Tag Archives: Tyagaraja

Music of India – a brief outline – Part Thirteen

Continued from Part Twelve – Desi Samgita  

Part thirteen (of 22 ) – Forms of Karnataka Sangita


The Journey

1.1. As you have seen from the articles posted so far that, over the centuries, the Music of India has passed through many significant milestones on the way to its full development. Though the several forms of Music generated over the long periods differ in their form, content and intent, they do in fact represent a continued progression of a hoary tradition, each inspiring its next format. The Music of India, just as its philosophies and branches of art-forms, follows the path of continuity blending in the changes, without compromising its fundamentals.

1.2. The journey of this rich and varied Musical tradition could symbolically said to have commenced from the Riks of the Sama Veda associated with conduct of Yajnas , which then was improved upon by the Shiksha branch of the Vedas (Vedanga). That was followed the pure and chaste form of Music Marga or Gandharva with its gentle appeal to the gods. Then came the Gana of the Natyashastra with its several song-forms to suit various sequences that occur during the course of a Drama.

2.1. Thereafter the somber and rather inflexible Marga gave place to a comparatively relaxed art-music – Desi – derived from different regions of the country, aiming to delight the hearts of men and women. The Desi in its wake established the concept of Raga which in due time revolutionized the theories and practices of Indian Music. And, Raga became the central and predominant melodic concept in Indian music.  Over a period and with the proliferation of the Raga,  the systems of classifying the various Ragas into groups (Mela)  based on the technical traits of their scales (Svaras) came into vogue.

2.2. There arose various theories of characterizing the Ragas according to the mood or the season they seemed to represent,  and the  ideal time (  day , evening or night) to sing  the Ragas. And, the Ragas even came to be personified, treating them as male or female,  each endowed with its own individual traits and appearance. A large number of music-treatises were concerned primarily with the iconography of the Raga; and, were eager to connect the Raga with a deity or a season or a mood or even an environment.

2.3. Emmie Te Nijenhuis observes : For a full understanding of the development of musical forms in India one has to consider not only the technical elements of a composition, such as: its phrasal elements (Taala, Pada, Svara, Pata, Virudu and Tena), its main musical section (Dhatu) or its poetical metre, but also its general character, its subject matter and social environment . Unfortunately the Sanskrit texts do not contain information on some these aspects.

One has to therefore go behind the texts and try to understand their cultural and social background , fathom their inspirations   as also motivations

3.1. Much before the theories and concepts of Raga were fully developed, one of the major forms of Desi Sangita that came to fore was the Prabandha, which in its myriad forms dominated the Music scene of India for more than about thousand years till the end of the seventeenth century. In between, the Persian influence remodeled the forms and the ways of singing classical Music in North India. The ancient Dhruva-pada (Dhrupad) a Desi form of Prabandha gave place to improvised lyrical Khyal and other popular modes of singing.

3.2.  In the South India, the Prabandha which was getting rather rigid gave place, by about the end of seventeen century, to varieties of musical forms that were free flowing and not unduly constrained by rules of Grammar and meter. Though the form and the presentation of the songs took new shapes, they still retained, in one way or the other, the basic elements of the ancient Prabandha. This has helped to keep alive the ancient traditions.

4.1. By the second half of the 17th century the ancient Music that figured in Natyashastra was no longer in practice. The system of 17th century was closer to the one in present day. The texts of this period usually began with the traditional description of the scales (Svara) in terms of the 22 Srutis   and associated Ragas.

4.2. The eighteenth century could be said the golden age of Karnataka Sangita. The period not merely gave birth to significant texts that re-defined Music theories (Lakshana) and practices (Lakshya) but also witnessed the flowering of various Music forms such as : Kirtana, Kriti, Daru, Varna , Padam , Javali, Thillana, Naamavali  and so on. The most fortuitous occurrence or the heavenly blessing of this period was the sublime Music created by the Trinity of Karnataka Sangita who flourished around the same time.  It is, fundamentally, their Music that has given form substance and identity to the Karnataka Sangita and all other related art-forms that are practiced today. We all owe those Great Masters a deep debt of gratitude.

Let’s try to gain brief familiarity with some of the art-music that branched out of the Prabandha. Among those forms, I reckon, Daru seems to be older. Let’s begin with Daru.

sarasvathi tanjore


Dance Drama

5.1. It is said; the Daru songs were derived from the ancient Dhruva songs (stage-songs) described in the thirty-second chapter of Bharatha’s Natyashastra.

During the times of the Nayaks of Tanjavuru the Yakshagana, Bhagavatamela Nataka and such other dance dramas were popular. And, Daru songs were widely employed in all these forms of dance dramas (geya-nataka). Some of the earliest Daru songs that have come down to us are from Vijayaraghava Nayaka’s Yakshagana Vipranarayana Charita (1633 – 1673).

Daru that is commonly used in Dance Dramas, is basically a story-song (Akhyana or a ballad) narrating an event. Therefore, lyrics (Sahitya) are an essential part of Daru song.

5.2. As regards their format, some Darus may have Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and Charanas; while some others may just have only the Pallavi and Charanas (i.e. without Anu-pallavi). All the Charanas may have the same Dhatu, the musical element. The Tempo (Laya) of a Daru is usually the Madhyama-kaala; but, some are also sung in Vilamba-kala to suit the dramatic event. As regards the Taala, the Chapu Taala is most favored in Geya Natakas (say, as in Nauka Charitram of Sri Tyagaraja).  The other Taalas used were Adi and Jampa.

5.3. The music of Daru songs is usually simple with no elaborate improvisations such as Raga Sancharas or Sangathis.  The Rakthi Ragas are mostly used to bring out the mood and emotion of the scene. The Saurastra Raga seems to have a favorite of the composers.

Classification of Darus

6.1. Darus have been classified into various types depending on their functions. For instance; Svagatha Daru is for a character musing aloud (sotto voce) or a soliloquy speaking to herself/himself softly, aside, rather in a private manner.  Pralapa Daru is for sorrowing or wailing situations. Heccarika Daru is for heralding the entry of the King, alerting the assembled courtiers. Paada-vandana Daru is for respectfully approaching the deity in a temple, as also for retreating, step by step. And, Samvada Daru is for conversations in musical form between two main characters.

6.2. Jakkini Daru has an interesting format. It commenced with Jaati-Svaras (series of notes, sol-fa); and, the words (lyrics) were in the second section of the song. Jakkini was a popular form of Daru during the time of Nayaks. And, in due time, Jakkini Daru gave raise to Tillanas.

6.3. Some Darus (like Tendral Daru, Vennila Daru and Manmatha Daru) were love-songs portraying erotic moods (Sringara Rasa).   Such Darus in lighter moods were the forerunners of the later Javali dance songs.

6.4. Sri Melatturu Venkatarama Shastry who was a senior contemporary of Sri Tyagaraja  is said to have composed as many as twelve  Dance Dramas (Bhagavatha Mela Nataka) employing the Daru-songs. And, the Kuchhipudi dance dramas also employ Daru-songs in their narratives.

6.5. Among the Trinity of Karnataka Music, Sri Tyagaraja in his Dance Drama ‘Nauka Charitram’ used Daru-songs. For instance; one of its Daru –song ‘Indu kemi’ set to Varali Raga in Chapa Taala is of Samvada Daru type. Here, two characters speak alternatively (Uttara – pratyuttara) through songs.

[Independent of the dance dramas, Sri Tyagaraja is said to have composed a Daru (Nee saathi) in Raga Sriranjani. But, its authorship is questioned.]

[And, none of Sri Tyagaraja’s disciples seem to have attempted a Daru.]

Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar has also composed a Daru in Sriranjani Raga ‘Na sari sati’ set to Rupaka Taala; and, it is in Telugu. It is one of Dikshitar’s rare compositions in Telugu. The Anuprasa (rhyming) is delightfully phrased in the terms valabu, solabu and kolabu etc. There is an allusion to an anecdote related to churning of the sea that gave forth Amrita (divine nectar)   in the phrase: ’vasavadi amarulella Vamri svarupametti Vasudeva garvamanji’.

Among the later composers, Sri Harikesanallur Muthayya Bhagavatar who was musician in the court of Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the Maharaja of Mysore, has composed four Daru Varnas, Two of which are in Telugu; and, the other two are in Kannada. They contain Jaatis, Svaras as well as Sahitya. Here, the first passage in Svaras is followed by Jaati, which then are followed by Sahitya.

Of these, the Daru-Varna in Kannada set to Khamas Raga and Chapu Taala (Mathe Malayadwaja pandya samjate matanga vadana guha) is very highly  popular.

[The name of the Raga Khamas when sung repeatedly in succession sounds ‘Sukhama’].

[For more; Please see: Darus in Carnatic Music by Dr. Gowri Kuppuswami and Dr. M Hariharan; Published in ‘Shanmukha’, October 1986 (Vol.XII; No.4)]




7.1. Until about the beginning of the eighteenth century, Prabandha was the dominant form of Music. It also played an important role in the development of dance and dance-drama. Prabandha, essentially, is a tightly structured (Nibaddha Samgita) musical composition that is governed by a set of rules. Venkatamakhin in his landmark work Chaturdandi Prakasika (ca. 1635) describes Prabandha as 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 or elements (birudu, pada, tenaka, pāta and tāla) and Four Dhatus or sections (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.

[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.]

7.2. With the steady decline of Prabandha and rise of regional languages, a range of musical compositions and rhythmic variations began to take place. Those with lighter and attractive musical content set in simpler words easy to understand gained popularity as Kirtana-s or Padas. And, those Prabandha-s composed in high literary style and loaded with religious themes passed into realm of religion.

7.3. As said; the Kirtana form of Music that began to flourish towards the end of fourteenth century was basically devotional Music aiming to invoke Bhakthi in the hearts of common folk. Its Sahitya (lyrics) clothed in simple music abounds in Bhakthi-bhava. It usually is a prayer or a Namavali (stringing together various names and epithets of the deity) or is a song ideally suited for group singing (Samuha-gana or Bhajana).

7.4. The Kirtanas do have musical sections such as Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and usually more than two Charanas. The entire Kirtana is usually set to one traditional and melodious Raga in simple Taala; and is rendered in Madhyama-kaala.   In a Kirtana, Music per se is neither explored nor interpreted. Music, here, is but a charming, delightful vehicle to convey the devotional content of the song.

7.5. Among the Saint-poets and composers (Vak-geya-kara) who composed Kirtanas in soul-stirring music preaching devotion and submission to the Lord, the prominent were: Sri Sripadaraya (1403-1502), Tallapakkam Sri Annamacharya  (1408 to 1503), Sri Vyasaraya (1447-1539), Sri Vadiraja (1480-1600) , Sri Purandaradasa (1484-1564) , Kshetrayya (or Kshetragna) (1600–1680), Bhadrachalam Ramadasu (1620-1688)   and  Sri Raghavendra Tirtha (1623- 1671) . However, the original tunes of many of their songs are lost to us.



8.1. As said, Kirtana was the popular form of Music during 15-17th centuries. It was followed by the Kriti format which eventually stabilized and attained perfection by about the middle of the 18th century.

Kirtana and Kriti are often used as alternate or interchangeable terms. But, they are not the same; and, there are differences between the two. But, these two together form the major corpus of the main stream of Karnataka Sangita.

8.2. 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.  In Karnataka Samgita, a Kriti comprising Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and Charanas, honouring the disciplines of Grammar and Chhandas, and set to appropriate Taala is the most advanced form of musical composition.

8.3. If Kirtana evokes Bhakthi Rasa, Kriti aims at perfection of Gana-Rasa. Kriti depicts shades of various emotions and Rasa-s including Bhakthi. Kriti can express even sorrow-Karuna (e.g. Evari mata–kambhoji); wonder–Adbhuta (Enta muddo– Bindumalini); frustration or disgust – Jigupsa (Chedi buddhi – Adana); resignation or despairBibhatsa (Eti Janma – Varali). And, the expansion of such emotions is more complex, subtle and technically almost perfect.

8.4. The elaboration of a Kriti is complex for other reasons too. It might involve many Kaala-pramanas (tempos). And, quite often, a Kriti may be composed in rare or untested Ragas perhaps because the composer either strives to demonstrate his technical virtuosity or to match the subject and the text of the Kriti with a Raga of an equally aesthetic quality. Many times, a Kriti assigns the Raga greater importance than to its words. It might be trying to employ the Raga with its Gamakas to express the intent (bhava) of its Sahitya more effectively. Further, Kritis are also often structured in complex Taala patterns.

And, it is up to the genius of the performer to bring out the various facets of the Kriti as well as she/he could achieve.  Therefore, a Kriti can effectively be rendered as a solo rather than as group-song (in contrast to the Kirtana).

9.1. Kriti is conceived as a well chiselled work of art; an ideal harmony of Mathu (words) and Dhatu (music-element).  In an excellently well composed Kriti, the bhava of the words has to fuse with the bhava of the Raga, and the two have to become one.  Therefore, the performer is not expected to meddle with it or 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 gifted performer transforms a Kriti into his own inspired self-expression, investing it with his creative skill, well crafted Gamakas and Alamkaras.

9.2. Having said that let me also add there are varieties of Kritis. There is no prescribed number of sections or prescribed the length to define a Kriti. Some are short as in the case of some of Sri Dikshitar’s Kritis where the Anu-pallavi and Charanam are fused into one Samasti-charanam. Sri Tyagaraja, on the other hand, at times, adds extra Charanams. At the same time, in some of his Kritis the last two lines of the Charanam are rendered just like the Anu-pallavi.


9.3. Kritis are set in different speeds, Ragas, Taalas, lengths and levels of proficiency. Some Kritis allow scope for elaboration while others are crisp. Some are scholarly, while some others just project sweet melody with simple words of devotion (Madhura Bhakthi).

9.4. While the Kritis in Karnataka Sangita are generally rendered in Madhyama Kaala, some of Sri Dikshitar’s Kritis commence in Vilamba Kaala, but, brisk and enlivening passages are built into the Kriti towards the end. Similarly in the case of Kritis of Shyama Shastry a performer can do justice only if she/he grasps the delicacy of Gamakas of his Ragas and renders in slow, contemplative tempo.

9.5. It is also said; A Kriti can also be sung with or without Sangathi or Niraval or Svara Kalpana. Because, it is said, a Kriti should essentially be beautiful by itself; and, should sound sweet even without elaborations and ornamentation (nirabharana saundarya).

10.1. One of Sri Tyagaraja’s significant contributions to Karnataka music is the perfection of Kriti format, which was, at that time, evolving out of the shadows of the older Prabandha and its immediate predecessor Kirtana or Pada. Amazingly, Sri Tyagaraja as also Sri Dikshitar and Shyama Shastry, independent of each other, all contributed to the development of Kriti form, although they did not seem to have met or corresponded.

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

10.2. Sri Tyagaraja in his song Sogasuga mridanga talamu (in Raga Sri Ranjani) 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.

10.3. 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.

karnataka samgita


11.1. One of the innovations of Sri Tyagaraja to improve the aesthetic beauty of Kriti –rendering was the Sangathi.  A Sangathi (lit. putting together) is essentially a set of variations on the shades of a theme, gradually unfolding the melodic (Raga) potential of a phrase (Sahitya) in combination with Svaras. 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).

11.2. 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 Jivadhara.)

11.3. Though the 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 kaala 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)].

11.4. 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 Svaras, 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 –Svaras.

Raga Taana and Pallavi


12.1. Raga Taana Pallavi is regarded the most mature form of presentation in Karnataka Sangita. Raga here stands for Alapana or elaboration, the Anibaddha Sangita. It is the Music that is not fettered by words, meters or Taala.  Its excellence is limited only by performer’s virtuosity.  The performer after a slow contemplative phases delves into the depths of the Raga explores its various dimensions through his creative endower; and, ends on a high note.

12.2. After the Alapana the performer takes up Taana (comparable to Jor –Jhala in Hindustani Dhrupad and instrumental music). This involves boundless play on meaning-less syllables such as ta, na, nom, tum or tanam, etc. Taana is unique in the sense that with the rise in tempo, the performer improvises and builds into the melody various patterns of rhythms, without, however, the element of Taala. The Veena players invariably perform Taana; and, it is most delightful.

12.3. The third part is Pallavi, which is Nibaddha, structured by words, sections and Taala. Here the percussion player join in and do enjoy a greater role. The Pallavi ends in a series of kalpanaswaras.


[The Varna or Varnam that we are about to discuss is different from the technical term Varna (special note sequences that indicate different kinds of Svara- movements) we talked about earlier. The Varna or Varnam in the following paragraphs refers to a class of musical composition in Karnataka Sangita.]

13.1. Varnam is a short, crisp and tightly knit music-piece that aims to encapsulate the main features and requirements of a Raga. These are finely crafted exquisite works of art. The creation of a Varna calls for delicate craftsmanship, thorough knowledge of the Raga, its sanchara (movements) in various Kaala (tempos) , grasp over Taala and an overall sense of beauty and balance.

13.2. Varnams have been composed, since about eighteenth century, in all the major Ragas and most of the minor Ragas, in all the principal Taalas. Many Masters of Karnataka Sangita have composed Varnas. The prominent among them are: Pachchimiriyam Adiyappayya, Sonti Venkatsubbayya, Shyama Shastri, Swati Tirunal Maharaja, Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer, Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar and Mysore Vasudevacharya.

[Varna is unique to Karnataka Sangita. The Hindustani Music does not seem to have its counterpart.]

13.3. Varna lays out the Grammar of a Raga. That is to say, it specifies the features and rules regarding the movement of the Raga (raga-sanchara), its scale, how each note of the Raga should be stressed and so on. A Varnam is therefore a fundamental form in Karnataka Sangita. It needs to be practiced well both by the learner and the experienced performer.

14.1. A Varnam is structured in two Angas (sections) : The Purvanga ( first section) comprises  Pallavi, Anu-pallavi, Mukhayi Svara; and The Uttaranga ( the latter section)  comprises a Charana that acts as a refrain for the latter part of the Varnam and Charana-svaras (Chittasvara) that are alternated with the Charanam.  Each section of a Varnam elaborates an aspect of the Raga (raga-svarupa).

14.2. A Varna does include Sahitya (lyrics); but, its role is secondary, merely supporting the music-content of the Varnam. It provides the Lakshya and Laksana of a Raga. The focus of a Varnam is on the Raga, its individual Svaras and Svara phases of various lengths and speeds. It is said; Varnam does not need the distraction of Sahitya.

14.3. The movement of a Varnam is strictly controlled; and, it’s rendering demands discipline.  Its focus is on the Graha Svara (initial note of the Raga), the Gamakas, the Sanchara (movement) of the Raga according to the prescribed format.

14.4. The Pallavi of a Varna starts on the lower end of the scale stressing on the most important Svara (Jiva Svara) in the opening phase of the Pallavi. The Anu-pallavi deals with the higher end of the scale . And, the Mukhayi Svara and Chittasvara – consist of meandering (Sanchari) chains of Svaras that explore both the upper and lower reaches of the Raga.

14.5. The rendering of a Varna employs all the three tempos. The first Charana Svara is rendered in Vilamba kaala (slow tempo) and each Jiva Svara must be highlighted. After which, the rest is sung in Madhyama kaala (half-time). Some musicians insert their own kalpanaswara passages. In the third Charana Svara, the Svaras are short and made into groups (avartanam) of four. Thus, in Charana, there are two or three Svaras of one avartanam, one Svara of two avartanam-s and finally one Svara of four avartanam-s.


15.1. As said earlier, practicing Varna is much required for the student as also for the experienced performer. For students, the Varnams that are taught at the intermediary level are useful for learning the Svaras of various Ragas, singing in multiple speeds rapidly; as well as learning the appropriate Gamakas.  Advanced students are taught Varnas in multiple Ragas or Taalas. They introduce the student to the proper combinations of Svaras for each Raga and inculcate discipline that is needed for singing.

Varna- rendering also helps to develop voice culture and in learning to maintain proper pitch and control over rhythm. The instrumentalists too can gain control over playing -techniques.

Among the early Adi Taala Varnams a student usually learns are: Ninnukori in Raga Mohana by Ramnad Sreenivasa Iyengar; Samininne in Shankara bharanam by Veenai Kuppaiyer; Evvari Bodhana in Abhogi by Patnam Subramania  Iyer;  and many others. In the later stages all student do learn to sing the celebrated Viriboni, in Bhairavi, set to Ata Taala by Pacchimirium Sri Adiyappayya.

Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Ayyangar

15.2. In the concerts, a Varnam is most often the first or the second piece to be rendered. Though some consider it as a warm-up exercise, the correct rendering of Varna requires complete knowledge of the Raga.

16.1. Varnams are of three sorts: Daru Varnam, Pada Varnam and Taana Varnam. . The theme of these Varnams is usually Bhakthi (devotion) or Sringara (love).

We just spoke about Daru Varnam in the previous paragraphs of this article. Daru Varnams are special type of Varnams in whose Mukthayi Svaras; there are first the Svara passages, followed by the jatis which are then followed by the Sahitya.

16.2. Pada Varnam (Ata Varnam): As its name indicates there it has a greater element of Sahitya (Pada or words). Pada Varnams with elaborate Sahitya are difficult to grasp especially when set to difficult Ragas and Taala. But, Pada Varnams are in greater use in Bharatanatyam. Because, it’s Sahitya, expressions and Svaras in moderately slow pace is said to be suitable for choreography.

16.3. Taana Varnam: This does not have Sahitya for Svaras. It usually is of fast tempo (Druta and Tisra Gati). It is the sort of Varna that is meant as pure music, without the intervention of words. It therefore has fewer words than the Pada Varna. The difficult Taana Varnams are commonly chosen for rending in the concerts;and, they provide the base for Mano-dharma-samgita. The artists enjoy greater elaborations of Taana Varnams studded with Kalpana-svaras to enhance to beauty of the Raga.

[ For more on Varnam ; please do read the Doctoral Research Paper : Study of varnas in dual forms music and dance by Dr. Rajashree R Warrier]

lotus red

Gitam, Svarajati and Jatisvaram

17.1. Just as the Varnam, the Gita and Svarajati have rhythm matching each syllable of the Sahitya to one Svara.

17.2. Gitam is the simplest type of composition. Taught to beginners of music, the Gitam is very simple in structure with an easy and melodious flow of music set in simple Taala.

17.3. Svarajatiis are learnt after a course in Gitams. More complicated than the Gitams, the Svarajati prepares the student for the Varnams. . It consists of three sections, called Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and Charanam. Svarajati does not offer much scope for elaboration of neraval etc since it is in a tight knit form. It bound by rules. Its Svara patterns are aligned with Sahitya in a graded manner. It was the genius of Shyama Shastry that endowed Svarajati with Raga bhava.

17.4. Jatisvaras are similar to the Svarajati in musical structure. However, – Jatisvaram-has no sahitya or meaningful words. The piece is sung with sol-fa syllables. its rhythmical excellence and the jati pattern used in it are its strength.  . This is a musical form belonging to the realm of dance music. In some Jatisvarams, the Pallavi and Anu-pallavi are sung to Jatis and the Charanas are sung to a mixture of Svaras and jatis. There are also Ragamalika Jatisvarams.]

Pada or Padam


[Pada hereunder does not merely refer to ’word’; but, it also refers to a type of song that was prevalent during 17th-18th century.]

18.1.The Padams are quite similar to the Uparupaka-s of the type Srigadita and Durmllika or Durmilita. The main characters of a Padam invariably are the Nayaka (hero), Nayika (heroine) and the Sakhi (friend/maid).  The Padams narrate the emotional states of the Nayika and the Nayaka while they are separated or while enjoying the company of each other.

In the Srigadita, the Nayaki is separated; and, she recounts her Lover’s actions, virtues or his indifference to her friend/maid. The separation of the Nayaka and the Nayaki is classified as Vipralamba -Srngara.  In Durmllika, the Sakhi either carries the message to the Nayaka or enables the two Lovers to meet.


Some Padams are, however, in praise of a deity. In many, Srngara is depicted as Madhura-Bhakti.

Thus, the Padams, the musical monologues, provide scope for display of varied delicate shades of Srngara and other Rasas , through Nayaka-Nayaki-Bhavas.


Pada or Padam were sung during Dance as they offered scope for subtle expressions through face and gestures (Abhinaya). During the times of Nayaks of Tanjavuru, Dance and Dance related music were popular because of their sweet music and aesthetic appeal. Most of the poets, musicians and Natyacharyas attached to the King’s Court were engaged in scripting songs and composing music for dance related music-forms such as Pada, Jakkini, Javali, Chintamani, Perani etc than with the art-music. Almost all forms of dance related compositions that are in vogue today are derived from this period. Its form has remained almost unchanged.

18.2. Most of the Padams were composed in regional languages, majority of them in Telugu and some in Tamil. The theme of a Padam would usually be Madhura Bhakthi devotion colored with tender love or suggestive romance. Theoretically, this sort of Bhakthi tinged with Srngara was projected in its two aspects: Antar-Srngara, the unseen sublime relation between the Universal Soul (Paramatma) and the Individual Soul (Jivatma) that is guided by the Guru, the spiritual mentor; and, the Bahir-Srngara was the explicit romantic relation between the Hero (Nayaka) and the Leading Lady (Nayika) that is aided and abetted by the Lady’s maid (Sakhi). Though all the nine Rasas (Nava-Rasa) were portrayed in a Padam, the Srinagar (erotic or romantic love) was the dominant Rasa and the theme.

[The terms Pada and Kirtana seem to be used synonymously in this period .And, later the compositions with Sringara content came to be known as Pada; and, those with element of Bhakthi as Kirtana.]

19.1. The music   of the Padam is generally slow-moving, arousing with an appeal to ones delicate sensibilities. The natural flow of music goes along with tender and evocative words of the song. The Padam aims to blend the music, the words and Abhinaya the dance expressions into a harmonious and very enjoyable art-experience.

19.2. The Padam, when sung, presents an epitome of the Raga in which it is composed. Ragas specially noted for evoking typical rasa bhava are commonly employed in Padam. They usually are the mellow and serene Ragas such as: Anandabhairavi, Sahana, Nilambari, Ahiri, Ghanta, Mukhari, Huseni, Surati, Sourashtram and Punnagavarali.

19.3. The Taala of a Padam is rather subdued, not intruding into the mood or the bhava of the song. The Sangathi too are gentle and elaborate; and, not vigorous or energetic.

A Padam also has the sections: Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and Charana.

20.1. The earliest Padams were composed by Jayadeva Kavi (12th Century) in Sanskrit and in Telugu by Kshetrayya (16th Century).

Kshetrajna- Indian Music composer

Kshetrayya or Kshetragna seems to have been a great devotee of Gopala (Krishna), the presiding deity of his village. Thus, he adopted the Ankita-mudra, Muvva Gopala, for his compositions.

The Padams of Kshetrayya composed in beautiful lyrics set to rare Ragas, describe intense longing of the Nayaki for the Lord; and varied emotions sorrow on separation. Many of his Padams begin with the Anupallavi, followed by the Pallavi.

Kshetrayya’s compositions include Padams, such as :  Ramarama (Bhairavi); Gaddari (Kalyani); Yemandu namma (Kedaragowla); and Kontegadu (Surati) , among others. Kshetrayya used only Rakthi-Ragas like: Anandabhairavi, Sahana, Nilambari, Ahiri, Ghanta, Mukhari, Huseni, Surati, Sourashtram and Punnagavarali.

The striking feature of his Padams is that he uses very few words to describe a situation; thus allowing scope for elaboration of emotions through Abhinaya in unhurried lilting gaits, to the accompaniment pleasing music. Kshetragnya’s Padams are , therefore, popular in both music and dance.


20.2. Some of the poets in the Maratha Court at Tanjavuru like Giriraja Kavi were also noted Padam composers. He is said to have composed many Sringara Padas employing Desi Ragas like Brindavani.  He was followed by Vasudeva Kavi, Soma Kavi and Rama Bharathi.

The Maratha kings themselves (Thulaja I, Ekoji II, Sarabhoji II and Shahaji) are said to have composed several Padas, musical operas, Kuravanji’s, Daru, Yakshagana Natakas etc.


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21.1. Javalis belong to the genre of light classical music. Sung both in concerts  and dance items. The Javalis are popular because of the attractive melodies in which they are composed.

