Life of Saint Thyagaraja
Family and Lineage
Saint Thyagaraja, pronounced “thi-yaa-ga-raajaa”, was born in 1767 in Tiruvarur, Thanjavur District, Tamil Nadu to Seethamma and Kakarla Ramabrahmam in a Telugu Brahmin family. Thyagaraja means “King of Renunciation”, indicating Lord Shiva. His family belonged to the Smarta tradition and Bharadvajasa lineage (gotra). Thyagaraja was the third son of his parents, and Panchanada Brahmam and Panchapakesha Brahmam are his older brothers. He was named Thyagabrahmam/Thyagaraja after Thyagaraja, the presiding deity of the temple at Tiruvarur, the place of his birth. Thyagaraja’s paternal grandfather was Giriraja Kavi. Giriraja Kavi was a poet and musician. Giriraja was born in Kakarla village, Cumbum taluk in Prakasam district, Andhra Pradesh. He is believed to belong to the Mulakanadu of Niyogi sect. Thyagaraja’s maternal grand father was Kalahastayya/Veena kalahastayya. He was a Veena player. Thyagaraja learned playing Veena in his childhood from Kalahastayya. After Kalahastayya’s death Thyagaraja found “Naradeeyam”, a book related to music.
Thyagaraja began his musical training under Sonti Venkata Ramanayya, a music scholar, at an early age. He regarded music as a way to experience God’s love. He was totally immersed in his devotion to Lord Rama. His objective while practicing music was purely devotional, as opposed to focusing on the technicalities of classical music. He also showed a flair for composing music and, in his teens, composed his first song, “Namo Namo Raghavayya”, in the Desika Todi ragam and inscribed it on the walls of the house.
Sonti Venkataramanayya informed the king of Thanjavur of Thyagaraja’s genius. The king sent an invitation, along with many rich gifts, inviting Tyagaraja to attend the royal court. Thyagaraja, however, was not inclined towards a career at the court, and rejected the invitation outright, composing another kriti, Nidhi Chala Sukhama (English: “Does wealth bring happiness?”) on this occasion. He spent most of the time in Tiruvaiyaru. But there are records of him visiting Tirumala and Kanchipuram. When he was in Kanchipuram, he met Upanishad Brahmayogin at the Brahmendral Mutt at Kanchipuram.
Thyagaraja, because of his dedicated devotion to God, led the most spartan way of life without bothering in the least for the comforts of the world, did not take any steps to systematically codify his vast musical output. Rangaramanuja Iyengar, a leading researcher on Carnatic music, in his work Kriti Manimalai, has described the situation prevailing at the time of death of Thyagaraja. It is said that a major portion of his incomparable musical work was lost to the world due to natural and man-made calamities. Usually Thyagaraja used to sing his compositions sitting before deity manifestations of Lord Rama, and his disciples noted down the details of his compositions on palm leaves. After his death, these were in the hands of his disciples, then families descending from the disciples. There was not a definitive edition of Thyagaraja’s songs.
The songs he composed were widespread in their popularity. Musical experts such as Kancheepuram Nayana Pillai, Simizhi Sundaram Iyer and Veenai Dhanammal saw the infinite possibilities for imaginative music inherent in his compositions and they systematically notated the songs available to them. Subsequently, diligent researchers like K. V. Srinivasa Iyengar and Rangaramanuja Iyengar made an enormous effort to contact various teachers and families who possessed the palm leaves. K. V. Srinivasa Iyengar brought out Adi Sangita Ratnavali and Adi Tyagaraja Hridhayam (in three volumes). Rangaramanuja Iyengar published Kriti Mani Malai in two volumes.
Furthermore, Musiri Subramania Iyer, the doyen of Bhava Sangitam, had a vast collection of books in his library. T. K. Govinda Rao, his disciple, brought out a volume of the songs of Thyagaraja in English and the Devanagari script. T. S. Parthasarathy, a leading scholar on Tyagaraja, published the text and meaning of Tyagaraja’s songs. There are also many less comprehensive publications in Telugu.
Out of 24,000 songs said to have been composed by him, about 700 songs remain now, but scholars are skeptical about numbers like 24,000, since there is no biographical evidence to support such claims. In addition to nearly 700 compositions (kritis), Thyagaraja composed two musical plays in Telugu, the Prahalada Bhakti Vijayam and the Nauka Charitam. Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam is in five acts with 45 kritis set in 28 ragas and 138 verses, in different metres in Telugu. Nauka Charitam is a shorter play in one act with 21 kritis set in 13 ragas and 43 verses. The latter is the most popular of Thyagaraja’s operas, and is a creation of the composer’s own imagination and has no basis in the Bhagavata Purana. Tyagaraja also composed a number of simple devotional pieces appropriate for choral singing.
