Sri Tyagaraja Swami
(1767 - 1847 AD)
Tyagaraja (Telugu: శ్రీ త్యాగరాజ; d. 1848) was one of the most important composers of Carnatic music. He is regarded as one of the "trinity" of Carnatic music composers, along with Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri. He was a devotee of Rama.
Sri Tyagaraja, the most celebrated Carnatic Music saint was a great devotee of Lord Sri Rama. Tyagaraja lived to the full extent that God realization is best achieved through Nadopasana (music with devotion). His songs are filled with an intimate devotion to Rama, all through revealing his deep understanding of the tenets of the Vedas and Upanishads.
Saint Purandaradas is considered as the grandfather of Carnatic Music. Sri Tyagaraja, along with Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri are considered as the "Trinity of Carnatic Music." Sri Tyagaraja has composed about 24,000 songs in his long devoted life to Lord Rama, most of them written in his Mother tongue Telegu, but a few in Sanskrit, including the masterpiece "Jagadanandakaraka" composed of 108 names describing Lord Rama's attributes. But, his songs are well loved in Tamil Nadu, the seat of South Indian (Carnatic) Music scholarship and performance.
In Thiruvarur in the Thanjavur district of present-day Tamil Nadu, in the Hindu lunar year Sarvajit 27th Soma, on Chaitra Sukla Sapthami, the 7th day of the bright half of the Hindu month of Chaitra, under the Pushya nakshatram [star], that is on May 4, 1767, a son was born to Kakarla Ramabrahmam and his wife Seethamma. According to another tradition, the year of his birth was 1759.
The boy was named Tyagaraja, after Lord Tyagaraja, the presiding deity of Thiruvarur. Tyagaraja's father Rama Brahmam taught him to worship Rama daily and initiated him in Rama taraka mantra. Even as a boy, Tyagaraja composed his first song on Rama, Namo Namo Raghavaya when he was only 13 years old. Sri Tyagaraja continued to recite the Rama Nama every day and had many darsans of Sri Rama, which inspired him to write songs on his beloved Lord, Sri Rama. His maternal grandfather, Giriraja Kavi, at whose residence in Tiruvarur Thyagaraja was born, was a poet-composer attached to the court of Thanjavur. The family was a pious Telugu-speaking smartha brahmin family of the vaidiki Mulukanadu sub-caste. They are said to have hailed from a village named Kakarla in the Prakasam district of present-day Andhra Pradesh, but had long been settled in Thiruvaiyaru in the Thanjavur district of present-day Tamil Nadu, which is the scene of the life and work of the great composer.
At 18 years of age, Tyagaraja married Parvati, who died when he was only 23. He then married Kamalamba (sister of Parvati). They had a daughter named Sitamahalakshmi, through whom he had a grandson, who died progeniless. Seetalakshmi's only child, also named Tyagaraja, died at a young age; with that, the line of direct descent from Tyagaraja came to an end.
Thus we do not have any descendant of Saint Tyagaraja. But, his tradition is kept alive by his musical disciples and their followers.
Thyagaraja had an elder brother, Japyesa, whose descendents still abide in the same area of Tamil Nadu. Japyesa is often made the villain in stories about Tyagaraja, in the role of the brother who could not understand Tyagaraja's devotion to Sri Rama, a characterization that smacks of caricature and may well be inaccurate. Thyagaraja attained release from the material world on Pushya Bahula Panchami, the fifth day of the dark half of the month of Pushya, in the Hindu lunar year Prabhaava (January 6, 1847).
Tyagaraja started his musical training under Sri Sonti Venkataramanayya at an early age. Tyagaraja regarded music as a way to experience the love of God. His objective while performing music was to repeat the name of God and contemplate on His Divine Pastimes, thereby reducing the vices of the mind, not to display his mastery over Raga and Tala. He had to struggle quite a bit to compose music in which Bhava, that is, emotion, was crowned. (He always felt that Bhava was not to be compromised for Raga and Tala). The legend goes that he was blessed by the divine sage Narada with great musical knowledge.
