Monthly Archives: February 2015

SRI TYAGARAJA (1767 – 1847) – PART V – Visit to Kanchipuram

(For my friend Shri Kannan Rangachar)

Continued from Part IV


40.1. Sri Tyagaraja was born in Thiruvarur, a small town in Tanjavuru District. While he was still a very young boy, his family moved into a house on the Tirumanjana Street, at Thiruvaiyaru (about 50 KMs away) that was gifted by the King of Tanjavuru. Sri Tyagaraja lived the rest of his life in that house. Thiruvaiyaru is just about 13 KMs from Tanjavuru. He moved about, all his life, in the Thiruvaiyaru-Tanjavuru region. He did not travel outside of that limited area until he was about seventy-two years of age. How his first and the only travel outside that region came about is rather interesting.

40.2. It is said; that  around the year 1839 , one Kovur Sundaresa Mudaliyar a wealthy merchant and a Dubash (interpreter as also one who acted as steward, banker and general agent) of the British East India Company at Madras, called on his Guru  Sri Upanishad Brahmendra Sarasvathi at Kanchipuram in order to pay his respects. During the course of the conversation, Sundaresa Mudaliyar mentioned about a saintly person named Tyagaraja, residing at Thiruvaiyaru, who was composing divine songs and singing them beautifully. He suggested that the Swamin, at some time, could listen to his songs.

Thereupon, Sri Upanishad Brahmendra said that he too had heard of Tyagaraja and his music.  Then, he went on to say that, in fact, he was well familiar with Ramabrahmam who was his fellow-student and also with his son Tyagaraja while the latter was a young boy of 10 or 12.

40.3. That conversation with Sundaresa Mudaliyar brought back to the Swamin the old memories.  And, he longed to see the boy, he once knew, now grown into a musical celebrity. Sri Upanishad Brahmendra, at the instance of Sundaresa Mudaliyar, decided to send an invitation asking Thyagaraja to visit him at Kanchipuram.


41.1. In the past, that is to say, around the year 1780 , Sri Upanishad Brahmendra, then living at Tanjavuru, was known by his Sanyasa-ashrama name Ramacandrendra Sarasvati. There at Tanjavuru, he used to conduct discourses on Ramayana and also lead chorus-singing of the devotional songs he composed in praise of Sri Rama. It is said, the boy Tyagaraja who was in his early teens, say of ten-twelve years, used to attend, along with his father (Ramabrahmam), those musical discourses and Bhajans. (Thiruvaiyaru where the Ramabrahmam family lived is just 13 Km from Tanjavuru).

41.2. The influence of Sri Upanishad Brahman on Tyagaraja was very significant. Sri Rama was the Ista-devata of the Swamin. He inspired in the boy-Tyagaraja the intense fervour of devotion to Sri Rama and the Love for singing the glory of the Lord, nama-samkirtana.

41.3. The musicologists and experts opine that the traces of Ramachandrendra Sarasvati‘s influence can be found in the Divya-nama-samkirtana songs later composed by Sri Thyagaraja. They point out the similarities in the structure of songs and in the word-play (pada-jaala) employed by Sri Thyagaraja and his inspiration, Ramacandrendra Sarasvati.

For instance; it is said; Sri Tyagaraja’s songs : Dhyaname varamaine, Ganga snaname and Koti-nadula which emphasize that the real snana and thirtha (the bath and the holy waters of the pilgrimage) are verily in the contemplation on the name of the Lord and not in the rivers, were inspired by Sri Upanishad Brahmendra‘s  Tarangas in his Sri Rama Taranga.

It is also mentioned that this work of Sri Upanishad Brahmendra was in turn influenced by the songs in most enchanting opera Krishna-Leela-Tarangini of Sri Narayana Thirtha (1650 -1745).


42.1. Following the suggestion of Kovur Sundaresa Mudaliyar, Sri Upanishad Brahmendra sent an invitation to Tyagaraja. In his letter (Sri-mukham) , Sri Upanishad Brahmendra mentioned that though he was very desirous of listening to Tyagaraja’s divine music he was unable to visit Thiruvaiyaru as he was in no position to travel long distances because of his ’extreme age’ (viparita ayu) . And, he said, he would appreciate if Tyagaraja could visit him at Kanchipuram and let him have the pleasure of listening to sublime music celebrating the glory of Sri Rama. The letter “Sri-mukham’ (a formal communication bearing the official seal and insignia of the Mutt) was sent to Sri Thyagaraja through Tanjavuru Rama Rao who was acting as a sort of manager and caretaker of Tyagaraja, after the demise of his (Sri Tyagaraja’s) wife Kamalamba.

[It is said; that Sri-mukham along with some of Tyagaraja’s compositions, in his own writing on palm leaf, are preserved in the Saurastra Sabha at Madurai.]

42.2. The invitation from Sri Upanishad Brahmendra threw Sri Thyagaraja into a bit of dilemma. To start with, he was not used to travelling; and, he also did not like any deviations or distractions cutting him away from his daily worships and Samgita-sadhana.  And at the same time, he could not refuse the invitation from a very senior person whom he respected and one whom he regarded almost as a guru (guru-samana).  In the heart of his heart he was most unwilling to leave his home and his daily worship (Rama-panchayatana) of his beloved deity Sri Rama.

He was restless for a couple of days. It is said, it was during these stressful days that Sri Tyagaraja sang the kriti in Thodi Raga “koti nadula danushkoti lo undaga, etiki tirugadave O manasaa’; meaning when millions of rivers are merged in danushkoti (the ocean) why do you wander aimlessly, Oh my mind. However, after his disciples assured and promised to conduct regularly the daily Puja of his deity Sri Rama, without fail, Sri Thyagaraja agreed to make the trip.

42.3. According to the travel plans drawn up , finalized and arranged by the Manager Tanjavuru Rama Rao, Sri Tyagaraja  and party were to first visit Sri Rangam; then on to Kanchipuram to call on  the sage Sri Upanishad Brahmendra honouring  his invitation ; and from there to Tirupthi-Tirumala to have the darshan of Lord Venkateshwara . The return journey would take the route of:  Madras, Tiruvattiyur and Lalgudi. Each of those places is a celebrated centre of pilgrimage.



44.1. In the summer of 1839 (April)  when Sri Tyagaraja was seventy-two years of age, he departed from Thiruvaiyaru after attending to the seven-day Chaitra-maasa  Saptastana Utsavam celebrations at Panchanadeeswara (Shiva) temple. The travel party included about twenty disciples; and during most of the journey Tyagaraja was carried in a palanquin.

44.2. The party reached the temple city of Sri Rangam in May 1839 during the course of the Chaitrothsavam of the Lord Ranganatha. During his halt at Sri Rangam, Sri Tyagaraja composed five songs (Sri Ranga-pancha-ratna) in adoration of Lord Ranganatha: O Ranga shayee (Kambodhi); Chootamu Raaare (Arabhi); Vinaraadha (Deva Gandhari); Raju Vedale (Thodi) ; and, Karuna joodu Malayya ( Saranga).

44.3. After worshipping Lord Sri Raganatha at Sri Rangam, the party reached Kanchipuram when the Dolothsavam of the Lord Varadaraja Swami was in progress. Sri Thyagaraja was delighted; and in ecstasy he burst forth into the song Varadaraja Ninnukori vacchiti’ (Swarabooshani). While at Kanchipuram, he also sang Varada Navanita (ragapanjaramu).

45.1. Then, Sri Tyagaraja called upon his Guru-samana Mentor Sri Upanishad Brahmendra after long-long years.  When they first met (c. 1780) in Tanjavuru, Sri  Upanishad Brahmendra, youth of thirty-three was in the prime of life; and his admirer Tyagaraja a lad of twelve was  just on the threshold of life. They did not meet again for a very long years. And, when they met at Kanchipuram (1839) after a lapse of about sixty years, both had grown into ripe old sages glowing with mellow joy; Sri Upanishad Brahmendra   was in ripe old age at about 92 and Sri Tyagaraja too was at  about 72. During those long years both walked the path of life with singular devotion in pursuit of their aspirations and ideals. Both achieved success substantially. The meeting at Kanchipuram was between two blessed and enriched persons sharing mutual regard and admiration.

Sri Upanishad Brahman was greatly delighted by the musical excellence and pure devotion of Sri Tyagaraja. He enjoyed every moment of Tyagaraja’s stay with him. He is said to have remarked it was worth waiting almost a lifetime for enjoying the delight (raga –sudha) of Sri Tyagaraja’s music.

46.1. After a stay of about two weeks at the Sri Upanishad Brahmendra Ashram (during which time they also participated in the Annual Uthsavam of Sri Varadaraja) , the party  left for Tirupathi by way of Walajapet where Sri Tyagaraja’s disciple Venkataramana Bhagavatar and his family were waiting anxiously to receive their Guru. There, they took him in a procession to at their Bhajana Mandiram.

It is said  ; ” while Sri Tyagaraja  was  being taken in procession, Venkataramana Bhagavatar’s  disciple, Mysore Sadashiva Rao composed the kriti ‘Tyagaraja-swami vedalina’ in Todi Raga; and, ‘sang it in the immediate presence of the great saint and  earned his blessings”.

Sri Tyagaraja  stayed with  Venkataramana Bhagavatar’s family  for about 12 days, before proceeding to Tirupathi.

46.2. At Tirupathi, Sri Tyagaraja had the Darshan of Lord Venkateshwara. And there, he is said to have composed the Kritis: Terateeyagarada (Gowlipanthu) and Venkatesaninnu sevimpa (Madhyamavathi).  He is said to have stayed at Tirupathi for about five days.

46.3. On the way back from Tirupathi , Sri Tyagaraja is said to have made a brief halt at Sholingur where he composed a song praising  Hanuman for his  immense power of making the impossible possible : Paahi Rama dhootha jagath prana kumara ( Vasantha –varali  ).

46.4. At the request of his disciple Veena Kuppayyar, Sri Tyagaraja and party visited Madras where they stayed at 41, Bunder Street, George Town, the palatial residence of Kovur Sundaresa Mudaliyar the Dubash.

Kovur Sundaresa Mudaliar's House

A drawing of Kovur Sundaresa Mudaliar’s House  (as it might have then existed) at 41, Bunder Street, George Town – thanks to Sri V Sriram 

There followed a most memorable week of rich music , the highlight of which was Sri Tyagaraja’s elaborate rendering of a Pallavi in Deva-gandhari Raga.

In June 1839, during his stay at Madras, Sri Tyagaraja visited Sundaresa Mudaliyar’s native village Kovur situated nearby. There at the Sri Sundareshwara temple, at the time of its vaisakha visakam festival, Sri Tyagaraja composed and sang five Kritis in praise of the Lord.  The set of these five Kritis has gained fame as Kovur Sundareswara Pancha-rathna KritiShambo Mahadeva (Panthurvarali); Sundareswaruni (Sankarabharanam); Nammi Vachina (Kalyani); Eee vasudha neevanti (Sahana); and Kori sevimparare (Kharaharapriya).

Again, as requested by his disciple Veena Kuppayyar, Sri Tyagaraja visited his home in Thiruvottiyur, a nearby village, where he composed and sang another set of five songs on the presiding deity of the temple there  , Devi Tripurasundari: Kanna-thalli (Saveri); Sundari naninnu (Arabhi); Sundarinee divya roopamu (Kalyani); Sundari nannindarilo (Begada) and Dharini thelusu konti (Sudha Saveri). It is also said; here, Sri Tyagaraja sang a song in praise of Sri Venugopalaswami , the family deity of Kuppayyar.

46.5. On his way back from Madras at Nagapattinam, Sri Tyagaraja sang two songs: Karmame Balvanthamayenu (Saveri) and Evaru theliya boyyeru (Thodi).

46.6. On the way from Nagapattinam to Tanjavuru, Lalgudi Rama Iyer, a disciple of Sri Tyagaraja requested him to visit the temple of Shiva as Saptha-rishieeswara and of his consort Devi Srimathi at his village Lalgudi (otherwise known as Tapas Tirthapura). Here again , he composed and sang a set of five Kritis –  two on Saptha-risheeswara and three on Srimathi – Isha pahimam (Kalyani); Deva Sri Thapas-theertha (Madhyamavati) , both on Sri Saptha-reeshswara; Lalithe Sri pravriddhe (Bharivai); Gathi neevani (Thodi); and Mahitha Pravriddha (Kambhoji), all three on Sri Devi.

Interestingly, it is only the Lalgudi-Pancha-rathna Kritis that include songs on the Lord as also on the Devi. In his all other sets of Kritis it is either the Lord or the Devi that is celebrated.

47.1. And after reaching home at Thiruvaiyaru, in October 1839, Sri Tyagaraja prayed at the temple of Lord Panchanatha and Devi Dharmasamvardhani.

[Sri Tyagaraja, in all, has sung twelve songs in praise of Panchanatheeswa (4) and Devi Dharmasamvardhini (8). The Kritis in praise of the Lord are: Ilalo Pranatharthi-harudu (Adana); Evarunnaru Brova (Malavasri); Eki Thrijagadeesa (Saranga); and, Muchada Bramhathulagu (Madhyamavathi).

