By Sampreeti Malladi
Who can forget the bhakti soaked rendering of Nanati batuku by MS, set to music by Nedunuri Krishnamurthy? Nedunuri is synonymous with classicism, tradition and soulful compositions. We were fortunate to be present when this vidwan – of the Walajapet lineage of Tyagaraja’s music – shared his insights at the forum organised by the University of Hyderabad, under the Distinguished Lecture Series, 2013. He spoke on ‘The re-construction of the compositions of Annamacharya and Ramadas’.
The proceedings were conducted with wit and humour by scholar Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao who kept the discussion focussed on Nedunuri’s contribution to the given theme. Though Nedunuri and his guru have set to music more than 200 kritis of Annamacharya, he humbly attributed all the magic in his compositions to God and the beauty of the Telugu language used by Annamayya. Venugopala Rao regaled the audience with anecdotes and poems highlighting the virtuosity of the language as also about Nedunuri who has rendered such immortal gems of Annamayya like Emoko chigurutadhramula in Tilang, Sakala santi in Bahudari and Purushottamuda vevu in Revagupti. An easy camaraderie was evident between Nedunuri and Rao, and the audience hung on to every word.
When Rao asked him about the choice of ragas for specific compositions, Nendunuri attributed it to the blessings of his guru Sripada Pinakapani. His humility was remarkable – coming from a musician who has been performing for over seven decades. He said: “The notes suggested the feeling, God suggested the raga and Annamacharya’s poetic compositions brought out the different dimensions in me”. As he sang Polati javvana in Kharaharapriya and made his way through the subtle gamakas, every flower mentioned in the song seemed to manifested itself. When he sang Okapari kokapari, the imbued sringara shone forth. Most compositions have remained unchanged.
Nedunuri seemed to dance his way through the songs as he rendered Muddugare Yasoda and Paluku tenela talli – each of a different mood and feeling. He said “Dance is integral to music, I can see dance while I sing.” It is no wonder that dancers choose to present Annamacharya’s kritis as tuned by Nedunuri.
Moving on to the compositions of Bhadrachala Ramadas, Nedunuri said that while Annamacharya’s keertanas were inclined towards sringara, the kritis of Ramadas were full of bhakti that could lead to moksha; and it was this element that had attracted him.
Rao revealed that the real name of Bhadrachala Ramadas was Kancherla Gopanna, and he is acknowledged as the aadyudu or pioneer of the bhajana sampradaya. Even though we know of only 152 compositions of Ramadas, Tyagaraja – the great vaggeyakara who cited him in many of his kritis – considered Bhadrachala Ramadas as one of the five great devotees of Lord Rama.
As Nedunuri sang Ramajogi mandu gonare swaying and clapping with childlike enthusiasm, the audience too joined him. He said, “You must convey devotion through the songs, it is important to achieve the goal of life. This is amritam.”
Nedunuri also rendered a few Tyagaraja kritis. Although Tyagaraja has mentioned the ragas for his songs, Nedunuri is credited for setting to music twelve of Tyagaraja’s untuned compositions.
The evening concluded on a pleasant note when the Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University, Hari Babu, immediately agreed to Nedunuri’s request to institute a ‘Tyagaraja Chair’ at the university. Later, the maestro made an ardent appeal to safeguard and propagate Telugu literature and the region’s rich musical heritage. The evening of music was best summed up in the doyen’s own words: “Music has no language, musicians have no age.”