Each time I sing Saint Tyagaraja’s immortal kriti, Bantu reethi kolu in Hamsanadam, it simply makes me go into a trance. Gems from his repository form an integral part of every musician’s repertoire.
What is it that makes this saint composer so popular and so revered? Simply, the beauty and bhakti in his compositions. They are also prodigious—with an extensive selection of ragas and with a deeply poignant appeal to his Lord Rama in myriad emotions. Be it complaining, soliciting, endearing, or being thoughtful and philosophical — they are all outpourings of love in all earnestness and in prayer.
To quote Suddhananda Bharathi, “Tyagaraja is a Mira in motion, a Kabir in devotion, a Purandara Dasa in music and a Nammalwar in vision.” Tyagaraja related not to the cognoscente but to the simple man and woman on the streets, those with no great knowledge or education, and composed his music in simple tunes and melodies.
Where else will you ever see all practicing musicians come on their own accord to his birthplace in Tiruvaiyaru year after year, gather together and sing in abandon and with gratitude for the treasures that he has left behind for the world to extol? Only Tyagaraja has this lure to create such an ambience and be remembered for so many years down the line with such a congregation.
I have performed at various global festivals the world over, but it is here that I feel such great spiritual vibes during each of my annual ritualistic visits for the last three decades. I simply cannot describe the experience — it has to be felt to be understood. When over a three thousand people sing the same intricate composition in chorus, there is no clamoring to show any musical prowess or individuality. It’s just a surrender to that ultimate bliss of music.
It is said that Sage Narada appeared as a sanya si before Tyagaraja and gifted him the Swararnava (ocean of swaras), initiating him into the intricacies of music. Thus in Narada’s praise, he composed Narada gana lola in Atana ragam , Sri Narada nada saraseeruha’ in Kanada ragam and Narada gu ruswamy in Durbar ragam. Dorakuna ituvanti seva in Bilahari was sung by him post undergoing training and before an august gathering of musicians and poets. He made an elaborate raga alapana in Kamb hoji and sang his Mari mari ninne in Adi talam driving his audience to sheer ecstasy.
His masterpiece , Nidhi Chala Sukhama, in Kaly ani was sung when he declined the invitation of the ruler of Thanjavaur to be the court poet. He laments, “Oh mind, tell me honestly, what is it that brings great happiness — is it wealth or the sight of the Lord? Is it the flattery of mere men bound in their own conceit or in singing the praises of the Lord by the wise Tyagaraja?”
Rajai, recording his admiration for the bard, says, “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.”
Tyagaraja popularised group singing and bhajans and also gave dignity to the bhagavathas, the bhajan performers. It was during his period that they came into the limelight.
For my guru MLV Amma, Thyagaraja’s kritis brought out a sensitivity both in the musician and in the rasika, that defied any definition.
Words are not enough again to describe Tyagaraja’s devotion to the Lord. Just like a doting child clinging on to its mother, Rama it was for him to pour his emotions. His very existence, so intricately woven, that he simply meshed as one with the Lord at all times, going into oblivion at the mere mention of the His name. Tyagaraja draws up an impressive list of illustrious predecessors in his Prahalada Bak thi Vijayam and Endaro Mahanub havulu is a salutation to the noble contemporaries.
Tyagaraja, the saint of Tiruvaiyaru, the soul of Carnatic music and of Indian culture, attained immortality on January 6, 1847 on the Pushya Bahula Panchami Day, that is celebrated annually ever since, by grateful musicians and rasikas. Tyagaraja was aware that he was born with a mission of singing the praise of his Lord Rama and in the kriti, Daya juchutakidi velara, in Ganavaridhi he expresses gratification of a self-conscious artiste, born to fulfil a great mission. The sound of Tyagaraja’s ragas have a mystic power on the minds and hearts of the listeners. The dignity, grandeur, beauty and erudition of his compositions are incomparable.
I am sure the Centre, as committed, will release a stamp on Saint Tyagaraja in this 250th year of celebrating his birth and his music. This will be another endorsement to his enduring legacy.
— The writer is a leading Carnatic musician