Saint Thyagaraja: the greatest composer of Carnatic music

Saint Thyagaraja

Saint Thyagaraja

Kakarla Tyagabrahmam (May 4, 1767–January 6, 1847), colloquially known as Tyāgarājar and Tyagayya, was one of the greatest composers of Carnatic music or classical South Indian music. He, along with his contemporaries Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastry, forms the Trinity of Carnatic music. He was a prolific composer and highly influential in the development of the South Indian classical music tradition. Tyagaraja composed thousands of devotional compositions, most of them in praise of Lord Rama — most of which remain very popular even today. Of special mention are five of his compositions called the Pancharatna Krithis (English: ‘five gems’), which are often sung in programs in his honor.

Tyagaraja was born in 1767 in Tiruvarur, Tiruvarur district, in what is now called Tamil Nadu, to Kakarla Ramabrahmam and Sitamma in a Telugu Brahmin family.

Tyagaraja began his musical training under Sri Sonthi Ramanayya, a noted music scholar, at an early age. He regarded music as a way to experience God’s love. His objective while practising music was purely devotional, as opposed to focusing on the technicalities of classical music. He also showed a flair for composing music and, in his teens, composed his first song Namo Namo Raghavayya in the Desika Todi ragam and inscribed it on the walls of the house.

The term pancharatna in Sanskrit means five gems: The Pancharatnas are known as the five finest gems of carnatic music. All the Pancharatnas are set to adi thalam. They are set in perfect sarvalaghu and contain all the musical and mathematical wonders of carnatic music.The Pallavis and anupallavis of the Pancharatnas are absolute musical and rhythmic beauties and an earnest practice of the Pallavis and anupallavis of the Pancharatna will reveal as to how to develop a raga in a methodical and systematic manner. The two fundamental conditions that must be satisfied for a systematic development of a raga are the arrangement of the solfa swaras in the natural order of Arohanam and Avarohanam of the Ragas so as to satisfy the sound principles of harmony and continuity. Pancharatnas satisfy these scientific principles in an unparalleled manner. The Pancharatnas are composed in perfect sarvalaghu swaras.

The first pancharatna is Jagadanadakaraka, in the raga nATa. It is composed in the most lucid and poetic Sanskrit. It starts with praising Lord Rama who makes the entire world happy. Jagadanandakaraka is a diamond garland for the Lord consisting of His 108 choicest names. The rhythmic variations of Jagadanandakaraka are amazing.

The next is Duduku gala in the raga gowlai set to adi talam. In this song Tyagaraja takes the blame upon himself for all the misdeeds of men and ruminates as to who would come and save him from this deplorable situation.

The third is Sadhinchene in the raga Arabhi set to adi talam. In this song Tyagaraja lovingly cricises Lord Krishna for his cleverness in getting what he wants to be done. Sadhichene is a breathtaking lullaby.
The fourth song is in the raga varali set to adi talam. In this song Tyagaraja describes the infinite beauty of Lord Rama.

The fifth pancharatna is Endaro Mahanubhavulu. It is said that a great musician from Kerala, Shatkala Marar visited Tygaraja and performed before him. Tyagaraja was enchanted with his performance and then was born Endaro Mahanubhavulu, the unparalleled rhythmic beauty in Carnatic music.

Saint Thyagaraja’s life and kirtanas are the heritage of Indian culture expressed in classical Carnatic music. This heritage can be described as the eternal verities of divinity. His contribution to posterity is at once devotional, religious and philosophical. His songs are frozen melodies intuited in the inspired depths of a saintly soul. His way of life was illumined by rock-like bhakti, invigorated and sustained by his unshakable faith in Rama. A true understanding of Sri Thyagaraja’s kirtanas serves to deepen the purpose of our existence.

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