- The Magazine for Brahmins
Biography Of Sri Thyagaraja Swami (1767-1847 AD)
The Musical Plays or Operas Saint Thyagaraja’s contribution to music includes, in addition to his composition, the Uthsava Sampradaya kirtanas and the Divyanama kirtanas. These two are examples of classical Carnatic music in their pristine purity. Not folk music, but common classical music is the substance of these compositions.
Saint Thyagaraja also created two musical plays, commonly called operas. However, I call them music plays as neither Geya Nataka nor opera seems correct and appropriate. Prahlada Bhakthi Vijaya, a play without Hiranya Kasipu or Narasimha, has some 48 songs and over 120 padyams. It has in addition, invocative, descriptive and introductory gadyas, choornikas, and other forms of prose passages of great merit. Nowka Charitha, the other play is equally fascinating and once again a creation without any basis derived from Bhagavatham. This play has 21 songs and many padyas and gadya passages. Swami’s poetic genius is brought out vividly in these plays and the language he has used in some of the lengthy passages highlight this opinion.
Magnum Opus Some scholars believe we have inherited only the less important natakas of the Swami and that the magnum opus is missing or are available only in fragments, awaiting some scholar to put the pieces together. In support of this view, they mention that in 1876, a printing license was issued to a Loka Narayana Sastrulu of Wallajahpet, to print “Seetha Rama Vijayam” by one Thyagaraja Brahmam of Tiruvayaru. They cite the kritit Eppaniko in Asaveri, where the saint refers to his desire to write the Ramayana in song and ask whether after such a statement, he would have failed to carry out what he considered his mission. One scholar in urging researchers to look for and put together the songs to make the sampoorna Ramayana drama suggests, that Ma Janaki was sung in the drama by Janaka; Rara Seetha Ramani Manohara by Soorpanaka; Sri Rama Padama by Gauthama and so on.Of course, there is nothing more than belief to justify this view. Prof. Sambamurthi, who made great efforts to locate the press in Choolai, Madras, mentioned in the printing license gave it up in despair. He however, suggested that Ma Janaki in Khamboji and Vanaja Nayana in Kedara Gowla were songs from Seetharama Vijayam, the songs representing “Sambandhi Kelikka” or benign taunting of the sambandhis by groups belonging to both sides.
While the bulk of the songs are in praise of Rama and a few on other deities, there are numerous songs on ethics and morals, worldly wisdom, mental control etc. One important group of songs is those based on his study of the Sangita Sastras and his practice of Nadopasana. Some composers have made passing reference to the occult and mystic aspect of nada, sangita, and swara, but it is only the Sadguru Thyagaraja Swami, who has left nearly 25 songs on the origin (divine) structure and purpose of music and how the knowledge of Sangita could by itself offer liberation from bondage of the cycle of birth and death. As Mr. T. S. Parthasarathi says, arranging these kritis in the order of their subject matter, one can create a text book on the subject of Nada upasana, Sangita upasana, and attaining moksha in this life itself. A discussion of these kritis is matter enough for a separate paper, and so I shall content myself with briefly mentioning some of the songs and their appropriateness. Such a list would include songs such as: Nadopasana, Mokshamau Galada, Seethavara, Sangita Sastra Gnanamu, Sobhillu Sapthaswara, Nada Thanumanism and Swara Raga Sudharasa. The importance of these and other songs and how Sri Thyagaraja Swami used his compositions to energize our inner spiritual forces and attain moksha in this life are discussed in the article “Nadopasana for Salvation.”
The Messenger of Rama 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.
The centre of Thyagaraja’s existence and the summit of his aspirations was to experience in every breath the bliss of Rama bhakti and thereby gain a vision of his Ishta Devata. In many of his songs, this longing finds eloquent expression. The dimensions of his music include not only sangita sastra, but also contain a core of spirituality. It is because of this great quality that his compositions, like the Atman, endure. The consummation of spirituality in his songs is really the Voice of the Eternal.
Through the apertures of his songs, the depth of his bhakti is revealed. The inspirational potentialities of his kirtanas to lead a sincere votary in the bhakti marga are infinite, because every song breathes the fragrance of one aspect or other of the nava vidha bhakti. It is only a devotional approach to Sri Thyagaraja that can unlock the treasures of his spirituality.
Sri Thyagaraja’s life was a confluence and symphony of three streams – spirituality, saintliness and sangita and the harmony of these find spontaneous self-expression in every syllable of his sahityas. The divine words come vibrating from his soul. To describe them as kirtanas would be superficial for his utterances are authentic revelations of what he directly experienced. They comprehend the one and only purpose of music, that is, moksha sadhana. The value of his music is instrumental, a means, but the goal is intrinsic, to lay one’s soul at the feet of Sri Rama.
