The influence of other greats

The continuity of ideas between Tyagaraja and his illustrious predecessors is a fascinating study.

November 03, 2016 05:03 pm | Updated December 02, 2016 01:13 pm IST

CHENNAI, 14/10/2013: An idol of Saint Thyagaraja placed at Sri Thyagaraja Sangeetha Vidwath Samajam at Mylapore in Chennai. 
Photo: S_S_Kumar

CHENNAI, 14/10/2013: An idol of Saint Thyagaraja placed at Sri Thyagaraja Sangeetha Vidwath Samajam at Mylapore in Chennai. Photo: S_S_Kumar

‘Vidulaku Mrokkeda’ (Maya-malavagaula) has Tyagaraja paying obeisance to several divinities who, according to him, were experts in music. In this, he includes two humans — Someshwara and Sarngadeva. The former was a 12th Century Chalukya king who wrote the ‘Manasollasa’, a treatise that focuses among other things, on music.

Sarngadeva of the 13th Century, wrote the ‘Sangita Ratnakara’, the first great work on Indian music. The prelude to Tyagaraja’s ‘Prahlada Bhakti Vijayamu’ lists several others as we saw in this column last month. If Tulasidas is the first mortal to be revered in it, Narayana Teertha is the last. In a way it is appropriate, for Tyagaraja before embarking on a great operatic work chooses to propitiate a composer whose Sanskrit opera had just then become famous. At least three probable time periods are given for Narayana Teertha but all of these range between the late 17th and early 18th centuries, making him an immediate predecessor to Tyagaraja. Varahur, the village where Narayana Teertha lived and created his Krishna Leela Tarangini, is not very far from Tiruvaiyaru. There are controversies about his place of death, and if one (hotly contested) version is to be believed, he passed away at Tirupoonthuruthi, thereby bringing him even closer to Tyagaraja, for that village is just five km from Tiruvaiyaru.

Purandara Dasa, the pitamaha of Carnatic Music, has a full verse to himself in the ‘Prahlada Bhakti Vijayamu’. There are songs of Tyagaraja, where it is clear he had borrowed ideas from the earlier pieces by Purandara Dasa. One that is of immediate recall is ‘Grahabalam Emi’ (Revagupti), which is akin to the latter’s ‘Sakala Grahabala Neene’. ‘Tulasi Jagajjanani’ in Saveri is modelled almost completely, as far as lyrics are concerned, on Purandara Dasa’s ‘Eliya Sri Tulasi Vanavu’. Both speak of the holy rivers, the gods and the Vedas residing respectively at the base, the middle and the top of the plant. Like Purandara Dasa, Tyagaraja was to dedicate a number of songs to the greatness of the Tulasi. The small receptacle in which the family’s Tulasi plant grew and which perhaps inspired him to compose those songs survived for long, until the old house was demolished to make way for the present modern structure.

‘Jagadanandakaraka’ (Nata) — set in Sanskrit, has a predecessor to it — ‘Jayajaya Jaya nakikantha’ by Purandara Dasa — almost entirely in Sanskrit, and sung in Nata. And then there are the lines – Andajasuvahana Chandra Marthanda Lochana , Kundali Sayana in Tyagaraja’s ‘Dandamu Bettenura’ (Balahamsa). Purandara Dasa sings of Andaja Vahanane Kundali Sayanane in his ‘Santana Sarovara Tira Dalli’. For Tyagaraja’s ‘Jo Jo Srirama’ (Kharaharapriya), there is ‘Jo Jo Sri Krishna’ by Purandara Dasa. Of course, most lullabies begin with such a phrase, including Annamayya’s ‘Jo Achyutananda’ but the second line in the pallavi and the structure of the anupallavi is more or less identical in the pieces by Purandara Dasa and Tyagaraja.

But if at all there was a personal hero for Tyagaraja, it was perhaps Bhadrachalam Ramadasa. They were separated by just about a century or so, but by Tyagaraja’s lifetime, the latter was a popular subject for the kirtankars and storytellers. The tale is too well known to merit repetition here but his arrest by the ruler and subsequent release by the grace of Lord Rama, was rich material for the creation of a legend.

In his prelude to the ‘Prahlada Bhakti Vijayamu’, Tyagaraja places Bhadrachala Ramadasa firmly below Tulsidas and Purandara Dasa but above all the others. “I prostrate before Sri Ramadasa who in this kaliyuga is hailed as the foremost devotee of Ramachandra enshrined in Bhadrachalam,” he says.

Songs such as ‘Na Moralakimpavemi’ (Devagandhari) and ‘Je Je Sitaram’ (Saveri) have identical opening lines in kritis by Bhadrachala Ramadasa as well.

There are others by the latter — ‘Ento Mahanubhavudavu’ and ‘Pahi Rama Prabho’ that clearly inspired kritis by Tyagaraja. But more interesting than all these are the direct and indirect references that Tyagaraja makes to Ramadasa. In his ‘Kshira Sagara Sayana’ (Devagandhari), Tyagaraja states that he has heard that Rama released the brave Ramadasa from bondage. In his ‘Emi Dova Balkuma’ (Saranga) he laments that had he been Ramadasa, Sita would have spoken up for him. This refers to the well-known Bhadrachalam Ramadasa kriti — ‘Nannu Brovamani Cheppave Sitamma Talli’, where the composer appeals to Sita to intercede with Rama for his protection.

Besides all the above, T.S. Parthasarathy’s compilation of Tyagaraja kritis has ‘Manasa Sanchara Re’ in Punnagavarali, which is identical in lyrical structure to the more famous Sadasiva Brahmendra composition in Sama.

The continuity of ideas in music and lyric between Tyagaraja and his illustrious predecessors is a fascinating study. It reveals his sources for inspiration. It also helps in filling in the dots that make up Carnatic music history.

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.