Monday, January 17, 2011

Tyagara! Ramaraja!!

Am happy to present the article “Tyagaraja! Ramaraja” as part of the “Endaro Mahanubavulu” Series of articles. In fact the name is coined from the very composition of “Tyagaraja” himself. This article is a tribute to the great Saint and is being brought out to commemorate his aradhana celebrations. Tyagaraja attained mukti on Pushya Bahula Panchami as per the Hindu calendar which falls on 24th January this year. When I thought of naming the article the first thought that came to my mind was the non-paralleled “Rama Bhakti” of Tyagaraja.

One can feel the Rama Bhakti in each and every song of the Saint. He ate, lived and breathed the divine naama called Rama. For anything and everything Tyagaraja goes to Rama and appeals to him. One can appreciate his Rama Bhakti even if one gives a cursory reading of his compositions. It is for this reason the article is so titled, since Rama surrenders to the Bhakti of Tyagaraja.

The Saint lived in mortal form from circa 1767 to 1847 for a period of 80 years. These 80 years are the Golden period for Carnatic Music world as his compositions were melted and poured out from his heart. There were many composers before and after Tyagaraja but it is Tyagaraja alone who rules the heart of the Carnatic Musicians. The reason is the divinity which is so rampant in his compositions. Even a layman who knows nothing about carnatic music will be transported to a different world if he listens it for a short while.

This explains why even the Rickshaw pullers of Chennai listened to carnatic music concerts especially during the December Season during yester years. However due to influence of film music people are not much able to appreciate what quality music is. The life for any film music is short which lasts only till the next album gets released.

However the songs composed by Tyagaraja are sung even today in the concert halls which can help you to decide the quality of these songs. Everyone pay their homage to the Saint not because he was a King nor a millionaire, but just because he poured out his copious Bhakti towards Rama throughout his compositions.

When I started collating vital information about Tyagaraja I realized am attempting to find the depth of a bottomless ocean. Then I decided that I need to write plenty of articles on Tyagaraja to bring to fore some important facets of his life. This article is one such attempt and many more will be written by his divine grace and blessings.

I am thrilled to share that I recently met Sri Chellam Iyer [I am herewith attaching a separate article about Sri Iyer] who is the managing trustee of Sadguru Sri Thyagabrahma Aradhana Kainkarya Trust. The trust carries out the annual aradhana celebration at Thiruvayyaru. [Please read on the additional article attached for more details of the trust]

I hereby sincerely thank Sri (Major) V. Venkat Narayanan for going through the article, making necessary corrections, adding valuable inputs and made this article to embellish.

Please read to know more about the bard of Thiruvayyaru.
Happy Reading!
Warm Regards,

A.V. Devan
January 17, 2011

Tyagaraja! Ramaraja!! (Biography of Saint Tyagaraja)

Noble Family Lineage

The wall of great culture, the Vijayanagara Empire fell at the end of the 16th Century due to invasion of Deccan Sultanates. Lots of Hindu families migrated to southern areas which were still peaceful. Many took shelter under the rule of Nayaks and Maratha Kings of Tamilnadu. Thus the ancestors of Saint Tyagarja who were Vaidiga Brahmins of the Muriginadu sect belonging to Kakarla family (Kakarla is a village in Kurnool District of Andhra Pradesh) migrated to Tamilnadu in the early 17th Century. Tyagaraja’s great grandfather Panchanada Brahmam had five sons. Panchanada Brahmam also had five sons and the last son was Giriraja Brahmam. Giriraja Brahmam was a Vaageyakara (Music Composer and singer) in the Tanjore Court of Shahaji King (1684-1711). He had composed Yakshagana in Sanskrit and Telugu languages. Giriraja Brahmam had five sons and one among them was Rama Brahmam. Rama Brahmam was a great scholar of Vedas, Sastras and Puranas. Every day he systematically performed devotional reading of Sri Ramayana. He was patronized by the King of Tanjore and engaged himself in spiritual activities in the royal court. He also gave discourses on Ramayana.
Tiruvarur is one of the oldest towns which has been popular as cultural head quarters for many centuries. This ancient town in Chola heartland is famous for its Sri Tyagaraja temple, (the temple here is dedicated to Lord Shiva as Somaskanda) as well as the annual chariot festival held in the month of April. Tiruvarur also happens to be the birth place of Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri, popularly known as the Trinity of Carnatic music.

