Bhakthi ~ Bhukthi on Ugadi

Jayasri Srinivasan is a long time reader and a friend of Mahanandi. I thank Jayasri for this special contribution to Bhakthi~Bhukthi series to celebrate the new year festival Ugadi tomorrow.

“In Whatever Form” – A Tribute to Annamacharya
By Jayasri Srinivasan

Every so often, I like to remember, dust-off and re-touch a distant memory, much as one would open an antique chest of precious old sarees, feel their softness, air them out and put them safely back in.

I am seven years old, it’s another typical Bangalore morning-fresh and crisp, and I am suspended in that delicious, mysterious state between sleep and wakefulness. Sounds and smells slowly seep into my consciousness: the sharp sizzle of boiling water percolating through the stainless steel coffee filter, the tantalizing aroma of my grandmother’s rasam, the gentle clinking of pots and ladles as she works her culinary magic to feed and nourish us, and the pure, resonant voice of M.S Subbulakshmi pouring out of the tape recorder, drifting in the air and lingering long after the tape stops playing….

A particularly beautiful krithi I remember from the vast repertoire of M.S Subbulakshmi songs that were such a staple in our house is a composition by Annamacharya, the great poet-saint of the 15th century. The krithi beginning “Enthamathramuna” roughly transliterated “Whatsoever be your form” is a paen to Lord Vishnu and in typical Hindu fashion goes on to emphasize his universality by extolling him as the embodiment of multiple divine forms.

Whether as a serious student of Karnatic music or as an enthusiastic rasika, the krithis of Annamacharya are part of one’s singing or listening repertoire alongside other compositions by luminaries like Tyagaraja, Muthuswamy Dikshitar, Purandaradasa, to name only a few.

Tallapaka Annamacharya

Born in Tallapaka village (about 500 km from Hyderabad and 75 km from Cuddapah town) near Tirupati , the boy who would grow up to become of the greatest Telugu hymnographers was named “Annamayya” after Lord Vishnu. “Annam”, a Sanskrit word commonly denoting rice but more broadly used to denote food itself, appears in the iconic Vishnu-sahasranama-stotram- (Literally, “Hymn of a 1000 names of Vishnu”). As Adi Sankaracharya explains in his commentary on the hymn, Lord Vishnu is “Annam”. In a dual sense-he is both the “eater” (he devours the universe during pralaya-the great deluge) and the “eaten” (for the enlightened seeker, he provides spiritual nourishment).

Annamacharya belonged to the sect of Vaishnavas, specifically the Vishishtadvaita sect who believe that Lord Vishnu is the all-pervading divine being of the Universe. To the already existing theological framework of Vaishnavism, Annamacharya brought his own special humanistic interpretation. His gospel of Universal brotherhood was expressed in lyrics of transcendent beauty. Annamacharya’s Vishnu is not the exclusive deity of a defined sect or religion, he is untouched by trappings of caste and creed. Instead, his Lord Vishnu is the glorious “Supreme Spirit”, the “Divine father of all beings” and we are all his children. At this time, now more than ever, the truth of this concept becomes all the more poignant. There is no place in this world then, for anger and hatred, violence and war. It is time now for love and peace, understanding and harmony. This message of universal love and tolerance was Annamacharya’s greatest legacy, his medium was his music, and it is by embracing the spirit of this message in our daily lives that we can best pay tribute to one of the greatest poet-saints of all time.

In the first stanza of the krithi “Enthamathramuna”, Annamacharya extols Lord Vishnu thus “O Lord, you become whatever one thinks of you, you are the same Lord in whatever form one worships you.” Particularly notable is the fact that Annamacharya, being a householder himself, drew upon simple, everyday examples to illustrate esoteric truths that might otherwise be difficult to grasp. In this song, he uses a pithy and practical metaphor by drawing on the versatility of a humble kitchen staple-the ubiquitous and sustaining flour. “One can make it whatever one chooses”, sings Annamacharya, referring to flour. “The size of the pancake depends on the quantity of flour used.” An interpretation of this could be that our perception of the divine is limited only by the extent of our spiritual stamina and seeking. Whether we hedge our bets and place our faith in a beloved personal God or a universal life force, every route is unique. Each path to self-realization is valid.

