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Saint Thyagaraja
from A Garland by Shri.N. Rajagopalan

"The age of Chaturdandi, of Gita, Prabandha, Thaya and Alapa had to give place to the age of Pada, Kirtana and Krithi. In achieving this, Tyagaraja stands foremost with his marvelous contribution... In sheer volume of output, he essays in the direction of Purandara Dasa and Kshetragna; In devotion, religious fervour, reformatory zeal and spiritual realisation, his songs approach those of Purandara Dasa; when we think of him singing to his Rama in anguish, we find in him a second Ramadas of Badrachala; in his lyrical moods he takes a page off Kshetragna; in his Pancharatnas and some of his heavier compositions, he treads the path of the earlier prabandha-karas and later varna-karas; in turning out pieces now and then in the language of the Gods, he seems to beckon his contemporary Dikshitar; when he sings of Mother Tripurasundari, it appears as if Syama Sastri of Tanjore was sojourning at Tiruvotriyur; and he could sustain himself through the task of a dramatic composition like Narayana Tirtha or Merattur Venkatarama Bhagavathar and pay his homage to a sampradaya sanctified by Jayadeva", observes Dr.V.Raghavan in a superb succinct sum-up of the life of the saint-composer Tyagaraja.

The most popular of the Trinity, Tyagaraja is one of the great immortals of the world. His compositions are prodigious, the range of ragas vast and staggering and the mode of appeal to his Lord Rama absorbing, poignant and soul-stirring from the most intimate and endearing to the most philosophical. The diction is superlative yet simple; the delivery and flow are easy yet captivating. His personal life symbolises fervent piety, absolute devotion, total surrender and gentle affability. His heart is with the Lord and his mind overflows with bhakthi. His compositions are outpourings of love, prayer and appeal. His life is an epitome of the excellence of nobility and virtue. As Suddhananda Bharathi said, 'Tyagaraja is the temple of Ram Nam - Ram Kokilam - who warbles the glory of Rama from honey-dropping arbor of music. He is a Mira in motion, a Kabir in devotion, a Purandara Dasa in music and a Nammalwar in vision."

His large compositions and rich ragabhava are so pronounced that Carnatic music is a second name for Tyagaraja. It is difficult to visualise a full-scale concert without resort to his songs. Dr.V. Raghavan said that 'If gold could be found with fragrance, it is Tyagaraja, Kshetragna, Purandara Dasa or Jayadeva.'

Tyagaraja was the grandson of Giriraja Kavi, a sanskrit poet in the Tanjore Court and son of Rama Brahman also attached to the Court.

His mother was Santamma or Sitamma. When he sang his 'Sitamma mayamma - Sri Ramuduma tandri' (Lalitha), one could appreciate the dual relevance of the piece. Rama Brahman was a vocalist and veena player. Giriraja came from Kakarla village, Cumbum taluk in
Kurnool district (AP). Tyagaraja was born on May 4, 1767 according to one tradition (Sarvahit, Chitra, 27th Monday), and in 1759 according to another at Tiruvarur.

Subbarama Dikshitar gives the age of Tyagaraja as 77 while Panju Bhagavathar mentions it as 88. Fortunately Venkata Suri, his disciple's disciple had noted the dates of birth of Tyagaraja and of his own guru on a cadjan leaf and it is accepted by scholars. Further Syama Sastri, senior to the composer in age, was born in 1762. Hence 1767 would be correct. Of the other two of the Trinity of Carnatic music, Syama Sastri was five years older and Muthuswami Dikshitar was to follow. '1750-1850 AD was the high noon of the glory of Carnatic music.' Tyagaraja had the good fortune of getting trained in music under Sonti Venkataramanayya. Tyagaraja refers to himself in his 'Atukaradani' (Manoranjani) as one learned in vedas, sastras, upanishads, etc. He was good in Telugu and Sanskrit. His compositions are mainly in Telugu, some in Sanskrit and a few bilingual. Sage Narada appeared as a sanyasin, presented him with the work 'Swararnava' and initiated him into the intricacies of higher music.

