This is the story of a Carnatic Music composer who becomes a saint.
The life history of Tyagaraja explicitly shows how one can attain moksha through nadopasana.
Saint Tyagaraja was born on May 4, 1767, in Tamil Nadu. His parents names were Sitamma and Kakarla Ramabrahma. They had three sons, of whom Tyaga Brahmam was the third. Panchanada Brahmam and Panchapakesha Brahmam were Tyagaraja’s older brothers. The eldest son of Rama Brahmam, Panchanatha Brahmam was also called as Japyesa, after the name of the deity at Thiruvaiyaru.
Tyagaraja’s maternal grandfather was Kalahastayya. He was a Veena player. Tyagaraja learned to play Veena in his childhood from Kalahastayya. He studied under the great Sonti Venkataramanayya who was a great scholar himself.
During childhood at the early age of five, he became well versed with RamayanaIndian Epic. Lord Rama had already made way into his heart. Tyagaraja proved to be a child prodigy by composing songs at an early age of 10. As a 13-year-old, he composed Namo Namo Raghava in Desikathodi.
Nidhi Chala Sukhama
Tyagaraja, one of the Trinity of Carnatic Music, was not an outgoing person.
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 king’s 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. Japesa threw out the idol of Rama that Tyagaraja worshiped into the river. This was a heartbreaking incident for Tyagaraja. . When he lost the idol, he sang sadly “Endu daagi naado,” Where has He gone and hidden Himself?
His agony led to the composition of several songs, requesting Rama to come back to him. Lord Rama appeared in a dream to him and told him where he could find the idol. He got it back after 3 months
Rama Darshan – The most beautiful experience
Once a sage named Haridas asked him to recite the name of Rama 960 million times. After doing so, Tyaagaraaja went to offer his prayer when he heard a knock on his door. Rama, Seeta, and Hanumaan were entering his prayer room and he was blessed to see the coronation of Rama. Moved with wonder and devotion, he sang “Baalakanagamaya” (the anupallavi of the kritis “Ela nee dayaraadhu” and “Bhavanuta”).
In 1810, his daughter was married, and his disciple Walajapettai Vekataramana Bhaagavatar brought a picture of Rama, walking all the way from WalajapeTTai to Tiruvaiyaar. Tyagaraja sang “Nannu paalimpa,” overwhelmed by this act.
Once Tyagaraja visited Tirupati, but when he went to the temple, it was closed. In sadness, he sang “Teratiyagaraadaa” and the temple officials gathered round in admiration when they saw the door opening by itself and the screen falling aside. He sang “VenkaTEsha ninu sEvimpa” in his happiness at seeing the Lord.
As Tyagaraja grew older he went around to many temples to praise and worship Rama (a form of Vishnu) and creating songs of praise. Tyagaraja composed krithis which are still used in Carnatic music today.
Carnatic Music for Sri Tyagaraja was not mere Sangeetha-sadhan; but was Moksha-sadhana, the path to liberation. His pursuit of Nadopasana was for the realization of Nada-Brahman who is none other than the Absolute Reality, the Para- Brahman. Sri Tyagaraja, in the heart of heart, worshiped Ista-devata Sri Rama as the Supreme deity, Para-Brahman. Sri Tyagaraja devoted his entire life for the worship of Sri Rama and of Nada (Nadopasana) –Music.
In other songs; he explains how Music is indeed the expression of the primordial Nada; how music originates in mind and body; and, how music should be presented. According to him, enjoying music is Sukhanubhava – a tranquil delight.
Some of the well known Kritis of that genre are :
- Nada loludai (Kalyana Vasantham),
- Nadopasanache (Begada),
- Nada Tanum (Chittaranjani),
- Nada Sudha Rasam (Arabhi),
- Swara Raga Sudha (Sankarabharanam),
- Vidulaku Mrokkeda (Mayalawagowla),
- Raga sudha rasa(Andolika),
- Samaja Varagamana (Hindolam),
- Mokshamu Galada (Saramati) and
- Vararagalaya (Chenchukambhoji).
The period between 1785 and 1791 was eventful in the life of Tyagaraja. The year 1785 was also distressful for the region of Tanjavuru when it was affected by severe famine and political disorder. When Tyagaraja was eighteen years old (1785), he was married to Parvathi. And, when he was twenty years (1787) his father Ramabrahmam expired. When he was twenty- three (1790), his wife Parvathi passed away. A year later (1791), Tyagaraja married Parvathi’s sister Kamalamba.
As regards the other tragic events in Tyagaraja’s life; his mother Seethamma passed away in 1804; his brother Japyesa in 1812; and his wife Kamalamba in 1845 (when Tyagaraja was about 78).
Tyagaraja had only one daughter, Seetha-maha- lakshmi; and she was married (in 1810) to one Kuppuswamy Shastri of Ammal Agraharam. She had a son who was given his grandfather’s name – Tyagaraja. He, later, was married to one Gurvammal; but, died rather early in his life (30?), childless. With that, there the direct line of Tyagaraja ended.
According to one version; he was initiated into Sanyasa-ashrama by Sri Brahmananda Swami who offered him ochre robes (kashaya vastra) and re-named him as Nadabrahmananda. He says in one of the most moving songs, “Unerringly I saw Sri Rama installed on the hill…Thrilled with ecstasy, with tears of joy, I tried to speak. He promised to bless me in five days.” In five days, Tyagaraja attained “Samadhi”.
A day after he took Sanyasa, that is on 6 January 1847, Wednesday (?), on Pushya Bahula Panchami in Prabhava-nama–samvathsara, seated on the banks of Cauvery at Thiruvaiyaru, Sri Tyagaraja reached Brahmi-bhava and attained Samadhi, merging with Para-Brahman.
With thousands of devotional musical pieces that Tyagaraja composed, it would not be an exaggeration to state that he was a musical genius who laid down the foundation of Carnatic music in India. There are several musical festivals that are conducted around the globe but the most popular one is Tyagaraja Aradhana, conducted at Thiruvaiyaru between the months of January and February every year.