Being a great devotee of Lord Rama, the only things that mattered to Tyagaraja were Music and Bhakti. In fact, they were synonymous to him. "Is there a sacred path than music and bhakti?". "O Mind, salute the gods of the seven notes". "The knowledge of music, O Mind, leads to bliss of Union with the Lord". Music was to him the meditation on the Primordial Sound:
"I bow to Sankara, the embodiment of Nada, with my body and mind. To Him, the essence of blissful Samaveda, the best of the vedas, I bow. To Him who delights in the seven swaras born of His five faces I bow".
Sri Tyagaraja had the highest reverence for great bhakthas like Prahlada, Dhruva, Hanuman and Narada. Sri Tyagaraja's life is an illustration to the dictum that music and devotion combined make the best path to the understanding of the Supreme Brahman.He is said to have sung Sri Naarada Mouni, a song in praise of Narada, on this occasion.
As a 13-year-old, he composed Namo Namo Raghava in Desikathodi. Much later in life, his guru, Sonti Venkataramanayya, wanted to listen to Tyagaraja's new talent and invited him to perform at his house in Thanjavur. On that occasion, Tyagaraja presented Endaro Mahaanubhavulu(ఎందరో మహానుభావులు), the fifth of the Pancharatna Krithis.
Intensely pleased with Tyagaraja's song, Sonti Venkataramanayya told the king about the genius of Tyagaraja. The king sent an invitation, accompanied as was traditional with many rich gifts, to Thyagaraja, inviting him to grace the royal court. To the unworldly Tyagaraja, the prospect of wealth or fame was no incentive; he clearly had no inclination for a career life at court, which doubtless in that age, as in every other, entailed petty rivalries and jealousies. He rejected the kings invitation outright, composing another gem of a kriti, Nidhi Chala Sukhama on this occasion.
Angered at his rejection of the royal offer, Tyagaraja's brother took revenge by throwing his idols of Rama Pattabhisheka in the nearby River Cauvery. Tyagaraja, unable to bear the separation with his Lord, made a pilgrimage to all the major temples in South India and composed many more songs in praise of the deities of those temple. He is said to have finally found the idols with the help of Rama himself. Tyagaraja attained Moksha on a Vaikunta Ekadasi.
At another time, he sang at the request of his guru, beginning at 8 p.m. and finishing only at 4 a.m. Serfoji Maharaja heared of his performance and invited him to visit the temple to be rewarded, but Tyaagaraaja rejected the offer, singing "Nidhi caala sukhama?" in kalyaaNi, which means Does abundance of wealth bring happiness? The king realized his mistake and visited the saint-composer, who cured him of a stomachache.
In 1805 Tyaagaraaja lost an idol of Raama, thrown into the river Cauvery by his brother, but got it back after 3 months. When he lost the idol, he sang sadly "Endu daagi naado," Where has He gone and hidden Himself? Tyaagaraaja usually went from street to street singing and begging for rice. Once a sage named Haridas asked him to recite the name of Raama 960 million times. After doing so, Tyaagaraaja went to offer his prayer when he heard a knock on his door. Raama, Seeta, and Hanumaan were entering his prayer room and he was blessed to see the coronation of Raama. Moved with wonder and devotion, he sang "Baalakanagamaya" (the anupallavi of the kritis "Ela nee dayaraadhu" and "Bhavanuta"). In 1810 his daughter was married, and his disciple WalajapeTTai Vekataramana Bhaagavatar brought a picture of Raama, walking all the way from WalajapeTTai to Tiruvaiyaar. Tyagaraaja sang "Nannu paalimpa," overwhelmed by this act. Once he visited Tirupati, but when he went to the temple, it was closed. In sadness, he sang "Teratiyagaraadaa" and the temple officials gathered round in admiration when they saw the dorr opening by itself and the screen falling aside. He sang "VenkaTEsha ninu sEvimpa" in his happiness at seeing the Lord. Tyaagaraaja's compositions include the Ghana Raaga Pancaratnam (5 gems) in raagams naaTTai, gowLa, aarabi, shreeraagam, and varaaLi, his most famous and scholarly contributions to Carnatic music, and he delighted in singing them. At the request of KOvoor Sundaram Mudaliaar, he sang the 5 kritis of the KOvar Pancaratnam. When he visited TiruvOTTiyoor at the request of his disciple Veenai Kuppayyar, he sang the TiruvOTTiyoor Pancaratnam. At the invitation of his disciple LaalguDi Raamayya, he composed the LaalguDi Pancaratnam. He also composed the Shreeranga Pancaratnam in praise of Ranganaata of Shreerangam and 5 kritis in praise of Sage Naarada.
His ideas in the field of Rama-bhakti have their literary antecedents not only in the Valmiki Ramayana, his familiarity with whose details is clear from many a song, but in the Ramanadiya school, the Adhyatma Ramayana, the Adbhuta Ramayana, and the connected stories, beliefs and ramifications, such as the hundred-head Ravana, referred to in two pieces, Sri Jamakatanaye in Kalakanti and Dehi tava pada in Sahana, the Seeta carried away Ravana being a shadow Seeta, referred to in Majanaki in Kambhoji and Siva imparting the Rama taraka nama to everyone visiting Kasi; in fact this last idea of Siva glorifying Rama and his name is vital to his songs, for it is on the basis of Tyagaraja meaning both Siva and himself that he has used the Tyagaraja mudra in his songs. Two other significant facts may also be mentioned here; the first bhakta to be saluted by Tyagaraja in his Prahlada Bhakti Vijaya is Tulasidas; and even when he speaks of Valmiki's Ramayana, as in his Isamanohari piece, Manasa Sri Ramachandruni, which draws our attention to chapters three and six of the work, Tyagaraja really means the Adhyatma Ramayana.
Remembrance and celebration
Having composed an innumerable number of keerthanas (songs) that explored all the possibilities within the rules of the Carnatic music tradition, Tyagaraja is truly regarded as the cornerstone of Carnatic music.
To this day, a commemorative music festival called the Tyagaraja Aaradhana is held at Thiruvaiyaru in the months of January to February every year. In the US, there is a Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhana held in Cleveland, Ohio every April. There is also a Chicago Thyagaraja Utsavam. Usually, dozens of Carnatic musicians preside and perform in this festival. With the large influx of Indians in the United States in the late 20th and early 21st century, many other cities in the USA with large Telugu/Tamil/Kannada populations now regularly hold the Tyagaraja Aradhana festivals every year.
The Musical Plays or Operas
Saint Thyagaraja’s contribution to music includes, in addition to his composition, the Uthsava Sampradaya kirtanas and the Divyanama kirtanas. These two are examples of classical Carnatic music in their pristine purity. Not folk music, but common classical music is the substance of these compositions.
Saint Thyagaraja also created two musical plays, commonly called operas. However, I call them music plays as neither Geya Nataka nor opera seems correct and appropriate. Prahlada Bhakthi Vijaya, a play without Hiranya Kasipu or Narasimha, has some 48 songs and over 120 padyams. It has in addition, invocative, descriptive and introductory gadyas, choornikas, and other forms of prose passages of great merit. Nowka Charitha, the other play is equally fascinating and once again a creation without any basis derived from Bhagavatham. This play has 21 songs and many padyas and gadya passages. Swami's poetic genius is brought out vividly in these plays and the language he has used in some of the lengthy passages highlight this opinion.
Some scholars believe we have inherited only the less important natakas of the Swami and that the magnum opus is missing or are available only in fragments, awaiting some scholar to put the pieces together. In support of this view, they mention that in 1876, a printing license was issued to a Loka Narayana Sastrulu of Wallajahpet, to print “Seetha Rama Vijayam” by one Thyagaraja Brahmam of Tiruvayaru. They cite the kritit Eppaniko in Asaveri, where the saint refers to his desire to write the Ramayana in song and ask whether after such a statement, he would have failed to carry out what he considered his mission. One scholar in urging researchers to look for and put together the songs to make the sampoorna Ramayana drama suggests, that Ma Janaki was sung in the drama by Janaka; Rara Seetha Ramani Manohara by Soorpanaka; Sri Rama Padama by Gauthama and so on. Of course, there is nothing more than belief to justify this view. Prof. Sambamurthi, who made great efforts to locate the press in Choolai, Madras, mentioned in the printing license gave it up in despair. He however, suggested that Ma Janaki in Khamboji and Vanaja Nayana in Kedara Gowla were songs from Seetharama Vijayam, the songs representing “Sambandhi Kelikka” or benign taunting of the sambandhis by groups belonging to both sides.
While the bulk of the songs are in praise of Rama and a few on other deities, there are numerous songs on ethics and morals, worldly wisdom, mental control etc. One important group of songs is those based on his study of the Sangita Sastras and his practice of Nadopasana. Some composers have made passing reference to the occult and mystic aspect of nada, sangita, and swara, but it is only the Sadguru Thyagaraja Swami, who has left nearly 25 songs on the origin (divine) structure and purpose of music and how the knowledge of Sangita could by itself offer liberation from bondage of the cycle of birth and death. As Mr. T. S. Parthasarathi says, arranging these kritis in the order of their subject matter, one can create a text book on the subject of Nada upasana, Sangita upasana, and attaining moksha in this life itself. A discussion of these kritis is matter enough for a separate paper, and so I shall content myself with briefly mentioning some of the songs and their appropriateness. Such a list would include songs such as: Nadopasana, Mokshamau Galada, Seethavara, Sangita Sastra Gnanamu, Sobhillu Sapthaswara, Nada Thanumanism and Swara Raga Sudharasa.
The importance of these and other songs and how Sri Thyagaraja Swami used his compositions to energize our inner spiritual forces and attain moksha in this life are discussed in the article “Nadopasana for Salvation.”
The Messenger of Rama
Saint Thyagaraja’s life and kirtanas are the heritage of Indian culture expressed in classical Carnatic music. This heritage can be described as the eternal verities of divinity. His contribution to posterity is at once devotional, religious and philosophical. His songs are frozen melodies intuited in the inspired depths of a saintly soul. His way of life was illumined by rock-like bhakti, invigorated and sustained by his unshakable faith in Rama. A true understanding of Sri Thyagaraja’s kirtanas serves to deepen the purpose of our existence.
The centre of Thyagaraja’s existence and the summit of his aspirations was to experience in every breath the bliss of Rama bhakti and thereby gain a vision of his Ishta Devata. In many of his songs, this longing finds eloquent expression. The dimensions of his music include not only sangita sastra, but also contain a core of spirituality. It is because of this great quality that his compositions, like the Atman, endure. The consummation of spirituality in his songs is really the Voice of the Eternal.
Through the apertures of his songs, the depth of his bhakti is revealed. The inspirational potentialities of his kirtanas to lead a sincere votary in the bhakti marga are infinite, because every song breathes the fragrance of one aspect or other of the nava vidha bhakti. It is only a devotional approach to Sri Thyagaraja that can unlock the treasures of his spirituality.
Sri Thyagaraja’s life was a confluence and symphony of three streams – spirituality, saintliness and sangita and the harmony of these find spontaneous self-expression in every syllable of his sahityas. The divine words come vibrating from his soul. To describe them as kirtanas would be superficial for his utterances are authentic revelations of what he directly experienced. They comprehend the one and only purpose of music, that is, moksha sadhana. The value of his music is instrumental, a means, but the goal is intrinsic, to lay one’s soul at the feet of Sri Rama.
The greatness of Sri Thyagaraja is the way he linked the human to the divine. What is the saint’s message to humanity? Aspiration is human. Grace is divine. Only through God’s grace can one realise his aspiration, bhakti in the case of a saint. The ascent of human aspiration has to be facilitated by the descent of divine grace. The echoes of this Truth reverberate in many of his songs. The saint has emphasised that man in samsara is like one who has lost one’s identity, lost track of his goal of existence and is in a trance. Through his kirtanas, Sri Thyagaraja has taken on himself to guide, admonish and appeal to erring humanity. His songs give a thrust to open man’s inward eye.
Sri Thyagaraja with his rich gift of felicitous expression in his sahityas, takes us to the very empyrean of poetry. His is the greatest single achievement in music – the most perfect pieces of musical compositions existing in the world. The astonishing vigour and reach of his music touch our hearts and address strongly our admiration. Sahityas fall from his lips full of wisdom and devotional fervor. The most moving songs owe their composition to particular incidents and the state of his mind. The process of his creations are far beyond our comprehension. But the product is before us, each a jeweled beauty.
While all his kirtanas are soulful, Sri Thyagaraja has outclassed himself in his Pancharatnas where he is at his greatest and perhaps touched the pinnacle of Carnatic music.
The fusion of lyrics and melody, the fusion of bhakti and sangita form the very essence of his songs. The melody and sahityas are outwardly distinct, the depth of spirituality is embedded in them. One can well discern from the effusion of his songs that his was not tame bhakti but heroic bhakti. A consideration of the diction in the Pancharatnas and other songs shows that Sri Thyagaraja was not after tricks of rhetoric or a fondness for word play.
In all his compositions, Sri Thyagaraja’s style shows a greatness of manner which marks him as a vaggeyakara par excellence. The outward form and inner meaning is so well meshed that the kirtanas remain unexcelled. At Sri Thyagaraja’s hand each song, each raga gains individuality and in every one of them is reflected the working of a bhakta’s yearning in his soul.
While hearing a Thyagaraja song we are introduced to a world of divinity and each syllable, the pulse of bhakti beats strongly. The sublime relations between the human and the divine, which lie beyond our comprehension find an eternal place in his kirtanas.
We recognise in Sri Thyagaraja a master spirit combining in himself the bhakti of Prahlada, the music of Narada and the vakpatutva of Valmiki. Sentiments are passionate, his reflections on music and life profound. His works therefore stand apart in the history of vaggeyakaras.
His Contributions to Raga Lakshana and Musicology
Thyagaraja Swami had made significant contributions to raga lakshana, raga lakshya, and raga swaroopa, or in general, to the development of musicology. A support for this claim is provided to us by Sri A. Vasudeva Sastry of the Saraswathi Mahal Library, in a book titled “Ragas”. The Ragas study examines the manuscripts of Sahaji, who died in 1710, about sixty years before Swami was born. After analyzing the work of Sahaji and all the materials available on raga lakshanas, Sri Vasudeva Sastri concludes that thirty of the 72 melakarta ragas were given a raga swarupa and acquired their ranking solely from Saint Thyagaraja Swami giving them these qualities. Quoting from Madikeswara Samhita, a work on srutis of which only extracts are now available, Sastry points out that 12 swara moorchanas were in existence and Swami used it to give Karaharapriya great charm in his composition, Rama Nee Samana mevaru. Quoting the sangatis of this composition in great detail, Sri Vasudeva Sastry points out that the “closed curve” melodic effect which can be got by the vadi-samvadi usage.
As it is believed, Swami created many new ragas. Many scholars however believe that he activated or unearthed many ragas which has been labeled and were lying dormant because their lakshanas or characteristics were not defined in clear terms. However, the fact that only one composition exists in a certain ragas and these compositions have been composed in these ragas only Sri Thyagaraja Swami lends credence to the claim that ragas like Pratapa Varali, Nabhomani, Jaya Narayani and many others, were Swami’s creations.
Similarly, sangatis or usages that enrich the musical context of a kriti, are mostly found in Swami’s compositions. Although some scholars point out that sangatis are as old as music itself and were known under the name prayaogas. However, since they became widely used only through the kritis of Swami, it will not be wrong to assume that sangatis were Swami’s innovations. He used sangatis to bring out the raga bhava or their fundamental characteristics.
Mrs. Vidya, in an excellent paper presented to the centenary session of the Madras Music Academy (Swami’s death centenary), has used a number of examples to illustrate how Swami used sangatis to highlight the use of right srutis. He used these also in kritis intended for children so that they can learn the sruti values early and by understanding the proper imitation of the instrument or voice teaching them. Let me point out one example provided by Mrs. Vidya. In the kriti, Mariadagadura (Sankarabharanam), she points to the numerous sangatis used in the pallavi and shows how the tri-sruti gandhara of Sankarabharanam is deftly handled by Swami. Both Sankarabharana and Kalyani have the same gandharas in their structure but Kalyani use the Chatursruthi and the note clings to the Madhyama. She also points out how the sahitya splits perfectly into the right tisra syllables and how the visesha prayoga, Sa Da, Pa in the sangatis just preceding the complete avaroha brings out the bhava.