Stanzas 2 and 3 contain a spiritual checklist of sorts. Annamacharya lists the various names of Lord Vishnu attributed to him by his interestingly diverse cohort of worshippers. “The Vaishnavas adoringly call you Vishnu”-sings the saint. “Those who profess a knowledge of Vedanta call you Parabrahman. Devout Saivites think of you as Shiva. The Kapalikas sing your praises as Adibhairava. The Sakteyas worship you as Goddess Sakthi. Thus, different devotees visualize you differently”. And now, gently, unobtrusively and lyrically, Annamacharya slips in two lines of such depth and meaning that one has to stop and ponder their significance. “To those that show you little regard”, says the poet-saint, “you look small. To those that are enlightened / think nobly of you, you appear lofty.” Isn’t this a stunning and sophisticated illustration of spiritual relativism?

In the concluding stanza, he continues the earlier theme. “The weakness does not lie with you. You are like a lotus in the pond that rises and falls with the level of the water. The waters of the river Ganga alone are to be found in all the wells by the riverside.” And then comes the beautiful last line of the composition. In its eloquence, simplicity and truth, it needs no further elaboration. “You hold us under your sway, O Lord of Venkatadri. I surrender myself to you and this to me, is the Ultimate reality.”

Here is the video link to the rendition by Smt. MS Subbulakshmi.

As you listen to this enchanting song composed by a saint and sung by a goddess, may you find peace and new meaning in the coming year. Happy Ugadi and Gudi Padwa!


Note: In writing this piece, I want to acknowledge the two excellent scholarly sources that I drew upon for a translation and interpretation of this song from the original Telugu. The references are listed below.
1) Annamacharya (1989) Adapa Ramakrishna Rao. Published by Sahitya Akademi.
2) Annamacharya-Lyrics of Humanism (1999) An anthology of some Annamacharya Keertanas rendered into English. Edited by Acharya I.V. Chalapati Rao, Translated by A.S. Murthy. Published by Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University, Hyderabad.
1. In the rendition by MS. Subbulakshmi, a Tamil shloka precedes the krithi “Enthamathramuna”.
2. There is a slight asynchronicity between the sound and image in the rendition of the song.


About the author: Jayasri Srinivasan has been a connoiseur of music, food and everything associated with her grandparents from birth. When not doing postdoctoral research in neuropharmacology, she enjoys reading Agatha Christie mystery novels and chasing after her bouncy two year old.


26 Responses to “Bhakthi ~ Bhukthi on Ugadi”

  1. Cilantro says:

    I am a rasika of Carnatic music and I have very little knowledge. MS`s voice her enthralled millions, and still does. MS.Subbulakshmi`s rendition of Annamacharya keertha is simply great.
    Happy Ugadi to you and your family!

  2. parvathi says:

    Great Kriti Indira garu !

    Wish you and your family, a Very Happy Ugadi filled with health and happiness, radiate back to you multi-fold, the same way you give others through your healthy recipes !

  3. Vijay says:

    A very informative and devotional post on this auspicious Ugadi. Your knowledge, interest, and research to bring this to us is greatly appreciated.

  4. Kalyani says:

    I like carnatic music very much and i have learnt it … thanks for the article …. Ugadi Subhakankshalu to u & ur family ……

  5. Nirmala says:

    I am great adorer of Anamacharya and the songs by MS is a regular one in the mornings at home. Jayasri, thanks for the wondeful and soothing post at this occasion. Thanks to Indira!

  6. Srivalli says:

    Congrats on your place Indira…looks lovely. Happy Ugadi to you and your family..lovely garden pictures. Hope to see them more.

  7. Vandya says:

    Happy Ugadi to you Indira. Me and my dad are a great fan of MS.

  8. Sudha says:

    hello Indira garu…Happy Ugadi to u n ur family and Jayasri Srinivasan garu..

    Thanks a lot Jayasri garu for posting ur bhakti category today n references for unknown people. that’s great…

    enjoy ur ugadi..:)

  9. ms says:

    Hi Indira & Jayasri,
    a very happy ugadi to you too. Thanks for the explanation of Enthamathramuna. It was fascinating.

