The tAllapAka family of poets, music composers and scholars in Telugu and Sankrit popularized the Srivaishnava faith in Andhra Pradesh in the 15th and 16th centuries. AnnamAchArya, the greatest of them, it is said, had a vision of Lord Venkateswara when he was 16 and then spent the rest of his life composing kIrtanAs and padams on Him, which totalled 32,000. Of these only 14,000 are available now engraved on copper plates which were hidden for centuries in a niche of Sri Venkateswara temple at Tirumala.
Annamayya was born in 1424 A.D. in TallapAka, a village in Cuddapah district. Born with a gift for poetry and song, the boy Annamayya would improvise songs on Venkateswara and was always preoccupied by Him. He ran away to Tirupati and fell asleep on a rock after and exhausting climb of the first steep hill at Tirumala. He dreamt of alamelumangA and composed a Shataka in her praise. Upon reaching the lord of Seven Hills he burst into a song of ecstatic praise.
He lived in Tirumala for some time and was initiated into Sri Vaishnava faith. Sometime later his people sought him out and took him home where he was married. His marriage did not interfere with his spiritual interests and he became a disciple of the saint Shathakopayati of Ahobalam and studied all the sacred texts. Although he propitiated other deities like RAma, Krishna, NarasimhA and VitthalA, he viewed them as forms of Venkateswara, the Ultimate Reality. He spent the rest of his life in His service and devoting his time between TAllapAka and Tirumala. Annamayya breathed his last in 1503.
Annamayya's songs, which he considered as "flower-offerings" to God are his outstanding achievements. In themh e praises Venkateswara, describes his love for Him, argues and quarrels with Him, meditates on His attributes, confesses his failures and apprehensions, and surrenders himself to Him. Traditionally his songs are classified into AdhyAtma and SringAra samkIrtanAs.
AdhyAtma samkIrtanAs affirm the primacy of spiritual values over the purely mundane, and express inevitable tension between these and oneself. They emphasize the need for bhakti and virakti. (eg. "Bhaktikoladi vAde paramAtmudu", in RAmakriyA). Despite such faith Annamayya was troubled by tensions because of opposing pulls in himself. "To live and move aimlessly has been my lot. When do I learn, O Lord, fixity of purpose ? So unsteady am I, while I desire renunciation .." ("KalakAlamunitte kApurapu badukAye", in PAdi). Temple festivities gave Annamayya many occasions for songs in which he sees symbolic enactments of cosmic truths. In the song "Alara Chanchalamaina" (Ahiri) he describes the dola of Venkateswara and His consorts in all its magnificience.
The SringAra samkIrtanAs express love and longing for the Lord and his surrender to Him. Here Annamayya speaks for himself and for others who similarly long for god in terms of rakti rather than virakti. Some songs describe AlamelumangA's love for Him ("Alarulukuriyaga Aadenade" in ShankarAbharanam). In "Palukutenelatalli" (SAlanganAta), he DESCRIBES HOW "MOTHER OF HONEY-SWEET SPEECH" PLEASES HIM AND possesses Him by surrendering herself to Him.
The samkIrtanAs have a common structural pattern. Each song comprises a pallavi, very occasional anupallavi, and usually three metrically and musically identical four-line charanAs. In general, the songs exhibit a high degree of literary craftmanship in which he uses both colloquial and literary Telugu.
ChinnathirumalAcharya, the grandson of Annamayya praises him as PadakavitApitAmahA. Annamayya was not the first to compose or invent padas, which had been evolving over many years and was used by SripAdarAyaswAmi and his predecessors for writing devotionals in Kannada. Annamaya who was probably influenced by these composers seems as yet to be the FIRST writer of Padas in Telugu. The pada is a difficuly form to handle, and being bound by strict rule, meant to serve the purpose of both poetry and song. Annamayya used it with such mastery that it became a habit of his mind.
Unforunately, little is known about Annamayya's music and his musical thought. While his poetry was preserved, his music could not be, for resons not known. Not only is there no written record of his music, there is no living tradition of singing his songs, although several centuries after him, his songs are sung in Tirumala. The copper plates only mention the rAga for the song, but what musical form and tAla did he assign to it is not known. He did not have the advantage of an institution like DAsakUta which has, in a way preserved the tradition of singing DAsarapadagalu. However, since Annamayya's samkIrtanams are very similar in structural patterns to DAsarapadagalu, it is likely that they resemble musically also.
The fact that Annamayya knew all musical modes and forms of his times is obvious from his works. But he conceived his PADAS PRIMARILY AS DEVOTIONAL POETRY. MUSIC WAS MAINLY AN AID to render them effectively. The krithIs of ThyAgarAja and others are conceived generally as musical compositions, and their poetry, however impressive, is mainly a verbal scaffold for raising a musical structure. Therefore while singing Annamayya's compositions, importance has to be given to the meaning since sAhityam takes precedence over the music. The rAgas used by Annamayya in his songs are about 100. A good number of them like AbAli, Amarasindhu, Kondamalahari, and SourAshtragujjari, etc. have either become rare or extinct now. Even the commonly used ones today like SankarAbharanam, MukhAri, Kambhoji, DevagAndhAri and Sri have probably undergone subtle changes since his time.
This was taken from a post in rec.music.indian.classical. The author of the post had abridged from "TAllapAka AnnamAchArya", by R.A. Jayantha, Lecturer in English, Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, AP. (purely for information purpose and no commercial intentions)