Why is Thillaisthanam sidelined?

Among the Trinity, Tyagaraja had the maximum number of disciples. There has been more adulation for him and less research into the nature and structure of his kritis. Though Tyagaraja left a band of 30 chief disciples, there are three schools which did pioneering work in propagating his life and kritis.

The Walajapet school of Walajapet Venkatramana Bhagavathar and the Umayalpuram School of Sundara Bhagavathar and Krishna Bhagavathar have cornered all the glory to the exclusion of the Thillaisthanam School of Rama Iyengar. No doubt, the Walajapet disciples deserve credit for propagating the name of the saint-poet.

Most eminent musicians of the present day, including Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, belong to the Umayalapuram School. Here, the kritis have been fostered by an oral tradition without written notations. However, there is evidence to indicate that the Umayalpuram disciples had also learnt under Thillaisthanam Rama Iyengar's disciples.

In the din about the Walajapet and Umayalpuram Schools, the silent and noble work done by the Thillaisthanam people has gone unnoticed. It is on record that Thillaisthanam Rama Iyengar was the closest of all the disciples to the saint. Tyagaraja often used to comment, “This Rama must sing and that Rama should listen.”

The Thillaisthanam disciples conducted daily puja at the sannadhi from 1847 onwards through their own disciples and later, their appointees. The more important service rendered by the Thillaisthanam school relates to the preservation of the authentic tradition of Tyagaraja. Thanks to the laudable work of S. Parthasarathy, a member of the sishya parampara of the Thillaisthanam tradition, there is a record of the kritis as handed over by the saint to his most loved disciple. A point of interest relates to the acute differences in style, both in rendering and sometimes in the structure and occasionally in the raga of the kriti (See Box).

The famous ‘Gnanamosagaradha’ is rendered in Purvikalyani. According to the Thillaisthanam school, the saint rendered it only in Shadvidha Margini raga. Again, Begada is considered by the Thillaisthanam people as not belonging to the 72 Mela Karthas.

Tyagaraja's songs were printed and published in the 19th century and early 20th century in such books as Subbarama Dikshitar's ‘Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini.’ The Thillaisthanam disciples' tradition was recorded in published form in 1908. Narasimha Bhagavathar printed the songs as he had learnt them from his Guru Rama Iyengar, a direct disciple of Tyagaraja.

Dr. K. N. Srinivasan, director, Music Circle, Srirangam, points out that Thillaisthanam Rama Iyengar was inseparable from the saint during the last years of Tyagaraja’s life. Thillaisthanam Rama Iyengar and his disciples took care of the brick work of the Brindavanam at Tiruvaiyaru in 1903, replacing it with a granite structure.

Rama Iyengar and his disciples continued to perform the Aradhana and daily pujas at the Samadhi Even today, the Thillaisthanam school disciples carry on the tradition. The present-day musicians have ignored the Thillaisthanam Paddhati without appreciating its beauty.

Keywords: Thillaisthanam