‘Naabhi hrith kanta rasana’ — an umbilical connect to divine music and sweet devotion. ‘Sobhillu saptaswara’ (Jaganmohini) is one of the many kritis of Thyagaiah that illustrates his passion and devotion to sangeetham. Through this passion, he urges his mind to follow the Sapta Swara divinities. He sees the seven swaras radiant in the Rig and Sama Vedas, in the heart of the Gayatri Mantra, in the minds of celestials and brahmanas. And in himself.
Tyagaraja’s thoughts were deeply soaked in Vedanta. In ‘Tattva meruga tharama,’ (Garudadhwani), he asks if it is possible to realise and experience the profundity of Tattvamasi, a Vedic declaration, Mahavaakya, meaning ‘You are That.’ Tamas and Rajas are gunas that can never be overcome. So how is it possible to know the meaning of the eternal truth of Tattvamasi, he implores to Sri Rama.
Tyagaraja once lost an idol of Rama, which was thrown into the Cauvery by his brother. He managed to get it back after a few months. When he lost the idol, he sang sadly, ‘Endu daagi naado?’ (Where has He gone and hidden Himself). He was aware that his beloved Sri Rama dwelt in him and that they could never be separated. As the story goes, once a sage named Haridas asked him to recite the name of Rama 960 million times. Tyagaraja did that and he heard a knock on his door. Rama, Sita and Hanuman entered his prayer room and he was blessed to see the coronation of Rama. Overwhelmed, he sang ‘Baalakanakamaya.’ When he visited Tirupati, the temple was closed. Disappointed, he sang ‘Teratiyagaraadaa.’ The door opened and the screen fell aside. The temple officials were astounded. Overjoyed, he sang ‘Venkatesa ninu sevimpa.’
In ‘Marugelara’ (Jayantasri), he beseeches the Lord to remove the screen — the curtain of ignorance — that separates him from his beloved Rama. Many of his compositions show his helplessness in reaching his Lord. Music was Tyagaraja’s only vehicle; and bhakti was what moved that vehicle. ‘Paramaatmudu jeevaatmudu’ — the Supreme Self and the individual Self are ultimately One. This wisdom has to be gained through the tapas of music.
‘Naadatanumanisam’ (Chittaranjani), shows his body, mind and intellect working in unison to salute the Supreme Lord Sankara, embodiment of Naada, the primeval sound, Omkaara. In ‘Aparaadaamula norva’ (Rasaali), he beseeches the Lord to forgive him for not knowing his true Self. He offers a hundred songs and seeks the Lord’s blessings. Ignorance is not knowing that you are Brahman; your life’s journey is to find yourself one with the Supreme Being.
In his teens, Tyagaraja composed his first song, ‘Namo namo Raghavayya’ (Desikatodi) and inscribed it on the walls of his home. When he was 21, he got spiritual initiation into Rama Sadakshari mantra from a saint called Ramakrishnananda. As his fame spread, King Serfoji II invited Tyagaraja to the palace and offered him the position of Samasthana Vidwan at the durbar. But Tyagaraja refused. He was very clear about his mission in life. His only desire was to compose music and serve Sri Rama, not any human being.
The latter half of the 18th century is dominated by this great saint-composer, who is said to have composed about 24,000 songs, of which around 700 exist today, as most of the palm leaves on which they were written, perished in the course of time.
His life revolved around music and devotion. Tyagaraja’s songs are meant to help us experience spiritual bliss.
The writer is proficient in Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam and is the assistant editor of Shanmukha journal