Mrs. Vidya also says that by using a deerga daivata, Swami has skillfully managed to bring out the raga bhava of Kambhjoji in Evari Mata, although he uses only the swaras common to Sankarabharanam and Khamboji. The commencement of the charana of this song also brings out the value of Khamboji’s deerga daivata prayogam.
Often, when using a new raga, Swami employs the arohana and avarohana in the opening phrase itself. For example in Binna Shadjam, raga derived from the ninth mela, Dhenuka, the opening words Sari Varilona, fit in with Sa Ri Ga Ri Pa Ma Pa Da Sa Da Pa Ma Ri Ga Ri Sa. The opening phrase in Evaraina lera peddalu (Raga: Siddha Sena), the notes are Sa Ga Ri Ga Ma. Take Bahudari, is there a more appropriate characteristic phrase than Pa Da Ni Pa Ma Ga?
When employing vivadi swaras, Swamiji makes sure that the vivadis occur in the opening phrase itself, e.g. Paramatmudu in Vagadheeswari; Evare Ramayya in Gangeya Bhushani. Even for an ancient and well known raga like Bhairavi, he uses common swaras to great effect. For example, in the short rupaka tala kriti, Upacharama Jese Varu, he opens with Ri Ma Ga without the slightest trace of Karaharapriya. The chatsruthi rishabha of Karaharapriya is aligned to the Madhyama, a fact so well demonstrated. Karaharapriya and Hari Kambhoji are Swami’s gifts to Carnatic music. The Tana Sampradaya Kirtanas and indeed even the simple rhythmic ones teach the ease with which all or most of Swami’s songs fall into the sarva laghu ,in addition to demonstrating the scope of the raga alapana, swara singing paddathi and neraval. Koluvayyunnade in Bhairavi and Kori Sevimparare in Karaharapriya are examples.
Other examples of where Swami had used sangatis to bring out the raga bhava 'include: Najeevadhara, Chetulara Srungaramu, Thappi Brathiki Brova Tharama; in these compositions, the sangatis are in the passage containing the message of the kriti. In the Pratapa Varali song, Vinanasa Koniyannanu, the phrase Da Pa Sa is used for Aa Aa in words to emphasize that Swami wants to not only have sweet words, but to also as he says “Madhuramaina Palukulu,” the sweet words that Vathathmaju (Anjayaney) and Bharatha heard.
The compositions of Sri Thyagaraja Swami make the largest contribution to our knowledge of Carnatic music today. In volume and variety, no other composer has given us so much material covering so wide a range of ragas, their lakshanas, that allows singing even by those with limited voice range and limited music knowledge. Examples are: Jaya Jaya Sri Raghu Rama, in Mangala Kaisiki which any one can sing (even little children), Naa Jeevadhara, Endhu Daakinado, and Mari Mari Ninne, that demand excellent voice qualities and sangita gnana or musical knowledge.
Sri Thyagaraja seized all the sense of musical heritage and fused them into one brilliant world of classical elegance. He has bestowed on his kirtanas all the solid graces of Carnatic music. As every song is rendered in concerts, we as listeners are conscious of the power of the saint’s spiritual stature and our moral sense drives us to lift ourselves up, but find it difficult to find the saint’s sense of devotion. His kirtanas are purged of all grossness but he gives them an incandescent glow. If Sri Thyagaraja’s music is sublime it is because it emerged from the privacy of his soul. It is one of the greatest aspects of Sri Thyagaraja that he made the infinite (Sri Rama) finite for us and the ideals of music real.
His numerous kritis include beautiful raagam, bhaavam and taaLam, with lovely lyrics, music, and devotion. 690 kritis in 160 raagams are available today.
