Harikatha on the saint composer

A view of Tiyagaraja's home at Tiruvaiyaru, Thanjavur Photo: B. Velankanni Raj   | Photo Credit: B_VELANKANNI RAJ

For generations, musicians have conjectured everything from effortless, spontaneous outpourings to mystic compositions as accounting for Tyagaraja's sainthood, whereas the simplest and most valid reason is often overlooked by many. It is the emphasis on bhakti that has conferred on him, the sainthood. We have heard of many bhaktas from Puranas such as Prahlada, Dhruva, Anjaneya, Vibheeshana, Uddhava, and, further down the line, the Azhwars and Nayanmars. But the last and latest in this great line of bhaktas is Tyagaraja. Compositions of great saints, referred to as ‘Anubhava Pareevaha' in our system are not premeditated, and a fluent display of sublime bhava. It is this fact that clearly distinguishes such saintly compositions from ordinary ones ( Srama Kavi), since the former exudes many a fragrance, be it the sangeeta bhava, i.e., the music embedded in them or the sahitya bhava, i.e. the lofty thoughts enshrined in the lyrics or the symbiosis and synergy of both.

Here's a harikatha exponent Tiruvali Tirunagari Embar R. Kasturi who has taken pride in recreating the story of Tyagaraja through his harikatha performances and the focus of his discourses is mainly Tyagaraja's bhakti. The life of the saint composer has been fully documented by him in such a way that he is now most sought-after by people who wish to know about the glorious and religious events in Tyagaraja's life. Like the water that gushes out once the Mettur Dam's sluices are opened, emotions pour out of him in the form of songs and timely narrations, once Tyagaraja's name is mentioned.

Embar Kasturi says, "We are astonished to experience the telling influence of Tyagaraja kritis through centuries. These kritis have trickled down to us, after squashing the various tests imposed on them by the factor called time, the tests being their capacity to move the lay listener, their capacity to engage an intelligent musician, their capacity to lift up the status of the concert, their capacity to engage the sahitya lovers, their capacity to satiate the analytical minds of musicologists and so on. These are the qualities that abound in these kritis and thus when a piece such as Nagumomu (Abheri), Yochana (Darbar) or Endaromahanubhavulu (Sri) is performed as a concert opener, the faces in the audience become radiant and a good performance lifts them to the heights of satvika ananda, that is, unalloyed aesthetic musical bliss and fervour, in sharp contrast to the cheap tunes available in abundance today which are successful in kindling the baser instinct of the listeners.

Tyagaraja, a nadayogi

According to Embar Kasturi, experiencing the Absolute as absolute music or nada is what a nadayogi does. Tyagaraja was one such nadayogi in recent times. In Swararagasudha, Tyagaraja says mooladharaja nadamaerugutae mudamagu mokshamura, that is, to experience the nada that emanates from the mooladhara of our body itself is equal to experiencing mokshananda. In another kriti, he puts forth his experience, that how the sound that permeates the entire universe is audible to a nadayogi and how it manifests and emanates from ones body — prana anala samyogamu valena pranava nadamu saptaswaramulai paraga. These are subjects which require deep research. Embar Kasturi says, musicians who feel that it is the tune or raga that matters most to them should think twice before saying so, since a great worshipper of absolute music like Tyagaraja, has himself put forth his ideas and experience only through sahitya without which no one can understand what his experience was.

The poet

Tyagaraja has composed in Telugu and Sanskrit and the standards of the language he has used is contextual.

Many of his kritis are in simple language that was in vogue in the households of educated people in those days. In some kritis, he has used colloquial dialect like ‘Harami', ‘Gangasagaram' which are used in many villages in and around Tanjavur including Tiruvali Tirunagari, Embar Kasturi's native village.

Tyagaraja and sangatis

Developing a musical phrase by apt additions to it successively and building it up to a finale — that is how sangatis are developed. Tyagaraja's kritis form the resource structure for this beauty. The unique and greatness in his usage of sangatis is that, with them he could cull out the raga bhava and sahitya bhava simultaneously. We are left wondering whether the raga phrases and the sahitya phrases (lyrics) stood in a queue before him and begged that they may be used as and when he may deem fit.

For instance, in Ksheera sagarasayana in Devagandhari, the first sangati clearly depicts the placid depths of the deep and calm sea where the Lord rests in his serpent bed.

The successive sangatis depict the vast expanse of the sea and the last sangati clearly depicts the waves of the sea lashing on its shores with gay and gusto. That Tyagaraja may have had this idea in mind is perhaps proved by the fact that his other kritis in the same raga are not given this type of treatment to the sangati development. All his kritis teem with such beauty.

Depth of his sahitya

To assimilate the full import of his sahitya, a mere knowledge of Telugu and Sanskrit is insufficient. That he was an "Ekasanta Grahi" (anything heard or read once never went off his memory) and master of Vedic lore and many shastras is very well known. Hence, it is but natural that all his kritis are a veritable storehouse of shastras, for he had experienced the truth enshrined in the shastras and expressed them as his own experience and hence one will have not done full justice to interpreting his kritis without the shastra-ic background. For instance, consider "Jagadanandakaraka". It literally means bestower of ananda or bliss to the entire world, which is the literal translation of the word ‘Rama'. The next phrase jaya janaki prana nakyaka proves this. The anupallavi says Gaganadhipa — Suyra or Sun, sadkulaja rajarajaeshwara — emperor of the solar dynasty. This is the straight, literal meaning of these lines. If you can read between the lines the word "Jagadanandakaraka" is a rare synonym for “Rama” and he had used it in this kriti for more reasons than one. This composition talks about the mikka irai nilai of the Arthapanchaka that is the Supreme Godhead about Whom every sentient being should know and the line that follows depicts the five states of Godhead as known from the Shastras,

Jagat – Antaryami state (His micropresence in every sentient being and insentient object);

"Jagatkaraka" - Vyuha state (the Ksheera Sagara or the milky ocean wherefrom He creates and sustains the entire universe.);

Janaki prana nayaka - Vibhava state (His descent as Rama, Nrisimha, Krishna and so on);

"Anandakaraka" – Para state (His abode of celestial bliss to which even devas have no access, Paramapadam as extolled by Vedas).

Thus in the pallavi, the four states Param, Vyuham, Vibhavam, Antaryami are mystically expressed. In the anupallavi, we have Gaganadhipa sadkulajarajaraja — Rama. "Iswara" — Lord of Rama who is none other than Ranganatha — the Archa State of Godhead as extolled by Vedic lore.

Embar Kasturi ends his discourse saying that we need to discuss days together if we have to talk about his Purnalalita or Chandrajyoti and many other such ragas that he has created and immortalised.

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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 9:09:36 PM |

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