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Articles on Carnatic Music

Live Commentary on 155th Aradhana Festival of Saint Sri Tyagaraja Swamigal Part I
by R. Ganapathi Subramanian

Venue: Tiruvaiyaru, 02.02.2002 (February 2, 2002)

This commentary, in modified form, was given on All India Radio during the Aradhana by the author

It is raining cats and dogs here from yesterday morning. Yesterday the concerts were held in the new building constructed adjacent to Samadhi. Today also there is heavy rain. The organisers with great difficulty managed to conduct the Aradana and chorus singing of Pancharathnas before the samadhi. They have covered the pandal where the musicians are going to sing with tin sheets. Of course the rasikas and devotees have to hear the songs with an umbrella in their hands.

Good morning to devotees of Tyagaraja.


I am R. Ganapathi Subramanian, speaking from Thiruvaiyaru on the banks of the River Cauveri, (a small town in Tanjore District) where the samadhi of the famous saint composer Sadguru Sri Thyagaraja Swami is situated.

Today is the 155th aradana day, the day on which Thyagaraja Swami attained Mukthi 155 years back. From 28th January, 2002, onwards, for the past 5 days, the Musicians and Nadaswara Vidwans are paying Musical Homage to the Saint by rendering the kritis of the great Master before His Samadhi.

On the aradhana day, the musicians will start, from the house at Tirumanjana Veedhi in Tiruvaiyaru where Thyagaraja lived, with the accompaniment of violin, mridangam and cymbals in a processions singing bhajans and Divya Naama Kritis composed by Thyagaraja and will reach the Samadhi. This procession is called the Unchavrithi Procession. This is done because Thyagaraja took the vow as part of his sadhana to lead the life of a daily mendicant, go about singing the praise of Rama and live on Unchavrithi (alms). As soon as the musicians assembled at the Samadhi, they will start singing the famous Pancharatna Kritis during which the Abhishekam and Alankar will be performed to the Samadhi and also to the idol of Thyagaraja.

History of Saint Thyagaraja

Though Thyagaraja was born at Tiruvaarur, in Sarvajit Chaitra Sukla Saptami Pushya corresponding to 4th May 1767 (another version 1759), he spent his whole life at Tiruvaiyaru or Panchanadha. This town Tiruvaiyaru gets its name since 5 rivers are flowing across the town (Tiru-beautiful, iyaru - 5 rivers). Thyagaraja was fully conscious of the blessing that made him a native of a region which was so renowned for its cultural importance for he proudly sings of the Tanjore region as the "Chola Seema" the beautiful land in this world. He knew the great value of the Kshetra where he lived and strove for his salvation. In his kriti in Atana ("E papamu Jesithira") by playing a clever pun on the word Nada , he says that this place of rivers Nadapura is verily the Lord's own place as the Lord is the embodiment of Nada. In the Mukari song, "Muri pemu galige" , he says his Rama should be proud of a place in beautiful Panchanada kshetra worthy of being coveted by Lord Shiva, on the banks of the river cauveri over which the mild zephy blows and where holy persons perform Homams and chant Vedas.

In the kriti "Saari vedalina kaaverini joodare" in raga Asaveri, he describes how the mother cauveri proceeding to the place of her Lord the Sea, fulfilling the desires of all without difference, now speeding fast, roaring terribly and now placid with grace; with cuckoos singing on either side, touching shrine after shine and worshipping deity after deity. The adage goes in Tanjore district that the banks of the cauveri and melody of Saaveri are equally transporting.

Sometime before he attained this One-ness with Godhead, the Saint had taken to the saffron robes and became Sanyasi. Moved by the deep anguish of this devotee, Lord Ramachandra appeared before Him and assured Him of Moksha within a few days. The Saint himself tells us of these in two of his last pieces. "Giripai nela Konna" in the Raga Sahana and "Parithapamu" in the Raga Manohari.

In the Sanaha Kriti, he says "Unerringly I have seen Rama who is installed in the hill. He promised to give salvation in 5 days. My body was thrilled, tears of joy rolled down my cheeks and I merely mumbled unable to give expression to my thought". In the Manohari Kriti, Swami asks the Lord "Have you forgotten the words of assurance which you, seeing my anguish, lovingly expressed when you were on the golden boat on the river Sarayu in the company of the incomparable Sita, the assurance that you take me to you in another 5 days."

In accordance with this promise, the Lord took the Bhakta on the Pushyabagula Panchami day in the Tamil year Prabhava corresponding to 6th January 1847, when the Saint was almost 88 years old.

Saint Thyagaraja's life and kirtanas are the heritage of Indian culture expressed in classical Carnatic music. This heritage can be described as the eternal verities of divinity. His contribution to posterity is at once devotional, religious and philosophical. His songs are frozen melodies intuited in the inspired depths of a saintly soul. His way of life was illumined by rock-like bhakti, invogorated and sustained by his unshakable faith in Rama.

Vidwans have finished rendering the Pancharatna kritis. Now Mangala Harathi or Deeparadhana is shown to the idol of Thyagaraja and to the Samadhi and the harathi is being taken to the Vidwans and devotees. Let us hope to meet next year without hindrance of rain.

The centre of Thyagaraja's existence and the summit of his aspirations was to experience in every breath the bliss of Rama bhakti and thereby gain a vision of his Ishta Devata (favorite deity). In many of his songs, this longing finds eloquent expression. The dimensions of his music include not only sangita sastra, but also contain a core of spirituality. It is because of this great quality that his compositions, like the Atman, endure. The comsummation of spirituality in his songs is really the Voice of the Eternal.