  10. Pavani says:

    Ugadhi Subhakankshalu Indira & Vijay.

  11. vineela says:

    Ugadi subhakanshalu to you and your family,Indira

  12. Sia says:

    melodies dasa kriti’s by Kanakadasa, Purandara dasa and Anamacharya are the jewels of Indian music and culture! and I am a big fan of MS! So this post is a double reat for me. Jayashri and Indira, Thank you ladies for this beautiful post on auspicious day. wishing u both and ur loved ones a very happy Ugadi!

  13. Madhavi says:

    Jayasri garu,
    This is a great write-up. Listening to the song after reading your narration and explanation made it more melodious and eternally beautiful. Would you continue writing more posts like this? Like, an explanation of the song and video of the song? Reading this kind of material would help persons like me to understand the lyrics better and appreciate the beauty of it correctly. Thank you.

  14. Kay says:

    Happy Ugadhi, dear Jayasri and Indira!

  15. srividya says:

    Happy Ugadi/Telugu New Year Indira!

  16. Shashank says:

    Indira gAru and Vijay gAru – virOdhi nAma samvatsara SubhAkAnkshalu. kotta website chAlA bAgundanDi.

    this is one of my fav Annamayya’s krithis. And the divinity of MS takes us close to ecstasy.

  17. Pritya says:

    Thank you Indira & Jayasri for this enchanting piece, so resplendent with the twin paths of knowledge and devotion. The writing is so eloquent and moving, I feel just blessed to have read it. And the rendition by MS…thank you.

  18. DM says:

    Happy Ugadi to you. I visit your blog now and then for recipes. But I got a different taste today. 🙂

  19. Chandana says:

    Indira garu,

    Meeku , Vijay gariki, kittayya ki Ugaadi subhaakaankshalu 🙂

  20. rajitha says:

    Happy Ugadi to you and your family Indira….

  21. Indira says:

    Thank you dear friends for wishes. Shubha Ugadi to you and your families. May the new year fill your homes with joy and happiness.

  22. Priya says:

    One of my favs. songs that ive been enjoying without knowing the meaning…thanks a lot and wishes for Ugadhi

  23. Madhuram says:

    Jayasri, I really admire your style of writing. The first two paragraphs really show how good a writer you are. I too experienced the same while growing up, but not in a million years I can express it like you have written. My mom used to get up early and the first thing she used to do was switch on the tape recorder and it was mostly MS songs.

    I like all Annamacharya songs but Enthamathrumuna is my favorite and also Bhramamokate.

  24. Jayasri says:

    Cilantro: Glad you enjoyed the song, thanks for the Ugadi wishes.

    Vijay: I really enjoyed researching and writing this article, thank you for your kind words.

    Kalyani:Thank you for the Ugadi wishes.

    Nirmala: So glad you liked the article.Thanks!

    Sudha: Thanks for your comments and Ugadi wishes, it was nice to know you enjoyed the article.

    MS: Thanks for your feedback, isn’t the meaning of the song so lovely?

    Sia: Thanks so much for the Ugadi wishes, hope you had a wonderful celebration.

    Madhavi: Thank you for your kind words, I really appreciate it. I would love to write more articles like this-it helps me to also understand the meaning of the songs better.

    Kay: Thanks for your Ugadi wishes!

    Pritya: It was so heartwarming to read your comments, thank you for your appreciation. Writing this article was a very enriching experience for me. And the song by MS…..I have no words for it.

    Priya and DM: Thanks for the Ugadi wishes.

    Madhuram: It was so nice to read your comments and that you could relate to the imagery. I described it that way because I felt that lot of people could relate to that experience. Thanks for your feedback. Also, don’t be shy about writing, you’ll find that it gets easier with practice. One thing that helps me is to pick a topic about which I have specific feelings or some emotional ties and then try to describe it as precisely as possible. Writing can be fun-do try it.

    I like Brahmamokkate too!

  25. Balu says:

    My fav song from Annamacharya. Beautiful words, thanks for posting

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