Nada Brahma-Sri Tyagaraja Swamy
Sri Tyagaraja, the most celebrated carnatic music saint was a great devotee of Lord Sri Rama. Saint Tyagaraja lived to the full extent that God realization is best achieved through ‘Nadopasana’ (music with devotion). His songs are filled with an intimate devotion to Rama, all through revealing his deep understanding of the tenets of the’ Vedas and Upanishads’.
Saint Purandaradasa is considered to be the grandfather of Carnatic Music. Sri Tyagaraja, along with Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri are considered as the “Trinity of Carnatic Music.” Sri Tyagaraja is said to have composed about 24,000 keerthanas but only 700 keerthanas(songs) are available in his long devoted life to Lord Rama, most of them written in his mother tongue Telugu, but a few in Sanskrit, including the masterpiece “Jagadanandakaraka” composed of 108 names describing Lord Rama’s attributes. His keerthanas are sung with dedication in Tamil Nadu also, the seat of South Indian (Carnatic) Music scholars and performance.
The hallmark of a great culture, the Vijayanagara Empire, with all its glory, fell at the end of the 16th century. The invasion from the North brought in its wake new, though not always commendable, trends in living. Quite a few Hindu families had to flee to Southern areas which were still peaceful. Many found shelter under the benign rule of the Nayakas and the Maratha kings of Tamilnadu. Particularly, a number of Telugu families went south and formed nucleus of art and culture. Sri Tyagaraja’s ancestors belonged to one such stock, as he describes himself as descendant from the Kakarla family (Kakarla is a village in the Kurnool District of Andhra).
Tiruvarur in the Tanjavur district of South India is a small hamlet; it is small in size, but has great sanctity hallowed by the memory of the three composers, the trinity of Carnatic music. In this village lived one Girija Kavi, a poet-composer attached to the Court of Tanjavur. His daughter and wife of Kakarla Ramabrahmam, Seetamma, gave birth to a son in the Hindu lunar year Sarvajit 27th Soma, on Chaitra Sukla Sapthami, the 7th day of the bright half of the Hindu month of Chaitra, under the Pushyami nakshatram [star] that is on May 4, 1767. According to another tradition the year of his birth was 1759. The boy was named Tyagaraja, after Lord Tyagaraja, the presiding deity of Tiruvarur. In one of his songs, Tyagaraja sings, “Seetamma mayamma, Sri Ramudu ma tandri” – Seeta is my mother and Sri Rama is my father – perhaps with a double meaning. The family was a pious Telugu-speaking smartha Brahmin family of the vaidiki mulukanadu sub-sect and had long been settled in Thiruvaiyyuru in the Tanjavur district of present-day Tamil Nadu, which is the scene of the life and work of the great composer.
Ramabrahmam shifted to Tiruvayyuru, leaving Tiruvarur. The king of Tanjavur had gifted a house to him in this village and here Tyagaraja not only spent the major part of his life but also attained Samadhi. Tiruvayyaru, on the bank of the Kaveri and known as Panchanada Kshetra, was the abode of saints, poets and musicians. Tyagayya praises this place in one of his keerthanas , “…the Panchanada Kshetra in the beautiful Chola country, nestling on the banks of the Kaveri over which blows the gentle wind where holy Brahmins chant the Vedas…a town to be coveted even by Lord Siva”.
Tyagaraja started his musical training under Sri Sonti Venkataramanayya at an early age. Tyagaraja regarded music as a way to experience the love of God. His objective while performing music was to repeat the name of God and contemplate on his divine pastime, thereby reducing the vices of the mind, not to display his mastery over raga and tala. He had to struggle quite a bit to compose music in which bhava, that is, emotion, was crowned. (He always felt that bhava was not to be compromised for raga and tala). The legend goes that he was blessed by the divine sage Narada with great musical knowledge. He is said to have sung “Sri Naarada Mouni”, a song in praise of Narada, on this occasion.
