Thursday, May 30, 2024

Celebrating the Life of Telugu Vaggeyakara: Tyagaraja

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Tyagaraja Aradhana is an annual Aradhana for the Telugu saint composer Tyagaraja. The music festival is held in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu, with the main event taking place in Tiruvaiyaru, Thanjavur district, Tamil Nadu, where Tyagaraja reached Jeeva Samadhis. Saint Tyagaraju, a Telugu personality brought up in Tamil Nadu, has been known as one of the renowned Vaggeyakaras. (A Vaggeyakara, called one expert poet, composes music and also renders together.)
It has been conducted in Thiruvayaru (part of Tamil Nadu) for two months between January and February every year for the last 175 years. It’s a fantastic spectacle in which the artists and thousands of audience members work together to charge the atmosphere with the spirit of Thyagaraja, a divine experience that can only be felt live, and thousands of Carnatic Keerthanas and Bhajans are performed by musicians to pay tribute to Tyagaraju. Not only singers, but hundreds of vocalists and instrumentalists from all areas of South India come, creating a stunning event.
It then became a tradition to sing the ‘Pancharatna Kritis’ on the Pushya Bahula Panchami day, with performances at these musical festivals. They include several Keerthana’s of Tyagaraja are listed to enjoy “Tyagaraja’s compositions include the Ghana Raaga Pancaratnam (5 gems) in Raagam Nattai, Gowlara, Arabi, Shree Raagam, and Varaali, his most famous and scholarly contributions to Carnatic music, and he delighted in singing them”. They are very popularly called the 5 Gems of Pancharatna Kritis, even today. Much noted is that one of his masterpieces, “Jagadanandakaraka,” enumerates the 108 names of the lord, each describing the unique characteristics of Ram.
The Life of Saint Tyagaraja
Sadguru Tyagaraja, the saint-poet, was born on May 4 (but some say on May 5th), 1767. Tyagaraju lived in the village of Thiruvayaru in Thanjavur. His parents are Kakarla Ramabrahmam and Sitamma. This family was said to be Telugu Mulakanadu Smartha Brahmins (traditionally from one of four classes called Varnas) from Prakasam in Andhra Pradesh.
Saint Tyagaraju is widely regarded as one of three major composers praised as the Trinity of Carnatic Music from Thanjavur in the early 19th century. The other two are Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri. Our history is full of musical legends who devoted their entire lives to “Bhakti” (devotion) and spirituality, including Saint Thyagaraja. His Thyagaraja Kritis is still performed widely in concerts by public demand. He composed and wrote 24000 kritis in praise of Lord Rama. Only 700 of them or so survived through the ages through successive generations of his musical disciples.
It was specially mentioned in Britannica, from the Madras Presidency: “An Indian composer of Karnataka songs of the genre kirtan, or kriti (devotional songs), and of ragas. He is the most prominent person in the history of southern Indian classical music, and he is venerated by contemporary Karnatak musicians. Tyagaraja is said to have composed the music and words of thousands of kriti. In concert life, he remains dominant; rarely does a concert of southern Indian music omit his works. He spent much of his life at the court of Tanjore (now Thanjavur), where the official language was Telugu; thus, most of his songs have Telugu texts.”

The Britannica further explained:
“Tyagaraja became a devotee of Vaishnava at an early age and is regarded as an exponent of gana-marga—i.e., salvation through devotional music. The music of Tyagaraja’s songs is transmitted orally. He is credited with various musical innovations, including the use of a structured variation of musical lines within the performance, a practice that may have been derived from improvisatory techniques.”

(The article is written by author Madabhushi Sridhar Acharyulu.)

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