temple, I have been performing for one and a half hours with their permission, at the time allotted by the Deva-sthanam. My nephew Dr L Mahesh Kumar also joins me. As many as 75% of our dances are based on Annamacharya's sankirtanas in praise of Venkateswara, Padmavati and Krishna. Outside Annamayya's, I rendered my guru Sri Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry garu's lyrics "Tellavaraga vachche teliyaka naa swami" from 'Chiranjeevulu' (1956). In fact, I owe my initiation and interest in Annamayya to my guru Sri Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry garu whom I knew from the time he was the writer for films like 'Rechukka' (1954) and 'Chinna Kodalu' (1952). When I eventually went to Madras and settled down there in 1960, Bapu and Mullapudi Venkata Ramana took me and personally introduced me to him. I should place on record my gratefulness to the duo. He enlightened me as he did many writers like Arudra and Yamijala Padmanabha Swami. But I am proud to say that my relationship with him was very special. He personally held my hand and guided me to write down Sri Panchakam, like how Goddess Kali scribbled the beeja-aksharas (the omniscient mystic code of letters) on the tongue of Kalidasa, an ignorant and unlettered herdsman. I was so fortunate to have Sri Malladi's blessings. Just nibbling at the food particles that spilled off his fingers when he was feasting on the full-course of literary fare, I rose up to this level. Gifting of food to the hungry and starving, including dogs, is the noblest gift, according to the Anushasana Parva of the Mahabharata. And I was a hungry dog standing before Malladi garu's house, and he satisfied my hunger. So mine is not just bhakti or gratitude to him, it is simple canine faithfulness. Sri Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry penned two stories, both by the name of 'Vanamala', and they are, as already said, a historical fiction on Annamayya. While Vanamala-1 is a short story that can be read through in five minutes, 'Vanamala-2' is a longer one that takes you nearly an hour to complete it. I'd like to conclude on a note of my continued faith in my guru Malladi. A few months ago when one of my books was to be launched, the publisher asked me as to whom I would like to be at the function. "My guru's son Malladi Narasimha Sastry is around, do invite him so he would bless me. The other names are your will and pleasure," I by his presence. About VAK Ranga Rao Passionate about film-lore, VAK Ranga Rao, right from his fourth year has, collected 60,000 gramophone records � national and international � which is now a veritable treasure house of knowledge and culture, so much so the British Film Institute's Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema has recorded its special thanks to him. His well-researched articles on music 'Saraaga-maala' in Andhra Patrika daily were in great demand. Rao Venkata Ananta Krishna Ranga Rao comes of the Bobbili royalty, and is endowed with a keen sense of observation, an inquisitive and probing mind, a spirit of critical enquiry, and the methodology of a researcher. He is known for his hallmarks � deep commitment, thundering eloquence and frankness in expression.