As a 13-year-old, he composed “Namo Namo Raghava” in Desikathodi. Much later in life, his guru, Sonti Venkataramanayya, wanted to listen to Tyagaraja and invited him to perform at his house in Tanjavur. On that occasion, Tyagaraja presented “ Endaro Mahaanubhavulu”, (There are many great men and I salute all of them. This was meant for the audience listening to him) the fifth of the Pancharatna Krithis. Intensely pleased with Tyagaraja’s song, Sonti Venkataramanayya told the king about the genius of Tyagaraja. The king sent an invitation, along with ,as was traditional, many valuable gifts, to Thyagaraja, inviting him to grace the royal court. To the unworldly Tyagaraja, the prospect of wealth or fame was no incentive; he clearly had no inclination for a career at the king’s court, which doubtless in that age, as in every other, entailed petty rivalry and jealousy. He rejected the king’s invitation outright, composing another gem of a kriti, “Nidhi Chala Sukhama” on this occasion. Angered at his rejection of the royal offer, Tyagaraja’s brother took revenge by throwing his idols of Rama Pattabhisheka in the nearby Kaveri river.
A life which vastly was uncompromising was not at all to the liking of his elder brother, Japesa, to put it mildly. Japesa fondly hoped that the great art and learning of his younger brother could be put to financial advantage, which the saint would not agree to. In desperation, the brother not only partitioned the ancestral house but went to the extent of throwing the Rama idol which Tyagaraja worshipped into the river. The sorrow of the devotee cannot even be imagined. He sang many keerthanas begging the Lord to come back to him. Lord appeared in his dream and told him where to find the idol.
Honours and wealth could have been his, if only he had asked for them; but he would not ask. He spurned an invitation of the King and sang, “Is wealth (nidhi) the source of happiness or is the proximity (sannidhi) of Rama a source of happiness?” Tyagabrahma undertook an extensive pilgrimage of the sacred places of South India. Wherever he went he sang of the deity of the place. There is the famous incident of his visit to the Venkateswara temple at Tirupati. He goes into the temple to have darsan (vision) of the Lord; but the entrance of the sanctum sanctorum was covered with a curtain which prevents him from seeing the idol. The priests refused to open the curtain. In great sorrow he sang, “Thera Theeyaga rada (Will you not remove the curtain?)” …and characteristically adds, “The curtain of vanity and jealousy in my mind”. The curtain miraculously slides aside by itself and he was face to face with the God.
Tyagaraja was married at an young age to a lady named Parvatamma, who died shortly afterwards without surviving any issue. Later Tyagaraja married Kamalamba, by whom he had a daughter named Seethalakshmi, who was wed in due course to a gentleman by name Kuppuswamy. Seetalakshmi’s only child, also named Tyagaraja, died at an young age; with that, the line of direct descent from Tyagaraja came to an end. Tyagaraja had an elder brother, Japesa, whose descendents still reside in the same area of Tamil Nadu. Japesa is often made the villain in stories about Tyagaraja, in the role of the brother who could not understand Tyagaraja’s devotion to Sri Rama, a characterization that smacks of caricature and may well be inaccurate. Tyagaraja attained release from the materialistic world on Pushya Bahula Panchami, the fifth day of the dark half of the month of Pushya, in the Hindu lunar year Prabhava (January 6, 1847).
Having composed an innumerable number of Keerthanas (songs) that explored all the possibilities within the rules of the Carnatic music tradition Tyagaraja is truly regarded as the cornerstone of Carnatic music. To this day, a remembrance music festival called the Tyagaraja Aaradhana is held at Thiruvaiyyuru in the months of January to February every year. Usually hundreds of Carnatic musicians perform in this festival. The participation of classical musicians in this festival is considered to be very prestigious for them.
The famous actor Chittoor V. Nagayya produced and directed a film considered as a master piece named “Thyagayya (1946)”. This is a religious film about the life of saint poet Tyagaraja. It was a huge hit.
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