It's that time of the year when musicians and devotees pay their obeisance to Thyagaraja by participating in the Aradhana festivities with enthusiasm.
This is the season when every cultural auditorium in south India will be reverberating to melodious Thyagaraja kritis. It is the season of Thyagaraja Aradhana festivities, observed in honour of the the great Vaggeyakara Thyagaraja on his death anniversary. This year would mark 165 years since the vaggeyakara passed away, leaving behind an unparalled, and timeless legacy of Carnatic music.
As is well-known, the festivities began when Bangalore Nagaratnammal, a Devadasi got a Samadhi of Thyagaraja built on her land on the banks of river Kaveri in Tiruvayur, where Thyagaraja lived most of his life. She not only spent all her money for the shrine and later lived like a yogini, but also appealed to the great names in the field of Carnatic music to gather at this venue and pray to the soul of Thyagaraja on Pushya Bahula Panchami, the first day in second half of Pushya maasam, the day Thyagaraja attained Samadhi.
Throughout the world, ‘Pancharatna Kirtana ganam' is a common factor in the Aradhana festivities. Jagadanandakaraka in Nata; Dudukugala in Gowla; Sandhinchene in Arabhi; Kanakana Ruchira in Varali and the most popular Endaro Mahanubhavulu in Sriragam are the five gems that go to prove Thyagaraja was not just a musician but a great poet too.
Various organisations design other activities too; like conducting competitions for children in rendition of Thyagaraja compositions. It is heartening to see the participation of children in the Aradhana these days. Another tradition that is still followed is a senior musician dressing up like Thyagaraja and walking along the streets followed by his students, all rendering kritis and collecting bhiksha (alms), a re-enactment of what Thyagaraja did to feed his students at his gurukulam. This came to be known as Ooncha Vrutti. Dr. Nookala Chinna Satyanarayana was often seen performing this Ooncha vrutti for Srirama Gana Sabha and other organisations. So did Nookala's disciple S.K. Venkatachari for Telugu University's Thyagaraja Aradhana Festival, where the students followed him to the statue of Thyagaraja on the Tank Bund.
The number of sabhas performing the Aradhana is growing by the year. It indicates the growth in the number of young singers taking to Carnatic music.
The saint's life
Though what is available as the life history of Thyagaraja is not comprehensive , his disciple Sourashtra Venkataramana Bhagavatar opened up our vision about Thyagaraja and a bit of his ancestry, for three generations. We learn that Thyagaraja's father Giriraja Brahmam was a great scholar in Sanskrit and Telugu. He was equally well versed in music and wrote devotional compositions of high philosophic content. Unfortunately all his works, except Maya Nee Vanchana in Kambhoji, were lost. However, his Yakshaganams and padams on kings Sahaji and Sarabhoji are said be available in Tanjavur Saraswathi Mahal (Library). It was also said that Giriraja Brahmam's father Panchanada Brahmam was great scholar in Vedas and Sastras.
The mystic element of Thyagaraja's life like how he brought a dying man to life and how the Panchayatam, a set of idols of Rama, Lakshmana, Sita and Anjaneya, considered lost, were found in the river Kaveri, and the presence of Anjaneya in his pujas were all creative ideas presented in a film made on the vaggeyakara by Chittoor V. Nagaiah. There were plays too on Thyagaraja like the one written by scholar Chandarala Rama Mohana Rao of Rajahmundry noted Carnatic vocalist M.S. Balasubrahmanya Sarma acting as Thyagaraja. Nidhi Chala SukhamaRara MaaintidakaKanugontini
A sage, Ramakrishnananda Swamy, is said to have taught Thyagaraja ‘Srirama Shadakshari Mantram' and later ‘Narada Mantram' too, chanting which Thyagaraja was able to approach Narada who gave him a fund of musical knowledge, opening new vistas. Thyagaraja divided his time between ‘Srirama Puja' and writing kirtanas. It is said that Lord Sri Rama finally blessed his devotee by appearing in person before him, as referred to in the kirtana Paramatmudu Velige (Vagadeeswari ragam). Thyagaraja lived a principled life of a devotee, circumvented many problems and never lost faith in Rama or his faith in raga, swara and sahitya.