Tyagaraja Swami, as his name suggests, is the King of Supreme Sacrifice (Raja of Tyaga). His prime disciple, Walajahpet Venkataramana Bhagavatar, documented the biography of Tyagaraja Swami in palm leaves. He himself wrote hundreds of kritis and several slokas on Tyagaraja Swami. He also translated Swami’s opera, ‘Nowka Charitam,’ from Telugu to Sanskrit. He portrays Swami magnificently in Sri Tyagarajaashtaka (eight verses in Sanskrit). A few gems have been culled out to highlight Swami’s greatness through the eyes of his disciple:
‘Vyaso Naigama Charchaya’ — My Guru, Sri Tyagaraja Swami equals the great Vyasa in Vedanta Vichara. Take, for instance, ‘Dwaithamu sukhama adwaithamu sukhama’ in Ritigowla, ‘Gnanamosagaradha’ (Purvikalyani), and ‘Paramaathmudu’ (Vagadiswari). In these kritis, he captures the quintessence of Vedanta that the Supreme Lord exists within and without. He dwells as antharyami in all beings from trees, plants, bushes, mountains and rivers to birds, beasts and humans.
‘Mrudugira valmika janma munihi’ — He is none other than Valmiki in his choice of apt words for his kritis. Tyagaiah’s kritis are indeed like draksha rasa (grape juice). The choice of appropriate Telugu words, sometimes Sanskritised, clothed in suitable tunes, set to madhyama kala (middle tempo), leaves the listeners, both connoisseurs and laymen alike, in tears.
Ruled by serenity
His kritis are replete with navarasa and serenity (sowkhya). All these put him on a par with Valmiki. ‘Entha mudho entha sogaso’ (Bindumalini) describing Rama’s matchless beauty, ‘Sujana jeevana’ (Khamas) portraying Rama’s virtues and ‘Lavanya Rama’ in Purnashadja wherein, he says, ‘Nee manasu nee sogasu nee dinusu vere Rama’ provide testimony to this fact.
‘Vairagye shuka eva’ — in renunciation he is parallel to Sage Suka, who relinquished the material world in search of the Ultimate Truth. In ‘Thappagane’ (Salagabhairavi) Swami says, “I sing not for the sake of food, attire, fame or wealth.” ‘Epaniko’ (Asaveri) has him sing, “I am born to sing your praise and extol you.” ‘Nidhi chala sukhama’ translates as “wealth does not satisfy me as much as Karunanidhi’s (Rama’s) infallible grace.”
‘Bhakti vishaye Prahlada eva swayam’ — Prahlada exemplifies unflinching devotion and so does Tyagaraja Swami. Legend has it that when Swami obtained Rama darshana, the Lord blessed him with boons of his choice. Swami said, ‘Bhakti bikshameeyave’ in Sankarabharanam. “Lord, if at all you want to give me something, grant me unadulterated devotion.” Again, “No other boon can satisfy me,” he says in ‘Varalandu’ (Gurjari).
‘Brahma Narada evacha aprathimayoho sangita sahithyayoho’ — in originality of compositions and intuitive creations, he is Brahma and Narada.
Tyagaraja Swami is brilliant in several aspects of music. Here we discuss four.
He himself created several rare ragas, including Sidhasena, Suddha Desi, Kolahalam, Supradeepam, Amritavahini, Bindumalini, Manjari, Chayatarangini, Umabharanam, Vasantabhairavi, Ragapanjaram, Phalaranjani, Phalamanjari, Nabhomani, Guntakriya, Kesari, Jingala, Bangala, Binnashadjam and Suddha Bangala.
Though various composers have created several songs in the same raga, Swami stands apart in that each kriti in the same raga is different. For example, in Thodi, he composed ‘Dathsuko’, ‘Dasarathi’, ‘Raju vedala’, ‘Aaragimpave’, ‘Munnu Ravana’, ‘Ninnuvina’, ‘Kaddanuvariki’, ‘Kotinadulu’, ‘Emijesithe’, ‘Jesinadella,’ etc. Each kriti is different though composed in the same raga.
The concept of progressive sangatis (embellishments) seems to be the brainchild of Tyagaraja Swami. He develops the sahitya step by step beautifully, showcasing the raga bhava within the tala framework. Here I’m reminded of my guru, Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, a direct descendant of Tyagarja Swami’s sishya paramapara. He would say Swami did not indulge in sangatis just to display the raga bhava or flaunt his knowledge of music. The sangati was a means of conversation and prayer for him with his ishtadevata . ‘Brova Barama’ (Bahudari) is a statement in the beginning. “Won’t you protect me, Rama? Am I a burden to you?” He then proceeds to request him through the second sangati and pleads in the third. Anguish and helplessness are depicted in the fourth sangati and finally loss of hope in the last sangati of the pallavi.
Depiction of new incidents from swanubhava: Swami sings of several episodes and happenings from the Ramayana, which are unsung by Valmiki. While some of these incidents are featured in Adhyathma Ramayana, Adbutha Ramayana and so on, several reflect his own experiences and visions.
In ‘Vachamagocharame’ (Kaikavasi), he portrays an incident, wherein a hunter aims for the tail of a deer so that he could make a chamara (fan) with it. Noticing this, the proud deer quickly turns to expose its neck. Sri Rama, watching all this from a distance, is so moved that he lets off an arrow, which like a streak of lightening strikes the hunter’s arrow and saves the deer’s life — ‘Varnimpa Tharama Rama Mahima, Vachamagocharame.’
In ‘Kaluguna’ (Poornalalitha), he asks Hanuman to recommend him to Lord Rama so that he could serve the Lord at least for a single day. In ‘Kanta Joodumi,’ (Vachaspati) he pleads with Lakshmana to allow him to do pada seva of the Lord.
‘Yo Ramamritapana Nirjitha Sivaha Tham Tyagarajam Bhaje” — I bow to that Tyagaraja Swami, who surpasses even Lord Siva in his incessant chanting of Rama nama, the disciple concludes. Here, again, the life history written by Walajahpet Venkataramana Bhagavatar in palm scripts states that Swami chanted 100 crore Rama nama and attained sakshathkara of the Lord. ‘Smarane Sukhamu’ (Janaranjani), ‘Intha Sowkhya’ (Kapi) ‘Nama Kusuma’ (Sri), ‘Telisi Rama” (Purnachandrika) and many more kritis mention Swami’s strict adherence to Rama nama japa.
Venkataramana Bhagavatar concludes his mangalaashtaka on Tyagaraja Swami thus:
Gaanashaastra pravinaya Kalikalmasha naasine
Sharanaagatha poshaya Tyagarajaaya Mangalam
Let all fortune and auspiciousness come to our Guru Tyagaraja Swami who revels in the bliss of the ocean of music. ‘Endaro mahanubhavulu andariki vandanamu’ — on his 250th Jayanti, let’s hail the Great Bard of Tiruvaiyaru for his immense knowledge and devotion.