The 20th-century Indian music critic K.V. Ramachandran wrote: “Thyagaraja is an indefatigable interpreter of the past… but if with one eye he looks backward, with the other he looks forward as well. Like Prajapati, he creates his own media, and adores his Rama not alone with jewel-words newly fashioned, but also with jewel-like-music newly created. It is this facet of Thyagaraja that distinguishes him from his illustrious contemporaries.” In other words, while Thyagaraja’s contemporaries were primarily concerned with bringing to audiences the music of the past, Thyagaraja also pioneered new musical concepts at the same time.
Thyagaraja Aradhana, the commemorative music festival is held every year at Thiruvaiyaru in the months of January to February in Thyagaraja’s honour. This is a week-long festival of music where various Carnatic musicians from all over the world converge at his resting place. On the Pushya Bahula Panchami, thousands of people and hundreds of Carnatic musicians sing the five Pancharatna Kritis in unison, with the accompaniment of a large bank of accompanists on veenas, violins, flutes, nadasvarams, mridangams and ghatams.
The sports complex in New Delhi, Thyagaraj Sports Complex, was named after him. A crater on the planet Mercury is named Thyagaraja.
Films on Thyagaraja (biographical)
As the most famous composer of Telugu kritis or (Kirtanas), Thyagaraja, who is fondly remembered as Thyagayya, has caught the imagination of filmmakers in the Telugu film industry. Apart from references to his works, using the kirtanas as songs, two films were made on his life. Chittor V. Nagaiah made a biographical epic on Thyagaraja titled Tyagayya in 1946 which is still treated as a masterpiece of Telugu cinema. In 1981, Bapu – Ramana made Thyagayya with J. V. Somayajulu in the lead role. Another attempt is being made by Singeetam Srinivasa Rao to picturize Thyagaraja’s life.
List of compositions by Thyagaraja
Number of compositions by Saint Thyagaraja ranges from a well-known 729, to a total of 22,400, derived from various publications about him.
The term pancharatna in Sanskrit means five gems. The Pancharatnas by Thyagaraja are known as the five finest gems of Carnatic music. All the Pancharatnas are set to Adi Talam. So far as Pancharatnas are concerned, a stable text has been handed over by the earlier musicians to the present day. Several musicians have brought out editions of Pancharatnas. However, Veenai Sundaram Iyer’s edition is the most detailed and comprehensive. All the compositions of Thyagaraja show the way for the systematic development of the respective ragas. However, in the Pancharatnas, Thyagaraja has given full, exhaustive and complete treatment as to how to systematically and scientifically develop a raga. The two fundamental conditions that must be satisfied for a systematic development of a raga are the arrangement of the solfa swaras in the natural order of Arohanam and Avarohanam of the Ragas so as to satisfy the sound principles of harmony and continuity. Pancharatnas satisfy these scientific principles in an unparalleled manner. The Pancharatnas are composed in perfect sarvalaghu swaras.
The first pancharatna is Jagadaanandakaaraka, in the raga Nata. It is composed in lucid and poetic Sanskrit. It praises Lord Rama as the source of all joy in the universe. Originally there were only six charanams for the song and when the disciples examined the song it contained ninety names of Lord Rama in mellifluous Sanskrit. The disciples requested Tyagaraja to slightly expand the song by adding two charanas containing eighteen more names of Lord Rama. The saint acceded to the request of the disciples and that is the reason why the song Jagadaanandakaaraka contains two mudras containing the name of Tyagaraja while the other four songs contain only one mudra each.
The second is Duduku gala in the raga Gowla set to Aadi taalam. In this song, Thyagaraja takes the blame upon himself for all the misdeeds of men and ruminates on who would come and save him from this deplorable situation.
The third is Saadhinchene in the raga Aarabhi set to Aadi taalam. In this song, Thyagaraja lovingly criticises Lord Krishna for his cleverness in getting what he wants to be done. Saadhinchene is a breathtaking lullaby.
The fourth song is Kana kana ruchiraa, in the raga Varaali set to Aadi taalam. In this song Thyagaraja describes the infinite beauty of Lord Rama.
The fifth pancharatna is Entharo Mahaanubhaavulu in Sri raaga. It is said that a great musician from Kerala, Shatkala Govinda Maaraar, visited Thyagaraja and performed before him. Thyagaraja was enchanted with his performance and then was born Entharo Mahanubhavulu, the composition of unparallelled rhythmic beauty in Carnatic music.
There are numerous other compostions by Sri Thyagaraja. Other notable compositions by him include Saamajavaragamana in Hindolam raagam, Aadamodigaladhe in Chaarukesi raagam, Raaju vedale in Hanumatodi raagam, Ninne nammi naanura in Todi raagam, and Nagumomu kanaleni in Aabheri raagam.
Data based on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyagaraja