( For my friend Shri Kannan Rangachar )
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 ( 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 bad fates)
:- 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.
2.2. The musicologists and experts opine that the traces of Sri Ramacandrendra Sarasvati‘s influence can be found in the Divya-nama-samkirtana songs later composed by Sri Tyagaraja. They point 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. 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.
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: http://eemaata.com/em/issues/200809/1337.html
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