Galaxy of composers
TYAGARAJA (1764 - 1847) - PART 3
- Dr. V Raghavan
Tyagaraja has affixed his signature in all his pieces; some scholars think that this was sufficient immortalisation of his actual janmabhoomi (birth place) and the deity there. On the Cauvery (Sarivedalina in Asaveri) and Tiruvadi, he has two pieces which show that Tyagaraja was not devoid of the feeling of patriotism to one's own soil. But strangely, there is no anecdote of his including Tiruvarur in his pilgrimage; it is strange too that even though he stayed for some time at Tiruvottriyur, he did not sing a single song on the deity Tyagaraja.
Tyagaraja is said to have married a lady named Parvati who predeceased him. According to the Walajapet account, she died early and issueless and Tyagaraja married her sister, Kamalammal, and begot a daughter named Seetalakshmi; she was married to Kuppuswami of Ammal Agraharam; they begot a Tyagaraja who married one Guruvammal, and when the former died issueless, the direct line of Tyagaraja became extinct. The Rama image worshipped daily by Tyagaraja is the custody of the descendents of Tyagaraja's brother Japyesa. Sufficient atonement for their ancestor's sin of throwing away that idol!
Sri Ramakrishananda, the Guru of Tyagaraja has been mentioned in Tyagaraja's Nowka Charitra. In music, it is said he was the pupil of Sonti Venkataramayya, son of Sonti Subbanna, one of the numerous giants who prepared the ground at Tanjavur for the emergence of Tyagaraja. One of the leading features of the artistic life of the times was the Bhagavata Nataka-s in Telugu of composers like Merattur Venkatarama Bhagavatar, an elder contemporary of Tyagaraja, Kavi Matrubhutayya and others which were being staged at villages near Tanjavur like Merattur, Sulamangalam, Saliyamangalam and Ootthukadu. These, as well as the operatic Krishna Leela Tarangini of Narayana Teertha which was also popular, inspired Tyagaraja to compose his Nowka Charitra and Prahlada Bhakti Vijaya. Another popular feature of the times was the celebration in Bhajana Matha-s of festivals of Radha, Rukmini, and Seeta Kalyanam; there was a regular prescribed sampradaya or tradition for the songs in these festivals; according to this utsava sampradaya, Tyagaraja composed many songs. As part of his daily worship of Rama too, he composed a number of pieces.
In philosophical pursuit, Tyagaraja was an Advaitin, but like many eminent Advaitins, he was an ardent bhakta too. Though Rama was his ishtadaiva (favourite deity) and though in many pieces he asks which deity could equal his Rama, Tyagaraja evinced no dislike for other deities; in fact he lauded many of them and saw that all represented the one God. Among bhakta-s, he belonged to the school popularised in Tanjavur district by Bodhendra, Ayyaval and others named Nama Siddhanta i.e,, the faith that the name of the Lord, if worshipped incessantly by japa, would give one salvation. It is said that Tyagaraja had the vision of Rama on the completion of a certain number of Rama-nama repetitions; however, what is clear is that among his songs are many which speak of his darsana of the Lord. Ninnnera in Pantuvarali and Pahi mam Sri Ramachandra in Kapi, refer to the fact that Tyagaraja was worshipping Rama and his name from his young years. But in respect of one tenet, the sanction for which has been clearly laid down in an authority no less than the Bhagavata, he was a reformer; the Bhagavata says in the Ajamila story, and Ayyaval and other Namasiddhantin-s also say in their writings that the Lord's name uttered in whatever manner, saves only when uttered with a proper understanding of its full import and importance. Tyagaraja echoes the same in his Poornachandrika song, Telisirama Chintanato Namame.
Tyagaraja has sung many songs on Narada, who is foremost among bhakta-s given to the ceaseless singing of the Lord, keertana, and whom he therefore considers as his special guru. His veneration of Anjaneya is due not only to being the foremost Rama-bhakta, but as Tyagaraja says in his Surati piece Geetarthamu, he was also an eminent musical author.
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.
The above represent some thoughts which occurred to me after my perusal of some seven hundred songs and the two dramatic compositions of Tyagaraja. I cannot conclude better than by hoping that the centenary celebrations and the activities evinced on this occasion by several bodies and individuals will lead us on from an era of pious glorification to one of substantial and scholarly research and detailed analytical study of the multifaceted art of one who was at once a great musician, poet and saint.
Posted on March 6, 2002