EDITORIAL FEATURES

The bhaktha who craved more bhakthi

devotion:The statues of Rama and Sathguru Thyagaraja at Sri Sathguru Thyagaraja Bhavanam in Srirangam.— file photo

devotion:The statues of Rama and Sathguru Thyagaraja at Sri Sathguru Thyagaraja Bhavanam in Srirangam.— file photo  

Many saints and holy men had strode this holy land and worked for people’s emancipation. One among such noble souls is Saint Thyagaraja. The holy connection is unmistakable: he was born in Tiruvarur (Pirakka Mukthi – one attains salvation when one is born here), he lived and attained mukti at the Panchanadhi Kshetra – Thiruvaiyaru – the land of five rivers – Cauvery (the holiest of all rivers), Arasalar, Vennar, Vadavar, and Kudamurutti. The temple here is Dakshina Kailasam.

Saint Thyagaraja’s Nadopasana (music with devotion) was legendary. He realised God through music. Music was his penance. Hence his songs brimmed with bhakthi. For him, music and bhakthi were synonymous. He was always thinking of, nay, living with Lord Rama. His lyrics radiate bhakthi and music. He is said to have sung about 24,000 songs out of which only 700 exist today. His songs were recorded by his sishyas on palm leaves, which perished in course of time.

Thyagaraja’s intense devotion could be understood from his songs. He feels that he did not get the darshan of the Lord because he was lacking in devotion. He begs for more bhakti and sings “Bakthi Bikshamiyave Sri Rama”. The Lord, moved by his plight, gave darshan. The song is a testimony to the saint composer’s dictum that even the most well sung song, which is devoid of devotion, is like jewels on a dead body.

Thyagaraja composed the first song “Namo Namo Raghavayya”at the tender age of 13. It is believed that Sri Thyagaraja was the incarnation of Sage Valmiki who gave us the great epic Ramayana and the ‘swara arnava rahasyam’ was passed on to him by Sage Narada. Hence, it is no wonder that he was a personification of Rama Bhakti and divine music.

He was a total devotee who was a simpleton at heart. He was so humble that he says he does not know bhakthi marga, getting up early, counting namas, japam but knew only chanting Rama’s name. This surrender was what endeared him to the Lord. He shuns hypocrisy. He says only those who have experienced His grace can understand bhakti. He felt that Lord Rama was always with him and hence he was a caring devotee of the Lord. When the king asked him to be his court vidwan he bluntly refused it by saying “Nidhi chaala Sukhama?” He wanted only “Rama bhakti samrajya” and nothing else. He did not sing for applause – he sang only to appease the omniscient Almighty. His compositions reveal what is bhakthi and what is not.

He classifies devotion as “Nava Vidha Bhakti – nine types of bhakti – Shravanam, Keerthanam, Smaranam, Paadhasevanam, Archanam, Vandhanam, Daasyam, Sakyam, and Athma Nivedhanam. In “Tappi bratiki” (Todi Varna) he explains bhakti as a means to keep one away from temptation and vices.

All his songs were sung extempore and that is his brilliance. He is an iconic figure in Carnatic music – an inspired composer who preached philosophy through music. Each song of his is unique, soulful, and shimmering with divine grace. The flow of lyrics, the treatment of each raga, melody, bhakti gave a haunting charm and mesmerised the listeners in a positive way. There was no empty rhetoric or cheap word play. In the gana raga pancharatnas he has set an example of systematic and scientific development of a raga. In the first among those gems ‘Jagadanandakaraka’ in raga Natta in mellifluous Sanskrit, the song contains 108 choicest names of Lord Rama. Such a gem of a song can be the product of the mind, heart, and soul immersed in the sea of devotion. It is unthinkable for ordinary mortals of the music world. The Lord Himself would rewind again and again and listen to the song sung on Him. It was the power of his devotion that brought Lord Rama’s idol that he worshipped, which was thrown into the river in a fit of rage by his brother, back to him. The same way, the screen moved aside and Lord Srinivasa gave darshan to him at Tirupati when he sang ‘Terate yegarada’ in Gowli pantu. Sri Thyagaraja’s nadopasana can be compared to a river. Just as the river springs from the mountain, flows across the land to make it fertile and joins the massive sea, his bhakti instantaneously sprang from his heart, flowed across in the form of music as an elixir to the parched minds and joined the sea of His grace. And at all points, the river is water – the same way the saint’s music portrays bhakti throughout.

His bhakti was selfless, blemishless, and borderless and hence his hymns have become timeless. His hymns are perennially contemporary because they seek to raise the level of thinking of people to a higher plane. In the current scenario of moral and cultural degradation, his songs are vehicles of change. His songs transcend generations because of the fact that there is no farce jugglery of words. We are able to relate with what he says because they are from a man who led a Spartan way of life. He was oblivious to the materialistic pleasures of the world. He was a living example of saranagathi, an epitome of bhakti.

His life shows us that bhakti gives us the will to surrender unto the Lord which paves the way for eternal peace giving us immense mental strength. It is up to us to know the value of our heritage and keep the cultural flag flying high.

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