A shrine built by Nagarathnamma

Tyagaraja died on January 6, 1847, having embraced sanyasa in his last days. His mortal remains were buried with due rituals in his native village of Tiruvaiyaru. Observance of an annual ceremony began from the first year of his passing and was performed initially by Panchapakesiah, the composer's grandson. Tyagaraja's various disciples, scattered all over south India, chose to perform the ceremonies at their own villages. The ceremony in Tiruvaiyaru ceased in 1855 following Panchapakesiah's death.

In 1903, the last surviving disciples, Umayalpuram Krishna and Sundara Bhagavatars came to Tiruvaiyaru and having identified the burial spot with great difficulty, rebuilt it with granite. This was the time when two brothers, both belonging to the Tillaisthanam lineage of Tyagaraja's disciples — Narasimha and Panju Bhagavatars, became interested in the annual ceremony. The former began raising funds by way of Harikatha performances on the life of Tyagaraja and it is to him that most of the legends relating to the various songs of the composer could be traced. In 1904, the brothers conducted the Aradhana in Tiruvaiyaru with certain added features including a musical offering by vidwans present and an uncchavritti (formal seeking of alms). This tradition continued till 1910 when unfortunately, the two brothers fell out. This resulted in the formation of two rival organisations, both conducting the Aradhana. Narasimha Bhagavatar being the elder, his faction was referred to as the Periya Katchi and his brother's became the Chinna Katchi.

Over a period, several musicians were to align themselves with one group or the other. Malaikottai Govindasami Pillai became the kingpin of the Periya Katchi while Soolamangalam Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar came to lead the Chinna Katchi. One-upmanship war continued between both the groups though none could fault their obvious faith in Tyagaraja. To prevent two parallel festivals from happening, a unique format was created by mutual consent. From 1912, the Chinna Katchi began its celebrations four days before the Aradhana and ended it on the day of Tyagaraja's passing. That was the day the Periya Katchi began its festival and it carried on for four days after that. Concerts and Harikathas were held by both Katchis and thus the festival expanded to nine days. On the Aradhana day, both groups conducted uncchavrittis and performed the shraddha, at staggered timings so as to not clash with each other. Both groups had certain common rules. Inviting women to perform was taboo and nagaswaram artistes, though welcome to contribute, could not sit and perform at the samadhi.

Matters continued like this till 1921, when Bangalore Nagarathnamma, the phenomenally successful and affluent Devadasi, began involving herself in the Aradhana. By October 1921, she had acquired the samadhi land and had begun building a shrine for Tyagaraja. She was initially supported by the Periya Katchi in her efforts. The shrine was completed and a granite idol of the saint installed in it by 1925, all at her personal expense. It was then that she discovered that the two factions would not allow her to perform during the Aradhana! Nagarathnamma began a third faction, the Pengal (women's) Katchi and this celebrated a parallel Aradhana, coinciding its festivities with those of the Periya Katchi. Over a period of time, she purchased the land surrounding the shrine as well and tried to prevent the other factions from entering the premises. But this was not upheld by law and as per the ruling of the local magistrate, staggered timings for worship were laid down for Aradhana day.

This continued till 1940, when thanks to the good offices of S.Y. Krishnaswami, ICS, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar and Musiri Subramania Iyer, the three factions were united and from then on, the responsibility of the celebrations shifted to the newly-formed Thyagabrahma Mahotsava Sabha.

Women were allowed to perform on stage as were nagaswaram vidwans.

The AIR Trichy began broadcasting the music performances and a couple of years later, at the suggestion of Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar, the practice of group-rendition of the Pancharatnams began.

Certain vestiges of the old factionalism still survive. The performing of Chetulara by the assembled flautists is a tribute to Palladam Sanjeeva Rao who invariably played it when the Chinna Katchi's aradhana was done. As per her will, Nagarathnamma left the entire samadhi land to the Vidyasundari Bangalore Nagarathnamma Trust and its representatives still perform the abhishekam to the Tyagaraja idol. And lastly, somewhere in Tiruvaiyaru, an orthodox shraddha for the saint is still done. Led by the nonagenarian Chellam Iyer, it is the last stand of the old Chinna Katchi. It is all an expression of devotion to Tyagaraja.

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 9:43:24 PM |

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