Some gems of Tyagaraja
Tyagaraja (1767-1847) is among the best known composers in Carnatic Music. Hailed as the tone poet of humanity, he led a life of devotion to Rama, one of the incarnations of Vishnu and the hero of the great epic, the Ramayana. Tyagaraja composed a great number of songs, estimations of which hover around the 600 today though there is a theory that many more are lost. The bulk of Tyagaraja?s kritis are dedicated to Rama, but even in these he manages to bring in a wealth of observations of life around him. His songs abound in proverbs, homilies, social commentary and human emotions. He also travelled to a few important kshetras or pilgrimage centres and composed songs there. Most of his songs are in Telugu while a few are in Sanskrit. He incorporated his name in all his songs by way of signature. A man of limited private means, he led a life of austerity eschewing royal patronage. He taught a large number of disciples and through them his songs reached the world. Strangely, his songs were first popularised by the Harikatha tradition and then came to take the lion?s share in the music concerts. By the time he died, he was very well known and over the years the tradition of observing the day of his passing as an Aradhana caught on first at his native Tiruvayyaru and later in various other parts of the world. There are also temples for Tyagaraja, the best known being in Tiruvayyaru built over his sepulchre in the early 20th century by the famed Devadasi, Bangalore Nagarathnamma (1878-1952).
Tyagaraja?s songs merit a lifetime and more of study. Beginning from the mid-nineteenth century, several books came out analysing his lyrics and music, a trend that continues. In this album we present five songs of Tyagaraja that do not feature often on the concert platform today.
Tiruvayyaru, the land of the five rivers close to Tanjavur and the Kaveri delta is well known for its massive Panchanadeeswara Temple. The Goddess here is Dharmasamvardhini, one of four deities to be propitiated in song by each of the Carnatic Trinity ? Tyagaraja and his illustrious contemporaries Syama Sastry (1762-1827) and Muttuswami Dikshitar (1775-1835). Tyagaraja has dedicated many songs to this Goddess. Karuna Judavamma is in raga Todi, a mode in which almost thirty songs of the composer are set. Significantly, in this song, there is a lament about jealous adversaries of Tyagaraja spreading malicious tales about him. To Tyagaraja the Goddess was a living presence and he appeals to her not to heed such vicious gossip.
While his devotion to Goddess Dharmasamvardhini was unshakeable, it was Lord Rama who was Tyagaraja?s favourite deity. There are many songs appealing to the Lord to give Tyagaraja a darshan. And for this the composer performed many austerities. He was of the opinion that it was vanity that prevented him from having a vision of Rama and in Sashivadana he appeals to Rama to destroy his vanity just as he got rid of Marica (during the slaying of Tataka). The song is set in Chandrajyoti, a vivadi (dissonant) raga, perhaps to reflect the torments in the composer?s mind. It is one of the few instances of Tyagaraja using a vivadi raga.
Next, Tyagaraja has a doubt as to whether it is at all easy to have a vision of Rama. The deity being a powerful ruler, he describes the qualification required for those who could stand in Rama?s presence. The song Samukhana nilva (raga Kokilavarali) states that only elevated souls such as Sita and Lakshmana could have this good fortune and as for deities such as Brahma and Indra, they could go about their duties only after getting together and praying for Rama?s grace. This song was often rendered by Musiri Subramania Iyer (1899-1974) and he endowed it with his emotional touches.
Bhavanuta is one of ten songs composed by Tyagaraja in the raga Mohanam. And in this we see Rama finally coming to Tyagaraja. In this song Tyagaraja begins by describing Rama as one who is worshipped by Shiva (Bhavanuta). The anupallavi and the charanam however dovetail into the pallavi with words that also describe Rama as being worshipped by Brahma (Kamalasambhava/ Jalajasambhava nuta). He then invites Rama to spend time in his (Tyagaraja?s heart) and rid himself of exhaustion. However, this invitation having been extended, Tyagaraja goes on describe a scenario when Rama does take into his head to visit Tyagaraja?s dwelling! The composer does not expect this and given his humble situation he does not know what to offer his guest. Tyagaraja then says that Rama graciously set his host at ease and assured him of his protection. This was a favourite of Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer (1896-1970) who often sang it following an elaborate alapana in the raga with which he was most closely associated.
Having come to Tiruvayyaru, Rama according to Tyagaraja is so enraptured by the place that he makes it his headquarters. And Tyagaraja acting in the capacity of a proud guide for his guest, tells him about the beauties of the place. For this his selection of raga is unique ? Mukhari, which to many is associated with melancholy, but not for the composer. In Muripemu galige, Tyagaraja describes the highlights of Panchanada Kshetra in Chola Desa. He states that Rama has become proud of his latest acquisition ? Tiruvayyaru. It is the chosen of abode of Shiva as Panchanadeeswara and the healing and incomparable zephyr blows over the banks of the Kaveri. The holy centre is studded with beautiful mansions states Tyagaraja and even today it is possible to see palatial chattrams and choultries dotting the banks of the river. Tyagaraja goes on to say that Brahmins are forever chanting the Vedas here and presiding over sacrificial fires. The cuckoos sing in the glades and orchards around the place and in Rama?s court he is waited upon by Sita, Lakshmana and Anjaneya even as Saraswathi prepares to serve him with her music. It is believed that this song describes the Rama temple in Pudu Agraharam in Tiruvayyaru. At a more spiritual plane, it depicts the realisation that Rama is ever present in Tyagaraja?s own heart.