This is an amazing Audio CD that could claim to be only one of its kind in the annals of Indian classical music. The musical composition presented on this CD belongs to a genre called 'Suladi Prabandham', now not in vogue. This particular composition called 'Dasavatara Suladi' contains 10 songs in all, each one being dedicated to one of the ten incarnations of the Lord Vishnu. All the songs are in 'Malava goula' Raga of the yore; but each one has a different tala belonging to the group of suladi sapta talas in order. This suladi composition is actually one of the many songs chiseled on two huge stone slabs found in the precincts of the champaka pradakshina patham of Sri Venkateswara Temple on Tirumala hill in the year 1949. All the lyrics are in Sanskrit language, but they were engraved in Telugu script and syntax of the late 15th century. The most note worthy feature that lends uniqueness to these compositions is the presence of swara notations. Every line of swara notation was chiseled under its corresponding line of lyric. For this reason they are now acknowledged by pundits as the earliest known compositions with swara notations ever found in the Indian sub-continent. These slabs were lying there for centuries in utter neglect and abuse before their discovery.
The 80 page booklet accompanying the CD narrates the history of this great discovery briefly, but without missing the important facts, both in Telugu and English.
The story goes like this :
In the year 1949, when the late Sri Veturi Prabhakara Sastri, one of the greatest literary figures of his time was deeply immersed in the research on the Tallapaka poets, his student the late A.V. Srinivasacharyulu, then about 25 years of age, stumbled upon these slabs quite accidentally. He promptly apprised his master of this finding. Sri Sastri after carefully examining the two inscriptions pronounced that they were the works of Tallapaka poets, probably of Sri Annamacharya of the 15th century. His observation was on the basis of the paleographic evidence, mudra and lyrical content. He wanted to study and publish them; but sadly he passed away in the year 1950 and the project he embarked upon came to a stand still.
That was the first part of the story.
The two stone slabs are about 7 feet long, 4 feet wide and 9 inches thick each. There are 94 lines on the slab numbered '2' and another 100 lines on the slab '4'. 11 songs are available on slab '2' and 10 on slab '4'. All of them are sanskrit songs in Telugu script along with swara notations. Some songs in both the slabs had abrupt beginnings and in some cases abrupt endings. According to the editorial team that worked on the second stage of the research, there must have been at least 5 slabs in all, but three of them numbered 1, 3 and 5 are missing; only slabs '2' and '4' are available now. This could explain the discontinuity.
After the demise of Sri Prabhakara Sastri in the year 1950, his son Sri Veturi Ananda Murthy, then only 20, started working in right earnest on the lines of his father. He got his doctoral degree in 1965 for his thesis on the lyrical literature of Tallapaka poets. He had referred to the musical inscriptions found on the slabs in his thesis itself. However, no musicologist had ever applied his mind seriously on the musical aspect of the inscriptions on the slabs or on the lyrics found on the copper plates. That was the reason why only Annamacharya's lyrics with substituted melody were in circulation all these years. His lyrics were available in abundance to every one to set music to, at their will and pleasure. There were no rules or norms to follow. Even though Raga names were prescribed for songs on the copper plates, they were ignored in many cases. Even the songs with swara notations found on the stone slabs and on some palm leaves were not taken notice of for more than 50 years, the booklet says.
The second phase of this multi disciplinary research project began in 1998 with Prof. Ananda Murthy gathering the senior most scholars in their respective fields of enquiry for a concerted effort under the auspices of Tirumala Tirupati Devastanams. Late Sri A.V. Srinivasacharyulu; eminent epigraphist Sri P.V. Parabrahma Sastri; renowned linguist, late Dr. Tirumala Ramachandra; musicologist, Vidwan Sri Akella Mallikarjuna Sarma; musician, Late Sri N.S. Srinivasan; Sanskrit scholar Mahamahopadhyaya Sri Pullela Sriramachandrudu; musicologist Mahamahopadhyaya Dr. R. Satyanarayana; Prof. Ravva Srihari; poet, Kalaprapurna Dr. Balantrapu Rajanikanta Rao were some of the scholars who took part in this project. On the request of Veturi Prabhakara Sastri memorial Trust, TTD held a seminar on this subject in October 1998 and published a voluminous book containing all the recorded papers presented by the scholars. The texts of all the songs with swara notations found on the stone slabs were printed in Telugu, Roman (English) and Nagari scripts for the benefit of the world of music, in the book titled 'The Tirumala Music Inscription' (Prathamopalabdha Swara Sahita Sankirtana Shila Lekhamu' in Telugu). The book was released in 1999.
In the 'Dasavatara Suladi' composition found on the slab numbered '2' only 8 songs out of the 10 songs were found. The first two songs pertaining to the Matsya and Kurma Avataras are missing. The Raga name is also missing. They must have been there on the missing slab number '1'. As for the two missing songs Sri Pullela Sriramachandrudu composed the lyrics exactly in the same style and pattern of the original and Sri Mallikarjuna sarma set tunes to the songs in the Raga 'Malavagoula' following the musical style of the original compositions. The Raga's present name is 'Mayamalavagoula'. Thus, finally the 'Dasavatara Suladi' took its full shape.
After the publication of the voluminous book by the TTD, unfortunately everything about the project came to a standstill. The book went out of circulation. The stone slabs are lying in the open exposed to sun and rain without any protection, in the precincts of the TTD museum at Tirumala. No one cared to present the songs on recorded media until 2013. Since all the efforts to enlist the support of TTD failed, Prabhakara Memorial Trust and Nanduri Records collaborated to bring out the Audio CD with the 10 songs of 'Dasavatara Suladi' spending from their own pockets, the booklet says. They commissioned the services of Sri Sattiraju Venumadhav, a young talented singer to render the songs exactly in the way in which they were believed to have been sung in Annamacharya's time. Sri Venumadhav does an excellent job, rendering the song soulfully.
The booklet concludes with these words :
"Who knows how many more songs are still languishing on rocks and palm-leaves unseen, unheard and unsung for centuries waiting for redemption! We earnestly hope and wish this CD would herald a new era of such an awakening".
Now, a million dollar question - who will sponsor projects like this one, to bring the ancient heritage musical compositions lying in deep coma back to life? TTD, Music Academy, SNA or multimillion corporate houses like Tatas and Birlas? Could the producers of this CD afford to spend huge sums from their pockets?
The CD together with the booklet comes in a beautiful single pack. Interested music aficionados can email us for pricing and availability.