[According to Dr. Jyothi Mohan:

The term Javali is said to have come from the Kannada word “Javada” which means “lewd poetry”. Javali is a musical composition often sung towards the end of a Carnatic classical concert. It is pronounced both as “Javali” and Javadi in Kannada. The Marathi word “Jhawali” means a gesture of eyes in the language of ‘love’.

According to some scholars, the structure, the contents and the technique of the Sringara Padams of Annamacharya (14th Century) closely resemble those of a Javali of the modern times.

It is only from the time of Dharmapuri Subbarayar (which is about the latter half of the 19th Century) that javali began to exist as a definite form, which has continued till today. Other well-known javali composers are Thiruppanandal Pattabhirammayya, Tatchur Singrachari, Patnam Subramanya Iyer, and Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar.]

In Javalis also, the Nayaka, Nayika and the Sakhi figure in the theme;  but, the mood is slightly playful and most times, it is meant to entertain, as its Sahitya is colloquial and earthly.  In contrast to the Padams, which portray divine love, Javalis are rather sensuous in concept and display . Unlike in Padam, there is  no symbolism here. The Srngara portrayed in Javali is overt. It is meant to titillate the patron.


21.2. They are basically dance-songs set in Madhyama kaala with attractive tunes and crisp Taala. Lighter Desi Ragas like Paraz, Kapi, Khamas, Behag, Jhinjhoti, Tilang, etc that   are simple and melodious are used in Javalis. They are not burdened with technical complexities as  alapanaineraval or kalpana-swaras; and, in a concert they are sung  towards the end as a way of relaxation.

[ For more on Javalis, please do click here for a learned article .]



22.1. Tillana, again, is a dance oriented song format. It makes use of Mrudanga Jathis in Pallavi and Anu-pallavi. The emphasis is on brisk rhythm, lively movement and not on Sahitya or Manodharma. Percussions have greater role to play in Tillana. It is said; the life of a Tillana is in its rhythm (Laya). The composers played around music-sounds such as tha, thai, theem, thakadhimi, or kitathakatharikitathom, quite generously.

22.2. The Jathis are articulated throughout the piece. The Charanam has usually epithets (Birudu) saluting the deity or the patron. It is tight knit composition that is rendered in just the way it is composed. Tillana exude with joy, celebration or exuberance; and, it is not meant for other Rasa such as sorrow etc.

22.3. The Tillana corresponds to Tarana of Hindustani music. It is a favorite of Veena players.   In a concert Tillanas are sung towards the end, before the Mangalam (benediction), just to make up the variety.



23.1. The forms of song-formats in Indian Music, right from Sama-gaana to the present-day, are truly countless, as we have seen from this and the earlier posts in the Series. As Dr. Ramanathan observes; form is actually a codification of various musical aspects that has been abstracted from Musical structures and prescriptions as given in the texts.

23.2. To repeat; though the several forms of Music generated over the long periods differ in their form, content and intent, they do in fact represent a continued progression of a hoary tradition, each inspiring its next format. The Music of India, just as its philosophies and branches of art-forms, follows the path of continuity blending in the changes, without compromising its fundamentals

23.3. That is to say the Forms in Karnataka Sangita are the representations or the expressions of theoretical principles that governed each stage of its evolution over the centuries. The Forms and formats change to suit their adopted environment; but, the principles behind them remain true and lasting.

In the next two parts, lets briefly take a look at the various Lakshana Granthas (from Dattilam to Chaturdandi prakashika) that have defined, guided and protected Karnataka Sangita.



Lakshana Granthas-1

Sources and References

  1. 1. Darus in Carnatic Music by Dr. Gowri Kuppuswami and Dr. M Hariharan; Published in ‘Shanmukha’, October 1986 (Vol.XII; No.4)
  2. The charisma of composers BY T.M. Krishna
  1. Form in Music by Prof. Dr. N. Ramanathan
  2. 4. Carnatic Classical Music – Centre for Cultural Resources
  3. Carnatic music
  5. All pictures are taken from the Internet. I gratefully acknowledge the sources.

Posted by on May 27, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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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


Tags: , , , ,

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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