Sangeetha and Bhakthi - Swami's Last Days
Sangeetha and bhakthi should be acquired and practiced with humility. Genuine humility brings with it detatchment, suppression or conquest of the baser instincts of Man and, ultimately annihilation of the ego to brring enlightenment. Mere scholarship without humility and music without devotion is according to Thyagaraja Swami, akin to decorating a corpse. In the Sankarabharana kriti, "bhakthi bhiksha meeyavayya," Swami says that the most well sung song, if sung without devotion is like brocades and diamonds on a dead man. In another kriti, "Samayamu thelisi," (Asaveri), he draws another comparison - he who misses an opportunity to do good, performs only an act similar to that of an open, but sightless eye. In the Malavsri kriti, "Enallu thirigethi," he mentions the case of a scholar who, having been invited to lunch by his admirers, neighbours and friends, settled down to a long winded pooja, just to demonstrate his scholarship and erudition, while keeping his hosts waiting.
The emphasis in our music is humility (Vinaya) and devotion, and the giving up of pride and vanity ("showing off" in common parlance", ego projection, etc. In the Mukhari composition, "Sarasseruhasana," he laments that Brahmotsavam has gone in Kaliyuga and that people have taken to neecha karma; they learn the scriptures, not to practice virtues taught by the scriptures but to show off and to make a living out of their learning. The simple path to salvation is forgotten and, little interest is shown towards Truth. For some, their interest is in the relative merits of saguna-nirguna upasana; the secret of the ashta siddhis; the choice among the Shanmathas, etc. Few choose the easy path to moksha or liberation from the cycle of life and death. This is specifically referred to in "nadachi nadachi" (Karaharapriya). In this composition, he refers to the state of Nirvana "puthu chavvu lem thavvu," the place where there is netiehr birth nor death. In the divyanama keertana "Rama Rama Krishnayanere", Thyagaraja lists the common weaknesses of men and women and adds that, to get over the consequences of these sins and to avoid committing them again and again, we need to repeat the nama of the Lord. Then, he also tells us why he chose Rama naama for chanting the name of God. It is relevant to mention here that all schools of bhakthi recommend this path.
We have already seen the dogmatic approach of various mathaas and how Sri Thyagaraja prayed for knowledge or "bedarahita Vedanta" - an approach that can bridge the gulf separting the various schools, with different dogmas. Debate and discussion however erudite, are of no real use if they don't do good to society, as a whole. Naama Sankeerthanam or bahajana which is the basis of the first three forms of "nava vidha bhakthi" mentioned in the Bhagavata, is ideal. In the Kalyani kriti, "Bhajana Seyave", he asks why debate and discuss endlessly; realize that the body is subject to the goodness of saptaswara, pranava naadha; realize bliss through Rama naama bhajana. After advising in many kritis that namabhajana is the easiest marga, he also tells us why he chose Rama as his chosen deity (Ishta Deiva) and, Rama naama, for parayana.
Rama, the perfect man: The kriti, "manivinaalakincha raa dhate" (Nalinakanti), says that at a time when men were reeling under mere rituals of the Karma Khaanda and wandering directionless in the forest of "bhava," rama appeared as a man and taught manking, the conduct that will lead to salvation. "Mummoorthulu" (Atana), "Maakelara vicharamu" and "Rama Rama" (Saveri) are compositions close to this theme.
Here, I may refer to the 5th Prana in the 4th Khanda of the Yajur Veda which contains the sacred Rudram. In Riudram itself, it is namasmarana which is emphasized. The name is stressed in "Namah Sivaya." It is said that namasamarana confers on the devotee, the "panchaswaroopa gnana." These are: Parmatma swaroopa gnana, Jeevatma swaroopa gnana, Upaya swaroopa gnana, Purushartha swaroopa gnana and Vidriti swaroopa gnana. In common parlance, this means that a devotee who recites the name regularly and with devotion, will get knowledge of the ultimate and, before that, of the path to it; the obstacles in the way, and, the benefits or fruits of taking that path.