Rama Brahmam was married to Seethamma the daughter of the asthana vidwan of Tanjore Court, Sri Veena Kalahastayya. They were blessed with three sons. The last son was named after the presiding deity of Tiruvarur as Tyagaraja. Tyagaraja was born at Tiruvarur, in the year Sarvajit, Sukla Saptami, 27th Monday, Chaitra (Chithirai) month, Pushya Star, which corresponds to Monday, the 4th May 1767. In one of his songs, Tyagaraja says, "Seetamma mayamma, Sri Ramudu ma tandri" - Seeta is my mother and Sri Rama my father - perhaps with a double meaning.

The King of Tanjore gave the family some lands and a house in Thiruvaiyaru near Thanjavur. Tiruvayyaru, which was on the banks of the river Kaveri was known as Panchanadi kshetra, i.e. the place where five rivers met. The rest of the rivers were Vadavaaru, Vennaaru, Vettaaru and kudamurutti and it was the abode of saints, poets and musicians; and of this place Tyagayya sings, "the Panchanadi kshetra in the beautiful Chola country, nestling on the banks of the Kaveri over which blows the gentle zephyr where holy brahmins chant the vedas...a town to be coveted even by Lord Siva". Soon after Tyagaraja’s birth, the family shifted to Thiruvaiyaru. Tyagaraja studied in the Sanskrit School at Tiruvayarru. Tyagaraja was then initiated with Upanayana at the age of eight. He then completed the study of Sanskrit and Telugu and mastered Valmiki Ramayanam and other religious texts.

Musical Career

Tyagaraja’s musical beginnings started at home from his mother Sitamma being the daughter of Veena Kalahasthi Iyer, a noted Veena player of Tanjore Court. She was a singer and knew many Purandara Dasa Kritis and taught all the kritis to her son. Tyagaraja was thus introduced to the Sangita Pitamaha, Purandara Dasa at a very early age and worshipped him as his Adiguru.
Rama Brahmam noticed the interest of Tyagaraja in music and he placed him under the tutelage of the court musician Sonti Venkataramanayya at the age of sixteen. This training was only for a brief period. After that he was on his own perfecting the technique by immersing himself in the study of musicology from various treatises. From the age of seventeen he started singing small kritis. He later showed a flair for composing music and while in his teens composed his first song “Namo Namo Raghavaya” in raga Desikatodi and inscribed it on the walls of the house. It is said Tyagaraja got rare Musical books such as Sangeetha Ratnakaram, Naradeeyam and Swararnavam from his Grand Father Giriraja Kavi. Tyagaraja used to compose kritis when his father used to perfrom aradhana for the Lord in their house. Later Rama Brahmam made Tyagaraja to sing in front of erudite pundits at Thiruvayyar. Tyagaraja has paid his tributes to sage Narada after reading Naradeeyam. His composisitions “Sri Naradha” and “Vara Naradha” bear testimony for this.


In 1784, when he was 18 years, he married Parvathi. In 1787, when Thyagaraja was 21 his father Ramabrahmam passed away. In 1787 at the age of 21, he got spiritual initiation into "Rama Shadakshari" mantra from a saint called Ramakrishnananda. In 1789, when he was 23 years old, his wife, Parvathi passed away. He married her sister Kamala in 1790. He had a daughter called Seethalakshmi.

Maiden Concert?!

