Recently I was reading Pavan Verma’s Adi Shankaracharya which gives an account of the life history of the mystic and a glimpse of Shankara’s Advaita philosophy. “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players” said the bard of Avon in the 16th century. Nearly a hundred years earlier, Annamacharya in one of his songs nAnATi patuku nATakamu says this life is a play. This morning when I heard Trichur Brothers’ rendition of Nanati Padhuku is when I realized Annamacharya had packed the essence of Advaita in his song. The 15th-century Telugu composer lay down the structure of carnatic songs or krithis that we hear today.
Lyrics & meaning This (everyday) life is a drama
The observable that remains unseen
is moksha – liberation
Being born and dying are the truth
Everything in between is but a drama
While the world is right in front of us
The reality is moksha – liberation
Enjoying a feast and wrapping ourselves in finery
All this work in this world is but a drama
Only when we get past these dualities
Will we achieve moksha – liberation
Annamacharya is said to be the earliest known composer of carnatic music. His compositions were referred to as sankirtanams. It was believed that Annamacharya wrote these songs on palm leaves which were then later engraved on copper plates by his son. Nearly 500 years later, these copper plates were discovered in a rock built cell across the hundi (donation box) in the Tirupati temple. Most of Annamacharya’s compositions are in Telugu and the theme of his works classified as either spiritual or sringaara (romance) depicting the banter between Venkateswara and his consort Alamelu Manga. An example of this emotion is brought out in the song Kondalalo Nelakonna where the woman pines for her beloved (Venkateswara) even as she feels tied to her duties towards her husband and household. This is a popular part of a dance repertoire.