Sri Thyagaraja's life was a confluence and symphony of three streams - spirituality, saintliness and sangita and the harmony of these find spontaneous self-expression in every syllable of his sahityas. The divine words come vibrating from his soul. To describe them as kirtanas wold be superficial for his utterances are authentic revelations of what he directly experienced. They comprehend the one and only purpose of music, that is, moksha sadhana (eternal bliss). The value of his music is instrumental, a means, but the goal is intrinsic, to lay one's soul at the feet of Sri Rama.

The greatness of Sri Thyagaraja is the way he linked the human to the divine. What is the saint's message to humanity? Aspiration is human. Grace is divine. Only through God's grace can one realise his aspiration, bhakti (devotion) in the case of a saint. Sahityas fall from his lips full of wisdom and devotional fervor. The most moving songs owe their composition to particular incidents and the state of his mind. The process of his creations are far beyond our comprehension. But the product is before us, each a jeweled beauty.

While all his kirtanas are soulful, Sri Thyagaraja has outclassed himself in his Pancharatnas where he is at his greatest and perhaps touched the pinnacle of Carnatic music. The fusion of lyrics and melody, the fusion of bhakti and sangita form the very essence of his songs. In all his compositions, Sri Thyagaraja's style shows a greatness of manner which marks him as a vaggeyakara par excellence. The outward form and inner meaning is so well meshed that the kirtanas remain unexcelled. At Sri Thyagaraja's hand each song, each raga gains individuality and in every one of them is relfected the working of a bhakta's yearning in his soul.

We recognise in Sri Thyagaraja a master spirit combining in himself the bhakti of Prahlada, the music of Narada and the vakpatutva of Valmiki. Sentiments are passionate, his reflections on music and life profound. His works therefore stand apart in the history of vaggeyakaras.

If Sri Thyagaraja's music is sublime it is because it emerged from the privacy of his soul. It is one of the greatest aspects of Sri Thyagaraja that he made the infinite (Sri Rama) finite for us and the ideals of music real. Born and bred in a highly cultured family, Thyagaraja was a profound scholar and poet. He studied Sanskrit, astrology, and was, of course, well versed in his mother tongue, Telugu.

Thyagaraja took his early training under a Sanyasi Sri Ramakrishnananda. His maternal grandfather had some Palm leaf manuscripts which contain notes on Music. When he went through the manuscripts he could not understand anything from the Manuscripts. When he approached his Guru he told him to pray to Sage Narada who is an embodiment of Music. Thyagaraja did so and Narada appeared before him and gave a book "Swarnava" which explains everything about Music. After using this book he was able to compose number of songs and able to understand the intricacies of Music. As an acknowledgement he composed kritis in praise of Narada: Sri Narada (kanada), Narada guruswami, .

Besides, he was a highly trained musician, having been the disciple of Sonthi Venkataramanayya, one of the foremost singers of the day. His genius is evident in every song of his; but his immortal Pancha ratna kritis (the five gems) reveal the mastery he had over his musical technique. Apart from thousands of songs of kriti type, he composed utsava sampradaya keertanas and divya nama sankeertanas which are sung in devotional congregations. He has also created two operas: Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam and Nauka charitram. While there are a number of songs in Sanskrit, the majority of them, including the operas, are in Telugu.

To him music was so creative that he could not be bound in mere traditional grammar. He saw the potentiality in new melodies and from them gave forms to ragas like Kharaharapriya, Harikambhoji and Devagandhari; at least he must have breathed life into such simple tunes to make them into ragas, if not produced them de novo. The rhythms used by him are also simple and are generally confined to talas such as Adi, Triputa, and Roopaka. Complex temporal and melodic patterns would not have expressed the lyricism of his mystic adoration. A beautiful elaboration introduced by him was the sangati as a built-in part of his kriti. These melodic variations convey so many shades of the main mood that all the finer nuances of text and music find expanded expression. It need not be offered as an excuse, but it is a fact that he was also as much capable of technical musicality as any learned grammarian: Thyagaraja's "five gems" in ragas Nata, Gaula, Arabhi, Varali and Sri, his songs in slower tempos.

Spiritually he was one of the rare souls who gave up everything except bhakti and cared for nothing else beyond the Grace of God. The early influences on his life make this trend more pronounced. THe Bhagavatha of Bammera Potana, the mystic poet of Andhra, was for him a book of daily parayana (recitation). Indeed there is a close parallel between the thoughts nad lives of these two. The devar namas of Purandaradasa were fed to him as if they were his mother's milk. Such early environments led to a positive direction by initiation into yoga. It is supposed that he was give the Rama Taraka Mantra by one sanyasi, Sri Ramakrishnananda. Thyagaraja's father's fellow scholar and yogi, Sri Upanishad Brahmendra of Kanchipuram, also exerted a great influence on him. So also the works and personality of Narayan Teertha, the author of Krishnaleela Tarangini, had considerable effect on the musician.

The only things that mattered to Thyagayya were music and bhakti - they were synonymous. In the kriti, "Nada Thanumanisam", he says "Is there a sacred path than music and bhakti?". "O Mind, salute the gods of the seven notes". "The knowledge of music, O Mind, leads to bliss of Union with the Lord". "I bow to Sankara, the embodiment of Nada, with my body and mind. To Him, the essence of blissful Samaveda, the best of the vedas, I bow. To Him who delights in the seven swaras born of His five faces I bow".

Thyagaraja was a great bhakta; the only meaningful act for him was complete surrender to Him whom he called Rama. In the song "Ika gavalasina demi (Balahamsa)", he sings, "What more do you want, O Mind ! Why are you not happy? When the Lord of the Universe has rested in yoru heart - what more do you want, O Mind?"

to be continued...

R. Ganapathi Subramanian is a retired Professor of Physics, National College, Educational Advisor of Srimathi Indira Gandhi College, and Coordinator of all Carnatic Music Sabhas, in Trichy.

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