Sri Thyagaraja Swami
Dazzle of the Musical Universe
Tyagaraja was born to Kakarla Ramabrahmam and his wife Seethamma in the small town of Thiruvarur in the Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu on May 4, 1767.
He was named Tyagaraja, after Lord Tyagaraja, the presiding deity of the temple at Thiruvarur. His maternal grandfather, Giriraja Kavi, at whose house in Tiruvarur Tyagaraja was born, was a poet-composer in the court of the king of Thanjavur. The family was a pious Telugu-speaking smartha brahmin family of the Mulukanadu subsect. It is assumed that they must have migrated from Vijayanagara empire then, in present day Andhra Pradesh, and had settled in Thiruvaiyaru.
Tyagaraja was married at a young age to a lady named Parvatamma, who died shortly afterwards. Tyagaraja then married Kamalamba and they had a daughter named Seethalakshmi. Tyagaraja attained samadhi on January 6, 1847.
Tyagaraja started his musical training under Sonti Venkataramanayya, a noted scholar of music, at an early age. Tyagaraja regarded music as a way to experience the love of God. His objective while performing music was purely devotional rather than to display his mastery over technicalities of music. When he was eight years old, Tyagaraja composed Namo Namo Raghavaya Anisham in raga Desikathodi.
A few years later Sonti Venkataramanayya, invited Tyagaraja to perform at his house in Thanjavur. On that occasion, Tyagaraja sang Endaro Mahaanubhavulu, the fifth of the Pancharatna Krithis. Pleased with Tyagaraja's song, Sonti Venkataramanayya told the king of Thanajavur about the genius of Tyagaraja. The king sent an invitation, accompanied with many rich gifts, inviting Tyagaraja to attend the royal court. Tyagaraja, however was not inclined for a career at the court. He rejected the invitation outright, composing another gem of a kriti, Nidhi Chala Sukhama (does wealth bring happiness?) on this occasion. Angered at his rejection of the royal offer, Tyagaraja's brother threw the statues of Rama Tyagaraja used in his prayers into the nearby river Kaveri. Tyagaraja, unable to bear the separation with his Lord, went on pilgrimages to all the major temples in south India and composed many songs in praise of the deities of those temples.
In addition to nearly 600 songs (kritis), Tyagaraja composed two musical plays (dramas) in Telugu, the Prahalada Bhakti Vijayam and the Nauca Charitam. Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam is in five acts with 45 kritis set in 28 ragas and 138 verses, in different metres in Telugu. Nauca Charitam is a shorter play in one act with 21 kritis set in 13 ragas and 43 verses. It is the most popular of Tyagaraja's operas, and is a creation of the composer's own imagination and has no basis in the Bhagavatam.
Often overlooked is the fact that Tyagaraja's works are some of the best and most beautiful literary expressions in Telugu language.
K.V. Ramachandran, a well-known Indian music critic of the 20th century, wrote: "Tyagaraja is an indefatigable interpreter of the past...but if with one eye he looks backward, with the other he looks forward as well. Like Prajapti he creates his own media and adores his Rama not alone with jewel-words newly fashioned, but also with jewel-music newly created. It is this facet of Tyagaraja that distinguishes him from his illustrious contemporaries." In other words, while Tyagaraja's contemporaries were primarily concerned with bringing audiences the music of the past, Tyagaraja did so while also pioneering new musical concepts.
Remembrance and celebration:
Tyagaraja Aaradhana, the commemorative music festival is held every year at Thiruvaiyaru in the months of January to February in honour of Tyagaraja. This is a weeklong festival of music where various Carnatic musicians from all over the world converge at his Samadhi. On the Pushya Bahula Panchami, thousands of people and hundreds of musicians sing the five Pancharatna Kritis in unison, with the accompaniment of a large orchestra of violins, flutes, nagaswarams, mridangams and ghatams.