Tyagaraja’s Musical Guru Sonti Venkata Ramanayya after witnessing his prowess at composing and singing, requested him to sing in the assembly of musicians at Tiruvayyaru. Thus his maiden concert (Arangetram) took place in 1802 and Tyagaraja sung “Dorakuna Ituvanti” his own masterpiece in Bilahari Raga to the elite audience who got enthralled by the magical composition of Tyagaraja. The song starts by asking, 'It is possible to get darshan of Hari?'. It said that at the end of the recital the guru, was overwhelmed with emotion at his shishya’s performance. Sonti Venkata Ramanayya then gifted various jewels which he had received from Tanjore Court to Tyagaraja. He then took Tyagaraja to his father Sonti Venkata Subbaya in Tanjore where he sang the piece “Mari Mari Ninne Moraliddu” in Kambhoji raga for nearly eight hours. The musicians and guests assembled there were lost in a trance and they were so mesmerized that they could not even attend their daily imperial duties.

Rama Stuti better than Narastuti

Thayagara’s fame as a composer of music was spreading fast. On hearing about him, King Sarabhoji II invited Thyagaraja to the palace and requested him to sing before him. He also offered him the enviable position of Samasthana Vidwan at the durbar. But Thyagaraja, who was very clear about his mission in life, refused and declined the offer. The Kalyanai raga composition “Nidhi Chala Sukama” clearly conveys the mood of Tyagaraja. In this song he states clearly that worshipping Lord Rama only will bestow happiness and not amassing material wealth. Singing the glories of the Lord is tastier than milk, curd and butter. Controlling one’s senses is like taking a dip in holy Ganges whereas engaging oneself in material pleasures is like taking a bath in a small well. In the concluding Charanam he says singing the glories of Lord Rama is better than praising an egoistic man. Nidhi Chala Sukama song clearly exposes the mind of Tyagaraja that he is not interested in accumulating wealth by praising Kings and that he would prefer to and be happier in singing the glories of the Lord from his home itself.
This attitude of Tyagaraja was not relished by his elder brother Panchapakesa or Japesa who was keen on exploiting his talent for material benefits - for which Tyagaraja was not interested. In desperation his elder brother not only partitioned the ancestral house but even went to the extent of throwing the Rama idol which Tyagaraja was worshipping, into the river Kaveri. In many of the compositions of Tyagaraja he requests Rama to return to his home. It was said that he had a dream in which the exact location of idol was indicated and he was in tears when he found the idol and composed many songs on Rama.

Walajapet Venkatramana Bhagavatar

In 1804 at his age of 37 he lost his mother Seethamma. Tyagaraja had a devoted disciple in Walajapet Venkatramana Bhagavatar. He was instrumental in recording the numerous compositions of Tyagaraja in palm leaves for posterity. He served his Guru with great devotion for 26 years and earned his appreciation and blessings which is evidenced by the kritis of Tyagaraja. In 1810, Tyagaraja’s daughter Seethalakshmi was given in Marriage to Kuppuswami. On the eve of the marriage, he brought a portrait of Kothanda Rama, by carrying it on his head. Upon seeing this Tyagaraja composed “Nanu Palimpa” in Mohana Raga. In this composition he asks “knowing my heart, knowing that my life’s purpose is to gaze at your lotus eyed face, you have come walking all the way to take care of me Oh my Lord. Your body is shining like a blue sapphire and you are adorned with a number of pearl garlands on your chest. You are shining with bow and arrow in your arms. You have come with Goddess Sita, the daughter of the Earth. You are the Lord of Tyagaraja.”