The eight Kritis in praise of Devi are: Karuna chupavamma (Thodi);  Parasakthi Manubaratha (Saveri); Neevu brovavela, Paale Paalendhu  (Reethi-Gaula); Amma Dharmasamvardhini (Adana); Vithi Sakrathulagu (Yamuna Kalyani); Shive Pahimam (Kalyani); and , Amma Ninnu Nammithini (Aarabi).]


48.1. Sri Tyagaraja’s tour lasted for about six months or a little more (from April to October 1839). This was the only elaborate tour that Sri Tyagaraja ever took in all his life; and, Tirupathi was the farthest place in North that he visited. The trip which, basically , was undertaken to honour the invitation extended by his guru-samana Sri Upanishad Brahmendra turned out a great success; and musically highly rewarding and  productive. It was a blessing and a boon to Karnataka – music. It gave birth to series of compositions, kriti-groups popularly called kshetra-kritis of great merit. They are musical gemsremarkable for their soulful music, inspired rich lyrics and complex structure. The music lovers are in eternal debt to Sri Upanishad Brahmendra and the creator of sublime music Sri Tyagaraja.


 [Kshetra kirtanas

49.1. At each of the places and the temples he visited, Sri Tyagaraja composed inspiring kritis singing the glory of its presiding deities: Varadaraja (Sri Rangam); Kamakshi (Kanchipuram); Venkateshwara (Tirupathi); Kovur (Sundareshwara); Lalgudi (Saptharisheeswar and Srimathi). For details: please check Kshetra-Kirtanas.

It was a tradition in those days for the musical composers of merit to compose and sing songs in honor of the presiding deities whenever they visited a prominent temple-town. Such compositions were classified as Kshetra kirtanas. Sri Tyagaraja followed that good tradition sampradaya , the time honoured practice. Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar too followed this practice. He, in addition, built into his kritis brief references to the temple, its architecture, its rituals and its deity. Amidst these details he skilfully wove the name of the raga (raga mudra) and his own Mudra, signature. All these were structured into well-knit short kritis of grand music glowing with tranquil joy.]



Sources and References

Manaku Teliyana Tyagaraju:

Tyāgarāja and the Renewal of Tradition: Translations and Reflections by William Joseph Jackson

The Musical Works of Thyagaraja by Prabhakar Chitrapu Prabhakar

Kshetra kirtana by P. Sreenivasan


Posted by on February 22, 2015 in Tyagaraja


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SRI TYAGARAJA (1767 – 1847) – PART IV – Music continued

(For my friend Shri Kannan Rangachar)

Continued from Part III – Music


In the previous Part (Part III) while discussing about the music of Sri Tyagaraja , we familiarized ourselves with the music- scene that was prevailing in the Cauvery delta just prior to his time, as also with the developments that were taking place during his own time. In that context, we briefly touched upon Prabandha-s, Bhajanavali-s, Divyanama Samkitrana-s and Gita-Geyas inspired by the Nama Siddantha doctrine. And then, we came upon Kriti, the most advanced form of Karnataka Samgita which was perfected by Sri Tyagaraja and his contemporaries – Dikshitar and Syama Sastri. Let’s now move on to Sangathi-s which is said to be Sri Thyagaraja’s own contribution to music rendering in South India


29.1. The practice of singing Sangathi (lit. putting together) – a set of variations on the shades of a theme, gradually unfolding the melodic (Raga) potential of a phrase (Sahitya) in combination with Swaras – is said to have been introduced by Sri Tyagaraja. Some say that Sri Tyagaraja adopted Sangathi-rendering from dance-music where variations are done for Abhinaya and for bringing out the different shades and interpretations of the basic emotion (Bhava). In any case, this was an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the Kriti format in particular and to the musical performances in general. Sangathi elaboration in Madhyama Kala, in the opening of a Pallavi, has enormously enriched the aesthetic beauty of Raga-bhava during Kriti-presentation in a concert.  With that, a Kriti is no longer static; but, it is a vibrant, living entity like language that is wielded with skill and dexterity. Sangathi passages also mark the virtuosity of the performer. Some of Sri Tyagaraja masterpieces open with a cascade of Sangathis (E.g.  Chakkani raja margamu; Rama ni samana; O Rangashayi; and Naa Jeevadhara.)

29.2. Though Sangathi was fundamentally a feature of Tyagaraja-Kritis, its practice (Sarasa sangathi sandharbhamu, as Tyagaraja calls it)   has now spread to the presentation of Kritis of Dikshitar, Shyama Shastry and other composers, though they belong to a different style. Similarly, Madhyama kala that goes with the Sangathi has come to be the principal tempo of Karnataka Samgita [though some of Dikshitar-kritis, in Vainika style, are in slow tempo (Vilamba Kala)].

29.3. Sangathi and  Neraval (sahitya vinyasa) – where the Sahitya and its melody is spread out in various ways while keeping intact the original structure of the Pallavi or Charanam – together with Kalpana Swaras, provide depth and expansiveness to Karnataka Samgita. And, Tyagaraja-kritis, in particular, provide ample scope not only for elaboration on various phases and aspects of Raga (manodharma-samgita), but also for improvising fascinating sequences of Sangathi-s, Neraval and Kalpana –Swaras.

Svara- sahitya

30.1. Another endearing feature of Sri Thyagaraja’s music is the Svara- sahitya he built into his major compositions, that is the Ghanaraga Pancharatna kritis which have long sentences, piled one upon another. Here, the Swaras (Notes) flow briskly, as if riding a wave, at even pace, in Madhyama Kala, weaving melody (Raga), rhythm (Taala) and words (Mathu) into grand patterns of beauty and delight. The Kritis are ideally suited for group singing (samuha –gana). Sri Thyagaraja’s poetic gifts in Sanskrit and Telugu too come to fore in these Kritis. The genius of Sri Tyagaraja was to insert Bhava even in a format where Swara and Taala are dominant. One cannot but admire the originality and daring of the Composer.


31.1. Sri Tyagaraja, as most of the other musicians of his time, followed Venkatamakhi’s scheme of 72 Melakarta classifications of Ragas (from Kanakangi to Rasikapriya). Expanding on Venkatamakhi’s Chaturdandi-Prakasika (ca. 1635),  Govindacharya, in his Sangraha Chudamani (late 17th – early 18th century), introduced the Sampoorna Melakarta scheme as well as delineating  Lakshanas for 294 janya ragas, many of which were till then unknown . Thus, unlike the musicians of their past generations, Sri Tyagaraja and others had the benefit of a vast store of Ragas.

Musicologists who have analyzed Sri Thyagaraja’s  collected works say that his  700 odd known kritis  feature 212-5 ragas (including about 47 Melakarta Ragas); and of these , as many as 121 ragas have only one composition each.

31.2. It is also said; Sri Tyagaraja seemed to favour Ragas with Suddha-madhyama (Ma1). More than a hundred of his Kritis are in groups of Ragas under Kharaharapriya, Harikambhoji and Dhira-Sankarabharanam. Then, under Prati-madhyama (Ma2), there are kritis in: Varali (14); Kalyani (21) and Pantuvarali (13).

31.3. The Raga he chose, in each case, is eminently suited to the Kriti. Sri Tyagaraja could express sorrow, turmoil and joy with great musical beauty. His kriti, generally, strikes a good   balance between form and structure. It not only captures the essence of the Raga, but also aptly conveys the Bhava, the inner meaning of the kriti.   The music of Sri Tyagaraja is, thus, complete in all respects.

31.4. Although Sri Tyagaraja has composed some songs in slow tempo (Vilamba kala), the medium one (Madhyama kala) is said to be his characteristic tempo. The Madhyama Kala goes well with the Sangathi– rendering of his Kritis. That style of singing his Kritis has provided a stable format for musical concerts; and, has come to prevail in the Karnataka music. As a result, even Sri Dikshitar’s Kritis eminently suited to Veena-play (Veena–vadana) in slow tempo, with Gamaka-s (tonal flourishes) as its main adornment, is also, at times, spurred up to the Madhyama or even to Dhruta tempo.

Some of Sri Tyagaraja ‘s  Madhyama-kala Kritis commence with Durita-kala (quick tempo) with a very lively, arresting impact on any audience; for instance: ‘Darini Telusukonti’ (Suddha Saveri) and; ‘Dorakuna’ (Bilahari).

 There are also Madhyama-kala Kritis with Madhyama or Druta – kala sahitya, as in Emi dova’ (Saranga); ‘Vallagadanaka’ (Harikambhoji); ‘Brochevarevare’ (Sriranjani); and, ‘Koluvaiyunnade’ (Devagandhari

31.5. Sri Tyagaraja is credited with composing Kritis in rare and uncommon Ragas, in each of which there is only one Kriti. Such Kritis are termed as: Eka-raga kritis.  And, these are the main source to ascertain the sanchara-s of such Ragas. Sri Tyagaraja is said to have composed about forty such Eka-raga kritis. Some instances of his Eka-raga Kritis are:  Ni Chittamu (Vijaya Vasantham); Varashiki Vahana (in Supradeepam); Lilaganu Juche (in Dundubhi); Daya Jucutakidivela (in Ganavaridhi); Vachamagocharame ( in Kaikavasi ); and others.

31.6. There are also a few minor Ragas with limited scope for elaboration; but, have become popular mainly because of his compositions. By composing excellent kritis, Sri Tyagaraja breathed life to these ragas.

[E.g. Jayantasena (vinata satavahana); Kapi Narayani (sarasa samadana); and Vijayasri (varanarada)].

His initiative paved way for later generation of musicians to elaborate and present substantial pictures of such ‘minor’ Ragas.

[Among the songs of his early period, Giriraja Suta and Raminchuva Revarura are set to European band tunes, which perhaps he heard at Thanjavur court. These are similar to Nottuswara songs of Sri Dikshitar.]

31.7. Sri Tyagaraja is also said to have introduced new (Vinta) Ragas (or the Ragas that were adopted into Kritis for the first time): Vagadeeswari (paramatmudu); Ganavaridhi (daya juchutakidi velara) and Manohari (paritapamu ganiyadina); as also Ragas with only four Notes in Arohana (Vivardhani and Navarasa Kanada). In his Kriti Muccata brahmadulaku (Madhyamavathi), he refers to Vinta-Ragas (Vinta  ragamulna aalapamu seyaga)

In all these cases (including rare and vakra ragas), Sri Tyagaraja in his characteristic manner indicates the scale structure at the very opening lines of the song (Pallavi) and maintains the scale structure further in the Kriti.

[For more, please check the analysis made by Prabhakar Chitrapu in his The Musical Works of Thyagaraja at ]

32.1.  Sri Tyagaraja was not only a poet, a composer but was also a performer par excellence. This is another testimony to Sri Tyagaraja’s multitalented musical genius. His creative contribution in enriching Karnataka Samgita, in scope, content and excellence in its presentation , is truly immense.

Manasollasa (also called Abhjilashitarta Chintamani) ascribed to the Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (1127-1139 AD) is an encyclopedic work, written in Sanskrit, covering a wide range of subjects.  Its Chapter Three: Prakirnaka: deals with topics such as: Guna–Dosha (merits and demerits) of Vak-geya-kara (composers who set  songs to music). The text grades the composers (Vak-geya-kara) into three classes. According to its classification,  the lowest is the lyricist; the second is one who sets to tune the songs written by  others; and, the highest is one who is the  Dhatu Mathu Kriyakari – who writes the lyrics (Mathu), sets them to music (Dhatu) and ably presents (Kriyakari)  his compositions.

 The sublime trinity of Karnataka Sangita : Sri Tyagaraja; Sri Dikshitar  and Sri Shyama Shastry were  indeed  Vak-geya-karas  of the highest order.]

33.1. As regards the Taala (rhythmic counterpoints), nearly half his compositions are set in symmetric Di-Taala of eight counts (matra). There are nearly a hundred each in Chapu, Desati and Rupaka Taalas.


: – Sanskrit

34.1. Telugu is mainly the language of Tyagaraja-kritis. However, out of his 700 and odd Kritis that are known, about 50 are in Sanskrit [E.g. Jagadānanda kārakā (Naata); Śhambhō mahādēva (Pantuvarali); Īśā pāhimā jagadīśha (Kalyani); Lalitē śrī pravr̥ddhē śrīmati lāvaya nidhimati (Bhairavi); Vara-līla gāna-lōla sura-pāla (Sankarabharanam) and many others]. It is said; for the purpose of his daily worship, Sri Tyagaraja wrote Divya-nama-sankeerthanams as also Namavalis in Sanskrit.  Besides, in two of his plays –Naukacharitram and Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam – some slokas are in Sanskrit.  All his Telugu songs are replete with Sanskrit words and phrases.

34.2. His early education was in Sanskrit. He seemed to have learnt it well; and he used his learning with flair. His first (!) composition Namo Namo Raghavaya (Desikatodi – a Janya raga of the 8 Melakarta Hanumatodi with Aroha – S G2 M1 P D1 N2 S/  and, Avaroha– S N2 D1 P M1 G2 R1 S ), which is inscribed on the walls of his house, is in Sanskrit. The song celebrates the glory of the Lord in brisk series of His sacred–names (Divya-nama); and also pays tributes to the Valmiki who composed the most wonderful Ramayana epic (Satatha paalita adbhuta kavye).

34.3. His Sanskrit compositions enriched with skill and grace are spread over a wide range. There are some sweet-sounding songs that are meant for beginners. There are also elaborate and Grand (Pancharatna) Kritis with long winding sentences flowing out in brisk sequence.

