Fascinating work on Tyagaraja

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Amazing: Pioneering effort.
Amazing: Pioneering effort.


A 100 year-old book comprising the saint’s kritis along with a biographical sketch, all in Tamil, makes for an interesting read.

Through a well-wisher, I recently obtained a volume which was a collection of different books bound together. One of them was most interesting, for it was a compilation of Tyagaraja kritis printed in 1910. Titled ‘Tyagarajaswami Kirtanangal’, it is in Tamil. The book has the lyric of 409 songs of the saint and is accredited to Kanchi Mahavidwan Ramananda Yogigal. The book, printed at GC & Co and published by M. Krishnaswami Nayudu Sons, was sold through Higginbothams, for it has the seal of that company on it. It was priced at Rs 1- As 4.

The first few pages of the book list the contents with details of the opening lines of the songs, the raga, the tala and the mela to which the raga is attached. After this is a biography of Tyagaraja, perhaps the first in Tamil. It lists all the commonly heard stories of Tyagaraja’s life, for by then the composer had been the subject of Harikatha performances and many tales abounded about his life.

What is really interesting is the book states that Tyagaraja composed five songs, one each in ragas Nata, Gaula, Arabhi, Varali and Sri, and that they were called the Pancharatnams. This is one of the early instances where this grouping is done. From this, is it is clear that the term ‘Pancharatna’ had already come into vogue and that the grouping was not a later phenomenon as some have claimed. Strangely, the lyric section groups four of the Pancharatnam together, namely Nata, Gaula, Sri and Arabhi, but not the Varali piece. Also one can notice that the order of the last two, namely Arabhi and Sri, is interchanged.

Sans swaras

The importance of the Pancharatnams can be gauged from the fact that the lyric section begins with the four songs, while ‘Kanakanaruchira’ features much later in the book. The four are given with swaras preceding the sahitya exactly as they are sung. However, only the lyric of ‘Kanakanaruchira’ are given, recalling to mind the way Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer used to render this kriti… sans swaras for each line.

The lyric section opens with a black and white portrait of Tyagaraja, taken from the famous Wallajahpet sketch of the composer. It is interesting to see the way some songs have changed ragas over the years. ‘Ne Morabettite’, now sung in Thodi, is listed under Rupavati in this book. Similarly, ‘Raju Vedala’ is classified under Desika Todi, while songs such as ‘Aragimpave’ are listed under Thodi thereby showing that there was a differentiation between the two ragas.

‘Chetulara’ was probably controversial even then, for it is listed under Kharahapriya and not the present day Bhairavi. There are two songs ‘Neeke Teliyaka Bote’ and ‘Rama Rama’ under Ananda Bhairavi. This is in contrast to the prevailing theory that Tyagaraja did not compose in this raga. Later of course songs such as ‘Kshirasagaravihara’ have also surfaced.

Also, ‘Gnanamosakarada’ is shown under Shadvidamargini, thereby indicating that the switch to Purvikalyani probably happened post 1910. Surprisingly, ‘Ragasudharasa’ is classified under Mayuradhvani and not in Andolika as it is sung today. ‘Sitamma Mayamma’ is given under Lalitha and not Vasantha as we would expect. This of course, has been a contentious issue ever since. A more detailed analysis will throw up many more interesting finds. The lyrics of ‘Mitribhagyame’ (Kharaharapriya) begin from the anupallavi (‘Chitraratnamaya’) as it is sung often and the lines then dovetail into the pallavi indicating that this practice existed even then.

A mystery

Who Ramananda Yogigal? It’s quite a mystery. Was this a pen name? Perhaps he had embraced sanyasa and was well-known under some other name previously. From the prefix Mahavidwan, it is possible to surmise that he was a musician, though he could also simply be a scholar. In what way was he linked to the Tyagaraja lineage? Did he belong to the Wallajahpet, Tillaisthanam or Umayalpuram lineages of Tyagaraja’s disciples? We do not know.

Whatever be the loose ends in the compilation, it is amazing that men such as Ramananda Yogigal had, in an era when electricity was practically unknown and communication was at best at a nascent stage, set about such a difficult task as compiling the kritis of Tyagaraja. He would have also had to contend with the reluctance of musicians to part with their resources.

Today, when we look at the work, we can only marvel at the dedication of such pioneers in print. For it is by standing on their shoulders that we are able to look ahead into the world of music. Just remembering them with gratitude would be a good way of thanking them for the work they did, with hardly any expectation of reward.

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