Every once in a while there occurs a musical high point in life when I realise that all discussions on raga, tala, srutis, notes and sahitya are mere hair-splitting exercises. This morning’s lec dem by Nedanuri Krishnamurthy, supported by the Malladi Brothers and accompanied by VV Ravi on the violin, was one such. The theme was Annamacharya’s compositions with reference to how Nedanuri set some of them to music  . The presentation began with a brief introduction to Annamacharya by Dr Pappu Venugopala Rao. The day’s lec dem was dedicated to the memory of Andhra Harikatha Pitamaha, Adibhatla Narayana Das.
In his intro Dr Pappu covered briefly the life of Annamayya and also spoke on the way 32000 or so of the songs were recorded in copper plates by the composer’s descendants. He traced the process of the discovery of the copper plates and the rather derisive dismissal by Archibald Campbell who in the 1830s was looking for a book on grammar and was disappointed that these were ‘mere verses on the deity’. According to Dr Pappu, Annamayya, for all the large number of songs he composed, was of the view that one song was enough to speak for him and his devotion to Venkateswara and states this in a composition. Notwithstanding the composer’s desire to be kleft alone, the songs were destined to come out and so out they did come, thanks largely to the efforts of scholars such as Vetturi Prabhakara Sastry and Rallapalli Ananthakrishna Sarma. From 1949, when the first Annamacharya Vardhanti was observed, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam has been bringing out books containing the songs. The task of tuning the songs was given to several musicians and today out of the 14000 songs, only 1500 have been set to music and out of this 1000 have been tuned by one sishya parampara comprising Dr Sripada Pinakapani, his disciples Voleti Venkateswarulu, Nedanuri Krishnamurthy, Malladi Suribabu and Srirangam Gopalaratnam and the next generation comprising Balakrishna Prasad. Nedanuri himself set to music 108 songs. It was then over to Nedanuri.
It was clear from the outset that the process of setting Annamayya’s songs to music had been a self actualising exercise for Nedanuri. He understood the sahitya perfectly, he had enjoyed them and then he had worked on setting them to appropriate music. He had in short immersed himself in the ocean of Annamayya. He began his presentation by stating that while at the Sri Venkateswara College he had initially been diffident about setting the songs to music. The songs of Annamayya he realised, were the embodiments of the Upanishads, the Ramayana and the Bhagavata and he appreciated the enormity of doing justice to them. By way of illustrating Annamacharya’s greatness, he said that Lord Venkateswara who had so many celestials to sing for him, chose Annamayya alone to sing his lullaby, a tradition that continues till now in Tirumala.
In tuning the songs, Nedanuri did not want to set them to standard raga patterns. Fortunately for him, an in-depth study revealed several ingrained patterns in the songs and he could come out with appropriate tunes. He felt that his task was a service to Annamayya. Nedanuri also drew the audience’s attention to the service of MS Subbulakshmi to the cause and he said that it was her singing the compositions that made them famous. He recalled with joy her commendation of his tune for Nanati bratuku (Revati) when she said that for that one song he could get the Sangita Kalanidhi title from the Music Academy. He also recalled with pride that his name for the title had been proposed by Semmangudi and seconded by MS.

The songs of Annamayya, said Nedanuri, were meant to be sung as Sankirtanas. They are therefore not really meant for elaboration unlike the songs of the Trinity. In their structure we only have a pallavi and several charanas. In the process of tuning them, musicians have made a part of the pallavi into an anupallavi in some songs.

Nedanuri said that the first song he took up for tuning was Emako Chikuruta which he set in raga Tilang. But the first song that was demonstrated today was Sakala shanti karamu (set in Bahudari). It was a prayer for peace, which Nedanuri said is the only element missing in today’s life. Next came Purushottamuda Nivu in Revagupti. Emako was the third piece to be sung.

The musician then demonstrated how he had used various facets of Kharaharapriya in setting to music the songs Okapari kokkapari, Poleti javvanamu puvaka puce and Sadanandamu sarveshwara (a song which in its tuning used the potential for swarakshara). Sections of these songs were sung.

A similar exercise was done for Khamas with songs Avataru raghupate, Kolinilonamunu (a song on the rasakrida) and Podile punnamilendu being demonstrated.

Telisite mokshamu (set in Hamsanadam) and Nanati bratuku then followed.

The presentation was enlivened with humour right through. Nedanuri said that God’s grace was evident in Chennai’s traffic as so many people managed to reach home each night. He also said that a German in a factory in India first sneered at the workers worshipping Ganesha each morning as to him work was worship. But after two months he too joined the worship as he realised that nobody worked! The devotion and affection that the Guru and sishya shared came through very strongly throughout the lecdem. It was with evident reluctance that Dr Pappu drew attention to the time. And it was with reluctance that the audience saw the presentation ending.


Dr N Ramanathan remarked that the early 20th century had seen the resurrection of composers in all four states. Annamayya in Andhra, Swati Tirunal in Kerala, Purandara Dasa in Karnataka and Muthutandavar and others in Tamil Nadu. Have Annamacharya’s pieces made it as concert songs in which neraval and swaras can be sung?

Nedanuri said that while he had presented entire concerts comprising only Annamacharya songs, the pieces were more sankirtanas which meant that they were meant to be sung as such. Sangatis had not been developed for them as had happened with the songs of the Trinity. However he also said that it was all up to the singer and his capability. In the hands of some, songs can become main items, in the hands of others, the very same songs can be miscellaneous pieces.

Dr Pappu asked as to why Nedanuri had not used the ragas whose names are given in the copper plates for each song. Nedanuri replied that many were forgotten ragas and Annamacharya had used only 89 ragas. As many as 500 songs were set in Guntakriya and 100 were in Samantam which in today’s parlance are ragas with limited scope. So he had used ragas which he felt were appropriate to the mood of the songs.

TK Govinda Rao spoke and spoke for long. Dr Pappu wound up the demonstration and AKC did the honours with the covers.

Attendance today was at an all time high including expert committee members. Even the noticeable and regular absentees made it. People who were standing were invited by Dr Pappu to sit on stage. More people then came to fill the ranks of the standees. Next year I think Nedanuri’s lec dem must be held only in the main hall.

It was a wonderful morning and words cannot express the musical experience. Those who attended were lucky.