Annamacharya #2 – The Story of The Copper Plates

by Sahadev Komaragiri

We may never know how his works remained hidden behind the temple walls for nearly 500 years. We may never know why he was not discussed in any of the literary works prior to the discovery. Scholars are certain that almost all the famous saint composers were not even aware of him. For hundreds of years the Lord of the seven hills has been going to sleep, during the pavalimpu seva, listening to the most popular lullaby of all times – ‘Jo Achyutananda Jo Jo Mukunda’; the singing priests did not even know that it was his composition. But 86 years after the discovery of the treasure, scholars around the world continue to unearth rare gems from the vast amounts of literary and musical works of Saint Annamacharya. Many of his works are believed to be permanently lost to us while many of those found are yet to be fully understood.

This is the second article in my series of articles on Annamacharya. Annamacharya series announcement is the previous article and decoding the inscriptions on the copper plates is the next one in the series.

 

Alexander Duncan Campbell was a British Civil Servant who wrote the book A Grammar of the Teloogoo Language. This book was published in 1816. Thanks to Google, we now have a digitized version of this book. In this book Campbell refers to the existence of hymns on the Lord of seven hills. He mentions that he had heard that a number of poems engraved on some thousand sheets of copper had been preserved in the pious care of a family of brahmins in the temple on the sacred hill at Tirupati. He deputed a native for the purpose of examining them. In his own words “but with the exception of a treatise on grammar, of which a copy was taken, the whole collection was found to contain nothing but voluminous hymns in praise of the deity“. This is the earliest and perhaps the only reference we find about the existing of the copper plates on hymns composed by Annamacharya. It is interesting to note that this reference is made as a footnote in the introduction chapter of this book. It is this reference that led to the discovery of the numerous copper plates with inscriptions of the compositions of Annamacharya. It is not clear who the deputed native was or how Mr. Campbell had heard of the poems. It is unimportant, but if Mr. Campbell heard of these copper plates, can it be assumed that their existence was a common knowledge? The copper plates were not discovered until 100 years later in 1922. Several years later, in the year 1949, Tirumala Tirupati Devastanams, TTD, finally took possession of all the available copper plates.

Replica of a copper plate found in the sankeertana bhandagaram

Replica of a copper plate found in the sankeertana bhandagaram

Usage of copper plates for inscribing content was not new to India during 1500s. Inscription of laws, legal records and title deeds are some of the examples of such usage in the past dating back to first millennium. Tamarasashana is the term used to describe such inscriptions on copper plates. Rare copper plates were found from the periods of both the Pallavas in southern India as well as the Guptas in northern India. The discovery of compositions of Annamacharya on copper plates is very unique in the history of the region. Copper plates were never employed either before or after that for preserving literary works. The mainstay for storing literary works was limited to palm leaves. We are indeed very fortunate that we inherited such abundantly rich literature. The literature that saw the light of the day after a gap of 500 years since they were recorded. If not for these copper plates we would not have heard of Annamacharya.

The only explanation why most of his works remained hidden for centuries and the rest lost forever, is not a rational one. In one of his compositions he asks Lord Venkateswara to hide his works – daachuko nee paadaalaku thaga ne chesina pooja liviplease hide them in Your care, for they are my offerings to Your lotus feet. Perhaps, in obliging Annamacharya, the Lord decided to hide some for a long time and the others forever.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Subba Rao V. Durvasula October 13, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Dear Dr. Komaragiri garu:

Namaskaramulu. I chanced to see your website SOHAM TIMES (Short series on Annamacharya) and it is indeed a treasure trove. From my readings of Telugu Sahithyam Komaragiri is a family of distinguished poets.

I am particularly interested in Sri Annamacharya and fortuitously my music guru is Sri Ramakrishna garu of Thallapaka. He is the 13th generation descendant of Sri Annmacharya. From Canada where I live, visited Nanadalur (close to Thallapaka), stayed with my Guru during two summers and learnt several keerthanas of Sri Annamacharya. The seminal contributions of Sri Annamacharya to Sahithya and Sankeerthana sampradaya are amazing. I have a reasonable library on Sri Annamayya. I visit Vijayawada almost every year to see a friend and during the next will pay my respects to you in person. At 77 I revel in the works of Sri Annamayya. By training I am an oceanographer and now an emeritus scientist. I hope you would not mind if I seek your advice from time to time. If you can kindly let me know your phone number I would be most grateful.

With namaskaramulu.
Subba Rao V. Durvasula

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balaks January 19, 2012 at 11:35 am

beautiful time line of shri annamacharya. Toomany ‘danta kathas’ otherwise about time

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