Three factors are essential for any place to become a seat of fine arts and literature. They are: a fertile land, atmosphere conducive for a peaceful life and the presence of patrons and connoisseurs. Chozhamandalam, especially Thanjavur, fulfilled all of these requirements because of which arts and artistes flourished.
Thanjavur was indeed a blessed place. Successive Chola (850-1300 CE.), Nayaks (1535-1675 CE) and Maratha (1676-1855 CE) rulers were great connoisseurs of music and dance. Some of them were musicians and composers or authors themselves. Thanjavur led the whole music and dance scene for over 800 years. Many musical factors and theories, which are practised now, such as the 72 Melakarta scheme were contributions from Thanjavur. The Veena with 24 fixed frets and four playing strings was perfected in the court of Raghunatha Nayak (1600-1634), which is why it is called Thanjavur Veena or Raghunatha Nayaka Mela Veena (popularly known as Saraswati Veena in the North).
According to Prof. P. Sambamurthy, the period, 1750-1850 c.e. was a golden period for music all over the world. Beethoven, Mozart and the Carnatic Music Trinity — Tyagaraja (1767-1847), Muthuswami Dikshitar (1776-1835) and Syama Sastri (1762-1827) lived and made their mark in the field.
Tyagaraja lived and attained Samadhi in Tiruvaiyaru, 15 km from Thanjavur. His compositions were an outcome of his ultimate devotion, divine experience, musical talent and linguistic proficiency. A close observation of his compositions reveals that Tyagaraja often had deep conversations with Rama. There are simple ones for beginners as well as majestic pieces to be taken up as the main component of a concert. He could bring out the different shades of a raga skilfully. The sahitya are interesting and thought-provoking even as mere literature sans the music.
His serene life and high attainments in music attracted the attention of great scholars and musicians of his time. Contemporary greats, including Gopalakrishna Bharati, Tumu Narasimha Dasa (Telugu composer), Shatkaalam Govinda Marar (from Kerala) came to meet Tyagaraja. Syama Sastri is said to have met Tyagaraja often and exchanged views on music. He also put his son Subbaraya Sastri under Tyagaraja’s tutelage. Tyagaraja’s house was full of disciples, who observed and learnt his compositions and were preserving and propagating them — this being one of the most important reasons for them to be widespread and popular.
How was the music scene in Tiruvaiyaru before Tyagaraja? The earliest available music compositions are the Tevaram hymns. The bhakti movement started in Chola desa by the Tevarakaras in the seventh century, with the three-year-old child Tirugnanasambandar being the youngest composer in the world. The minstrels reached the masses directly by walking through the temples singing the glory of each of those deities. For them, music was a powerful vehicle to spread Bhakti. When others considered music as ‘Kaamauddheepanam,’ our composers considered it as ‘Mokshasadhanam.’ ‘Composer’ in fact is a misnomer. ‘Vaggeyakara’ would be a more appropriate term.
Tiruvaiyaru gets its name from the five rivers that enrich it — Arisilaaru, Vennaaru, Vettaaru, Kudamuruttiyaaru and Kaaviriyaaru. Padal Petra Sthalam, Sambandar has sung five hymns, Appar 13 and Sundarar 1 on the main deity of the Siva temple known by several names — Panchanatheswarar, Pranathaarthiharar, Jalpesar, Ayyaran and Semporchodhi Easwaran. His Consort is Dharmasamvardhani also called Aramvalarthanayaki and Tiripurasundari.Ayyaran.
Appar hails Ayyaran in his Tiruthaandagam (‘Osai Oliyelam’) as “Tiruvaiyaru Agalada Semporchodhi,” the red-golden flame that does not part with Tiruvaiyaru. ‘Kovil’ would mean Thillai (Chidambaram) for Saivites and Tiruvarangam for Vaishnavites. It is believed that the Flame of of all the temples would get merged with the Lord of Thillai after Ardhajaama puja, (the concluding ritual of the day) till daybreak barring Tiruvaiyaru, where the Jyothi does not merge with Thillai.