34.4. And in his Sanskrit compositions, Sri Tyagaraja shows his literary skill and command over the language.  The songs are adorned with alliteration or word-play (pada-jala), rhymes (prasa), expressions that could be understood in two different ways (shlesha) and other literary devices. (For instance: Pada jala – gruha-anugruha-vigraha-navagraha –nigraha; Vidulaku-Koviduluku; and, Dehi tava paada Vaidehi. Shlesha: Janakaja-matha/ Janka-jamatha; Palaya/ Krupalaya; Taradhisha vadana/Taradhisha-damana)

He also plays with usage of rare words, some having obscure meaning; and compounds words coined by him by bringing together classical and colloquial words prevalent at that time.

Certain words that are rare in Sanskrit poetic usage have gained currency mainly because of his compositions. For instance: Samaja (elephant); Vivaha (one riding a bird, meaning Vishnu, where Vi stands for bird. Vivaha, otherwise, commonly means ‘marriage’); Rakabja-mukha (One whose face is like a full moon; here Abja stands for moon while it’s common usage is for lotus); Vanidhi (sea, here Va stands for water while Vana generally means forest). In a similar manner, Vanaja and  Vanaruha  , where Vana stands for water mean , here,  lotus. And, Bha generally means light ; but , Sri Thyagaraja   uses the term Bharaja- mukha , to mean ‘moon -like face’. And,  so on..

Telugu: –

35.1. The Telugu of Sri Tyagaraja-kritis, simple and graceful, is nearer to spoken language. It is the sort of Telugu that is commonly spoken by emigrant Mulakanadu community. There is a certain felicity and homeliness to his lines.  And, it is not the high-pitched classic Telugu of court poetry. Yet, it is elegant and ornamented with terms and expressions derived from Sanskrit.

35.2. There is a touch of realism in the similes, proverbs and expressions which he picks up from day-to-day life. That vouches for his keen observation of the life around him. The humour, mock-anger, sarcasm and nuggets of worldly-wisdom enliven his Kritis.

35.3. In a large number of songs , Sri Tyagaraja outlines the character of  true devotion and of a true devotee; the futility of mere observing rites and rituals (Vratas); the meaninglessness of sacred baths and Puja without having either the moral qualities, or the purity of mind or devotion in ones heart (Manasu nilpa saktilekapote..).

His kritis were as much a pleadings to the Lord as to the fellow beings asking them to delight in Bhakthi and to  give up attachment to lesser things.  The ways in which he conveys his message are rather fascinating.

Sri Tyagaraja very often employs conversation style lyrics (samvada-gati) in his Kritis as though he is carrying on dialogues with Sri Rama in different moods. Sri Tyagaraja was perhaps influenced by the Kirtana of Bhadrachala Ramadasa. He questions Rama about his unjust attitude, treating him like a stranger –  ‘Anyayamu seyakura rama, nannu anyuniga judakura’ (Kapi); taunts Rama : ‘have you no sense of shame’- Manamuleda’ (Hamirkalyani).

In his Kriti Palukkavemi Na Daivama (Raga Purnachandrika; Taala Adi) Sri Thyagaraja beseeches his Lord thus: “Oh Rama why don’t you talk to me, my own God? Ever so many people laugh at me and is it justified to be laughed at thus, my Rama?  I do everything just as you manipulate and even then you are neglecting me, why? What is the reason for doing so? In my younger days my own father and mother taught me to be pious, love you and protected me from wickedness. Even then some others made me unhappy over many things. You are witnessing all my sufferings and still you keep quiet. How long are you going to be like that, my most loving and affectionate Lord, the greatest of all Devas?”


There are some interesting expressions of mocking: naivety of a vessel trying to know the taste of milk it holds (Dutta palu ruchi dehyu samyame enta muddo) ; ..  or foolishness of one holding a lump of butter in his hand and yet worrying about ghee (Vennaiyunda netikevvarama vyasana padura); … or the futility of dressing up and decorating a corpse (Pranamulenidaniki bangaru baga chutti).

There are also expressions of humor: laughing at a woman rocking the baby with one hand and pinching it with another (Totla narbhakula nutuvu, tochinattu gilliduvu); … or like trusting on fidelity of a ‘purchased wife’ (Rukalosagi konna sati— gara vimpa rada); …. or the restlessness of one going after money like the grams bouncing up and down on a frying pan .

There are some wisecracks that suggest saying that one’s merits and miseries in life are ones own making. There is not much sense in blaming others for your plight. He points out: “if the gold is not entirely pure why blame the goldsmith?… If your daughter cannot bear the labor pains why blame the son-in-law? … If you did no good in your past birth why blame the gods for your miserable lot? O Rama, my troubles are my own; I surely do hot blame you for that. (Mi valla guna dosha memi Sri Rama? Na valla ne gani Nalina-dala-nayan…).

There are many un-characteristic sharp jibes taking a dig at hypocrisy and fake – rituals: as that of a Somayaji performing havan while his wife is busy eloping with her lover; … as that of a scholar who employs his learning to earn some money, like the one prostituting his mother; … or to those who slave their devotion to a mortal just as a sex worker does.

Another type of   Kriti which was not tried out by Sri Dikshitar and Sri Shyama Sastry was the Ninda-stuti, taking the Lord to task in mock anger. These again are the shades of Ramadasa.  Sri Tyagaraja taunts Sri Rama: what is the point in calling you savior  of the world and remover of difficulties (Pranatartihara) if you do not come to my rescue despite  countless appeals I made to you:  Ilalo pranatartiharudanu’ (Atana); … you became a famous king merely because Sita married you , and a hero because Sita did not burn Ravana into ashes by her angry looks : Ma Janaki chabattaga Maharaju vaithivayya  (Kambhoji); … and , he then takes Sita to task for marrying a good looking but a heartless person : ‘Sari evvare’ (Sriranjani).

Even in despair and anger, Sri Thyagaraja doesn’t loose his composure; and, he refrains from using harsh words to rebuke his Rama. The best he can ever do in his Ninda-stuti is to question Lord Rama’s judgment. In the Kriti Yuktamu Kadu (in Sri Raga) , the title of which  means “this is not proper for you, Lord”,  Sri Thyagaraja wonders why the Lord has disappeared, exclaiming in despair that it is not proper on His part not to protect his beloved Bhakta.

35.4. But, essentially Sri Tyagaraja was a Rama-bhaktha who was also a gifted poet and musician. He might have drawn comparisons from ordinary life, collective memory and common wisdom, perhaps to be accessible to the people of the world. But, inwardly he was a mystic yearning for liberation.  Sri Tyagaraja sang not merely for himself but for the liberation of all his fellow beings.

Rama pattabhishekam S Rajam


36.1. The varieties of forms, vast spread of contents and sheer volume of his creative works is truly amazing.

We have in Sri Tyagaraja an extraordinary collection of verities of musical forms and compositions, ranging from Divya-nama-sankeerthanam and Utsava-sampradaya songs suited for group singing;  musical dance-dramas such as Nauka-Charitam and Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam; Kirtanas beseeching the Lord for help , kindness and love; and above all liberation; songs bursting out in sheer joy and ecstasy ; songs in playful mood , mocking Rama in jest and half-anger; and , there are , of course , the Grand Compositions grouped as Pancharatna-kritis representing the highest form of art music performed in formal classical concerts.

It is the spread in the variety of his creations that   marks Sri Tyagaraja among his illustrious contemporaries. The range of his music stretching from simple well set songs of melody, ease and grace that children love to sing , to edifying flood of Grand music is a testimony to Sri Tyagaraja’s manifold musical genius.

Although the bulk of his known compositions are devoted to Sri Rama , Sri Tyagaraja also composed quite a number of songs in praise of other deities as well , such as : Shiva, Krishna, Vishnu , Ganesha, Devi (in her various forms) ; and, many on the the River Kaveri and one on the River Yamuna (Allakallola) in Raga sowrashtra. He also composed a  number of songs glorifying  Nada Brahmam; the medium of  Sapta svara through which he expressed his devotion toward that sublime principle . Please read the article posted by Dr. P P Narayanaswami.

[The website at  New Age Multimedia Almanac  states  that of the  787 compositions of Sri Tyagaraja  listed by  it, as many as 698 are devoted to Sri Rama; the next , which is quite distant, are 37 Kritis on the Devi  , followed  by 19 on Shiva; and, 12 on Krishna . The rest are in single digits.]

The renowned artist Sri S Rajam illustrated Sri Thyagaraja’s one of the rare Kritis dedicated to Lord Shiva: Mucchata-Brahmadulaku (ముచ్చట బ్రహ్మాదులకు) in the Raga Madhyamavathi :

Shiva Thyagaraja kriti

36.2. As regards the numbers, the exact number of Kritis/Kirtanas that Sri Tyagaraja created is still a matter of debate among the scholars. Some claim that he wrote as many as 22,400 songs, which number matches with the number of Slokas in Valmiki- Ramayana. That might be an overstatement.  According to the researchers and particularly, the , the known and authentic kritis / kirtanas of Sri Tyagaraja is about 725 .

His Utsava-sampradaya-kirtanas, a group of songs rich in melody and lyrics, number about 27. And, the Divya-Nama-samkirtanam– that celebrate the glory of the Lord and his name are about 72.

In addition, Sri Tyagaraja composed three musical plays in Telugu, of which two are available:  Prahalada Bhakti Vijayam and Nauka Charitam. The Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam is in five acts with 45 kritis set in 28 ragas and 138 verses, in different metres in Telugu.  The Nauka Charitam is a shorter play in one act with 21 kritis set in 13 ragas and 43 verses. The latter is more popular.

[ Please do refer to a very remarkable site created by  a group headed by its Chief Data Analyst –  Smt. Meera Subramanian  , listing as many as 787 compositions of Sri Tyagaraja, along with its lyrics , audio and video files as also the deity-wise classification of his Kritis.]

37.1. Chronology is yet another issue with Sri Tyagaraja’s works. The dates or the sequence of his various compositions are much debated. There is no definite information in that regard. His disciples Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar and Tanjavuru Rama Rao who served their Master for long years, did make efforts to preserve the texts of his songs. We all have to be grateful to them for the service they rendered.  They wrote down the songs on loose sheets of paper or on palm leaves, without however mentioning the date or the year of their composition.

All that is surmised is:  either his Sanskrit song in praise of Sri Rama Namo Namo Raghavaya ( Desikatodi) or his Telugu song on Ganesha , Giriraja suta tanaya (Bangala)  is his first composition. Some explain it away by saying that while the former is his first Kriti in Sanskrit, the latter is his first Kriti in Telugu.

37.2. As regards his end-years, his wife Kamalamba passed away in the year 1845. A year after her death, on the night of Prabhava – Pushya shukla –Ekadashi (Dec 1846), Sri Tyagaraja had a dream. Immediately on waking up, Sri Tyagaraja burst into, the now famous, Kriti  Giripai nelakonna (in Sahana Raga) wherein  he declares with great joy that  in his dream he did see  Sri Rama, residing on hilltop ; and, he  did   promise  him Moksha within ten days (putlu). [Here, putlu could mean either a day or part of a day]

37.3. On 5 Jan 1847, Sri Tyagaraja, at the age of eighty, renounced the world and entered into Sanyasa assuming the name Nadabrahmananda. On the next day, that is on 6 Jan 1847, – Pushya Bahula Panchami (the fifth day after the full moon in the dark-half of the month of Pushya) of Prabhava-nama-samvatsara in the Kali-year 4948 – after offering his daily worship to his Ishta-devata  Sri Rama installed in his house , he called on his disciples attending him to chant Rama-nama. Then, it is said, he burst into his last song Paritapamu ganiyadina (in Manohari Raga). Thereafter, Saint Sri Thyagaraja entered into Samadhi merging with the Para Brahman.

Thus, Giripai nelakonna and Paritapamu ganiyadina seem to be his last two Kritis.

sri rama

Nadopasana and Rama Bhakthi

38.1. In many of his songs Sri Tyagaraja describes Nadopasana the practice of music (Samgita Sadhana) as an aid to cultivate devotion and contemplation. He says, neither mere talk nor modesty will help. Sadhana, ceaseless practice, with dedication will alone save you. For Tyagaraja, music was the means to salvation; and, he practised it with great sincerity.

38.2. He explains the seven notes (sapta-svara) that are the foundations of music as having emanated from the Pranava Nada (Aum). Here, he visualizes Nada the subtle and sacred vibration as the manifestation of Para Brahman, the Supreme Reality. He narrates his experience of deep absorption in the joy (Ananda) of Nada. He declares: ‘the joy of music  (Nada ) is itself the bliss of Brahman (Brahmananda) that the Vedanta speaks of’; and says ‘he who delights in Nada attains the bliss of Brahman’.  He, thus, upholds the highest spiritual ideal of music that is permeated with Bhakthi.

[For example: Sangita-jnanamu; Nadatanuma; Gitarthamu; Nadopasanace; Nadaloluni; Mokshamugalada and Svara-raga-sudha etc]

Rama janma

39.1. Ramayana was a huge influence in the life and outlook of Sri Tyagaraja. He not only revered the text deeply but also imbibed several of its episodes into his Kritis. In hundreds of his songs he celebrates the powers, the glory and the virtues of  Sri Rama. He calls out to Sri Rama in countless ways.

And, some of the epithets he employs are related to music, addressing Sri Rama as : ‘Samagana-lola’; ‘Raga-rasika’; ’Sapta-swara-sanchari’; ‘Samgitasampradayakudu’; and, such others. It is the Rama bhakthi permeating his Kritis that elevates his music to spiritual heights.

39.2. For Thyagaraja, Sri Rama his Ishta-devata whose glory he celebrates in most of his songs is none other than Para Brahman, the Supreme Being. He repeatedly declares that Sri Rama is his favourite deity (Ista daivamu neeve); Rama alone is his God (Vadera daivamu; Rama eva daivatam); there is none equal to Rama (Rama nee samanamevaru); he takes refuge in Rama (Ninne nera namminanu )  and so on.


For him, Rama is beyond the Trinity, Tri-murti (Sri Rama Rama Jagadatma Rama; Manasa Sri Ramachandruni); Rama is Para Brahman. Rama is another name for BrahmanRaamaayani brahmamunaku peru (It’s Sanskrit equivalent is: Rama padena asau param Brahma abhidhiyate). Therefore, he counsels, submit to Rama with Love (prematho) and true devotion (nija bhakti); surrender to Rama in absolute faith; and, be immersed in Rama-bhakthi. And, he avers that such real Bhakthi alone is the right royal way to salvation (Chakkani raja margamu).

39.3. Thus, Music (Samgita Sadhana), absorption in the joy of melody graced with bhakthi, was for Sri Tyagaraja the Nadopasana the worship of Nada which is the very embodiment of Brahman.




Continued in Part V- Visit to Kanchipuram

Sources and references

Manaku Teliyana Tyagaraju:

Tyāgarāja and the Renewal of Tradition: Translations and Reflections by William Joseph Jackson

The Power of the Sacred Name: Indian Spirituality Inspired by Mantras by V. Raghavan

Spiritual Heritage of Sri Tyagaraja by Dr. V Raghavan and C. Ramanujachariar

History of Indian Music by Prof. P. Sambamoorthy

A Tribute to Tyagaraja by V.N. Muthukumar and M.V. Ramana

The Musical Works of Thyagaraja by Prabhakar Chitrapu Prabhakar

I acknowledge with thanks the images and other information from his site


Posted by on February 22, 2015 in Tyagaraja


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SRI TYAGARAJA (1767 – 1847) – PART III – Music

 (For my friend Shri Kannan Rangachar)

Continued from  Part II –  Life


Many- splendored genius

19.1. Sri Tyagaraja was a many-splendored genius. He was a musician, poet, philosopher and Saint combined in one. In him music, poetry and spirituality reside in sublime harmony; and, find spontaneous expression in every note of his music (Samgita) and every phrase of his poetry (Sahitya).

There are some who regard him as a divinity , a saint; and venerate his kritis as sacred literature. There are also those who are in awe of the inspiring music, the lucid poetic expressions and philosophical insights that abound in his Kritis. The ardent devotees of Sri Rama revere his poetry as an outpouring of Rama-Bhakthi. For them, Sri Thyagaraja’s music is a means to attain God’s Grace, Moksha – Sadhana.  And, to most other music lovers, Tyagaraja and Karnataka Samgita are the two names of the same entity that is pure and enjoyable.

19.2. For successive generations of musicians and music lovers in South India, Sri Tyagaraja’s Kritis-kirtanas have been the treasure house of education, enlightenment and enjoyment. Here, they get to admire the sparkling expressions that shine forth in a simple language they can relate to; the effortless ease with which words (Matu) and Music (Dhatua) blend into each other; and, the graceful   movements of his smooth flowing music that makes singing a great pleasure (gana-anukula), a tranquil delight (sukhanubhava).

19.3. It is said; music bestows bliss instantaneously; but, poetry on contemplation. But, for Tyagaraja composing the song and singing (Samgita and Sahitya) followed each other and flowed out at once.



20.1. The farther in time we go from him, it is his saintliness that seems to sparkle and take over. But, what is lost sight is the human aspect of Tyagaraja. Perhaps, not many, now, look at him as a person; an individual who lived amidst his fellow beings enduring the pains of a common householder.

He did suffer from poverty; frustrations; sense of insecurity; pain caused by cruel jibes mocking at his indifference towards things that matter in life; his Uncha-Vritti seeking alms while singing along the streets, which normally would dent ones’ self-esteem. He was utterly helplessness against envy and hatred of neighbors and relatives.

But, at the same time; he also did enjoy moments of bliss, joy and fulfillment, derived through his Rama-bhakthi in which he was firmly rooted.

That indeed was the essence of his life encased in a tough shell.  All such varied phases of his life-experiences gained explicit form in his poetry and music.

20.2. Perhaps one cannot truly appreciate the intrinsic merit of his songs without taking into account Tyagaraja the person; the persons who moulded his  life; the events that influenced his outlook and also the ways of his living and feeling; the values in life that he held very high ; and, his intense devotion  (Bhakthi) and dedication towards his Supreme Ideal (paramartha-Sadhana).

21.1. He gave vent to his sorrows, disappointments, frustrations, agony, disgust or mock-anger, hurt and pain, and above all his joy in adoring Sri Rama, by sublimating those emotions into soulful songs that gushed forth spontaneously.

For instance; in his Nadupai balikeru (Madhyamavati) he complains of the local gossip blaming him for the partition of his family home; his Vararagalayajnulu (Chenchu Kambhoji) speaks of his disappointment with his fellow musicians; in his Nayeda vanchana and Etula gadapudavo he refers to confrontation with his cousins (daayadi).

And, there are many other songs through which he pours out bitterness and sorrow. He preferred to compose his pains and pleasures into songs, addressing them to his Sri Rama instead of complaining to mortals. He even points out, in mild sarcasm, the deception that the Lord indulges in (Sadhinchane).

There are of course, countless songs that gushed out in pure ecstasy and delight calling out to Sri Rama.

22.2. Perhaps, he did not wait to search for words or for a Raga to suit the mood or the song. Each followed the other naturally. He improvised his songs and music on the spot to express his emotions with ease. Sri Tyagaraja is, thus, truly matchless for his creative genius.

Shishya parampara

23.1. Sri Tyagaraja, today, is recognized more by his music than by his life-events or by his poetry. He himself was aware of the high quality of his music and songs that made him famous even in distant lands (Dura Deshana). [In his song Dasharathi, he says: How can I ever forget you O Rama / you have made me known in far-off lands..!]. And, after his departure, his fame multiplied and spread far and wide beyond the shores of India.

23.2. In that regard, Sri Tyagaraja   was fortunate to have had around him a line of devoted disciples (Shishya parampara) who were eager to learn. It is said; Sri Tyagaraja, as a teacher, was a strict disciplinarian. He ensured that his students learnt and practiced the right and authentic style of singing his Kritis, without flawing its text (Patantara) or the grammar and diction of the Raga. He would not tolerate deviations from the poetry and music that he created with great earnestness.

24.1. His disciples, even as they left Tanjavuru in search of patronage, elsewhere, carried with them the Kritis, the music and the tradition of their Master, at the heart of which was Rama Bhakthi, with reverence and gratitude. They, in turn, were followed by their descendents and pupils (Shishya parampara) who made their life-mission to preserve and carry forward their precious inheritance. That has helped in maintaining the continuity of Sri Tyagaraja-musical –tradition (Sampradaya) over the generations in its pristine form, in keeping it alive and in spreading it far and wide.

 Tyagaraja linage

24.2. The music of Sri Tyagaraja has come down to us in three main Schools (Sampradayas); the Tillaisthalam (Rama Iyengar); the Umayalpuram (brothers Krishna and Sundara Bhagavathar-s); and, the Walajapet (Venkataramana Bhagavathar and his son Krishnaswamy Bhagavatar) Sampradaya-s.

Among the other important disciples of Sri Thyagaraja  were:  Tiruvottiyur Veena Kuppayyar who wrote down many songs of his teacher (he was also a composer of varnams and kritis); Tanjavuru Rama Rao who served as the manager of Tyagaraja’s household and kept notes of his life-events; and, Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbaiyer (composer of Kritis and Ragamalikas).

We have to be grateful to all these and other savants who served their teacher and his music; and, also enriched our lives.

 [ Before we proceed further lets for a while dwell on Sri Venkataramana Bhagavatar:

walajpet Venkataramana Bhagavathar

Sri Venkataramana Bhagavathar (1781-1874) was the principal disciple of Sri Tyagaraja. He served his Guru for almost twenty-six years with great devotion; learning music, assisting the Guru in his daily worship, and rendering services needed for the day to day life of his Guru.  Venkataramana, in his, beautiful, clear, print-like handwriting, noted down and preserved the Sahitya of the Kriti-s composed by his Guru. But for his ceaseless effort, the precious works of Sri Tyagaraja would not have come down to us in their purity. We all owe him a debt of deep gratitude.

Venkataramana was born on 18 Feb 1781, at Ariyaloor in Thirucirapalli District, as the son of Nannuswamy and the grandson of Kuppaiah Bhagavatar. They came from a family of hereditary priests and scholars, belonging to the immigrant Saurastra Brahmin community of Dadhichi Gotra. Later, when the family moved to Ayyampet (Ramachandrapura), just about seven miles from Thiruvaiyaru, where Sri Tyagaraja lived, the boy Venkataramana who had developed abiding interest in Music, came under the influence of Sri Tyagaraja; and, eventually became his disciple.

After staying with his Guru for about twenty-six years, Venkataramana, at the behest of his father and the Guru, got married, at the age of 41.  Even thereafter, Venkataramana and his wife Muthulakshmi continued to stay at Ayyampettai. They had three children – two sons and a daughter. The elder son was named Krishnaswamy (after the Ista-devata of Venkataramana); the second son was named Ramaswamy (after the Ista-devata of his Guru Sri Tyagaraja); and, the daughter was named as Tulasamma.

When he was of fifty-three years of age, in the year 1834, Venkataramana with his family moved to Walajapet (or Balajipeta) , at the invitation of Raja of Karveti Nagar. Venkataramana renowned for his Guru-bhakthi carried with him the Padukas and the Tambura that were gifted to him by his Guru Sri Tyagaraja. There at Walajapet, he led his life as a cloth merchant.

Venkataramana Bhagavatar lived in Walajapet for as many as forty years (1834-1874). And, because of his long association with that town, he gained renown as Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar.

At Walajapet, Venkataramana Bhagavatar caused to build a temple for Sri Rama and Sita, worshipped by Sri Tyagaraja; as also for his own Ista-devata Sri Prasanna Rajagopalaswami. He also built a Bhajana Mandir for the benefit of the town’s devotees.

Walajahpet bhajana mandiram

Thanks to Sri V Sriram 

Venkataramana Bhagavatar devoted the rest of his life to pious activities such as Pujas, Bhajans, teaching Music and composing Kritis, in the tradition of his Guru assuming the Mudra’ ‘Ramachandrapura vara Venkataramana’. He also composed, in verse, a brief biography of Sri Tyagaraja.

After living a highly praiseworthy and blemish-less life, Sri Venkataramana Bhagavatar, an icon of Guru-bhakthi, merged with his Ista-daiva, at the grand old age of 93, on 15 Dec 1874. His Jayanti is celebrated at Ayyampettai, every year (Suddha Saptami; Margasira masa), by the linage of his disciples, admirers and lovers of Music.

venkataramana b hagavatar firsrday cover

Sri Venkataramana Bhagavatar was a reputed musician and a composer in his own right. His output, in Sanskrit and Telugu, was not only prolific but was also varied. Besides the well known Ragas, he was adept in handling rare Ragas like: Saraswathi, Kamala-manohari, Nama-narayani, Jyothi-svarupini and Suvarnangi. Please Check the article here.

It is said; more than about 150 of his compositions have been traced. Apart from Kritis, his works include Tana Varnams, Pada Varnams, Svarajatis, and Tillanas,   cast in different moulds. Most of his compositions are in praise of Krishna, his chosen deity, and on his Guru Sri Tyagaraja. In one of his Svarajatis, composed in Sanskrit, – Mama Guru Rupa – (Kedaragoula), he describes Lord Rama as a form of his Guru Sri Tyagaraja. And, in another Kriti – Vada rasane Guru prabhavam ( Purvi Kalyani) , he calls upon his tongue to keep singing the glory his Guru who is filled with the Amrita of Rama Nama and Nada. (For more on his Music – please click here)

And, Here is a Sloka composed by Sri Venkataramana Bhagavatar on his Guru:

vyāso naigama carcayā mrdugirā valmīka janmā muni
vairāgye śuka eva bhaktivisaye prahlāda eva svayam |
brahmā nārada eva cāpratimayos sāhitya sa!gītayo
yo rāmāmrta pāna nirjita śivas ta” tyāgarājam bhaje ||

A Vyasa in Vedic learning, a Valmiki in his poetic language, Suka in his detachment, a Prahlada in his devotion, a Brahma and a Narada in his lyrics and his music, he rivals Siva in drinking in the nectar of Rama’s name; I salute that Tyagaraja.

One can experience the fragrance of Bhakthi, Rama-nama and Vedanta, as in the Kritis of Sri Thyagaraja. For instance; the environment of Bhakti-marga, Bhajana-sampradaya, and Nama-siddantha form the theme of his Kritis _ ‘Sri Rama Bramhudu’ (Begada) and ‘Rama bhakthi (Begada). And, in his Kritis, Anandamaya manave (Jothisvarupini); and, ‘Tattvamu teliya’ (Kambhoji), he sings of the Vedanta ideals of Jnana, Kaivalya and the supreme bliss of Svanubhava.


And, from the point of view of the history of Karnataka –sangita and the details of Sri Thyagaraja’s life, the contribution of Sri Venkataramana Bhagavathar is priceless. He not only preserved in writing and handed down the largest number of Tyagaraja-kritis, but also carried forward his Guru’s tradition. His palm-leaf manuscripts, artefacts, and other items ; and,   his  notes on many of the incidents concerning Sri Thyagaraja’s life, work, art  etc., form a large collection , which is named ‘Walajapet Manuscripts’ . It is said; the collection holds many unpublished songs of Sri Tyagaraja.  These  collections have been of immense value, serving as source material, for the later scholars in their study of the life and works of Sri Tyagaraja. For more on this, please click here ( see pages 30-47).

It was from the Walajapet collections – preserved at Sourashtra Sabha Museum- that the existence of three Geya-natakas (operas) – Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam; Nauka Charitram; and, Sitarama Vijayam – came to light  . While the texts of the first two operas have been published, the text of Sita Rama Vijayam is yet to be traced fully.

Among the disciples of Venkataramana Bhagavathar, the more prominent were Tiruvottiyur Ramaswami Iyer and Mysore Sadashiva Rao, a Vidwan in the court of the Maharaja of Mysore..

It is said; when Sri Tyagaraja visited Walajapet, on his way to Tirupathi, he stayed with his disciple Venkataramana Bhagavathar for about 12 days. While he was taken in, procession, Venkataramana Bhagavathar’s disciple, Mysore Sadashiva Rao composed the kriti ‘‘Tyagaraja-swami vedalina” in Todi Raga; and, ‘sang it in the immediate presence of the great saint and earned his blessings’.

The linage (Shishya Parampara) of Sri Tyagaraja was famously carried forward through -Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar – Mysore Sadasiva Rao- Veena Subbanna R.K. Venkatarama Sastry- R.K. Srikantan; Tiruvottiyur S.A.Ramaswami Iyer . It is alive and vibrant.]



As Sri Tyagaraja, today, is recognized by many, more as a musician let’s talk of his music before coming to other aspects of his works.

Music culture

25.1. The period of Sri Tyagaraja that stretched from the late 18th to mid 19th century, was perhaps the brightest epoch in the history of Karnataka Music. It is hailed as the golden age which witnessed a virtual explosion of new formats of musical forms and compositions of sparkling beauty and charm; as the invigorating phase that ushered in innovation and elaboration of fresh Ragas following the 72 melakarta scheme that was beginning to take root; and as the turning point (parva kala) that gave a new sense of direction, vigour and identity to the music of South India. And above all, it was the period that was adorned by extraordinarily brilliant music composers, musicologists and singers. The wealth of the musical genius of Karnataka music flowered and flourished during this period when every branch of music and music related art-forms got enriched.


25.2. Until the time of Sri Tyagaraja, the music- scene of South India was dominated by a song-format known as Prabandha which played an important role in the development of music as also of dance-drama. Prabandha, essentially, is a tightly structured (Nibaddha Samgita) musical composition that is governed by a set of rules. Venkatamakhin (son of Govindacharya a Kannada speaking scholar and musicologist who migrated from Mysore to Thanjavur) in his landmark work Chaturdandi Prakasika (ca. 1635) made a systematic classification of Mela or Melakarta Ragas (parent scales) based on combination of varying Swaras (notes).

Chaturdandi Prakasika, as the name denotes, gathered various music-forms under a fourfold system (Chaturdandi) comprising Gita, Prabandha, Thaya and Alapa. Here, Prabandha denotes a composition having specific characteristics; and, that which is well composed – ‘prabandhayeti Prabandha’. However, the definition was narrowed down to include only those compositions which are made up of Six Angas (birudu, pada, tenaka, pāta and tāla) and Four Dhatus (Udgrāha, Melāpaka, Dhruva and Abhoga).

The structure of a Prabandha, by its very nature, had to adhere to a prescribed format. In general, the emphasis appeared to be more on the text than on the musical content. The faithfulness to the form was, at times, carried to its limits. And, the Prabandha form, in due course, grew rather rigid.

And, Prabandha, naturally, had to give place to improvised, easier and innovative (manodharma samgita) forms of music having distinctive features of their own. Yet; it is the basic elements of Prabandha that provide guidelines even to the modern composers of classical music.

prabandha (1)

[Most of the medieval Prabandha-s eventually disappeared because of the stiffness of their musical construction. Yet; it should also be mentioned that Prabandha helped the Karnataka music, enormously, in ensuring continuity of its ancient tradition.]

Nama Siddhanta


25.3. By about the same time, there arose in the Thanjavur Cauvery delta the doctrine of Nama Siddhanta founded on immense faith in the power of  chanting Lord’s name.  Nama Siddhanta averred that Nama-kirtana is the most effective and the easiest path leading to liberation, in the present age.  This movement ushered in   a tradition of singing devotional hymns and songs in chorus. The Bhajana Sampradaya popularised by Sri Bodhendra, Ayyaval , Sadguru Swami and others gave birth to series of free-flowing, sweet sounding soulful songs of devotion and melody that could be sung by all in a group with ease and delight. This new form of unstructured innovative songs gushed out in the form of hundreds of BhajansDivyanama Kirtanas, Utsava sampradaya kirtanas and Namavalis. The Groups also enacted dance dramas adorned with splendid poetry and tuneful songs of various forms. All these were regarded as a mellow and sweet worship form of the Lord, Madhura-Bhakthi.


Sri Tyagaraja and Nama Siddhanta


26.1. Sri Tyagaraja in his younger days was surrounded by an environment that was charged with the fervour of Nama Siddhanta. He, naturally, was nurtured on the Bhajana Sampradaya, which was at its height in the Cauvery delta at that time.  He took part in the Bhajana-s conducted by groups at homes or in special halls (Bhajana mandira) , where they celebrated with great enthusiasm the festivals such as the wedding of Sri Rama and Seetha (Seetha Kalyanam); as also of Rukmini (Rukmini Kalyanam).

26.2. Sri Tyagaraja was a follower of the Nama Siddhanta tradition and of the larger path of devotion (Bhakti-marga). A significant number of his songs are about the greatness of the Lord’s name and the doctrine relating to its recitation. They seem to have been composed, especially, for singing during the Bhajana and Kirtana sessions. Among these, a set of about twenty-four songs, based on Shodasa Upachara (sixteen modes of worship offered to the deity), grouped under Utsava-sampradaya–kirtanas are simpler in structure but rich in melody and literary quality. In addition, he composed about seventy-eight songs (Divya-nama-sankeerthanam) for congregational singing as also for his daily worship of Sri Rama, his Ista-daiva.

Utsava Sampradaya Kirtanas have three or more charanas and are mostly set to slow tempo. These types of kritis are ideal for devotional congregation and chorus singing on account of the multiple charanas having identical dhatus. Some examples are ‘Rama Rama Rama Sri lali Sri Rama’ (Sahana) with as many as sixteen charanas; ‘Dina janavana’ (Bhupalam); ‘Karuna jalade’ (Nadanamakriya); ‘Bhaja Ramam’ (Huseni); ‘Ramabhirama’ (Darbar).  The other well-known Utsava Sampradaya kritis include ‘Hecharikaga rara’ (Yadukula Kamboji) and ‘Nagumomu’ (Madhyamavati).

sri rama durbar

Geya Nataka

27.1. He is also said to have composed three musical dramas (Geya Nataka). Of these, only two namely: Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam and Nauka Charitam are available. But, the third – Sita Rama Vijayam – is sadly lost.

27.2. The main theme of his Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam is not the mere story of Prahlada; but, it is about several aspects of Bhakthi. The unwavering devotion of Prahlada towards his God Sri Hari made a deep imprint in the heart of Sri Tyagaraja. And, he sought to immortalize his admiration of the boy’s Bhakthi through his songs and music.  Here, the treatment of Prahlada’s Bhakti is again characterized by Sri Thyagaraja’s own attitude. In the play, Prahlada addresses his songs to Sri Rama pleading for help, kindness and Love.  Here, Rama is none other than Para Brahman, the Supreme Reality. Sri Tyagaraja’s mentor, Sri Upanishad Brahmendra Yogin had earlier taught him that RA-MA* is indeed the essence of both the Ashtakshari Narayana–mantra and the Panchakshari Shiva–mantra.  Musically, Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam is richly filled with Kirtanas, many of which in rare (Apoorva) Ragas such as ‘Parasu’ and ‘Naga-gandhari’ are popular even to this day.

[*That was by taking RA from Om namo naRAyanaya and MA from Om naMAh shivaya.]

Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam

Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam is richly filled with soulful prayers of Prahlada to Lord Hari. There are also songs sung by the sage Narada and devas in praise of Narayana as he appears  with Lakshmi. Narada also described the conversation between Sri  Hari and Sri Mahalakshmi (lakshmi-hari samvadam) . The opera has forty five kirtanas set in twenty eight ragas, one hundred twenty nine verses, a churnika, a dandaka and one hundred thirty two prose narrations, in Telugu and eleven shlokas in Sanskrit. There are  also mangala– songs at the end of three chapters or scenes. Songs from this opera are set in all tempos – Vilamba, Madhya and Druta kala-s. Many songs from Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam are regularly sung in concerts; for instance: Vasudevayani ‘(Kalyani); ‘Eti janma’ (Varali) ;‘Rara-mayintidaka’ (Asaveri);  ‘Naradamuni’ (Pantuvarali);Sri Ganapathy ni’ (Saurashtram); and the Mangalam – ‘Ni nama rupa mulaku’ (Saurashtram).

27.3. And, the story of Nauka Charitam, spun around the Gopis beseeching Krishna for help, is mostly a product of Sri Thyagaraja’s imagination, improvising on an incident briefly mentioned in Srimad Bhagavatam. Its theme extols the virtue of selfless absolute surrender to the Lord with Love and devotion. Interestingly, many of the songs in the play are composed to folk tunes.


The ‘Nauka Charitram comprises twenty one Darus (songs with a pallavi, followed by an optional Anu-pallavi and several charanas) set in thirteen ragas and forty seven padyas (poetic verses set to different meters) , besides fifty- one vachanas (prose passages that set the sequence and provide narration). The songs are mostly set in Madhyama kala; only some are in Druta, while Vilamba kala was not used at all. Some songs from ‘Nauka Charitram’ are often sung in the concerts; e.g.  ‘Sringarichukani’ (Surati) and   ‘Odanu Jaripe’ (Saranga)

Thyagaraja sadguru


28.1. One of Sri Thyagaraja’s significant contribution to Karnataka music is the perfection of a composition-form called Kriti (sometimes  called Kirtana though there are subtle differences between the two), which was, at that time, evolving out of the older Prabandha and its immediate predecessor Pada. Amazingly, Sri Tyagaraja as also Sri Dikshitar and Syama Sastri, independent of each other, all contributed to the development of Kriti form, although they do not seem to have met or corresponded.

Ramamatya (Svara-mela-kalanidhi,1550 CE) mentions the Chaturdandi  components of Gita,Thaya, Alapa and Prabandha as the best and the most accomplished format of rendering a musical composition set to a superior variety ((uttamottama) of Raga. And, Venkatamakhin (1660) , in his Raga-prakarana 107-108 , while illustrating  the standard composition-forms, states that the Gita, Thaya and Prabandha of Thanappa and other eminent musicians are available for most of the Ragas , though some of the Desi Ragas like Kalyani and Pantuvarali were not suitable for rendering in that format.  Further,  even up to the time of Raghunatha Nayaka of Tanjavur , such four-fold exposition of a Raga, in that sequence, appears to have been the main stay of the musical performances. The tradition of performing these compositions with a view to illustrate the structure of the Raga continued till the time Shahaji and Tulaja Maharajah

But, within about a century after Venkatamakhin, such forms of rendering a song became obsolete; and, was replaced by the Kriti format, set to a Raga (modal scale) and Tala ( beat cycle of a fixed number of counts organized in a specific pattern), having three segments (Anga)  – Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charanam – each being proportionally longer than the previous one (e.g. Pallavi = 2 Taala cycles; Anu-pallavi = 3 or 4 Taala cycles etc.,) The Pallavi is the refrain of the composition (Kriti).

The Kriti and its adoption as the song-form par excellence came into prominence; and, was accepted as the heart of the concert repertoire . This was primarily due to the prolific and innovative creations by the Trinity of Karnataka samgita

[Prior to the time of Sri Tyagaraja (say, 17th century) composers of great reputation such as Muthu Thandavar and Margadarsi Sesha Ayyangar had experimented with the Kriti format. And, it was the celebrated Trinity of Karnataka Samgita that, later, perfected it. ]

28.2. A Kriti is explained as that which is constructed (yat krtam tat kritih). It is primarily a pre-composed music (kalpitha Samgita), which aims to delineate the true nature of a Raga in all its vibrant colours.  The performer is not expected to deviate from the structure laid down by the composer. And yet; a Kriti provides ample scope to the performer to draw out her/his creative (Mano-dharma), innovative expressions in Raga and Laya. A Kriti can also be sung with or without Niraval. Because, it is said, a Kriti should essentially be beautiful by itself; and, should sound sweet even without elaborations.

28.3. In Karnataka Samgita, a Kriti comprising pallavi; anu-pallavi; and, charanams, set to appropriate Taala is the most advanced form of musical composition.

Sri Tyagaraja kritis use very well the three Angas:  Pallavi to introduce and briefly outlines theme of the song; the charanam to elaborate upon on it in detail; and, the anupallavi, a little more expansive than Pallavi, to bridge the Pallavi with the charanam. Thus, developing the theme of the Kriti, progressively – in stages.  Some scholars, employing the textual analogy, have described Sri Tyagaraja’s Pallavi as Sutra; Anu-pallavi as Vritti; and Charanas as Bhashya. 

[In the traditional texts , the term Sutra denotes a collection  highly condensed pellets of references ; Vritti attempts to slightly expand on the Sutra to bring some clarity; and Bhashya is a detailed , commentary  on the subjects dealt with by  the Sutra and the Vritti. ; and it  is primarily based on the Sutra.]

28.4. Sri Tyagaraja also tried out variations in their arrangement of the Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and Charanam. Some of his Kritis commence with Anu-pallavi; for instance:  ‘Soumitri bhagyame’ (Kharaharapriya) starts with the anupallavi ‘Chitra ratna maya’’; ‘Ela nee daya raadu‘ (Atana) starts with ‘Balakanakamaya chela’; and, ‘Mokshamu galada’ (Saramati) starts with ‘Saakshat karanee’.

 Some of Sri Tyagaraja kritis have a Pallavi and Anupallavi of equal rhythmic length ; and  a Charana that has the combined length of the Pallavi and Anupallavi ; for e.g. ‘Enta nerchina’ (Suddha Dhanyasi); ‘Chakkani raja margamulu’ (Kharaharapriya).

 The other variation on the standard format is where the Pallavi is half the length  of the Anu-pallavi;  for e.g. ‘Marugelara’ (Jayanthasri); ‘Raju vedala’ (Todi).

There are also kritis where the Charana is four times the size of the Anupallavi;  for e.g. ‘Raga Ratna malikache’ (Ritigaula); ‘Tulasidalamula’ (Mayamalavagaula).

An additional variation is introduced in some Kritis where the  tempo of the charanam is faster than that of the rest of the Kriti ; for e.g. ‘Enduko nee manasu’ (Kalyani; ‘Emi dova’ (Saranga) ; and,  ‘Enduko baga teliyadu’ (Mohanam).  

There are Kritis with single Charana,  as also many with multiple Charanas, starting with Anu-pallavi; and some  with  swara sahitya  built into Charanas,  as in the case of his  Pancharatnas.

28.5 . Sri Tyagaraja in his song Sogasuga mridanga talamu (in Raga Sriranjani) provides an outline of how a Kriti should be, in its form and in its content. In this song, he says that a  Kriti should be couched in words ( nija vākkulatō ) conveying the pure spirit of the Upanishads (nigama siro-arthamu) ; should have correctness of musical notes (swara śhuddhamutō)  of the ragas in which they are set; should have pleasant (sokkajeya) rhythm that is enjoyable (Sogasuga mridanga talamu); should be marked by beauties of alliterations and successive increases and decreases of notes and syllables , as also pauses (Yati Visrama) ; it’s  literary expressions should nurture  cultivation of true devotion (Sadbhakti) and dispassion (virati ); and, it  should be adorned with  grace and simplicity embodying  all the nine (nava) Rasas or aesthetic moods.

Pallavi  :  sogasuga mrdanga talamu
jata kurchi ninu sokka jeyu dhIrudevvado

Anupallavi :  nigama shirorthamu galgina
nija vakkulato swara shuddhamuto

Charanam :  yati vishrama sad-bhakti virati draksha rasa nava rasa-
yuta krtiche bhajiyinchu yukti Tyagarajuni tarama shrI Rama

28.6. In number of his other songs; he explains how Music is indeed the expression of the primordial Nada; how music originates in mind and body; and, how music should be presented. According to him, enjoying music is Sukhanubhava – a tranquil delight.

Some of the well known Kritis of that genre are : 

  • Nadaloludai (Kalyana Vasantham);
  • Nadopasana (Begada);
  • Nada Tanum (Chittaranjani);
  • Nada Sudha Rasam (Arabhi)
  • Swara Raga Sudha (Sankarabharanam);
  • Vidulaku Mrokkeda (Mayamalavagowla);
  • Ragasudharasa (Andolika);
  • Samajavaragamana (Hindolam);
  • Mokshamu Galada (Saramati) ; and ,
  • Vara Raga Laya (Chenchu Kambhoji).


Continued in Part IV- Music continued

Sources and references

Manaku Teliyana Tyagaraju:

Tyāgarāja and the Renewal of Tradition: Translations and Reflections by William Joseph Jackson

The Power of the Sacred Name: Indian Spirituality Inspired by Mantras by V. Raghavan

Spiritual Heritage of Sri Tyagaraja by Dr. V Raghavan and C. Ramanujachariar

History of Indian Music by Prof. P. Sambamoorthy

A Tribute to Tyagaraja by V.N. Muthukumar and M.V. Ramana

The Musical Works of Thyagaraja by Prabhakar Chitrapu Prabhakar

I acknowledge with thanks the images and other information from his site

All images are by courtesy of Internet


Posted by on February 22, 2015 in Tyagaraja


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SRI TYAGARAJA (1767 – 1847) – PART II – Life

(For my friend Shri Kannan Rangachar )

Continued from Part I

Tyagaraja Jinaraja Dasa collection

(Said to be a contemporary portrait in the collection of Dr. Jinararajadasa , of the Theosophical Society)

[At the outset, it needs to be mentioned that there is no single authentic account of Sri Tyagaraja’s life. Attempts to reconstruct his life-events based on references that occasionally occur in several of his songs have no real validity. Some of such narrations are but imaginative elaborations.

Even as early as in 1904, that is about 50 years after the departure of  Sri Tyagaraja  , Sri Subbarama Dikshitar (1839-1906) – the grandson of Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar ; and, who as a child had met Sri Tyagaraja – remarked that “ he could not easily obtain historical information about Sri Tyagaraja” ; and, had to rely  on other sources.

What we know of Sri Tyagaraja’s life has come down to us through a series of narrations made by his disciples, their descendants and other writers.

The earliest biography of Sri Tyagaraja was written by his direct disciple, Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar along with Tanjavuru Rama Rao. According to some accounts, Venkataramana Bhagavatar was with his master for about thirty years. He is also credited with writing down most of the Tyagaraja-kritis that have come down to us. Similarly, Tanjavuru Rama Rao was the Manager who took care of Tyagaraja’s household. He served his Master for long years.

Their narration was followed by that of Venkataramana Bhagavatar’s son Krishnaswamy Bhagavatar, who was with Sri Tyagaraja only during the last two years of saint’s life. His version was largely based on the notes made by his father; but, he added certain elements of his own.

Krishnaswamy Bhagavatar’s work was followed by that of his son K. K. Ramaswamy Bhagavatar who enlarged it further.

In the meantime, a biography in poetic form was written by Tumu Narasimhadasa, a Ramabhakta and an ardent admirer of Saint Tyagaraja.

These renderings were later followed by many other versions of Tyagaraja’s biography.

His direct disciples, obviously, had a very high esteem and veneration for their Guru. The image of Sri Tyagaraja that emerges from their (Venkataramana Bhagavatar and Tanjavuru Rama Rao) narration is that of a very sincere person; a truly honest follower of his Dharma; a bhaktha intensely devoted to his ideal Sri Rama; an extraordinarily gifted musical genius; a great teacher; and, a poet par excellence. He was far more than a Vak-geya-kara – the one who set words to music. He was, indeed, a divinely inspired singer of most sublime songs in glory of his Lord. He comes across as a poet, saint and philosopher combined in one. Yet;   Tyagaraja, here, appears more human and real.

In the later versions of his biography , Tyagaraja  is transformed and idealized as a divinity incarnate, an Avatar, a reincarnation of Sage Vyasa, of  Shuka, of Prahlada, of  Narada ; and, as one with an Amsha (spark ) of Shiva or Brahma. Many supernatural events and miraculous deeds were woven into his biography.

What follows here-under is somewhat closer to Venkataramana Bhagavatar’s rendering. ]



7.1. According to one account, Tyagaraja was born in Sarvajit-nama-samvatsara, Chaitra-masa, Shukla paksha, Saptami, Kataka lagna, Pushyami nakshatra, Monday, corresponding to 4th May 1767.  (Another version mentions the Tithi / star of his birth as Bahula Dasami   and Purvashada Nakshatra).

Thyagaraja HOROSCOPE

He belonged to Bharadwaja gotra; Aapasthamba Sutra; Krishna Yajus-shakha    .


8.1. The place of his birth was Tiruvarur through which the Odambokki River flows. He was named Tyaga (raja) Brahmam after the presiding deity of the temple at that place. Here, the Mulavar, Shiva Linga of precious stone, is celebrated as Tyagaraja. The processional icon of Tyagaraja in Tiruvarur temple is a composite deity comprising the images of Shiva, Uma and Skanda (Somaskanda = sa –uma –skanda).

8.2. Tiruvarur is an ancient town of the Cholas; and was one of the centres where their Kings were crowned. The temple at Tiruvarur figures prominently in Periya-Puranam, a 12th century compendium describing the lives of sixty-three Shaiva saints, the Nayamnar-s. And, by about the sixteenth century it had already come to be recognized as a seat of Sri Vidya, centered on Goddess Kamalambika.  God Tyagaraja was also the Ishta-devata of the Maratha Court at Tanjavuru. The scholars and artists attached to the Telugu and Maratha court were living in Tiruvarur.

8.3. Tiruvavur (regarded as one of the sixty-four Shakthi centers); its temple complex dedicated to Lord Tyagaraja and Devi Nilothpalambika; as also the deity Sri Kamalamba,  figure prominently in the Kritis of Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar. He refers to town of Tiruvarur is as Kamala-nagara (e.g. Kamalanagara viharinai) and as Kamala- pura (e.g. Kamalapura sadanam).  In his Kritis, Devi Kamalamba sports in the temple lake (Pushkarini) named as Kamalalaya thirtha (Kamalalaya thirtha vaibhave). She resides in and walks about the town of Kamalapura/Kamalanagara.

[Tiruvarur has the unique distinction and honor of being the birthplace of Thyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri – the Grand Trinity of Karnataka music tradition.]



9.1. Tyagaraja belonged to the Telugu speaking Mulakanadu Smartha Brahmin community. In the fifth introductory verse of his Nauka charitram, Tyagaraja mentions his house-name (inti-nama) as Kakarla, which is identified as a village in the erstwhile Kurnool region of Prakasam District in Andhra Pradesh. The ancestors of Tyagaraja might have migrated from Kurnool to Tanjavuru region somewhere around the 1600s, during the Naayak rule, after the fall of Vijayanagar Empire.

9.2. Some accounts mention that Giriraja kavi Brahmam, a scholar well versed in Sanskrit and poetics, was the paternal grandfather Pitamaha of Tyagaraja.  Some others say that Giriraja was in fact his Matamaha, maternal grandfather. This latter view is based on a reference (in a kriti in Bangala Raga), where Tyagaraja calls himself Giriraja suta tanaya (son of Giriraja’s daughter).  Some say that expression,  actually, refers to Ganesha son of Parvathi , daughter of Parvatha (Giri) raja. But now, generally, Giriraja is regarded the paternal grandfather of Tyagaraja.

[Sri Subbarama Dikshitar in his Vaggeyakara Caritam (Biographical Notes on composers and musicians), which is numbered as Volume V , under his monumental work  Sangita –Sampradaya-Pradarshini, while writing about Sri Tyagaraja , on page 16, (28. Tygarajayya), commences with the statement : Approximately 250 years ago, there was a great Brahmin Giriraja Kavi in Tiruvarur. He had five sons. The youngest son was named Ramabrahmam. He was an expert in the science of Vedas. He had three sons, Pancapakesa, Ramanatha, and Tyagaraja.]

Tyagaraja’s maternal grandfather was Kalahastayya. He was a Veena player. Tyagaraja , in his childhood , learnt playing Veena from Kalahastayya.

9.3. Kakarla Rama Brahmam and Seethamma are said to be parents of Tyagaraja. They had three sons, of whom Tyaga Brahmam was the third.  Panchanada Brahmam and Panchapakesa Brahmam were Tyagaraja’s older brothers. The eldest son of Rama Brahmam, Panchanatha Brahmam was also called as Japyesa, after the name of the deity at Thiruvaiyaru.


9.4. It is said that while Tyagaraja was still young, the family that was living at Tiruvarur migrated to Thiruvaiyaru, at the invitation of the King of Tanjavuru, Thuljaji. The King, it is said, gifted Ramabrahmam with six acres of land and a house. And, there, in the house gifted by the King, on the Tirumanjana Street, at Thiruvaiyaru, the family resided for very long years. Sri Tyagaraja spent a  major part of his life in that house.


[The house in which Sri Tyagaraja lived most of his life and produced sublime music was in existence till recently. Alas, a year or so ago, it was demolished to put in its place a modern memorial for the Saint…! ]

Tanjavuru Maratha Court

10.1. During that time, Tanjavuru was under the Maratha rule, which had a rather chequered history. The Ramabrahmam family, perhaps, moved into Thiruvaiyaru during the reign of Thuljaji who ruled from 1763-1773 and again from 1776-1787. He was said to be a rather weak administrator, but a very generous patron of arts.

