Saint composer Thyagaraja, one among the Carnatic Music Trinity, has a unique distinction in more than one aspect. His contemporaries were Shyama Sastrigal and Muthuswamy Dikshitar, and all of them have every reason to be christened as the Music trinity by virtue of strikingly similar features. It is a rare coincidence that the great trinity were born at Tiruvarur. All of them composed kritis in praise of their “Ishta Deivams” (personal gods).
While Thyagaraja composed his kritis in praise of Lord Rama, Shyama Sastrigal glorified Bangaru Kamakshi Amman, and Muthuswami Dikshitar rendered his kritis in praise of Lord Muruga particularly at Tiruttani. While Thyagaraja moved to Thiruvaiyaru near Thanjavur and stayed there till he attained ‘siddhi', Dikshitar was on a tour of various temples in north Tamil Nadu before returning to Tiruvarur. Shyma Sastrigal stayed in Thanjavur.
Devotion through Telugu
All the three were gifted with divine blessing in the form of music and spontaneously composed scores of kritis. Among them Thyagaraja has a special distinction of having composed more number of kriits. Thyagaraja preferred Telugu, his mother tongue, for composing his kriitis, in contrast to the other two who rendered their compositions in Sanskrit. It may be noted here that Telugu was more easily understandable than Sanskrit by a majority of people of the Deccan plateau.
Thyagaraja was born to Kakarla Ramabrahmam and Sitamma of a Telugu Brahmin family at Tiruvarur on May 4, 1767. He was named after Thyagaraja, principal deity of the Thyagarajaswamy temple at Tiruvarur. His guru was Sonti Venkatramaiah. It is said that he started composing songs even during his teenage years and sang the Namo Namo Raghavaiya kriti.
Once his guru Sonti Venkatramaiah invited him to his house for rendering a kriti. To the surprise of all Thyagaraja sang the kriti Endaro Mahanubavulu- the most popular Pancharathna Kritis. Impressed by this, Venkatramaiah told the King of Thanjavur about Thyagaraja.
The King invited Thyagaraja to his court and was ready to honour him with gems and coins. But Thyagaraja refused to visit the court and rendered a kriti “Nidhi Chala Sukama” indicating his preference for divine bliss to materialistic pleasure.
According to Thyagaraja, only the lotus feet of Lord Rama will bring comfort in life. Angered by Thyagaraja's refusal to visit the court, his brother threw the idol of Lord Rama worshipped by Thyagaraja into the Cauvery river. Unable to bear the separation, Thyagaraja went on a pilgrimage and sang in praise of Lords of various temples.
His other pancharathna kritis are “Jagadanandakara” in Nattai ragam, “Dudugukala” in Gowla ragam, “Sadhinchine O Manasa” in Aarabi ragam, “Kana Kana Ruchira” in Varali ragam. Thyagaraja attained siddhi on a Pushya Bagula Panchami day on January 6, 1847. His mortal remains were interred at a spot on the banks of the Cauvery at Thiruvaiyaru. Annual aradhana is held every year at this holy site.
Contribution by Shyama Sastrigal
Shyama Sastrigal (1762-1827) was born in Tiruvarur in a Tamil-speaking Smartha Brahmin family. His father Viswanathan was the priest at the Bangaru Kamakshiamman temple of Thanjavur. Vengalakshmi was his mother. Having a command over Telugu and Sanskrit languages, he is reputed for having composed 300 kriitis. He is the oldest among the Music Trinity. Muthuswamy Dikshitar's Sanskrit kriitis have a reverberating effect and kindle both devotion and love for music among the listeners.
He travelled extensively throughout India with his guru Chidambaranatha Yogi. At Kasi, his guru blessed him with a Veena. Lord Muruga appeared before him as Balamuruga (child) at Tiruttani and fed him with a sugar candy.
Soon, Dikshitar swiftly composed kriithis in praise of the Lord. At Tiruvarur he sang in praise of Kamalambal and the Navagrahas of the temple. The famous Bharatanatyam dancers, popularly known as ‘Thanjavur quartette', Sivanandam, Ponnaiah, Chinnaiah and Vadivelu were the most blessed disciples of Dikshitar to have understood the nuances of music from this great composer. Dikshitar taught them all the 72 mela kartha ragas.