Annamacharya #3 – Decoding the Inscriptions on the Copper Plates

by Sahadev Komaragiri

Sankeertana Bhandagaram, is a rock built cell in the Tirupati temple complex across from the hundi, the donation box. For several hundreds of years millions of people passed along this path. The doors of the Bhandagaram may have been opened several times but the treasures in it were completely ignored for centuries. Majority of Annamacharya compositions and several literary works of the Tallapaka family were found hidden in this Sankeertana Bhandagaram. In all there are about 2701 copper plates of various sizes. About 14000 compositions were inscribed on these copper plates. Many copper plates were also found in Ahobilam in Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh. Ahobilam is believed to be the place where Lord Vishnu killed Hiranyakasipu and saved Prahalada. A number of them were also found in Srirangam temple which is considered to be the foremost of the eight self-manifested shrines of Lord Vishnu.

This is the third article in my series of articles on Annamacharya. The story of copper plates is the previous article and from copper plates to a household name is the next one in the series.


Sankeertana Bhandagaram in the temple complex. Annamacharya on the left and Peda Tirumalacharya on the right.

Sankeertana Bhandagaram in the temple complex. Annamacharya on the left and Peda Tirumalacharya on the right.

Discovering the treasure of copper plates is only the beginning – knowing what they are and who is behind them requires a stupendous effort. It must be remembered that the name Annamacharya was not known until then. What happened since the discovery and now when Annamayya is a household name is a story of literary stalwarts who have spent several years in tuning and popularizing his compositions. In the process several careers were made and a whole new industry was born.

What’s on the copper plates

The copper plates were of various sizes and there was no uniformity on the inscriptions. It is very puzzling, nay baffling, to understand how scholars agreed on the contents of the copper plates. First, these plates did not convey clearly the authorship of each of the compositions inscribed on them. Second, the language and notations used are from over 400 years back. The words and notations are either outdated, not in use any more or have a different meaning in the current context. Third, many of the plates are missing and therefore it was impossible to arrive at the original sequencing of the copper plates. In the mean time there were reports of discovery of copper plates and palmleaf manuscripts from various locations across entire Southern India. In addition what’s found on the copper plates must be corroborated with the findings from history of the region as well as with the inscriptions across various temples. In short the amount of research needed to understand the complete landscape of the new findings is humongous . The challenge of fully understanding the contents will continue for decades to come. While the scholars continue to pour in their brilliance on these research topics, the common man happily bathes in the new spirituality and philosophy offered by the compositions of Annamacharya.

Tallapaka Pada Sahityam

The assertion made was that these plates contained compositions of Tallapaka poets and not just Annamacharya’s compositions. It is understood, however, that the most revered and predominant figure is Annamacharya. After the copper plates were discovered in 1922, Tirumala Tirupati Devastanam(TTD) acted on them promptly. However, the work of decoding the contents continued at snail’s pace for a long time. It was not until 1978 a semblance was achieved in putting together the contents into a book format. It was in that year that TTD launched the Annamacharya Project. Prior to that several attempts were made by various literary giants of the time to bring out a book format. Books were released intermittently under the aegis of TTD. Earlier scholars who worked on this included Veturi Prabhakara Sastry, Rallapalli Ananta Krishna Sharma, Vijaya Raghavachary and Gauripedda Ramasubba Sharma. The entire work was revisited again starting from 1978 and finally in 1998 TTD released 29 volumes in Telugu with the title “Tallapaka Pada Sahityam”. The final versions would not have been possible if not for the tremendous amount of work put in by the earlier scholars. Notice that the name Annmacharya does not appear in the new title. Elaborate introduction was written for each of these volumes. Author’s analysis on how the information on the plates was decoded provides deep insights into the challenges faced by the early explorers of this vast literature. An index at the end identifies all the compositions in an alphabetical order. An index of ragas used in the compositions of the volume are also provided.

All the compositions published in the 29 volumes are divided into these major sections

  • Adhyatmic(Spiritual) Compositions of Annamacharya(Volumes 1-4)
  • Sringara(Romantic) Compositions of Annamacharya(Volumes 5-9, 11-14, 16, 18-29)
  • Compositions of Chinna Tirumalacharya(Volume 10)
  • Compositions of Pedda Tirumalacharya(Volumes 15 and 17)

As one can see, a total of 26 volumes are dedicated exclusively to the compositions of Annamacharya. Two volumes are reserved for Pedda Tirumalacharya, his son, and one volume for Annamacharya’s grandson Chinna Tirumalacharya. It must be noted that the categorization of adhyatmic and sringara compositions are found on the copper plates. It is generally believed that this categorization was adopted by the poets and scholars who helped create the copper plates. Annamacharya himself, it was noted, may not have categorized his compositions that way. In many cases the authorship of the compositions were determined based on the information on the copper plates. Where such information is lacking, the determination is made using the comparative styles of the authors and other corroborative evidences.

Thanks to these 29 volumes we now have a way to identify each of Annamacharya compositions using a volume to song number format. For example, the famous composition brahma kadigina paadamu is identified as Song 191 in Volume 1. Once you reach out to volume 1 and song number 191, you will know that Annamacharya originally composed this song using mukhaari raga. There you will find the complete original lyrics of this composition.

All the 29 volumes are available for download from various internet sites. I downloaded these volumes and made them available on this site for you to review and enjoy. Please click here to see a list of these volumes.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Dharam Guruva Reddy January 26, 2011 at 7:45 am

This is great piece of work as usual,
please keep sharing such works continuously


krishnapriya August 1, 2011 at 8:22 am

Amazing work .

Thanks a million for such huge information . Have you uploaded kritis too?


suresh bandatmakuru April 20, 2013 at 2:25 pm

sir, you have any information of peda tirumalayya’s works. pls share it.


Pavithra May 13, 2018 at 2:14 pm

We need life history in book format of annamacharya


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