"On whose art no human hand can improve"
Sri Tyagaraja, the most celebrated Carnatic Music saint was a great devotee of Lord Sri Rama. Tyagaraja lived to the full extent that God realization is best achieved through Nadopasana (music with devotion). His songs are filled with an intimate devotion to Rama, all through revealing his deep understanding of the tenets of the Vedas and Upanishads.
Saint Purandaradas is considered as the grandfather of Carnatic Music. Sri Tyagaraja, along with Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri are considered as the "Trinity of Carnatic Music." Sri Tyagaraja has composed more than 800 songs in his long devoted life to Lord Rama, most of them written in his Mother tongue Telegu, but a few in Sanskrit, including the masterpiece "Jagadanandakaraka" composed of 108 names describing Lord Rama's attributes. His songs are well loved in Tamil Nadu, the seat of South Indian (Carnatic) Music scholarship and performance.
The bulwark of a great culture, the Vijayanagara Empire, with all its glory, fell at the end of the 16th century. The invasion from the North brought in its wake new, though not always commendable, trends in living. Quite a few Hindu families had to flee to Southern areas which were still peaceful. Many found shelter under the benign rule of the Nayakas and the Maratha kings of Tamilnadu. Particularly, a number of Telugu families went South and formed nuclei of art and culture and Tyagaraja's ancestors belonged to one such stock, as he describes himself as descending from the Kakarla family (Kakarla is a village in the Kurnool District of Andhra).
Tiruvarur in the Tanjavur district of South India is a small hamlet; it is small in size, but has great sanctity hallowed by the memory of the three composers, the Trimoorty, of Karnatak music. In this village lived one Girija Kavi, a poet-composer attached to the Court of Tanjavur. His daughter and wife of Kakarla Ramabrahmam, Seetamma (Santamma?), gave birth to a son in the Hindu lunar year Sarvajit 27th Soma, on Chaitra Sukla Sapthami, the 7th day of the bright half of the Hindu month of Chaitra, under the Pushya nakshatram [star], that is on May 4, 1767. According to another tradition the year of his birth was 1759. The boy was named Tyagaraja, after Lord Tyagaraja, the presiding deity of Tiruvarur. In one of his songs, Tyagaraja sings, "Seetamma mayamma, Sri Ramudu ma tandri" - Seeta is my mother and Sri Rama my father - perhaps with a double meaning. The family was a pious Telugu-speaking smartha brahmin family of the vaidiki Mulukanadu sub-caste. They are said to have hailed from a village named Kakarla in the Prakasam district of present-day Andhra Pradesh, but had long been settled in Thiruvaiyaru in the Thanjavur district of present-day Tamil Nadu, which is the scene of the life and work of the great composer.
Ramabrahmam shifted to Tiruvayyaru, leaving Tiruvarur. The king of Tanjavur had gifted a house to him in this village and here Tyagaraja not only spent the major part of his life but also attained samadhi. Tiruvayyaru, on the bank of the Kaveri and known as Panchanada kshetra, was the abode of saints, poets and musicians; and of this place Tyagayya sings, "...the Panchanada 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".
Tyagaraja started his musical training under Sri Sonti Venkataramanayya at an early age. Tyagaraja regarded music as a way to experience the love of God. His objective while performing music was to repeat the name of God and contemplate on His Divine Pastimes, thereby reducing the vices of the mind, not to display his mastery over Raga and Tala. He had to struggle quite a bit to compose music in which Bhava, that is, emotion, was crowned. (He always felt that Bhava was not to be compromised for Raga and Tala). The legend goes that he was blessed by the divine sage Narada with great musical knowledge. He is said to have sung Sri Naarada Mouni, a song in praise of Narada, on this occasion.
As a 13-year-old, he composed Namo Namo Raghava in Desikathodi. Much later in life, his guru, Sonti Venkataramanayya, wanted to listen to Tyagaraja's new talent and invited him to perform at his house in Thanjavur. On that occasion, Tyagaraja presented Endaro Mahaanubhavulu, the fifth of the Pancharatna Krithis. Intensely pleased with Tyagaraja's song, Sonti Venkataramanayya told the king about the genius of Tyagaraja. The king sent an invitation, accompanied as was traditional with many rich gifts, to Thyagaraja, inviting him to grace the royal court. To the unworldly Tyagaraja, the prospect of wealth or fame was no incentive; he clearly had no inclination for a career life at court, which doubtless in that age, as in every other, entailed petty rivalries and jealousies. He rejected the kings invitation outright, composing another gem of a kriti, Nidhi Chala Sukhama on this occasion. Angered at his rejection of the royal offer, Tyagaraja's brother took revenge by throwing his idols of Rama Pattabhisheka in the nearby River Cauvery. Tyagaraja, unable to bear the separation with his Lord, made a pilgrimage to all the major temples in South India and composed many more songs in praise of the deities of those temple. He is said to have finally found the idols with the help of Rama himself. Tyagaraja attained Moksha on a Vaikunta Ekadasi.