In praise of Narada, he has composed...
Narada Guruswamy -Durbar raga
Sri Narada Nada Saraseeruha - Kanada raga
Narada Gana Lola - Atana raga

Soon after his training Tyagaraja rendered his song, 'Dorakuna Iduvanti Seva' (Bilahari) before a congregation of musicians and poets. In the house of Sonti Venkatasubbiah at Tanjavur and in the presence of samasthanam artistes, he made an elaborate raga alapana in Kambhoji and sang his 'Mari mari ninne' (Adi tala) throwing the audience into ecstasies - a delightful dip in the ocean of ganarasa. Thus young Tyagaraja revealed his innate ability as composer and musician even while very young. It is said that he studied kavya, alankara and nataka under Govinda Dikshitar for four years and that Ramayana attracted him most even then confirming the message of his advent in this world.

"His father was Rama Brahman; his book was the immortal epic of Valmiki, Ramayana; his mantra was Rama; his God was Rama and his life was a stream of Rama Consciousness." - Suddhananda Bharati

During his travel to Tirupati (1839) Madras, Kanchipuram, etc., he met the noble Upanishad Brahman at Kanchipuram. It is relevant to note that Muthuswami Dikshitar too met that great Sanyasi.

Tyagaraja was 'tall, brown, chest broad, eyes sparkling, voice sweet, tulsi garland in neck, dressed like a vedic scholar, sandal mark on his forehead, tambur (drone) in hand and lived by unchavritti - rice collection'. He married Parvati first and on he death, her sister, Kanakamba or Kamalamba. Later his only daughter, Sitalakshmi had a son called Tyagaraja who died at the premature age of thirty issueless.

His Philosophy:
The composer completed chanting of Ramanama 96 crore times in his thirty-eighth year and had a full vision of Sri Rama in Coronation.

His piety, poetical eminence and musical greatness attracted the notice of the ruler of Tanjavur, who invited Tyagaraja to his court but the poet declined and sang, 'Nidhi Chala Sukhama' (Kalyani) meaning :
"Oh my mind, Tell me truly, which conduces greatly to happiness - wealth or the sight of the Lord?
Which gives more happiness - flattery of mere men bound up in their own conceit or the singing of the Lord who has been praised by the wise Tyagaraja? (Translation by C.Ramanujachari)

He set his face against 'narastuti', praise of men for profit or benefit - a philosophy and principle underlying Hindu thought not to debase learning and knowledge. In fact this principle was responsible for the old system of 'gurukulavasa' - of disciples learning at the feet of the master and the master imparting knowledge but not for money. In fact there is an incident or two where the disciples came to grief for insisting on the payment of tuition fees (guru dakshina).

Dr. S.Radhakrishnan, former President of India writes: "The name Tyagaraja means the prince of renouncers, of those who give up worldly desires. In the case of Tyagaraja, renunciation is the result of undistorted devotion to God...was a person of great humility, utter self-effacement. He expressed the truths of the Upanishads and Bhagavat Gita in simple and appealing language...He had deliberately chosen a life of simple living by unchavritti taking what is voluntarily given."

In the context of his pre-eminence in the fields of devotion, composition and singing and in personal life, he would have been flooded with honours, receptions, grants and gifts. But the Bard of Tiruvaiyaru would have none of them and he chose to live in the 'Empire of Rama Consciousness' - Rama Bhakthi Samraiyamu' (Suddha Bangala). And he chose to accept but one gift unexpectedly brought by his own disciple, Wallajah Venkataramana, viz., a picture of Rama, which with the rosary exists still.

N.M.N. (The Hindu) writes,
'To listen to a song of a composer sung by the composer himself is a great privilege. In fact, it is a benediction, a Kirtana Pratikshyam, seeing the song itself. Tyagaraja was creating songs constantly. He was singing them all the time. His disciples were many and lucky too. It was their enormous fortune to enjoy this experience of Kirtana Pratikshyam all the time. It should have been a divine experience. They should have really traveled with him. The world owes much to Tyagaraja's disciples for their excellent work.'

Tyagaraja had a soft heart towards his disciples. He visited the house of Vina Kuppa Ayyar at distant Tiruvotriyur and, at his request, the house of the latter's patron, Kovur Sundara Mudaliar in Bundar Street, where he sang 'Devagandhari' raga for six days to satisfy his disciple.

