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The Greatest Sing-Along
|by Rajesh Talwar|
The Hari Putar Dialogues - 57
(BBC News; 11 May; Hyderabad: A mass sing-along of 160,000 people in the Indian city of Hyderabad, in Andhra Pradesh, has broken a 72-year-old record for the world's largest choir. Participants sang religious hymns by "saint-composer" Annamacharya for just under 40 minutes at an event on Sunday. An adjudicator from Guinness World Records said the audience was "ecstatic" to learn of their record. The previous record was set in 1937 by a choir of 60,000 at a contest held in what is now Wroclaw, Poland. An official Guinness World Record adjudicator, Raymond Marshall, was at the gathering to present the record certificate. He described the event as a "highlight of this year's record-breaking around the world".
Putar: There is a report on the BBC website today about the greatest sing-along in history which took place just a few days in Hyderabad.
Hari: How many people were singing together?
Putar: One hundred and sixty thousand people.
Hari: My God! What were they singing?
Putar: My God is right. They were singing religious hymns.
Hari: What kind of religious hymns?
Putar: These were hymns composed by Annamacharya one of the earliest "saint composers" of southern India. The Andhra Pradesh state cultural council and a non-governmental organization, Silicon Andhra, organized the event to commemorate the 601st anniversary of the birth of Annamacharya.
Hari: So these songs were composed more than five hundred years ago.
Putar: Yes, Sri Tallapaka Annamacharya was a Telugu songwriter and Carnatic music composer. He is said to have composed 32,000 sankeertans on Lord Venkateshwar.
Hari: So how have records been kept in all these centuries? Have people been singing his songs all the while and they have remained in the public memory?
Putar: Apparently he was very popular in his own time but for some unknown reason his songs were forgotten for over three centuries. They were later found engraved in copper plates, hidden for centuries inside the Sri Venkateshwar Temple at Tirumala.
Hari: Believers would say this happened with the grace of the Lord. And now this sing-along of his songs has broken all records. Who held the previous record?
Putar: The previous record was set in 1937 by a choir of 60,000 at a contest held in what is now Wroclaw, Poland. An official Guinness World Record adjudicator, Raymond Marshall, was at the gathering to present the record certificate. He described the event as a "highlight of this year's record-breaking around the world".
Hari: I'm sure even with the popularity Annamacharya commanded while he was alive he could never have imagined that a day would come when so many thousands of people would sing his songs collectively.
Putar: He would have been so pleased.
Hari: As a devotee of Lord Venkateshwar he would have been more pleased perhaps for his Lord than for himself. Devotees are not supposed to feel egoistical according to most scriptures.
Putar: Ego may not be good, but surely there is a difference between ego and legitimate pride. He could have taken legitimate pride in his achievement.
Hari: It's difficult to judge what is ego and what is justifiable self-esteem and pride.
Putar: The Guinness World Record adjudicator said that the audience was ecstatic when they learnt that they had set a record. That too was legitimate pride in a collective achievement.
Hari: But for some people it may have been ego.
Putar: Nothing wrong with a bit of ego ' so long as it's within limits. We are all human. People are even egoistical about their humility.
Hari: How do you mean?
Putar: A king is praying in the temple and in his prayer he speaks of how he is the most humble servant of his Lord. A beggar comes and stands next to him and mouths the same phrase. At which the king gets angry and shouts at him: Who is more humble? You or me? I am more humble!
Hari: So even humility can become a matter of ego.
Putar: Exactly. Tell me something Papaji?
Hari: Bol, Putar?
Putar: Would it make any difference to Lord Venkateshwar if there were a single person praying sincerely within the privacy of his home or a hundred and sixty thousand people praying collectively?
Hari: Not to the Lord. The sincerity of the devotee is all that counts. But don't forget the importance of 'sangat'. Such events create good vibrations all around. There is an atmosphere of love and peace created as a result of the beautiful music and powerful wordings of the songs.
Putar: The lyrics are supposed to be very powerful. One of the songs that this huge gathering sang is the most famous sankeertana of the poet in which he explains that the relationship between God and human is the same irrespective of the latter's' color, caste and financial status. The poet was strongly opposed to untouchability and has conveyed his thoughts in a beautiful yet powerful usage of words in his song "Brahmam Okkate Parabrahmam Okkate..."
Hari: Exactly. So this is very good that so many thousands of people are singing this song.
Putar: Even if they reclaim all their former color, caste and class prejudices just as soon as the function is over.
Hari: I don't know, Putar.
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