Harshita Mruthinti Kamath
Visweswara Rao and Sita Koppaka Associate Professor in Telugu Culture, Literature and History, Emory College of Arts and Sciences
In this talk, I examine the relationship between eroticism (śṛṅgāra) and devotion (bhakti) in Telugu poetry through an analysis of the common trope of the male poet taking on a woman’s voice to speak to his god. In particular, I focus on the saṅkīrtanalu (short lyrical songs) of the Śrīvaiṣṇava poet Tāḷḷapāka Annamayya (1424-1503 C.E). Annamayya composed thousands of saṅkīrtanalu to the god Veṅkaṭeśvara of Tirumala, the most popular Hindu temple in the world today. Annamayya’s extensive canon of songs, totaling over thirteen thousand in number, was inscribed on copper plates under the direction of his son, a massive archival undertaking unparalleled in premodern South Asia. Focusing on Annamayya’s śṛṅgāra saṅkīrtanalu, which comprise the majority of his corpus, I trace how Annamayya and the Tāḷḷapāka family ushered in a new form of Telugu Vaiṣṇava bhakti, one in which śṛṅgāra and sexuality were of primary importance.