His autobiography is here:http://ovrs.20m.com/bio.htm
Sri GnanAnanda Teertha
The compositions of the trinity of Carnatic music, as indeed those of many other vaggeyakaras, are all in praise of deities, directly or indirectly. Many of the songs of Thyagaraja in addition refer to the transience of worldly things, the wrongs men commit in daily life and so on, and hail the ultimate bliss of God realisation. The songs composed by GnanAnanda Teertha are also of this kind: they dwell on human problems, the misdeeds of humans, the way to salvation and so on.
GnanAnanda Teertha was born Ogirala Veeraraghava Sarma, on 23 March 1908, as the son of Ramamurty Sastri and Mahalakshmi, in a village called Dhenuvakonda in Andhra Pradesh. Even in his childhood, he had a flair for composing songs which used to be sung by local people during bhajan meetings. But his life as a composer, dedicating his all to his chosen deity, would begin some years later.
Following his upanayana when he was eight years old, Veeraraghava Sarma started learning the vedas from his father. On the latter’s advice he also began reciting the Gayatri mahamantra 1008 times every day. On completion of his studies under his father, he went to Kalahasti, a small town located on the banks of the river Swarnamukhi, for further studies. While awaiting admission to the Vedic school, he started spending long hours standing in the waters of river reciting the Gayatri mantra.
A sadhu known as Sri NathaNanda Teertha was residing in an asram located in a cave near the river. Well-versed in Vedic literature, he was also an upasaka of goddess Gayatri. He had been observing young Veeraraghava when the latter was meditating, standing in the river. In the event, he initiated Veeraraghava into Gayatri upasana. Such was Veeraraghava’s devotion that he attained ‘siddhi’ in the mantra in only four years. Sri NathaNanda Teertha then asked the young man to return home, get married and live the life of a grihastha. He also gave the youngster a new name-GnanAnanda Teertha-but said that he should start using this name only later on, when he would receive an indication to do so.
Veeraraghava Sarma returned home and, soon after married a girl called Pitchamamba. In due course, he became the father of two sons and four daughters.
Veeraraghava decided to learn music. His first teacher in music was his own maternal uncle. After studying for some time under Kamteti Anjaneya Sastry and Kundurti Ramamurthy, he became a desciple of the late HariNagaBhushanam at Machilipatnam. After a descipleship of three years, he settled in Madras, since it was a better location for further learning as also for a career as a vocalist. Later during the second world war, he moved to Repalli in Andhra Pradesh.
It was soon after this that his career as a vaggeyakara began. It is said that, one day when he was engaged in prayer, he spontaneously began singing the song Kaavave Kamalakshi in the raga Jaganmohini. In course of time, he composed a total of 85 kritis and a tana varnam. His compositions were more the result of sudden inspiration or circumstantial provocation. Though he himself did not go on pilgrimage to holy places, the reigning deities of various temples are said to have appeared to him in visions, prompting him to compose songs in their praise.
As a composer, Veeraraghava Sarma ‘invented’ a raga: Pranavapriya for Padaravindamuley.
Veeraraghava Sarma’s compositions are notable for their simple language and bhakti rasa. His 86 compositions are set in as many as 53 ragas : some are popular ragas like Anandabhairavi, Bhairvi, Kalyani, Mohana and Sankarabharanam, while some others are less common like Jhanjhuti, Mandaara, Regupti, Rudrapriya and Valaji. He also used a variety of talas, including some infrequently used ones like Khanda Thriputa, Tisra Triputa, Sankeerna Triputa and Mishra Jhampe. Till the year 1982, he used the mudra Raghava in his songs: in later compositions he adopted the mudra Gyanananda Teertha. A few of the songs also contain the mudra Deviganasudha, the name he gave to the book containing his compositions.
The decision of Sarma to publish his songs came about fortuitously. Once he heard one of his compositions, which he had taught to a musician, being rendered by the latter with the substitution of his mudra with the singer’s own name! It was then that Sarma decided to publish his songs. These books, containing the songs with notation came out in three volumes, in Telugu and Tamil, in the years 1947, 1958 and 1983. His compositions began to be sung by some senior musicians during his own life time like D.K. Pattammal, whose rendering of Sundari Sada, in Suddha Dhanyasi, has been heard by many. ‘Sunadamala’, an all-women music group based in Hyderabad, has recorded some of his songs.
In 1948, Sarma gave up his concert career and spent the rest of his life in teaching music and in the worship of goddess Gayatri . He established the Gayatri Panchayatana Peetham.
Sarma was a kind but strict instructor. His lessons were given freely to anyone who wanted them and he did not take money for them. Even the books, ‘Deviganasudha’ were given away free to musicians and others. Sarma had no attachment to worldly wealth. Once he had an attractive offer of the post of principal of a music college in Kuala Lumpur, but he declined it, as ‘divine’ permission was not forthcoming. Instead, he took up a teaching job in Kovvur.
Sarma assumed the name of GnanAnanda Teerha in the year 1982, after he received an indication to this effect from his spiritual guru, Sree NathaNanda Teertha.
His mortal life came to an end on 4 January 1989.
(This article is one of a series sponsored by Swadharma Swaarajya Sangha, Madras: Mr B.V.S.S Mani, Director.)