Thursday, July 12, 2007

Works Of Saint Thyagaraja

The Pancharathna Kritis of Thyagaraja

The Ganaraga Pancharathna Kritis

These five major works of art and philosophy have now, by popular usage, become an essential part of the Thyagaraja Aradhana celebrations wherever they are held. They are sung by a group of devotees and any one who knows the songs may participate. Some scholars maintain that these songs were not sung in a particular sequence while others say that they are major set of compositions to be sung in the Veena Sampradaya order -i.e. starting with Nattai and ending with Sri Raga. However, one thing is certain: these songs provide a continuous subject matter for the spiritual

Various reasons have been advanced as to why these five ragas have been called “Ghana ragas.” They were known as “Ghana raga panchakam” in the Vina sampradaya and it has been the practice for Vainikas to acquire expertise in playing tanam in them. One reason is that of the subtle sruti and prayogas of Carnatic music figure in them. Nata contains the Shatsruthi Rishbha and Shatsruti Dhaivata; Gaula has the Ekasruti Rishaba,which is lower then Suddha Rishabha; Arabhi contains the alpa prayogas of Gandhara and Nishada, and Varali has a particularly sharp prati

madhyama known as the Varali Madhyama. Sriraga is considered to be an auspicious raga. From the ettugada swara development in the five kritis, it is clear that Thyagaraja was fully familiar with the Vina sampradaya and was perhaps a good Vainika himself. Venkatamukhi mentions eight ragas as Ghana ragas with the addition of Bauli, Malavasri, and Ritigowla. There is also a second series of Ghana Ragas comprising of Kedaram,

Narayanagaula, and Salanganata.

The Nattai composition is a list of 108 names of the Lord (an astothra satha namavali); gleaned from both the Ramayana and the Bhagavatha. The song is full of phrases and composite words, so well ornamented to fit in with the rhythm. In fact, as far as the laya is concerned, once can write a "sollukattu" for each charana, to fit in with the words and, at the same time, make a laya vinyasa of it. The Sanskrit words, both those of a straight forward nature and those of samarasas and derivation are simply exquisite. "Jaathadipayodi vas harana" and " nigama neerjamruta poshaka" are two examples of the kind of literary beauty which have been woven into the song. One of the Upanyasakartas says that it was composed to help in performing a musical ashtothra archana. A scholar in Andhra Pradesh had constructed a thesis on the assumption that the Pancharathana Kritis are based on the Pancha Kosas in which the soul is enclosed (The pancha kosas are - anna, prana, mana, vignana and ananda). Freely interpreted, they may be termed the physical, emotional, intellectual , spiritual and blissful.

The Gowla Keerthana: "Dudukugala" is a list of man's foibles which bring him sorrow and misery. A long list of "don'ts" which, if not avoided are bound to bring sorrow. The list of weaknesses and bad actions has been given as though the Swami himself was guilty of committing those "don'ts." This composition which speaks of several of such undesirable thoughts and actions of the majority of us, reminds us of the conversation on another aspect of the Swami's teachings (if at all he meant to preach or pontificate). Some of my friends are of the view that Swami, as in this kriti, mostly addresses either his Lord or admonishes his own self, and sometimes pleads on behalf of others. Broadly, this view seems to bee all right. As examples of his plea to the Lord, we may cite just one example - "nee bhajana gana rasikula" (Nayaki) and as examples of admonishing himself or addressing his own mind, we may cite "manasa etulordune" (Malayamarutham) - the words "nijamuga paluku manasa" in Nidichalasukhama (Kalyani) and "Vinave Oh Manasa" (Vivardani).
What a contrast with most of us, lesser mortals, who are only too ready to criticize or offer advise, invited or uninvited, irrespective of his own qualifications to advice.

Arabhi: The composition "Sadinchane" points out that none else but I am responsible both for my happiness and sorrow. When one fails to do the right things and finds oneself in trouble - the words of God in the scriptures seem falsified - "bodinchina sanmarga vachanamula bonku jesi." On the contrary, if one will carefully study the advice of the Lord (in this song) one will know that one is asked to bear the pain or suffering when it comes and refrain from bad deeds. In other words, we should learn to acquire the six righteous qualities of sama, dhana, titeeksha, uparati, sraddha and samadana - the ability to look away from the temptation; to do no evil; practice self-control; bear suffering without complaint and so on. Volumes have been written on the composition by scholars far more qualified and so, I shall leave it to them to add further comment on this composition.

Varali: Many old timers question the authenticity of this composition whether Thyagaraja composed it at all. Their argument is that the kriti alone (within this group) is in "rendu kalai." Over the years, it has been accepted as one of the Ganaraga pancharathnas and widely learnt and sung: "the paatam" has been standardized and, it is a pleasure to listen to the singing by a large group of men and women, in unison, on the basis of an accepted standard paatanthram, authentic or not. The subject matter of the song is that His divine presence is more and more enjoyable as you see Him as did the Devas and sages of yore.

Sri Ragam: This is the crowning jewel of the group of songs and lists the various paths to Ananda. Each of the charanams lists one or more paths by which great souls have attained salvation (moksha, Godhood, etc.). The five yamas and the five niyamas are covered by direct mention and indirect reference as surest way to salvation. The emphasis on singing the first and last charanas makes it amply clear that music and devotion are, together, the supreme marga or path to Bliss.


There is a rationale behind the order in which Thyagaraja has arranged the sahita of the Pancha rathna. “Jagadanandakaraka” follows the Thodyamangalam pattern in which the first song starts with “Jaya” and in wholly Sanksrit. Instead of “Janaki Ramana”, we have “Janaki prana nayaka.” The opening line stresses the Upanishadic truth that the Lord is the source of all joy, “Ananda” and the rest of the kriti is a beautiful namavali. The mudra of Thyagaraja is found in three places.
The remaining four kritis are in Sanskritized Telugu. In “Duduku gala” in Gaula, the composer passes into a mood of introspection and self-reproach. After the manner of the earlier saints, Thyagaraja exclaims, “Which Lord will save an incorrigible sinner like me?” Couched in chaste Telugu, the kriti proceeds to catalogue sins of commission and omission like the teaching of music to undeserving dancers, gallants, and women, wasting one’s life in useless arguments and for acquiring wealth.

“Sadinchane” is a bold “ninde stuti” in which Thyagaraja accuses the Lord as being a cunning God who belied his own teachings and achieved his own ends. A unique feature of this kriti is that Thyagaraja alternates between Rama and Krishna, praising Rama for his virtues and reserving his sarcasm for Krishna. The charanam summarizes the Lord’s advice to Thyagaraja, “do not grieve; but take the rough with the smooth.”

In “Kana Kana Ruchira” in Varali, the composer proceeds to describe the divine beauty of the Lord which grows “more and more as one look at him.” Thyagaraja cites a long list of witnesses who has feasted their eyes upon that divine splendor.

“Endaro Mahanubhavulu” in Sri raga comprises Thyagaraja’s salutations to a galaxy of preceptors and purvacharyas of yore, who include nada yogis, mystics, bhagavatas and those who had mastered the mysteries of scriptures. This grand piece rounds off the Pancha ratna group on a soothing note and with a benediction. A continuous rendering of the group in chorus ushers in an atmosphere of peace, tranquility and devotional rapture.

Utsava Sampradaya Kirtanas
As the term "Utsava Sampradaya" indicates, these are songs to aid ritualistic worship. In every Hindu temple, a daily program of rituals is followed by singing to the deity; beginning with "waking Him up; for blessing the world; and, ending with letting his rest at night", after which the temple is closed. Every temple has a "massotsava" or some minor celebration on occassions like Poornima (full moon), pakshotsava or fortnightly festival like Pradhosha and samvatsarotsava or annual festival like the Bharmotsvam and Rathotsavam, etc. In simple by lilting and captivating tunes, the Utsava Sampradaya Keertanas provide "upachara" from "melukolpu" or awakening the Lord (Thirupalli Ezhuchi"; inviting the Lord to come to the Kolumantapa; to ascend the steps to the accompaniment of Veena, "Hetsarika"; to announce that the Lord is in Kolu or Darbar and that all devotees may come and workship - Kalayanam, Nalangu, Oonjal, Aarthi, Pavvali and Melukoluppu. Arranged in this natural and proper order and, sung with devotion, these songs can provide a means of elevating oneself to a suprapersonal level:
sangeetha and bhaktha have again and again been stressed as the easiest means of salvation, for one who has no time for complex ritualistic worship. Singing all the important upachara songs takes a little over an hour and, if one can do this at least on every Bahula Panchami day or during Pushna nakshatra (the Sain't birth star), he is bound to experience the beneficial results as time goes on.