‘Pulan Aindhum” is a Tiruvaiyaru Hymn by Tirugnanasambandar — this is the only hymn among the available hymns which mentions music, dance and jathi, all in one padhigam. Sings Sambandar: “In Tiruvaiyaru, women sing songs, set to Pann Gandharam, to which the bejewelled dancers dance with the jatis — “Taam Teem,” thus ascending the stage in the beautiful street. Girls dance with the thunderous sound of the Muzhavu (percussion instrument). Assuming Muzhavu as thunder, a few female monkeys hurriedly climb up the trees and look fearfully at the sky.
When Tevaram met with a decline, it was Rajaraja-I (985-114 c.e.), who retrieved them from the locked chamber in Chidambaram Temple with the help of Nambiandar Nambi. With the help of a ‘Paadini’ (singer), a descendant of Tiruneelakanta Yazhpaanar, they tuned those hymns.
Ulagamadevi, the Queen Consort of Rajaraja I built a temple (1006 c.e.) on the northern side of the third Prakaram of the Tiruvaiyaru temple. It is called Vada Kailayam and Ulagamadevicharam. The name of the deity was Ulagamadevicharamudaiyar. Ulagamadevi appointed 32 dance girls for the service of the temple. It is well known that Rajaraja I recruited 400 dancers from different temples of his empire for the service of Brihadiswara temple. The list includes dancers from Tiruvaiyaru. The interesting part is that the first house in the southern wing of the south street is ‘Tiruvaiyaru Ulagamaha Devi Esvarathu Nakkan Chera Mangai.’
Rajaraja I appointed 48 Pidarars for singing Tevarams in the Brihadiswara temple. One among them is ‘Aiyaran Pennorbaganana Irudaya Sivan.’ During the 300 years of Nayak and Maratha rule, music and dance reigned supreme. Thanks to the generosity of the rulers, scholars and artistes thronged the Thanjavur court.
Yakshaganas of the Thanjavur Palace were a class by themselves. Bhagavatamela Natakas and Kuravanjis entertained the scholars and masses alike. The first Swarajati, Padavarna and Thillana, emerged from Mellatur. Krishna-Lila Tarangini, the longest dance drama in Sanskrit, was composed, choreographed and staged by Narayana Tirtha at Varahur. If the whole repertoire of Carnatic music is taken into account, the major contribution would be from Thanjavur.
Harikatha, a unique style of story telling evolved from the influence Kirtan tradition of Maharashtrian Kirtankars. While the entire Cauvery Delta reverberated with music and dance, there lived a Nada Yogi and Saintly composer Tyagaraja, singing the praise of Lord Rama and leading a pious life, making the place a sacred spot of music. His contribution is such that the history of music is studied as pre-Tyagaraja period and post Tyagaraja period. He is respected as Sathguru for his holistic approach to the art. He took Sanyasa Asrama a few days before attaining Samadhi.
On his Aradana day, Pushya Bahula Panchami day (today), musicians, rasikas and devotees assemble at the site in front of his Samadhi and pay musical homage. The dream of every musician is to pay Sangeetanjali to Sathguru seeking his blessings for their musical journey.
Tiruvaiyaru is a multi- faceted place. Nationalist, social reformer, freedom fighter, economist and journalist G. Subramania Iyer (1855-1916) founder of The Hindu was born and had his initial schooling at Tiruvaiyaru. His house (in picture) has been preserved. For 20 years from 1878-1898, he was the Editor of the paper. Then he was with Sudesamitran , a Tamil newspaper, he founded in 1882 and brought Subramania Bharati into it. Quit India Movement or the August Movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi on August 8, 1942, had its impact in Tiruvaiyaru. As many as 48 freedom fighters were arrested and sent to Alipore jail. Famous writer Ku. Rajavelu was one among them. One of the participants was poet S.D. Sundaram. Stalwarts such as Mahamahopadhyaya Kuppuswami Sastrigal, Mahamahopadhyaya P.S. Subramania Sastrigal (the first Ph.D., in Tamil) and Tamizh Kadal T.V. Gopalaiyer headed the renowned Rajah’s College of Sanskrit and Tamil Studies. According to Dr Ku. Murugesan, Ramakrishna Naidu of Tiruvaiyaru was the first to introduce Poikkal Kudirai and he made use of Kondalam, a percussion instrument from