No Rama Navami puja in the temples down South is complete without Shraddhanjali (homage) to Saint Thyagaraja – the greatest exponent of Carnatic music and an ardent devotee of Bhagwan RAMA.
Saint Thyagaraja was born in Thiruvaiyaaru in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu in a Telugu family. What Krishna was to Meera, Rama was to Thyagaraja. The Vedas say that Moksha or Mukti can be achieved through Karma (good deeds), Bhakti (devotion) and through Jnana (wisdom or knowledge). Saint Thygaraja chose the Bhakti Margam to connect with Bhagwan Rama – his Ishta Devata or cherished deity. C.Rajagopalachari, the last governor general of Bharat, in his introduction to Bhaja Govindam says that knowledge or Jnana when it becomes fully mature transforms itself into Bhakti. If Knowledge does not get transformed into Bhakti, it remains mere tinsel. To think that knowledge and devotion are different from each other is mere ignorance.
But the Bhakti Margam which Thyagaraja chose was a difficult one to adhere to. The fine kriti , “Teliyaeru rama bhakti Margamu” in Raag Dhenuka manifests the turmoil and confusion in Saint Thyagaraja’s mind to spiritually connect with his divine Rama. The lyrics of this Kriti say, “O Rama we do not know the path of devotion. Men in this whole world only roam about in tension all over without being aware of the path of devotion.” Thyagaraja composed his songs in Telugu .
Music forms an integral part of Hindu Dharma. It is difficult to imagine Krishna the Bansuriwala without his Bansuri (flute). A slokam on Goddess Saraswati states , “Ya Veena Vara danda Manditakara” – meaning Goddess Sarswati whose hands adorn the divine Veena. Bhagwan Shiva playing the Damru represents his cosmic force. Ravan was a fine musician. Legend has it that once when he tried to lift Mount Kailash, Shiva pushed the mountain in its place and Ravan was trapped beneath the mountain. Imprisoned under the mountain, Ravan sang hymns in praise of Shiva. Moved by his melodious music Bhagwan Shiva granted Ravan with a powerful sword or Lingam.
It is said that Kharaharapriya is Bhagwan Shiva’s favourite Raagam. Among the trinity of Carnatic music – Thyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshtar and Shyama Sastri, it was Thyajaraja who was the only one to compose in this raga – Kharaharapriya. There is no Carnatic music lover who has not experienced the poignancy of the immortal Kriti, “Ramanisamanam Evaru” which states that Bhagwan Rama is the unsurpassed one, there is no equal to him, and it is because of Bhagwan Rama that the Raghu Vamsa achieved its supremacy. It is said that when the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan came to see his bride Janaki for the first time, she sang the Kriti, “Ramanisamanam Evaru’’, which pleased Ramanujan very much. Sometimes it is submission , sometimes it is devotion, at times it is a petition as in, “OrachupuChu chedi Nyayama” in Raag Kannada Gaula where Thygaraja asks his Bhagwan Rama, “Is it fair for an eminent person like Bhagwan Rama to look at him sneeringly?” This Kriti was sung by Sikkil Gurucharan in the Cleveland Aradhana festival in 2008 and the singer won tremendous applause for his rendition .
Thyagaraja‘s – Mokshamu Galadhaa in Raag Saaramati raises the philosophically pertinent question, “Is moksha attainable by anyone in this world who has not realized the self?” When Ms. Subbu Lakshmi – the nightingale of Bharat – sings this Kriti, one is transported to the spiritual realms of eternity .
When in Madras, now Chennai, I would never miss out on the annual Thyagaraja Aradhana festival held in Tiruvaiyaru, Tamil Nadu. Musicians from all over the world would assemble in Tiruvaiyaru to sing and pay homage to the saint composer Thaygaraja on the day he obtained Samadhi. Thyagaraja’s ever appealing Pancha Ratna Kritis is a set of five songs in different Ragaa and tala when sung in chorus at the Tiruvaiyaru festival, one gets the feeling that Bhagwan Rama himself has decended from the Heavens to listen to the songs. My friend Lalitha Ganesan, a brilliant singer of Carnatic music, tells me that Bhagwan Rama graced Thyagaraja with his appearance and this empowered him to compose such spiritually elevating songs. “Without the Divine spark it would be impossible to compose such wonderful songs,” she says. Paying homage to the Saint composer Thyagaraja who is said to have repeated the name of Bhawgan Rama 96 crore times would be a fine way to worship Rama on Rama Navami day which falls on April 15th this year.
Note: The phrase “Fragrant Gold of Carnatic Music” for Sri Thyagaraja was coined by late Dr. V. Raghavan, a distinguished Sanskrit Scholar and a a brilliant musicologist.
By: Prof. Indira Satyanarayan