The Nayanmars too have sung these ideas in their "Devarams;" particularly Appar in his "Aindezhuthu Pathikam" -- Aindezhuthu means fiveletters and they are, na ma si va ya." Also, Thirumangai Azhwar, in his Thiruvaymozhi has stress this - the Vishnumantram - Namo Narayanaya. Thyagaraja combined these two; the Siva mantra and Madhava mantra, to form the "Rama mantra." In "evarani nirnayinchira" (Devemrutavarshini), he s ays that the most important letter is nama sivaya is "ma" and the most important letter in Vishnumantra is "ra". If "ra" and "ma" are removed, both mantras would become meaningless and absurd. So, he combined both these two important jeeva letters to derive the word "Rama."
Thus, he created a common plank for namasankeertana for both the Saivite and Vaishnavite schools. In a light-hearted way, he says that his Rama is superior even to the Hindu trinity - Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva as these three Gods, all have some "defect" or other while, his Rama has none: "endunti vedalithiro" (Durbar) lists the weakness of Siva, Vishnu, and Brahma and, praises Rama's virtues (also refer to "emani pogadu thura" (Veera vasantham). To Thyagaraja, Rama is a distinctly superior person: the kritis "eka maata oka bhanamu oka pathni vrathude" (Harikamboji); "Vaadera daivamu manasa" (Pantuvarali) and "Sarmegani anya marga vicharameti ke Oh manasa" (Pantuvarali) etc., he asserts that Rama is the embodiment of virtures and that the Trimurthis worshipped him. Hence, repeating his name in groups, with music, is the surest and most pleasant way to moksha.
Here, a note of caution in interpreting the Swami's approach and attitude to other gods - the Trinity - is warranted. Scholars say that such comparisons and extolling only Rama may be due to the fact that he might have been somewhat fanatical in his earlier years, like any one of us, lesser people; and , it may also be that in his exhuberant devotion to his chosen Deity, he spoke (rather humourosly) highly one of his Rama. In this conflict, we may also cite kririts such as "Laavanya Rama kanu lara joodave - nee manasu, nee sogasu mee dinusu vere - thaamasa matha daiva mele, etc. (Poorna shadjam). On the other hand, it was at a very later stage of his life that he composed songs like "Paramathmudu velige" (Vagadeeshwari) in which he stresses the immanence and universality of God in everything, the animate and the inanimate, by whatever name we may choose to call Him. To stress this, he explains these further in the charana of the kriti. This kriti is well worth reading several times and understanding fully.
In the kriti "Ragaratna malikache" (Ritigowla), he says that the Lord will be pleased with the garland of a hundred gems which have been created as the sole means for Thyagaraja's salvation. Thsese gems of compositions have been created from the truths propounded in the scriptures and of the kind that yogis see and experience - Ananda. Many such songs are meant for singing in chrosus by the devotees. Hence, even though elaborately ornamented compositions of the Swami are there for the virtuouso to demonstrate his voice range and quality, and artistic skill, it is the songs composed for goup singing which will elevate the common man higher to planes of divine experience. In "melu melu Rama nama" (Sourashtram), Swami explains the ananada experiences at every level i.e. physical, emotional, intellectural and spiritual, by singing Rama nama.
The last few kritis: It is said that when Swami felt that his mission on earth was completed, he sang the Ganavardini kriti "Daya choochutakidi vela " meaning that it is time for you to take me into you, oh Lord, as I have completed diligently and with devotion, the mission with which you charged me on this planet." Aftert this, Swami had a vision of Sri Rama with the entourage (Giripainelakonna - Sahana). In this song he says that he surely saw Sri Rama who assured him that he would nbe absorbed in Him in ten days time. Swami then entered snayasarama. When nothing happened as assured by the Lord, on the tenth day, he sang a reminder - the kriti "Parithapamu Kaniyadina" (Manohari).
Mr. Shyama Rao, one time thasildar of Thiruvayaru, records that after Swami sang this kriti, an Omkara Naadha was heard and a jytoi was seen to emanate from the head of Swami and travelled upward. Swami then slumpted on the thambura he was holding, and become one with the Lord. In 1847 Tyaagaraaja became a hermit, and the next day, on January 6, he died in the presence of his disciples at the age of 80.
Om Tat Sat