Maharaja Serfoji II of Tanjavur and his son Shivaji II   Maharaja Serfoji II of Tanjavur and his son Shivaji II.

In 1787, Thuljaji was succeeded by his adopted son Serfoji II who then was about ten years of age.Soon afterwards, he was deposed by his uncle and regent Amar Singh who seized the throne for himself. With the help of the British, Serfoji II recovered the throne in 1798. A subsequent treaty forced him to hand over the reins of the kingdom to the British East India Company. Serfoji II was however left in control of the Fort and the surrounding areas. He reigned till 1832.

[He, sadly, was succeeded by Shivaji II (1832 to 1855) who was a weak and feeble prince with barely any authority.]

10.2. It appears that during the most part of Tyagaraja’s adult life, that is for almost 40 years, Tanjavuru was under the rule of Serfoji II (His first reign was from 1787 to 1793 and his second reign was from 1798 to 1832). He was said to be a generous patron of arts and literature; and, his reign was noted for the literary, scientific and technological accomplishments of the Tanjavuru country. The famed  Saraswati Mahal Library at Thanjavur with a nucleus of Serfoji’s collection of about 80,000volumes (most of them with his scribbles on the pages) is another of his valued legacies.



11.1. Thiruvaiyaru situated on the banks of the river Cauvery, 13 km from Tanjavuru gains its name by the fact it is surrounded by five rivers (Pancha-nada-kshetram); and, appropriately, the presiding deity of ancient temple there, Shiva, is celebrated as Pancha-nadi-eswaran. Tyagaraja as a boy seemed to have loved the natural beauty of the place and the rivers surrounding it. Later, in his two songs Muripiemu and Sarivedalina he refers to his region (Ee mahilo sogasaina Chola-Sima yandu) as ‘the most beautiful place in the world , in this Chola region’.

Early years

12.1. During the younger days of Tyagaraja, Thiruvaiyaru was a well regarded centre of learning in Vedas, Sanskrit and music. It is said; Tyagaraja had his initial education in Sanskrit in Thiruvaiyaru. He seemed to have been a studious and a rather serious minded boy. He gained sufficient proficiency in Sanskrit.  Several of his early songs are completely in Sanskrit (For instance; “नमो नमो राघवाय अनिशं” in Desi-Todi, said to be his first Kriti). And, two of his plays – Naukacharitram and Prahlada Bhakt Vijayam – have some slokas in Sanskrit.  All his Telugu songs are replete with Sanskrit words and phrases.

12.2. During his childhood he also had his initial training in music from his maternal grandfather Kalahastayya as also from his mother Seethamma who was fairly proficient in music; and, was also a good singer. She taught her son to sing the keerthanas of Bhadrachala Ramadasu and the padas of Purandaradasa. She was also an ardent devotee of Sri Rama; and, was the first to plant in him the seeds of Rama-bhakthi. Tyagaraja, had his Upanayana at the age of seven; and, at the age of eight, he was initiated into Rama-mantra by his father. Thereafter, he started assisting his father in the daily worship of Sri Rama.

12.3. The boy Tyagaraja also learnt to play on Veena from his maternal grandfather Veena Kalahastayya (even in the later years, there used to be a Veena in Tyagaraja’s Puja-room).  After Kalahastayya’s death, Tyagaraja found in his box “Naradeeyam“, a palm-leaf text related to music. Tyagaraja tried to study the  text; but, could not make much of it , as many portions of the manuscript were not clear to him. He then approached his Guru Ramakrishnananda, who guided and initiated the boy Tyagaraja into Narada mantra.

13.1. Tyagaraja , even as a teenager was deep into the Bhajana sampradaya  – singing devotional songs, in group, with great fervour- which was at its height in the Cauvery delta at that time. During a Bhajana sessions which lasted for hours, a cycle of religious hymns consisting Namavali, Kirtana, Dhyana Slokas, Mangalas, Divya Nama Kirtans and other hymns were sung. Nama-sankirtanam became his devout passion.

13.2. In the Bhajans that were held in the homes or in the halls (Bhajana-mandali), the groups celebrated special festivals such as Seetha-Kalyana, Rukmini-Kalyana, Radha-Kalyanam etc with great enthusiasm, singing in chorus devotional songs that followed a certain traditional pattern (paddathi). The songs commenced with welcoming the Lord (Heccharikaga raara) ; offering him seat (kolavu) ; then the actual wedding (kalyana mahotsavam) ; waving of light (Aarathi) ; putting the Lord to sleep  by singing soothing songs (Lali) ; and , waking him up next morning (Suprabhatam). For the use on these occasions, Tyagaraja composed a set of songs (numbering about twenty-seven) that have come to be known as Utsava-sampradaya-kirtanas. They are simpler in structure; but, rich in melody and lyrics. Tyagaraja also composed many other songs (about seventy-eight) – Divya-Nama-sankeerthanam – that celebrate the glory of the Lord and his name. Songs selected from these two sets are now rendered by musicians in the later part of their concerts.

Hanuman meditation

[Speaking of Rama-Bhakthi: Tiruvarur where Tyagaraja was born and Thiruvaiyaru where he lived all his life, are both Shiva-kshetras; and there are no Rama-temples anywhere nearby  or in the surrounding regions. Some, therefore, wonder how Tyagaraja could develop devotion towards Rama. It is explained; the forefathers of Tyagaraja’s parents hailed from Kurnool region and were devoted to Sri Rama at Bhadrachalam. Seethamma, Tyagaraja’s mother, on her marriage, brought with her the idol of Sri Rama that resembled the mulavar at Bhadrachalam , on the shores of the Godavari.


Here, Sri Rama is depicted with four arms holding a bow and arrow in His lower hands and Shanku and Chakra in His upper hands. Sri Rama is seen seated in yogic posture with Sri Sita–ammavaru is sitting on His left lap, unlike in other versions where She is standing beside Him.  Sri Lakshmana with bow and arrow, devotedly guards them.


Tyagaraja’s mother worshipped this family deity (kula-devatha) daily; and, so did Tyagaraja’s father Ramabrahmam. Tyagaraja , as a boy, used to assist his parents in their daily-worship. Further, Tyagaraja’s mentors Sri Upanishad Brahmendra as also his Guru Sri Ramakrishnananda were ardent Rama-bhaktas.  All these factors and Tyagaraja’s own inclination (samskara) perhaps led to imbibing in him unwavering faith and intense devotion in his Ishta-devata Rama whom he regarded as the Supreme deity, Para-Brahman. Tyagaraja is said to have performed Rama-koti-japa several times over, during his lifetime. ]

Rama Icon worshipped by Sri Tygaraja

Family Life

14.1. Of the two elder brothers of Tyagaraja, Panchapakesa Brahmam died fairly early in his life because of ill health. His older brother Panchanatha Brahmam (also called as Japyesa) settled down as a householder taking care of agricultural lands.

14.2. The accounts that have come down say that Japyesa, did not like Tyagaraja’s ways; disapproved his Unchavriti, Bhajana, Rama puja etc.; and, that he also partitioned the family house and belongings. Japyesa is also said to have repeatedly pressed Tyagaraja into accepting royal patronage. It seems that Japyesa, realizing his younger brother’s rich musical talent, was anxious to turn it into a means of living . Sri Tyagaraja in his songs sometimes refers to the difficulties he had to undergo at the hands of his elder brother.

[There are also comments to suggest that Japyesa’s villainy came to be exaggerated in the later accounts perhaps to project  or to heighten Tyagaraja’s misery.]

14.3. Even outside his family, Tyagaraja had to face many detractors. Many seemed to have disliked his appearance, his activities and his songs. A large number of Tyagaraja’s songs are high-strung emotional appeals to Sri Rama to rescue him from his hostile detractors. For instance; in his prarabha-mittundaga he bemoans his fate; and in his Sarivaarilona, he pleads with Rama ‘have I not been ridiculed enough; is it fair on your part to be passive while I am subjected to every sort of agony by these prattlers?’

14.4. Tyagaraja, however, vowed to lead a life of voluntary poverty, in the true traditions of Bhagavatas. He adopted for his livelihood the Unchavriti, going out everyday around the streets of the town, singing the Lord’s songs and receiving handful of rice from householders who might feel like offering. He was intensely committed to avoiding Nara-stuti, praising mere mortals in return for rewards.His Kriti Nidhi-chala sukhama , Ramuni sannidhi chala sukhama (in Raga Kalyani) is said to give expression to his attitude in that regard. (But, there is some debate about the context in which the song was composed)

Tyagaraja’s  actions guided by his cherished principles and faith caused him much trouble and misery. And, these incidents, his anguish and prayers to Rama to rescue him became the subject matter of many of his songs.

[“In appearance, it is said, Tyagaraja was a tall, lean man of brown complexion. His shoulders were broad…face stern…jaw fleshy but a little pointed at the chin…he wore thulasimala around his neck; gopi-chandana- nama on his forehead. On his right forefinger he wore a gold ring; and, on his ring figure he had a pavithra. He usually was dressed in white, silk-lined, dhoti having a brownish border with carefully made folds. He usually, wore a red silk turban with a broad unfurled tail flowing behind.

Thiagaraja from Jaganmohan palace Mysore


The portrait of Sri Tyagaraja created by Shri S Rajam that has come to be universally recognized is a highly idealized version of the saint as envisioned by the artist.

Tyagaraja William Jackson

As a teacher, Tyagaraja was said to be very strict, often harsh, with his pupils. He would insist on the right rendering of his songs. He would also not tolerate his pupils singing light hearted amorous songs such as Javalis, which were popular at that time. ]


15.1. The period between 1785 and 1791 was eventful in the life of Tyagaraja. The year 1785 was also distressful for the region of Tanjavuru, when it was affected by severe famine and political disorder. When Tyagaraja was eighteen years old (1785), he was married to Parvathi. And, when he was twenty years (1787) his father Ramabrahmam expired. When he was twenty- three (1790), his wife Parvathi passed away. A year later (1791), Tyagaraja married Parvathi’s sister Kamalamba.

15.2. As regards the other tragic events in Tyagaraja’s life; his mother Seethamma passed away in 1804; his brother Japyesa in 1812; and his wife Kamalamba in 1845 (when Tyagaraja was about 78).

15.3. Tyagaraja had only one daughter, Seetha-maha-lakshmi; and she was married (in 1810) to one Kuppuswamy Shastri of Ammal Agraharam. She had a son who was given his grandfather’s name – Tyagaraja.  He, later, married one Guruvammal; but, died rather early in his life (30?), childless. With that and there ended the direct line of Tyagaraja .

Nannupalimpa by S Rajam

[ It is said; on the occassion of the marriage of Seetha-maha-lakshmi, Sri Tyagaraja’s disciple Venkataramana Bhagavathar walking all the way from Ayyampettai to Tiruvaiyaru, carried on his head the painting of Sri Kodanda Rama, created by  the artist Pallavi Ellayya, portraying Sri Rama with Sita, Lakshmana and Anjaneya (Sitaramanjaneya Pattabhishekam), to be presented to the bride as the wedding gift (Pendli Kanuka). As he entered the wedding-hall carrying that portrait, Sri Thyagaraja was thrilled at its sight ; and,instantly sang in ecstasy the Kriti ‘Nannu palimpa nadachi vachitivao…!!’ (Raga Mohana) – Oh Lord, have you walked all the way to bless me. The following is said to be a scanned copy of that portrait, stated to have been painted by Pallavi Elliah, a disciple of Venkataramana Bhagavathar: courtesy, thanks to  ]

nannu paalimpa nadachi vacchitItvo

15.4. In regard to the other branch of Tyagaraja’s family tree, it is said, Tyagaraja’s elder brother Japyesa had a son named Pattabhi Ramabrahmam. He, in turn, had a son named Panchanda Brahman, whose son also named Pattabhi Ramabrahmam. Their descendants, it is said, still live in Thiruvaiyaru; and are in possession of the Sri Rama image that was  worshiped daily by Tyagaraja.

Later years

16.1. Music for Sri Tyagaraja was not mere Sangeetha-sadhana; but was indeed the Moksha-sadhana, the path to liberation. His pursuit of Nadopasana was for the realization of Nada-Brahman who is none other than the Absolute Reality, the Para-Brahman.  Sri Tyagaraja, in the heart of heart, worshiped Ista-devata Sri Rama as the Supreme deity, Para-Brahman. Sri Tyagaraja devoted his entire life for worship of Sri Rama and of Nada (Nadopasana)–Music.

16.2. All his life, Tyagaraja derived inspiration from his mentor Upanishad Brahmendra and from his Guru Swami Ramakrishnananda. Further, he was guided by the hoary tradition of the Sadashiva Brahmendra the Avadhuta and Sri Narayana Theertha, the composer of Krishna Leela Tarangini. And, all these saintly persons were Sanyasins in whom the three paths of Jnana, Bhakti and Music converged harmoniously. Tyagaraja, in the last phase of his life, yearned to embrace the spiritual order as in the manner of the noble persons (Mahanubhavulu) that preceded him.

