Thiruvottiyur Tyagayyar — composer and chronicler of his times

T.R. Aravindhan presenting his lecdem, ‘Thiruvottiyur Tyagayyar’ at Rasika Ranjani Sabha,Chennai, during Margazhi 2021.

T.R. Aravindhan presenting his lecdem, ‘Thiruvottiyur Tyagayyar’ at Rasika Ranjani Sabha,Chennai, during Margazhi 2021.

Dr. T.R. Aravindhan not only teaches dentistry but has an enduring interest in documenting the original versions of Carnatic music compositions. In his talk on Tiruvottiyur Tyagayyar for Rasika Ranjani Sabha's 'Music in Perpetuity' lecdem series, he shared some meticulously compiled information on the composer-musician, comparing his works with those of Tyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar.

While Tiruvottiyur Tyagayyar's varnams, keerthanams and ragamalikas are all praiseworthy, Aravindhan focused on those compositions that are representative of the structure of the ragas of his time and how they are important in understanding the evolution of different phrases in ragas.

Tyagayyar, the youngest son of Veenai Kuppier, a direct disciple of Tyagaraja, learnt music from his father and one can see Tyagaraja’s influence in his keertanas. At a time when vidwans who composed kritis were only teaching them to their disciples, Tyagayyar published two books — P allavi Swara Kalpavalli in 1900 and S ankirtana Ratnavali in 1907. The latter apparently preceded Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini, Subbarama Dikshitar’s magnus opus. It is interesting to read the note by Tyagayyar that the beautiful Surutti raga varnam ‘Ento premato’, popularly believed to be by Veenai Kuppier, was composed by Tyagayyar himself.

Thyagayyar published a set of 108 compositions titled ‘Sri Venugoplaswamy Ashtottara Shatha keertanas’ in his Sankirtana Ratnavali. These keertanas are individual compositions on his family deity, Sri Venugopala. said Aravindhan.

Apart from the Venugopalaswamy keerthanas, he also composed three prayer songs on Ganapathi (Dhanyasi), Saraswathi (Kalyani), and one in praise of Tyagaraja in Karaharapriya, considering him his guru. The epilogue has three keerthanas — one on Lakshmi in Atana, a Punnagavarali composition, and a mangalam. The first five keerthanas are in the prathama ghana ragas such as Nattai, Gowla, Arabhi, Varali and Sri, and the following five keertanas are in the dvitiya ghana ragas, Ritigowla, Narayana Gowla, Kedaram, Bowli and Nattakurinji, but not Saranga Nattai as in the paddhati before Tyagayyar’s times.

The distinct features of the first 43 keertanas (beginning with Nattai and ending with Madhyamavati) and the next 65 (beginning with Ahiri and ending with Madhyamavati) could point to their having been intentionally composed as two sets.

Experiments too

It is interesting that Pantuvarali is mentioned as the 51st melakartha, as classified in present times, unlike the times of Tyagaraja with the suddha gandhara sounding similar to today’s Subha Pantuvarali. As Aravindhan said, this shows him as someone who documented the structure of the music of his times and did not strictly stick to the patanthara alone.

Singing parts of Tyagayyar’s Gowri Manohari keertana ‘Parakela jesevu’ and comparing it with Tyagaraja’s ‘Guruleka etuvanti’, Aravindhan pointed to a similar structure between them. Tyagaraja created many new ragas bound exactly by arohanam and avarohanam, and Tiruvottiyur Tyagayyar, perhaps influenced by this structure, created many more such new ‘scale ragas’, particularly Prati madhyama janya ragas. Tyagayyar was the first to use Gouda Malhar, contrary to the popular belief that Muthiah Bhagavatar used it first in 'Sarasamukhi'.

Talking about the rare ragas used by both Tyagaraja and Tiruvottiyur Tyagayyar, Aravindhan listed Jaganmohini, Guntakriya, Supradipam, Kapinarayani, Jayantasena, Salagabharavi. Tyagayyar used Mangalakaisiki, which was a grand raga during Dikshitar's time, Kannadabangala, and Ardradesi only as scale ragas. There are no kritis by Tyagaraja in these ragas, he noted.

Scales of raga

Aravindhan averred that Tyagayyar followed Sangraha Chudamani , a Sanskrit work written by Govindacharya describing the scales of ragas. The new ragas created by Tyagayyar such as Mechakangi, Kananakusumavali, Ratnakanti, Ghoshini, Lokaranjani, and Pushakalyani followed the definite scale structure seen in Sangraha Chudamani . Tyagayyar has also composed kritis in ragas such as Kuntala, Simhelam, Sharadabharanam, which are mentioned in Sangraha Chudamani , but these ragas were not handled by Tyagaraja. Aravindhan demonstrated this by singing ‘Koribhajinchi’ composed by Tyagayyar in Pushakalyani, which is not found in Sangraha Chudamani .

He compared this sampoorna-shadava raga composition with a vivadi note, shatsruti dhaivatam, with Dikshitar’s Vamsavati composition ‘Bhaktavatsalam’ to explain how the scale structure and the ragas differ from each other. It demonstrated Tyagayyar’s ability to project a scale as a raga and the scholar wondered how he could have come up with Pushakalyani, noting that the Ashtottara Shata keertanas preceded the S angita Sampradaya Pradarshini .

The differences

Though Tyagayyar is seen as a follower of the tradition established by Tyagaraja, a few differences can be seen in the handling of some ragas. While Supradipam (17th mela Suryakantham janya) was handled in scales by Tyagayyar, ‘Varasiki vahana’ by Tyagaraja is an example of seeing it as a complete raga. In another example of handling a vakra raga, Aravindhan demonstrated raga Ghoshini, that has two vakra structures in the scale, handled by Tyagayyar with much simplicity, in contrast to Tyagaraja's ‘Ninuchala nammiti’ in the same raga and Chenjukamboji, a raga with a complicated arohanam-avarohanam, and showed how both styles sound delightful.

Aravindhan quoted Vishnu Narain Bhatkhande, a famed Hindustani musician, who travelled extensively to explore south Indian music. He interviewed Tiruvottiyur Tyagayyar, where Tyagayyar says he did not follow any book for his music compositions and his works were based on what he knew. His compositions are records of the music of his time.

Taking Nilambari as an example, Aravindhan showed how the arterial phrase of ‘n s g g m’ was used by Tyagayyar. a recording of Bidaram Krishnappa demonstrated the earlier plain handling of the madhyama without oscillation.

In ‘Palukavatela’, in Balahamsa raga, Aravindhan pointed to how the kriti is also an example of Tyagayyar’s rhythmic prowess, seen in the way he has handled Rupaka tala in different arithmetic combinations and how the sangatis move progressively. This style, he said, is unique to Tyagayyar.

Aravindhan showed how Hamir Kalyani has changed to its present version by comparing its phrases with Tyagaraja’s now popular ‘Manamuleda’. The practice of using prati madhyamam first and then suddha madhyamam appears to have come in much after Thyagayyar’s times.

An excerpt from an interview with vidwan Maruthuvakudi Rajagopalayyar, an important representative of Tyagaraja’s Umayalpuram sishya parampara, demonstrated how Kalyana Vasantham has also changed over time.

Highlighted by references from treatises and audio recordings, the lecture held many points of interest.

The writer specialises in Carnatic music.

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Printable version | May 24, 2022 10:54:11 am |