Divya Nama Kirtanas

A Reflection of the Bhajana Sampradaya “I dwell not in Vaikunta, nor in the hearts of great Yogis; Know O: Ye Narada, Where my Devotees sing, There I dwell.”
Of the Nava Vidha Bhakthis or the Nine Paths of Devotion to Godhead, perhaps the best understood, widely practiced and most enjoyed, is KIRTANAM. Singing one’s way to salvation was practiced long before Sri Thyagaraja Swami’s days. The Nayanmars and Alwars, preached and practiced this Marga or path to salvation. We have it on the authority of scholars like Dr. S. Ramanathan that Thevaram and Divya Prabhanda hymns were sung to raga and tala and not merely recited as poetry. To this day, the Oduvars of the Saivite School and the Adhyapakas of the Vaishnavite school, sing the Thevarams and Divya Prabhandams, as part of the temple rituals. Hymns have been composed by various saints and savants, on their Ishta Devathas, songs in praise of Lord Muruga by Arunagirinathaar known as Thiruppugazh, in praise of the Lord of the Seven Hills by Annamacharya, in praise of Purandaravittala by Purandara Dasa, in praise of Lord Rama by Bhadrachala Ramadasa and in praise of Lord Krishna by Narayana Thirtha continue to be part of any bhajans; all of them composed before the time of Sri Thyagaraja Swami.
Bhaja means the worshipping of God or praying to God, singing His praise. This form of Bhakthi was an important part of the daily worship by the Bhagavathas. Members of the public joined in at these Bhajans, repeating the verses and singing in chorus, both at the Uncha Vritti on the streets and at the gathering in the temple. One Divya Nama Kirtana of the Sadguru in Yamuna Kalyani describes the Haridasas setting out on their Uncha Vritti Bhajan on the streets. “Watching the Haridasas getting out on their Bhajan fills our heart with delight. With their waist bands tied well, with metallic cymbals in their hands, with the musical gosham of the mridangams, with Gnana, Rama Dhyana and sweet music, surrendering themselves wholeheartedly to the Lord, and watching them go on the streets fills the heart with delight. Sri Thyagaraja Swami, being a Bhagavatha in the Bhakthi Marga, strongly believed that music and devotion combined, represented the easiest, sweetest and certain path to the attainment of Jeevan Mukthi or liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

Divyanama Keertanas

On his reasons for composing the Divyanama Keertanas, Thyagaraja Swami, in his kriti, “Raga Ratna Malika” in Ritigowla, says “As the sole means of my salvation, with the authority of all Scriptures, as the path to happiness of all Yogis and for all Bhagavathas to sing together, I composed these songs. Come let us sing these together and attain all Sowbhagya.” Collectively a set of songs composed by Thyagaraja Swami as an expression of bhakthi and bhajana tradition came to be known as Divya Nama Kirtanas.
There are some 78 kirtanas that are in the group of keertanas called Divyanama Keertanas. These keertanas are meant for group singing. they are generally in the "lambaka" style with one pallavi and a series of charanams with the "dathu" or tune to facilitate repetition on choral singing. In theme and structure, they are varied. The keertanas are composed on a wide variety of popular ragas such as Todi, Sankarabharanam, Karaharapriya and Saveri, and less well known ragas such as Andhali, Ahiri, and Balahamsa. Even in the rarer ragas, these songs have a simple structure and so any one with an ear for music can very quickly learn and join in the singing.


Mostly the divyanama keertana themes are based on the Ramayana but as pointed out earlier, there are also songs on human conduct. All important incidents in Srimad Ramayana are narrated in sequence, from Viswamitra Yagasamarakshna to pattabishekam, in the kirtana “Vinayamunanu” in Sowrashtram. The unique beauty of this composition is its poetic excellence. Parayaya Namas or Synonyms for hands, feet, eyes, etc., is employed to narrate the stories. The translation of the two Charanams to explain this point is given hereunder and it is suggested to interested readers to read the complete song and its translation from a book by Swami’s kirtanas.