Pilgrimage of Tyagaraja


Tyagaraja then embarked on a pilgrimage and visited many temples. There is a story behind Tyagaraja’s visti to Tirupathi in the year 1830. Tyagaraja was actually invited to Madras by a wealthy patron of music but he refused, as usual. The rich man then approached Kanchipuram based Upanishad Brahmam, a noble sannyasi and a great devotee of Rama and sought his help. As Upanishad Brahmam was a friend of Tyagaraja’s father and having heard of the talents of his friend’s son, wanted to see him. So he sent an invitation to Tyagaraja, inviting him to Kancheepuram. This formal invitation, known as srimukham, exists to this day along with some of Tyagaraja’s compositions and writings on palm leaf in the Saurashtra Sabha in the temple city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Tyagaraja then decided that he would go to Tirupathi and return via Kancheepuram to see Upanishad Brahmam. In Tirupathi, Tyagaraja entered the sanctum sanctorum of the temple but it so happened that at that time the curtain was drawn, hiding the idol. It is a tradition in Hindu temples in South India that when the idol is being decorated, the curtain will be drawn. And when Tyagaraja saw the curtain, he sang a moving piece, Tera teeyaga raada in Goulipantu Raga asking: “When will this curtain come down? O Lord, I have come all the way to have Your Darshan and You are behind a curtain! Will You not please make the curtain fall so that I can see You?”. Later when the curtain was removed and upon having the darshan of the Lord Tyagaraja sang “Venkatesa Ninu Sevimpa” in Madhyamavati Raga.

Chennapuri (Chennai)

From Tirupathi, Tyagaraja then reached Chennai. In Chennai he stayed in the house of one Kovur Sundaresa Mudali, a patron of Carnatic Music. The house was located in Bunder Street in George Town. Later, upon his request Tyagaraja visited Kovur (Sundaresa Mudali’s native village) and sang five songs in praise of the Lord Sundaresa (Shiva) the presiding deity of the temple. These five songs are known as Kovur Pancharatnam. Tyagaraja also visited Tiruvotiryur and stayed in Sri Veena Kuppaiyer’s house and composed five songs on Devi Tripurasundari which are known as Tiruvotiryur Pancharatnam. It is said during his return, while he was passing through forests, some robbers tried to rob the party. Tyagaraja then prayed to Rama. Thanks to divine grace, the robbers were attacked by some hunters who came from nowhere. It was the belief of Tyagaraja and his disciples that it was none other than Rama and Lakshmana who had come to protect them in the disguise of hunters. Later Tyagaraja composed “Mundu Venuka” in Darbar Raga requesting Rama for protection. Tyagaraja then visited Kancheepuram to meet Upanishad Brahmam and sang on Lord Varadaraja. He also composed songs on Goddess Kamakshi. Kanchi Paramacharya had said that while passing through the Vinayaka sannadhi inside Kamakshi temple, he requested Mother Kamakshi to protect him the same way she protects her son Vinayaka.


One of Tyagaraja’s disciples was Ramayyar from Lalgudi who was later associated with the Mysore Court and greatly honoured. Tyagaraja visited Lalgudi village at his invitation and composed five songs on the deities there. These are today called as Lalgudi Pancharatnam. The descendants of Ramayyar have kept the tradition alive and Sri Lalgudi G. Jayaraman belongs to this illustrious lineage.


Tyagaraja once visited Srirangam. It was festival time in the month of Chaitra (Chithirai) and

Lord Ranganatha was taken in procession on a golden horse mount. Tyagaraja was caught in the milling crowd at the corner of South and West Chitira Streets and could not go near the Lord. He composed “Raju Vedale Jutamu Rare Kasturi Ranga” in Thodi raga describing the glory of Srirangam and the beauty of the Lord in the procession. Shortly thereafter the bearers of the mount on which the Lord was seated could not move further. All efforts to move the procession by bringing dancing damsels to perform proved futile. One of the priests went into a trance and said the Lord will move further only if his devotee who got stranded in the crowd was brought near the mount. Later, Tyagaraja was brought to the scene and offered the prasadam. He then sang, “Vina rada na manavi” in Devagandhari Raga in which he appealed to the Lord to grant the desire of the dancers and the devotees. Suddenly the mount bearers were energized and the procession started moving. Tyagaraja was later taken inside the sanctum sanctorum of Srirangam and upon seeing the Lord he burst into ecstasy and sang his immortal kriti “O Ranga Sayee” in Kambhoji Raga. Later he composed three more Kritis which are now called as

Sriranga Pancharatnam.

