This is also his 170th aradhana year, and in the centenary year of MS Subbulakshmi (whose rendering of Tyagaraja kritis moves us to tears each time we hear them), I am honoured to have been present at Thiruvaiyaru, where Tyagaraja lived, this year too.
When the Tyagaraja Aradhana Mahotsava Sabha board asked me to be the chief guest for this year’s Aradhana , held between January 13 and 17, I was overwhelmed. The event has been a spontaneous overflow of bhakti this year as well. The prevalent aura here—that everyone is equal before God and music is a great social healer— is a great achievement. There is no hierarchy, no ‘high’ seat and ‘low seat’ here at Thiruvaiyaru. Hundreds of musicians, revered, adored and worshipped by rasikas sit together on the ground in front of the Samadhi of Tyagaraja. Thousands of music lovers and aficionados arrive with their tiny booklets, and sing in chorus with the singers and instrumentalists. There is no other festival quite like our Thiruvaiyaru Tyagaraja Aradhana anywhere in the world. It attracts septuagenarians and six-year olds, the young, blushing bride to the cerebral number-crunching statistician working for a multinational corporation, to the ordinary appa lammaker’s son. Tyagara
ja’s compositions continue to bind everyone together down the centuries.
Academics say Tyagaraja was born to Rama Brahmam and Sitamma in Thiruvarur in Thanjavur on May 4, 1767 when they were residing at door no 6, New Street. Rama Brahmam, was invited by the then Maharaja of Thanjavur, to discourse on Ramayana in his court. The king rewarded him with a house in Thiruvaiyaru. After Rama Brahmam’s death, the house was partitioned between Tyagaraja and his brother Japlesan. The latter initially never understood Tyagaraja’s gift. Tyagaraja spent all his time composing music and immersing himself in thoughts of Lord Rama. His brother felt he had to be more earthy. One of Tyagaraja’s famous kri tis , Nidhi chala sukyama is said to have been composed because of his brother’s outburst, “Will your Rama bha jana feed your stomach or clothe your body?”
Tyagaraja led a humble life. He had no income and fed himself, his family and his sishyas through uncha vati . Those observing uncha vati sustained themselves on what was offered willingly by people—ranging from rice to vegetables. The recipients would render spiritual discourses or bhajans for free in return. It was a life of hardship, but Tyagaraja embraced it lovingly in order to live, breathe and meditate on his favourite God, Rama.
What is remarkable about his body of work is how much solace they offer us, even today. His lyrics, so very emotional in content, echo our daily passions and wishes. Even his philosophic renderings are very relevant in our lives. In one of his kri tis , he says even if one were to be very austere, such a person will not gain spiritual merit if he is inherently jealous or is mean and spiteful. I have delivered lectures for corporate houses, where I have explained how his kritis are a useful tool in human resources management. The vivid imagery in his lyrics is another treasure.
Commenting on his compositions, my guru MLV used to say “If you learn his kritis in major ragas— Todi , Kharaharapriya, Kamboji, Kalyani or Sankarabharan am —you can explore the expanse of a raga in a hundred ways.”
One can listen to his compositions anywhere, why then do people flock to Thiruvaiyaru for the Aradhana ? Artistes turn down lucrative offers during the Aradhana period and everyone jostles for space due to one reason only you can feel Tyagaraja’s music brush your soul.
— The writer is a Carnatic musician and a Padma Bhushan awardee