Last days

17.1. Following the path illumined by his revered predecessors, Sri Tyagaraja, after bathing in the Cauvery and performing the usual rites, and offering gifts to the needy and to the Brahmans, entered into the order of Sannyasins on 5, January 1847. According to one version; he was initiated into Sanyasa-ashrama by Sri Brahmananda Swami (?) who offered him ocher robes (kashaya vastra) and re-named him as Nadabrahmananda.

17.2. Just a few days prior to that event, Tyagaraja in his Kritis (Giripainela and Paritapamu) mentions of the Sri Rama’s promise to bestow Moksha on him:

I did see Sri Rama resting on a mountain top.  My whole being shook out of sheer Joy. I was thrilled. Tears rolled down from my eyes.  I could hardly talk; I just mumbled. Sri Rama told me, in ten days (padi pūṭla) I shall grant you Moksha”;

“Have you forgotten the promise you made while you were sailing on the Sarayu in a golden boat along with peerless Sita that you would grace me after ten days (padi putla)?”

[Here, padi pūṭa might mean ten days; or five days in case puta is taken to mean a part of the full day – as either day or as night.]

18.1. A day after he took Sanyasa, that is on 6 January 1847, Wednesday (?), on Pushya Bahula Panchami in Prabhava-nama–samvatsara, seated on the banks of Cauvery at Thiruvaiyaru, Sri Tyagaraja reached Brahmi-bhava and attained Samadhi, merging with Para-Brahman.

thyagaraja aradhana

18.2. Each year, on Pushya Bahula Panchami, the music lovers and ardent followers of Sri Tyagaraja gather at the Samadhi on the banks of the Cauvery ,caused to be constructed through the tireless efforts of Bangalore Nagarathnamma .

Samadhi of Sri Thyagaraja Nagarathnamma Bangalore

Scores of disciples and music lovers  celebrate, with love and reverence, the Aradhana of Saint Sri Thyagaraja Swami their Guru and the ideal whose contribution to poetry, to music, to Rama-bhakthi tradition and to the Indian ethos, in general, is truly immense and everlasting.



....Continued in Part III

Music of Sri Tyagaraja


Manaku Teliyana Tyagaraju:

Tyāgarāja and the Renewal of Tradition: Translations and Reflections by William Joseph Jackson

The Power of the Sacred Name: Indian Spirituality Inspired by Mantras by V. Raghavan

Spiritual Heritage of Sri Tyagaraja by Dr. V Raghavan and C. Ramanujachariar

I acknowledge with thanks the images from Sri Chitrapau Prabhakar’s site

The Musical Works of Thyagaraja by Prabhakar Chitrapu Prabhakar

The other images are from Internet


Posted by on February 22, 2015 in Tyagaraja


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SRI TYAGARAJA (1767 – 1847) – PART I – Intro

 ( For my friend Shri Kannan Rangachar )

Tyagaraja SRajam 02 

Inheritor of a  rich Legacy

1.1. The genius of Karnataka classical music may be said to have found the peak of its glory and fulfilment in Sri Tyagaraja. “But for the emergence of Sri Tyagaraja along with two of his contemporaries, Mutthuswamy Dikshitar and Shyama Shastry, the Karnataka musical heritage might not have been consolidated and handed down to us in its integrated form, as it is now. It is the extraordinary genius of these Masters and their sublime creations that is the mainstay of the Karnataka music tradition”.

1.2. Sri Tyagaraja comes as a culmination of the music of the masters and giants who preceded him, such as Sri Purandaradasa, Bhadrachala Ramadasa, Jayadeva and Narayana Teertha. Sri Tyagaraja was influenced by the varied excellences of all of these masters. And, in addition he brought in his own grace and brilliance.

As the renowned scholar Dr. V Raghavan explained: “Tyagaraja appears in a long line of a Sampradaya sanctified by Jayadeva. In sheer volume of output, he essays in the direction of Purandaradasa and Kshetragna; in devotion, religious fervour, reformatory zeal and spiritual realisation, his songs approach those of Purandaradasa; when we think of him singing in anguish to his Rama, we find in him a second Ramadasa of Bhadrachala; in his lyrical moods, he takes a page off Kshetragna; in his Pancharatnas and some of his grander  compositions, he treads the path  of the earlier Prabandhakara-s and later Varnakara-s; turning out pieces now and then in the language of the gods, he seems to beckon his contemporary Dikshitar singing the glory of Mother Tripurasundari; when he calls out in anguish to Rama or to Mother goddess , he is like  Shyama Shastri ;  and in his  dramatic compositions he  is  like Narayana Teertha or Merattur Venkatarama Bhagavatar  ( the composer of the Bhagavata Nataka-s in Telugu )  “.

1.3. Tyagaraja in his childhood learnt to sing the songs (padam-s) of Ramadasa and Purandaradasa from his mother who had a fair knowledge of music.

In his musical play Prahalada Bhakti Vijaya, Sri Tyagaraja pays obeisance to many of his eminent predecessors; and, in particular to Bhadrachala Ramadasa who was intensely devoted to Rama  (in Ksheerasagara sayana in Devagandhari and Emidova balkuma in Saranga).

And  again in Prahlada Bhakthi Vijayam  he pays his tribute to Sri Purandaradasa whom he regarded as a Guru . Sri Tyagaraja brought into some of his Kritis,  the thoughts, emotions and concepts of Sri Purandaradasa.

 – వెలయు పురందరదాసుని మహిమలను దలచెద మదిలోన్ (I ponder, in my mind, on the greatness of Purandaradasa who shines in a state of ecstasy, always singing the virtues of Lord Hari which rescues from ill-fate)

Varied influences

:- Sri Upanishad Brahmendra

2.1. The scholars mention that in his childhood (in the years prior to 1780), when he was about ten-twelve years age, Tyagaraja was greatly influenced by a Sanyasin named Ramacandrendra Sarasvati (later renowned as Sri Upanishad Brahmendra Yogin). Sri Ramacandrendra Sarasvati, who then resided in Tanjavuru, used to conduct discourses on Ramayana and also lead chorus-singing of the devotional songs he composed in praise of Sri Rama. Tanjavuru was just about 13 Km away from Thiruvaiyaru where the Tyagaraja family lived. It is said; Tyagaraja, along with his father, used to attend the musical discourses and Bhajans conducted by Sri Ramacandrendra Sarasvati.

Sri Upanishad Brahmendra was well versed in music; and, was intensely devoted to Sri Rama, his Ishta-devatha. He followed the Divya nama-samkirtana, the Bhajana form in worship of Sri Rama. He is credited with number of Bhajana-samkirtanas, devotional songs set to music, singing the glory of the Lord.

Ramayana and Rama-Bhakthi had enormous influence on Sri Tyagaraja, his life and outlook.

rama lakshmana sita

2.2. Dr. V. Raghava , a renowned scholar and musicologist,  opines that the traces of Ramacandrendra Sarasvati‘s influence can be found in the Divya-nama-samkirtana songs composed by Sri Thyagaraja. He points out the similarities in the structure of songs and in the word-play (pada-jaala) employed by Sri Thyagaraja and his inspiration, Ramacandrendra Sarasvati. (e.g.,Kanakambara; Kanakavasana; Celakanaka; Hatakacela;Bhaktha-chandana; Sakalonnata; Rajavandya; Sitamanohara; Rajivaksha; Ranabhima; Jitakama; Navanitasa; Sara-sarastara; Mruduvacana; Niramayanga;  Nadapradipa; Nadasadhana; etc.

He also points out the similarities in the structure of songs and in the word-play (pada-jaala) employed by Sri Tyagaraja and his inspiration, Ramacandrendra Sarasvati in his Tarangas.

Further Dr. Raghavan mentions; Sri Tyagaraja’s songs: Dhyaname varamaine;  Gangasnaname and Kotinadula which emphasize that the real snana and thirtha (the bath and the holy waters of the pilgrimage) are verily in the contemplation on the name of the Lord and not in the rivers, were inspired by Sri Upanishad  Brahmendra‘s  Tarangas  in his Sri Rama Taranga .

It is also mentioned that   Sri Ramacandrendra Sarasvati’s Sri Rama Taranga, was in turn influenced by the songs in most enchanting opera Krishna-Leela-Tarangini of Sri Narayana Thirtha (1650 -1745).

3.1.. Sri Upanishad Brahmendra was an integral part of the tradition that was in vogue during those times when the Sanyasins based in Advaita ideology also cultivated Bhakthi (devotion) and Samgitha (music). Apart from Upanishad Brahmendra the two other Sanyasins – Sri Narayana Thirtha and Sri Sadashiva Brahmendra – excelled in practice of Nada-vidya as a part of their Sadhana.

3.2. Sri Upanishad Brahmendra produced monumental sets of commentaries on all the 108 Upanishads listed in the Mukthiko-panishad. He was the first scholar in the Advaita tradition to have provided commentaries on all those listed Upanishads. And yet; in his work, Upeya-Nama-Viveka, he attempts to synchronize Advaita with Bhakthi. There, he explained Divyanama –samkirtana, the recitation of the sacred name of the chosen deity (Istadevata) as Upaya the means for attaining the ultimate (Upeya) the Brahman.

Then, Sri Rama just as the symbol (pratika) Om, according to him, would no longer be a Nama of a Rupa (form) but will be the very essence of the Supreme divinity. Thus, Divya-nama or nama-chit (name –consciousness) is the means (sadhana) and also the end (sadhya). He asserts that the quote “Om eti ekaksharam Brahma” (Bhagavad-Gita: 8.13) gives expression to the identity of the symbol or the name (abhidana) with the object of contemplation (abhideya).

3.3. Sri Tyagaraja who had a great affinity towards Upanishad Brahmendra, later in his life, followed that hallowed tradition. He too, like his ideal, lovingly adorned Sri Rama in hundreds of his songs; and he too later in his life took to Sanyasa – bringing together devotion, music and knowledge of self (jnana– vairagya). All of his mentors had asserted that Bhakthi was the means (sadhana) to realize the goal (sadhya) of attaining unity with God or Brahman.

Sri rama pattabhishekka

:- Namasiddantha

4.1. Besides this , there had arisen  in the Cauvery delta a movement – Bhajana Sampradaya – that firmly believed in the power of the sacred name of the Lord (Namasiddantha).It asserted the faith that recital of the holy name in loving devotion and giving expression to that through soulful music (nama samkirtana) was the most potent means for liberation. The movement cut across the distinctions of caste (varna) and the stages of life (ashrama). It brought into its fold householders, men, women and children of all sections of the society. Sri Sridhar Venkatesha Ayyaval, Sri Bhodendra Sarasvathi and Sri Bashyam Gopala Krishna Sastry renowned as the triumvirate of Bhajana tradition were the prominent leaders of the congregational devotion (Bhajana mandali) practices. They were followed by Sri Venkataramana – Sadguruswami who strengthened and gave a form to the Bhakthi and Bhajana-paddathi movement.


4.2. It is also said; Krishna Leela Tarangini, an opera, of Narayana Teertha provided inspiration for Tyagaraja to compose his Nauka Charitram and Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam. Another popular feature of the times was the celebration of Radha, Rukmini, and Seeta Kalyanam-s. The traditional songs sung during those festivals, it is said, inspired Sri Tyagaraja to compose utsava sampradaya kirtanas. And, these became a part of his daily worship of Rama.

4.3. Sri Tyagaraja was thus an inheritor of a long , rich and a holy Sampradaya.


5.1. Sri Tyagaraja appeared in a period which was thronged by giants in the arts; performers; theorists and composers; authors of dance music, dance-drama; and, composers of Grammatical (Vyakarana) and technical works of great value, such as Lakshanas, Thayas and Varnas.

5.2. Giriraja Kavi, said to be his paternal grandfather, was a poet and a composer.  His maternal grandfather Kalahastayya was a Veena player besides being a scholar.  Sri Ramakrishananda, Tyagaraja’s Guru  (as mentioned in Nauka Charitram) , who initiated him into Rama–mantra (Namo Namo Raghavaya) was himself a scholar, poet and a musician.  And in music, Tyagaraja was the pupil of Sonti Venkataramayya (illustrious musician of the Court), the son of another renowned performer Sonti Subbayya, was one of the great teachers of his time.  Thus, both at home and in his surroundings, Tyagaraja was immersed in the soothing environment of music and Rama-bhakthi.

6.1. Further, during his period, Tanjavuru was virtually the cultural capital of South India. With all the leading scholars and artists migrating to Tanjavuru which provided royal patronage and support, Karnataka music was getting enriched from all directions. The period witnessed development in all most all branches of Manodharma Samgita: alapana, tana, pallavi exposition, niraval and svara kalpana.

6.2. It appears the region was lit up with activities churning out and crystallizing various forms of creative expressions. To have appeared amidst the throng of talents and to have outshone the others with his creations is indeed the greatest testimony to the genius of Sri Tyagaraja.


Continued in Part II- Life of Tyagaraja


Manaku Teliyana Tyagaraju:

Tyāgarāja and the Renewal of Tradition: Translations and Reflections by William Joseph Jackson

The Power of the Sacred Name: Indian Spirituality Inspired by Mantras by V. Raghavan

Spiritual Heritage of Sri Tyagaraja by Dr. V Raghavan and C. Ramanujachariar

I acknowledge with gratitude the Sri Tyagaraja’ s portrait by Shri S Rajam

Other images are from Internet


Posted by on February 22, 2015 in Tyagaraja


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