As another Tyagaraja Aradhana goes by, here is a look at some of the saint’s compositions and their significance.

Saint Tyagaraja’s songs evoke bhakti — Lord Rama is implored, entreated, praised and scolded — in these emotions, the saint composer’s devotion is undoubted, whatever his state of mind at the time of composition. As ‘Draksharasa,’ his songs were sweet, easy to grasp and sing, just as grapes can be gently pressed for their delicious juice. His faith in Rama was unshaken, inspiring millions to adhere to a similar faith.

Tyagaraja pays homage to adikavi Valmiki in many of his songs. In the famous Nattai pancharatna ‘Jagadanandakaraka,’ he says ‘Mauni Krita Charitra’, the story of Rama told by the anthill-born sage (kavina bilaja). In ‘Namo namo Raghavaya,’ he says of the epic, ‘Satatha paalita adbhuta kavye.’

Of his many sufferings, Tyagaraja makes no small talk. Rather, he puts forth his situations in a forthright manner, leaving Rama in no doubt about what is expected of Him. In the song ‘Pahi Ramaaramana,’ he says he is too delicate to bear the sufferings imposed on him, comparing himself beautifully to other delicate objects — ‘Can a jasmine bear the beating with a heavy stone? Can a tender cucumber be fastened tightly with an iron belt? Can a parrot face Brahmastra?’ Tyagaraja implores Rama’s grace to free him from such an existence.

In the Mani Iyer favourite, ‘Sarasa saama daana’ in Kapinarayani, Tyagaraja points out that his Rama would have generously given Ayodhya itself to Vibhishana, in case Ravana should surrender, after Rama had promised Lanka to Vibhishana. Such was Rama’s generosity, felt Tyagaraja, that in his rare Kalyani masterpiece popularised by GNB, ‘Evaramadugudura,’ the saint says that any which boon he could even think of asking Rama, was already granted to some devotee or other! He elaborates thus: ‘Anjaneya was entrusted with carrying out any task Rama desired, Shatrugna was to look after the welfare of Rama’s devotees, Bharata epitomised devotion to Rama, Lakshmana had the envious boon of serving Rama, without sleep or food and Sita resided in Rama’s heart… all Tyagaraja desired was devotion to Rama. GNB had sung another rare masterpiece in Ritigowla, ‘Badalikadeera’ where Tyagaraja beseeches Rama to lie down in his heart, after clearing it of all mortal sin.

In ‘Sitanayaka,’ another Ritigowla song, Tyagaraja displays humour in the height of devotion. He asks Rama, “if He has gone up the mountain [Tirupati] to avoid worrying devotees. He asks if He has run away to the island of Srirangam to lie down in peace, undisturbed by clamouring requests from devotees. He asks if Rama has joined the monkeys as He is harassed by devotees who are mad about the Lord’s beauty.”

Tyagaraja seems to have been aware of worldly goings on, even immersed as he was in his musical devotion. In ‘Manasuvishaya,’ he refers to the priest performing rituals, while the wife is busy running after lovers.

In his Sri masterpiece, he refers to Rama as ‘Samaganalola.’ He is ragarasika, and saptaswarachaari and sangeeta sampradayakudu — one who maintains musical tradition. In ‘Gitartamu,’ (Surutti), Tyagaraja says that Hanuman was a great authority on music, who knew that Rama was the essence of music.

The Adbhuta Ramayana and Linga Purana have a story about Narada, and music. God shows Narada many beautiful women lying mutilated. A shocked Narada asks about them, and is told by God that these were Adidevatas, forms of ragas that were sung wrongly by Narada! Tyagaraja refers to this in his ‘Sobillu Saptaswara Sundarula.’

Narada is understood to be the first musician to have sung praises of the Lord. Tyagaraja felt a rapport with the saint. Narada is believed to have appeared to the saint, and helped him in composing a difficult passage by giving him some treatises on music [Swararnavam]. (These palm leaves were later written down from memory by Tyagaraja’s students, after the saint’s demise, as Narada’s gift too disappeared with the saint’s demise). He calls Narada his sakha [friend] in ‘Naradamuni’ (Pantuvarali.) Narada is said to be praised by God Himself as the greatest guru, equal to Him. Narada knew true music, born of the Vedas -‘Veda janit vara vina.’ He made it clear to humans that the unattainable lord lived not in Vaikunta, not in the Sun nor did he belong to those who did impossible penance. The Lord could be found wherever His devotees sang truly, for He loved music. Bhakti, swara and raga combined to make for heaven.

Tyagaraja prays for musical knowledge in his ‘Sitavara’ to attain salvation (mukti). In ‘Mokshamu galada,’ in Saramati, he says music is the sole means to salvation. In the Kalyanavasantam kriti, ‘Nadaloludai brahmananda,’ he says musical devotion gives one supreme pleasure.

Tyagaraja expresses his soul’s simple truth, so easily followed by the enlightened, helping each one to become a nadayogi. The god within oneself (Atman) is truly awakened, transporting one on the waves of music, to a union with god. Let us open up the mind to understand the content of the melody.