One of the main reasons for the swift and widespread awareness and adoption of his songs during his own time was that he had a cluster of eminent disciples like Sundara Bhagavathar and Krishna Bhagavatar of Umayalpuram, the nest of musicians, Rama Ayyangar of Tillaistanam, Venkataramana Bhagavathar of Wallajahpet and others. The compositions were taken to the far-flung corners of South India by them. For instance, disciple Kannayya Bhagavathar went to Trivandrum and Swati Tirunal Maharajah was so much impressed with the eminence of Tyagaraja that he sent his own compositions through the great musician, Shatkala Govinda Marar. On reading them Tyagaraja was delighted with the all-round scholarship of the royal composer and he wrote a letter to him. This letter signed by him was reported to be available at the Royal Archives, Trivandrum. (Srimat Tyagaraja Vijaya Kavya by L.Muthiah Bhagavathar - 1941).

The second reason is that the Saint happened to be at Tiruvaiyaru close to the seat of royal power at Tanjore. Visitors from far and near came to see, hear and pay their respects to him like Toomu Narasimha Dasa (Guntur), Gopinath Battacharya (Benares) and Govinda Marar (Trivandrum). A third reason is his regular bhajans which were attended by devotees, admirers and scholars. It was during one of such bhajans in 1843, at the interval between the purva and the uttara bhagas, Govinda marar sang. The song 'Endaro Mahanubbavalu' (Sri raga) was sung in praise of him and the galaxy of all great men - an obeisance - by the disciples under instructions of the Saint.

These apart, his songs were true gold with fragrance as stated by Dr.V.Raghavan. At the helm of all these, Tyagaraja was a master of perfection and would allow no error or interpolation to creep in. So, he called, on his return from Kancheepuram, all his disciples and checked up the songs by actually hearing them daily. In effect, it was a refresher course and a valedictory function combined. That was the pinnacle of the Saint's acts to ensure that the Holy River Cauvery does carry eternally nothing but the most rejuvenating and unpolluted sacred waters in the shape of his chaste, authenticated renderings.

After Purandara Dasa, it is Tyagaraja who cared most for 'methods' to ensure purity and propagation. 'He excluded zealously pupils with the tendency to improvise variations, etc., to guard the purity of his authentic creations.' - (A.M.C.Mudaliar). Imprimatur was important to him. To borrow modern phraseology, Tyagaraja had the best of a secretariat, public contact and publicity wing which was devoted, loyal, effective and efficient.

Tyagaraja's compositions are remarkable not only for their immense volume but also for variety and quality. 'The highest musical excellence is found in his compositions which we have come to call kritis, in which he captured and effectively picturised the essence of ragas... there is a wide variety of form and type from metrical compositions and settings to creations like 'Koluvaiyunnade' (Devagandari) where sangatis are heaped and the sahityas are moulded like Pallavis" (Dr.V.Raghavan). 'In addition to individual pieces, he composed 'Uthsava Sampradaya Kirtanas' and 'Divyanama Sankirtanas' for adoption in bhajans and festivals.

In the line of Jayadeva (Gita Govinda), Narayana Tirtha (Krishna Lila tarangini) and Merattur Venkatarama Bhagavathar (Prahalada Charitra), Tyagaraja brought out his musical plays 'Prahalada Bhakthi Vijaya' and 'Nauka Charitra'. The songs of Nauka Charitram (one act) are of simple melody. A flowing cadence and simple rhythm are their distinguishing features. 'Prahalada Bhakthi Vijayam' is of five Acts with 45 kritis in 28 ragas and 132 verses. Tyagaraja gives biographical notes in several songs. In his 'Varanarada', he says he is a "Bavuka" meaning that he is a musician who thrills one's heart and steals it ! Can anyone blame him as egoistic?

It is as a 'bavuka' he created Nauka Charitram which has no authority behind it even as Gopala Krishna Bharati wrote the opera 'Nandanar Charitram'. While less than a thousand pieces are available, tradition has it that he composed 24,000 songs on the glory of Rama. He has availed of 250 ragas and he was the first to use over sixty ragas for kirtanas.

The Glory:
"Every Kirtana is a beautiful temple in which the great composer has installed the God of his heart for worship by those who sing and those who hear." - Rajaji.

"It may sound surprising that even familiar ragas like karaharapriya, Harikamboji and Devagandhari are his gifts. His magic touch could transform any scale into a raga." - T.V.Subba Rao.