“When will I see the feet that marched with Viswamitra, when will I see the feet that brought Vimochana to Ahalya, when do I see the foot that pressed down the Siva Dhanus at the Swayamvara of Sita, when do I see the feet that Janaka washed with milk at his daughter’s wedding, when will I see the hands which tied the mangala sutra to Sita, when will I see the hands which took the strength of Parasurama, when will I see the hands which killed Virada and when will I see the hands which gave abhaya to the rishis in the forest?” In this manner, the story of Ramayana is taken from Bala Kanda to Aranya Kanda using synonyms. The singing of this song will be the singing of the whole of Ramayana and so this song is referred to as Samkahepa Ramayana or condensed Ramayana.

In The kirtana “Pahirama” in Kharaharapriya, each stanza is devoted to one of the members of Rama’s parivara or entourage and we are told how Rama gave happiness to Sita with his words, to Lakshmana with his eyes, to Bharata with his embrace, to Sathrugna with his nod of approval and to Anjaneya with praise. This song is full of raghabhava and bring out, within the limitations of a kirtana without sangatis, the nuances of this rakthi raga.

As an example of this, the Yadukula Kambhoji composition “Sri Rama, Jaya Rama” in khanda chapu may be cited. Starting with Kausalya and wandering what great penance she had performed to earn the privilege of being able to kiss the lovely cheeks of Sri Rama, Dasaratha, Sowmitri, Kowsika, Ahalya, Janaka, Sita and Narada are all mentioned in the same manner, mentioning the joy they got out of Rama. Incidentally, the arrangement of the episodes and characters is such that this composition also narrates Ramayana from Yaga Rakshanam to Sita Kalyanam.


The song “Karuna Jaladhe” in Nadnamakriya lists the qualities of a true bhaktha after mentioning that the experience of a true bhaktha is totally different from the findings of one who does not know Rama. The song lists the various sections of a true bhaktha, which ensure his constant thought of Rama and his presence with the devotee. In the last charana, Swami refers to the advaitic experience, which comes to a devotee practicing for

long and Bhakthi marga. “Neevanni teyani Balkudure, Neeve Thannani Kulgukudure.” They (the true devotees) will find and speak of you of you being everything and they themselves being you.” What a worthwhile reward for a waiting bhaktha?


Listing the commonly occurring misconducts and weaknesses of man, in the kirtana “Rama Rama Krishnayanare” in Gowlipanthu, Swami says that even the worst sinners are known to have changed for the better and attained salvation by singing the name of the Lord. “Kaani Panulu Kori Kori, karanguchundu Nannavulu” and “Challani Vakulu Balki Swanthaamanalamaina Varu” meaning that those who hanker for things that are not right and to which are not entitled and those who speak with honey on their tongue but with fire in their hearts, even they will reform and benefit by singingRama, Rama, Krishna.

Manasika Puja

One can go on and on giving examples of the beauty, wisdom and music of these priceless gems have to offer. Let us be contented with one final example of Swami’s stress on purity of thought, unselfishness and un-attachment to fruits of worship, by quoting the kirtana “Paripalaya Paripalaya” in Reetigowlai “O: God, my pure body is your temple; my sthira or nischala chithha (unwavering) is the peeta or asana for you; my pure thoughts are Ganga water for your abhisheka; my devotion is the golden cloth for you to wear. The burning away of the fruits of my past evil deeds is the sambrani dhoopam. My happiness which cannot be separated is the thamboolam for you and so on.


Kshetra kirtanas refer to compositions in praise of the deity of a specific town or place. Usually, great composers, when they visit a temple town compose songs in praise of the deity of the temple. Thyagaraja Swami followed a similar practice. Many of Thyagaraja Swami's kshetra kirtanas are very popular and well-known for their musical richness and complexity. At the invitation of a great savant - Srimad Upanishad Brahmam of Kancheepuram, Swami undertook a pilgrimage. Incidentally, it may be mentioned that Srimad Upanishad Brahmam was a great scholar and saint. He wrote commentaries on the 108 Upanishads. He was also the schoolmate of Thyagaraja Swami's father, Sri Ramabrahmam. Being of old age and unable to travel, Sri Upananishad Brahmam, who was then living in Kancheepuram, asked Thyagaraja to visit him at Kancheepuram At about the same time, Lalgudi Rama Iyer, a disciple of Swami, invited him to visit Lalgudi. Swami consented and visited Lalgudi where he composed and sang what are known as the Lalgudi Pancharathnams. He composed five kritis - two on Saptharisheeswar and three on is divine consort, Srimathi. It is interesting to know that Lalgudi is the only kshetra where he sang both on the Lord and his consort. In the other kshetras, the songs are either on the Lord or only on his consort.

