Munipalle Subramanya Kavi

Munipalle Subramanya Kavi (estimated, 1730-1780) from the village of Munipalle in Krishna District was one of the pioneers in Carnatic music. He was versatile in Telugu and Sanskrit. He was a scholar, poet and musician in the Kalahasti court of king Damerla Thimmappa Nayaka. However, there is little authentic historical record about aspects like his personal life, students, etc.

He is supposed to have composed over 100 keertanas, out of which 60 or so are available with notations.

However, we know that he composed Adhyatma Ramayana Keerthanalu (mostly in Telugu) and also Telugu padams in praise of Thimmapa Nayaka. “These padams include Manasu Vachchithe Rammanave (Mukhari), Nrupasikhamanivauvra (Saveri), and Cheliya Ee Virahamu (Anandabhairavi).

Subramanya Kavi’s magnum-opus is Adhyatma Ramayana Keerthanalu, literally Spiritual Ramayana’s lyrics. His retelling of the Ramayana is through music using kirtanas/lyrics, conceived as a conversation in music between Shiva and Parvati. She asks questions about the Ramayana and Shiva replies with a narration of the story in so many lyrics.

The opening piece is a paean to Shiva –– the well-known Sanskrit lyric Namah Shivaya (Dhanyasi). It finds place in Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi repertoires. There are 104 kirtanas spread over six kandas. Balakanda has 17, Ayodhyakanda nine, Aranyakanda 11, Kishkindhakanda 10, Sundarakanda 10, Yuddhakanda 47. They are narration-oriented pieces with a beautiful flavour of traditional music. The ragachaaya is revealed in each lyric.

The mudra is Seshasaila.

Subramanya’s lyrics came down with sahityam and ragas mentioned. His adhyatma lyrics became confined to temples and homes. They did not feature in kacheris. Also due to a lack of shishya-parampara to propagate them.