The greatness of Sri Thyagaraja is the way he linked the human to the divine. What is the saint’s message to humanity? Aspiration is human. Grace is divine. Only through God’s grace can one realise his aspiration, bhakti in the case of a saint. The ascent of human aspiration has to be facilitated by the descent of divine grace. The echoes of this Truth reverberate in many of his songs. The saint has emphasised that man in samsara is like one who has lost one’s identity, lost track of his goal of existence and is in a trance. Through his kirtanas, Sri Thyagaraja has taken on himself to guide, admonish and appeal to erring humanity. His songs give a thrust to open man’s inward eye.
Sri Thyagaraja with his rich gift of felicitous expression in his sahityas, takes us to the very empyrean of poetry. His is the greatest single achievement in music – the most perfect pieces of musical compositions existing in the world. The astonishing vigour and reach of his music touch our hearts and address strongly our admiration Sahityas fall from his lips full of wisdom and devotional fervor. The most moving songs owe their composition to particular incidents and the state of his mind. The process of his creations are far beyond our comprehension. But the product is before us, each a jeweled beauty. While all his kirtanas are soulful, Sri Thyagaraja has outclassed himself in his Pancharatnas where he is at his greatest and perhaps touched the pinnacle of Carnatic music.
The fusion of lyrics and melody, the fusion of bhakti and sangita form the very essence of his songs. The melody and sahityas are outwardly distinct, the depth of spirituality is embedded in them. One can well discern from the effusion of his songs that his was not tame bhakti but heroic bhakti. A consideration of the diction in the Pancharatnas and other songs shows that Sri Thyagaraja was not after tricks of rhetoric or a fondness for word play.
In all his compositions, Sri Thyagaraja’s style shows a greatness of manner which marks him as a vaggeyakara par excellence. The outward form and inner meaning is so well meshed that the kirtanas remain unexcelled. At Sri Thyagaraja’s hand each song, each raga gains individuality and in every one of them is reflected the working of a bhakta’s yearning in his soul.
While hearing a Thyagaraja song we are introduced to a world of divinity and each syllable, the pulse of bhakti beats strongly. The sublime relations between the human and the divine, which lie beyond our comprehension find an eternal place in his kirtanas. We recognise in Sri Thyagaraja a master spirit combining in himself the bhakti of Prahlada, the music of Narada and the vakpatutva of Valmiki. Sentiments are passionate, his reflections on music and life profound. His works therefore stand apart in the history of vaggeyakaras.
His Contributions to Raga Lakshana and Musicology Thyagaraja Swami had made significant contributions to raga lakshana, raga lakshya, and raga swaroopa, or in general, to the development of musicology. A support for this claim is provided to us by Sri A. Vasudeva Sastry of the Saraswathi Mahal Library, in a book titled “Ragas”. The Ragas study examines the manuscripts of Sahaji, who died in 1710, about sixty years before Swami was born. After analyzing the work of Sahaji and all the materials available on raga lakshanas, Sri Vasudeva Sastri concludes that thirty of the 72 melakarta ragas were given a raga swarupa and acquired their ranking solely from Saint Thyagaraja Swami giving them these qualities. Quoting from Madikeswara Samhita, a work on srutis of which only extracts are now available, Sastry points out that 12 swara moorchanas were in existence and Swami used it to give Karaharapriya great charm in his composition, Rama Nee Samana mevaru. Quoting the sangatis of this composition in great detail, Sri Vasudeva Sastry points out that the “closed curve” melodic effect which can be got by the vadi-samvadi usage.
As it is believed, Swami created many new ragas. Many scholars however believe that he activated or unearthed many ragas which has been labeled and were lying dormant because their lakshanas or characteristics were not defined in clear terms. However, the fact that only one composition exists in a certain ragas and these compositions have been composed in these ragas only Sri Thyagaraja Swami lends credence to the claim that ragas like Pratapa Varali, Nabhomani, Jaya Narayani and many others, were Swami’s creations. Similarly, sangatis or usages that enrich the musical context of a kriti, are mostly found in Swami’s compositions. Although some scholars point out that sangatis are as old as music itself and were known under the name prayaogas. However, since they became widely used only through the kritis of Swami, it will not be wrong to assume that sangatis were Swami’s innovations. He used sangatis to bring out the raga bhava or their fundamental characteristics.
(to be Continued)