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Celebrating Tyagaraja

Spiritual path, as he perceived it

Tyagaraja saw the coming together of music knowledge and devotion as the perfect way

May 04, 2017 05:16 pm | Updated 05:16 pm IST

Perhaps no one has made as strong a case for music through music as has Tyagaraja. Not for music of any kind and performed anyhow, but music with true knowledge of its intricacies (sangitagnana) and performed with devotion (bhakti). Broad, poignant strokes of Saramati pose a rhetorical question — is moksha possible for them who are bereft of bhakti and sangitagnana?

Bhakti, sangitagnana and the more esoteric nadopasana are recurrent themes in his compositions related to music. What were Tyagaraja’s sources for such ideas? How do the three come together, what did they mean to Tyagaraja himself?

Drawing from an ancient idea that music can lead to moksha, he extols the true worth of music in compositions that certainly give us momentary moksha when sung or heard.

Vinaavaadanatattvajnah srutijativisaradah

Taalajnasca-aprayasena mokshamargam niyacchati.

He who knows the secrets of playing the vina, and the srutis, jatis and tala, he ascends the path of moksha effortlessly, says the Yajnjavalkya Smriti.

Bhakti tradition strengthened this connection between music and moksha, for the men and women of this tradition sang of their love in their spiritual quest.

Tyagaraja echoes ideas from elsewhere too. ‘Nadopasana’ or worship of the musical sound has bestowed lustre upon Brahma, Vishnu and Siva and every other lustrous being, he asserts in Begada. Sarngadeva’s Sangeetaratnakara and the Natya Chudamani of Somanarya, have this very same assertion.

What is nadopasana? In magnificent Sankarabharanam (‘Swara raga sudharasa...’), he indicates that it is the discipline that leads one to experience the swaras emanating from the various parts of the body

Mooladhaaraja naadam(e)ruguthe

mudamagu mokshamuraa

A Tantric idea which, again, is found in Somanarya.

Rama as the symbol of Nada

Nadopasana is a rigorous yogic discipline of meditation on sound, the Om or any other complete immersion in sound. It does not necessarily involve music in all its complexity. In fact, Nadopasana might not even involve bhakti. Tyagaraja solves the issue by singing of Rama as the very embodiment of nada in Arabhi (’Nadasudharasambilanu’).

Was he himself a nadopasaka? He certainly practised nama japa. The spritual path is a narrow path, they say, not a multi-pronged one, sometimes nama japa and at other times nadopasana or some other method. It is common to find him described as a great nadopasaka, but in its actual sense, it is not clear that he was.

His life, as borne out by his kritis, involved two pursuits — Ramabhakti and sangitam. ‘Intakanna anandamemi’ (Bilahari) says that there is no greater bliss than dancing and singing in unison with other bhaktas entreating Sri Rama to come. For him, the two coming together — sangitagnana and bhakti — is the perfect way to walk the spiritual path. In Dhanyasi he sings, bereft of bhakti, musicianship will not lead to sanmarga — the right path.

He is scornful of musicians who do not realise the true worth of music as an instrument to liberation of the spirit — paramaanandam(a)ne kamalamupai baka bhekamu celagi(y)emi. They are like a crane and a fox that have found a lovely lotus! What do they know of its true worth? Only a bee does.

‘Vararagalayajnulu’ (Chenchu Khambodi) describes musicians who project themselves as experts in raga and laya but know not the complexities of murchana, jati, etc. It is delicious irony and a reflection of how far today’s performing musicians are from Tyagaraja’s ideal of musicianship that this kriti is generally performed in 2-3 minutes of a flurry of words, percussive explosions, and bodily gestures.

As a final acclamation, Tyagaraja says he is a mukta who has raga gnana along with sahaja (innate) bhakti.

sahaja bhaktitoraaga jnaana sahitudu muktuduraa...

Would not Tyagaraja himself be such a person? And did not he not yearn for grace till his last?

The genesis of the work of a musician like Tyagaraja with its immense richness, and around whom so much hagiography has grown, is hard to analyse. It is hard to say for sure that he was a nadopasaka or otherwise. But that is of no relevance in enjoying the sheer grandeur of his compositions, their astonishing vitality and that certain transcendental quality.

‘Nadaloludai brahmanandamandave...’

The writer is well-versed in both Carnatic and Hindustani streams of music

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