Gana Raga Pancharatna Kritis
“Pancha” in Sanskrit means five and “Ratna” means gem and every song of Tyagaraja is a gem in its own right. Pancharatna kritis are a set of five kritis which are popularly referred as “Pancharatna Kritis” or “Ghana Raga Pancharatnam” as they are in five major Ghana Ragas. These kritis have incredible depth and spectacular musical beauty. These kritis which are in praise of his beloved deity, Lord Ramachandra are long and extremely skilful musical compositions. They are set in the style of Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi with the Charanas substituting for the Kalpana Swaras i.e. improvisatory passages in the Pallavi section of the RTP. The Pancharatna kritis consist of the following compositions :

1. Jagada-ananda-karaka – Raga – Natta
2. Duduku-gala – Raga – Gaula
3. Sadhinchane – Raga – Arabhi
4. Kanakana-ruchira – Raga – Varali
5. Endaro-mahanubhavulu – Raga - Sri

As a token of respect the musicians pay homage to the Saint on his aradhana day and sing the Pancharatna Kritis on Pusha Bahula Panchami at Thiruvayyaru. Apart from thousands of songs of kriti type, he composed Utsava Sampradaya Keertanas and Divya nama sankeertanas which are sung in devotional congregations. He has also created two operas, Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam and Nauka charitram. While there are a number of songs in Sanskrit, the majority of them, including the operas, are in Telugu. Tyagaraja's literary genius was as great as his musical genius. His command over Telugu and Sanskrit lent not only a sublime and erudite dignity to his songs but also gave a rare felicity and homeliness to his diction.

Attainment of Siddhi

Tyagaraja was constantly chanting the Rama Sadakshari Mantra for over 21 years. When he completed the chanting of 96 crores of Rama Nama, he got the divine vision of Lord Rama at the age of 42 while being in his home at Thirumanchana Veedhi, Tiruvayyaru. It is said he had a strange dream wherein Lord Rama appeared and informed him that he will attain moksha after ten days. Tyagaraja revealed this to his disciples and relatives during the ‘Ekadasi Bhajan’. The saint took Sanyasa order on 5th January 1847 and attained Sidhi on the Pushya Bahula Panchami which corresponds to 6th January 1847. A Brindhavan was built on the bank of the river Kaveri at Thiruvayyaru with a honor and religious rites befitting sanyasi and a Thulasi was also planted.

There was not a moment of his life which was not filled with Rama. His songs sing of Rama as a friend, a master, a father, or anything he could conceive of. Hearing Rama's name was "like inheriting a large kingdom" to Tyagaraja. This complete surrender naturally made him live a life of detachment, though he was a house holder. The first and foremost result was that he refused to earn a livelihood. He had a house to live in and that was enough shelter. For food, every morning he would go round the village asking for alms - unchavritti, as it is called; and he would not gather alms more than his daily need. In simple words he is the epitome of bhakthi and nothing but bhakti personified. Let’s worship the divine feet of Tyagaraja so that we too can receive an inkling of his bhakti.


Sri Chellam Iyer who carry out the aradhana celebration at Tiruvayyaru. (

Major Sri V. Venkata Narayanan for making necessary corrections, adding valuable inputs and making this article embellish.

Sadguru Sri Tyagaraja Keerthanaigal – Sri A.K. Gopalan
Tyagaraja – The exemplary poet saint –
Biography of Tyagaraja –
Tyagaraja –
Tyagaraja – Wikipedia

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தி. ரா. ச.(T.R.C.) said...

good site. useful information about Saint thiyagaraja

Saravanan said...

Just a wonderful piece on Sri Thyagaraja!!
No words to express.