The glory, spiritual eminence, creativity, imagination, emotional appeal to diverse sections of the public, enthralling treatment of emotions as well as the wide coverage of ragas, techniques, artifices and subtleties have been summed up in his own song 'Ragaratna malikache' (Ritigaula) (which is composed in third person) translated by Dr.V.Raghavan with conceptual fidelity as under:

"Come one and all and sing the hundreds of gem-like melodies which Tyagaraja composed for the salvation of humanity; songs which contain the essence of Vedas, the six Sastras, Puranas and Agamas, which the Bhagavatas congregate and sing forth and which show the right path to attain the bliss realised by the yoginis"

"Oh come, one and all, sing them well and be blessed".

He was all air and fire, the nobler elements and the base elements of earth and water were not in him nor in his presence or reach.

Group singing and bhajan gathered impetus and popularity from his time and the dignity of bhagavathas (bhajan performers) was re-established by him.

Sangita Kalanidhi G.N.Balasubramaniam wrote, 'Tyagaraja has composed songs in such a manner as to give ample scope to the singer to bring out the essence in ragas in a pleasing and satisfying manner giving abundant scope for manodharma.' Though he composed 26 songs in Todi, 20 in kalyani, 14 in Kamavardini, 12 in Varali, etc., one does not feel any staleness but there is invigorating freshness in each. 'Tyagaraja spoke to the simple man and woman without any great learning and couched his music in easy melody and rhythm.

The extent of the hold of his music can be gauged from the fact that his songs, though in Telugu, superseded almost everyone else's in a land where the language was not known.' A.V.S.Sharma points to the close similarity 'between the inspired kirtanas of Ramdas, the poetry of Potana and the devotional songs of Tyagaraja.'

A word about his devotion and love of God. Like a doting child to its mother or the suckling calf to the cow, he runs to his Rama to report, explain, complain, appeal, solicit, beg, weep or to protest and get angry with. Rama was the warp and woof of his very existence.

Either he soliloquizes or is in inspired, intimate conversation with Rama, who constitutes his parent, brother, sister, friend and God all in one. This led him to recognize excellence wherever it be as excellence meant God. As Y.Mahalinga Sastry in his 'Poetry of Tyagaraja' states,
"Tyagaraja strove for a spiritual goal and in the end was happy in the realisation. But it is the effort and the struggle, and the hope and the disappointment which it is given to us to follow...the ardent passion, the happy visions during day-dreaming, the acute misery, the abject helplessness, the indignant challenge, the pliant submission, the perverted rejection, the sweet recollections, the bitter regrets, the eloquent praise, the incensed invective, the proud interest, the interim indifference, the ecstatic delights and the painful vacuity."

His 'Prahalada Bakthi Vijayam' draws up an impressive list of illustrious predecessors. His 'Endaro Mahanubhavulu' is a salutation to noble contemporaries. When Gopala Krishna Bharati composes his 'Sabapatikku Veru Deivam' (Abhogi), he turns ecstatic. When Tirubhuvanam Swaminatha Ayyar renders Ananda Bairavi he is captivated and makes a 'gift' of the raga itself accepting a self-imposed ban on his use of that raga. When Dasari, a disciple of Syama Sastri and nagaswaram artiste renders 'Suddhasaveri' raga with captivating brilliance, he runs to the street and seeks to embrace him. Did not his Lord Rama do it to Guhan, Sugriva and Vibishan? As was the Lord, so was the devotee.

Thus lived the immortal saint of Tiruvaiyaru, the soul of Carnatic music and of Indian Culture. He entered on renunciation (sanyasa) and attained immortality on January 6, 1847 (24th Margasira, Parbhava) on the Pushya Bahula Panchami Day, which is celebrated annually ever since by a grateful nation. The world will agree with Dr.V.Raghavan when he says Tyagaraja clearly saw that he was born with a mission of singing of Rama even as sage Valmiki did of yore and in his song in Ganavaridhi "Daya Juchutakidi Velara", he gives expression to this supreme gratification of a self-conscious artiste, born to fulfill a noble mission entrusted to him by the Lord.
"Come, We shall sing well And attain all the blessings."

Tyagaraja Aradhana

The Pancharatna Kritis

from Another Garland by Shri.N.Rajagopalan