The krits sung at Lalgudi are: Easapahimam (Kalyani); Deva Sri Thapastheertha (Madhyamavati) - both on Sri Sapthareeshswara; Lalithe (Bharivai); Gathineevani (thodi); and Mahitha Pravrutha (Kamboji), all three on Sri Ambal.

Other Kshetra Kritis: From Lalgudi, Swami went to Kancheepuram where he composed three songs: Varadhanavaneeta (Pancharam), Varadaraja Ninnukori (Swarabooshani) and Vinayakuni (Madhyamavati). Then, at the invitation f one Kovur Sundaresa Mudaliar, he visited Kovur (near Madras), where he sang Sambo Mahadeva (Panthurvarali), Sundareswaruni (Sankarabharanam): Nammi Vachina (Kalyani); Eevasudha neevanti (Sahana) and Korisevimparare (Karaharapriya). The last mentioned is one of the two "thana sampradaya" compositions, sung by Thyagaraja. The other is Koluvayyunade (Bhairavi).

Thyagaraja Swami also visited Thirupathi. At Thirupathi, he composed "Thera Theeyakaraada" (Gowlipanthu). Here, he also sang "Venkatesaninnu sevimpa" (Madhyamavati). He later went to Thiruvottiyur, near Madras, where sang on the presiding deities -- "Kannathalli" (Saveri); "Sundarininnu" (Arabhi); "Sundarinee divya roopamu" (Kalyani); Sundari nannindarilo" (Begada) and " "Dharini thelusu konti" (Sudha Saveri). At Sirkazhi, Swami sang, "Neevanti Deivamu" (Thodi). At Nagapattinam, he sang "Karmame Balvanthamayenu" (Saveri) and "Evaru theliyapoyaru" (Thodi).

Swami also visited other towns. At Sri Rangam, he sang "Joothamurare" (Arabhi), "Rajuvedala" (Thodi), "Vinradana manavini" (Devagandhari), "Karunajoodumayya" (Saranga) and "O! Rangasayee" (Kamboji). Some scholars include Hetsarikagaraa" (Yadukulakamboji) among the group of Srirangam kritis since the kriti refers to Veena upachara, muthangi seva, etc. But, other scholars believe that is only the "hetsarika" part of the Utsava Sampradaya kirtana, inviting the lord to take his seat in the koluvu that refers to Srirangam and not the entire kriti. Although Swami lived in Thiruvayaru, he composed several kritis that were in praise of the local deity and describing the town of Thiruvayaru. Some of these compositions include: "Karunajoodavamma" (Thodi); "Parasakthi" (Saveri); "Sivepahimam" (Kalyani); "Amma Dharmasamvardhini"
(Atana); Vidhichakradulaku" (Yamunakalyani) "Ehi Thrijagadeesa" (Saranga), "Ilalo pranatharthi" (Atana), "Evarunnaru" (Malavasri),
"Machatabrahma" (Madhyamavati), "Parasakthi manuparada" (Saveri), "Neevee brovavale" (Saveri), and "Bale balendu booshani" (Ritigowla).

There also other compositions praising the beauty of Thiruvayyaru.
Each of these sthala or Kshetra kritis are gems that continue to shine with utmost brightness.


Krishna said...

very informative. thanx a ton. keep up the good work!

Bala said...

Wow. I enjoyed a lot. Very nicely condensed. One has to read multiple times to get something out of it.

Swathi said...

I really like this. I could get a lot from it. Thank you so much.

Deepa said...

Good article.
Where can I find a complete list of Divyanama keerthanais?

Anonymous said...

Gr8 article. Would be good to have the meanings of Lalgudi pancharathnams and Tiruvottiyur pancharathnams and also a list of
other group krithis like Divya nama keerthanas and other kshetra krithis