A life which steadfastly was uncompromising was not at all to the liking of his elder brother, Japesa, to put it mildly. Japesa fondly hoped that the great art and learning of his younger brother could be put to pecuniary uses, which the saint would not agree to. In desperation, the brother not only partitioned the ancestral house but went to the extent of throwing the Rama idol which Tyagayya worshipped into the river. The sorrow of the devotee cannot even be imagined. Many a song he sang begging the Lord to come back to him. In a dream he is told where to find the idol and his life becomes full.
Honours and wealth could have been his, if only he had asked for them; but he would not ask. He spurned an invitation of the King and sang, "Is wealth (nidhi) the source of happiness or is the proximity (sannidhi) of Rama?" Tyagabrahma undertook an extensive pilgrimage of the sacred places of South India. Wherever he went he sang of the deity of the place. There is the famous incident of his visit to the Venkateswara temple at Tirupati. He goes into the temple to have darsan (vision) of the Lord; but the entrance of the sanctum sanctorum is covered with a curtain which prevents him from seeing the idol. The priests refuse to part the curtain. In great sorrow he sings, "Will you not remove the curtain?" ...and characteristically adds, "the curtain of vanity and jealousy in my mind". The curtain miraculously slides aside by itself and he is face to face with Him.
Tyagaraja was married at a young age to a lady named Parvatamma, who died shortly afterwards without surviving issue. Thyagaraja was then wed to Kamalamba, by whom he had a daughter named Seethalakshmi, who was wed in due course to a gentleman by name Kuppuswamy. Seetalakshmi's only child, also named Tyagaraja, died at a young age; with that, the line of direct descent from Tyagaraja came to an end. Thyagaraja had an elder brother, Japyesa, whose descendents still abide in the same area of Tamil Nadu. Japyesa is often made the villain in stories about Tyagaraja, in the role of the brother who could not understand Tyagaraja's devotion to Sri Rama, a characterization that smacks of caricature and may well be inaccurate. Thyagaraja attained release from the material world on Pushya Bahula Panchami, the fifth day of the dark half of the month of Pushya, in the Hindu lunar year Prabhaava (January 6, 1847).
Having composed an innumerable number of keerthanas (songs) that explored all the possibilities within the rules of the Carnatic music tradition, Tyagaraja is truly regarded as the cornerstone of Carnatic music. To this day, a commemorative music festival called the Tyagaraja Aaradhana is held at Thiruvaiyaru in the months of January to February every year. In the US, there is a Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhana held in Cleveland, Ohio every April. There is also a Chicago Thyagaraja Utsavam. Usually, dozens of Carnatic musicians preside and perform in this festival. With the large influx of Indians in the United States in the late 20th and early 21st century, many other cities in the USA with large Telugu/Tamil/Kannada populations now regularly hold the Tyagaraja Aradhana festivals every year.
"Jagadanandakaraka' - Omkara panjarakira"
"O Rama! Parrot residing in the cage of Pranava sound- AUM
Your varied forms are Siva, Brahma and Vishnu
You destroyed the demon Ravana, the father of Indrajit
O compassionate, You are the beloved of Crescencrested Siva
You protect those seek refuge in You and delight those with good minds
O Changeless One! You are the essence of Vedas !"
"Jagadanandakaraka' - Purana purusa nruvaratma"
"O! Primordial Person, yuvaraja, dear to those who love You
Demon destroyer of Khara, Viradha and Ravana
One who bewildered the pure sage Parasurama
O! Changeless Rama, adored by Tyagaraja
Cause of the bliss of Cosmos! Jai! Janaki's Life-breath!"
"O! Greatest of the Raghu race!
Can't You come and confer Your grace on me,
knowing fully my sorrow of separation from seeing Your nectar, smiling face?
O! Lord who held Govardan mountain with your finger tip!
O! Supreme Soul who guard the universe!
To whom else can I plead
Don't be averse to me. I cannot bear it.
Accept me, You who are worshipped by Tyagaraja."
"Namo Namo Raghavaya - Desikatodi raga"
"Glory be to Rama forever! glory to be Raghava!
The teacher of Wishing Tree of faithful creatures, Brahma, Siva and all gods
Protector of Gajentra, the elephant king
Lord whom Tyagaraja is always worshiping
Glory, glory to Rama, forever glory to Raghava!"
"What more do you want, O Mind !
Why are you not happy? When the Lord of the Universe has rested in your heart?
what more do you want, O Mind?"