Venkatesh Parthasarathy talks to Karthik Venkatesh about his first book around the history of one of India’s most loved prayer, Suprabhatam.

Prativadi Bhayankaram Anna, who composed this prayer in the fifteenth century, was a saint, a poet and an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. The poet’s devotion shines through, most unforgettably in M.S. Subbulakshmi’s rendition, which rings through many south Indian homes in the mornings.

kausalyāsuprajā rāma pūrvā saṃdhyā pravartate/

uttiṣṭha naraśārdūla kartavyaṃ daivamāhnikam//

O Rama, son of fortunate Kaushalya, the eastern twilight (dawn) is breaking. Arise, O lion among men, the daily morning rituals need to be performed.

With these stirring lines begins the near-ubiquitous Hindu prayer, the Venkatesa Suprabhatam. An appeal to the lord to arise and save the world, the Venkatesa Suprabhatam is the first of four recitations that are sung together every morning in the Lord Venkateswara temple in Tirumala, where it was originally sung.

Venkatesa Suprabhatam: The Story of India’s Most Popular Prayer is a translation of the prayer, a journey through its verses and also a deep dive into the history of its composition and the circumstances of its author.

So whether you have grown up listening to the Suprabhatam or are just curious about such matters, this book—scholarly and yet accessible—is a compelling examination of the cultural phenomenon.

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