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Articles on Carnatic Music
Live Commentary on 155th Aradhana Festival of Saint Sri Tyagaraja Swamigal Part II
Venue: Tiruvaiyaru, 02.02.2002 (February 2, 2002)
This commentary, in modified form, was given on All India Radio during the Aradhana by the author
Continued from Part I
Nava Vida Bhakthi
The well-known classification of Bhakthi in major forms occurs in the Bhagavatha. There is a sloka in Bhagavatha
Sravanam keerthanam vishnoho Smaranam Paadasevanam
Thyagaraja, in his long and rich enjoyment of Rama Bhakthi exemplified all these forms. Sravana - the listening to the glory of the Lord comes first. In the song Ramakatha Sudha Rasa Paanamu, he explains the drinking of the rasa of Rama’s story would confer upon one a veritable kingdom. It would give one dharma and all other fruits; it would give one firmness of mind, spiritual bliss, material happiness and destroy all the shackles of Karma and the many ills of Kali. In another song, Sudha madhurya bhashana, Thyagaraja says that his long hunger had been appeased by the story of Rama, to listen to which he had avoided the wicked and resorted to the devotees of the Lord.
The entire life and output of Thyagaraja exemplifies the second form Keerthana. In Yelaavathara (Mukari Raaga) he goes to the extent of saying that the Lord Himself incarnated to draw out Thyagaraja’s Keerthana. In another kriti, Intha saukhyamani (Kaapi Raaga) and Inta Kannananda (Bilahari), he says that there can be no joy greater than that of singing of the Lord and dancing with the praise of the Lord on one’s lips.
The third is Smarana, the constant memory of the Lord and [meditating] upon him Naama Japa was futile if not lighted up all through by the glow of the thought of Rama. In his Nagaswaravali piece, Sri pathe nee pada, he specially mentions chintana and smarana as his very life. He expresses the same in another song Rama Kothanda Rama (Bhairavi). We can give examples like this for this form in many number of songs of His Smarane Sukamu (Janaranjani), Marache vaadanaa (Ketharam).
The fourth Paada Sevanam or the worship of the Lord’s feet in particular is a devotional mode exemplified by Bharatha and the adoration of Rama’s Paduka. Rama’s feet had two great exploits to their credit: the re-creation of Agalya from her accursed stone state and through their sandals ruling over the kingdom of Ayodya. Thyagaraja has two songs to adore both these exploits of Rama’s feet. Both are cast in Ragas of appropriate names, Amrita vahini (Sri Rama Padama), the feet that bring immortality and ambrosial bliss and Ramapriya (Sandeha munu Dirpumayya), Rama’s beloved sandals.
The fifth form of devotional propitiation of the Lord is to do his worship daily and incessantly - Archanam. This form is exemplified by two important factors of Thyagaraja’s life and work – one is Thyagaraja’s daily Pooja of the Rama idol and the other the collection of the songs called Utsava Sampradaya Kirthanas composed for the several items of the celebration of a Rama festival including the songs that he sang for the several stages of his own Pooja and its sixteen kinds of Upacharas offered to the Lord. Some of the songs to be mentioned are Hechcharikaga raara hey ramachandra (Yadukula Kambodi), Raara seethamani manohara (Hindola vasantham), Sethulaara sringara (Bhairavi/Karaharapriya), Thulasi Bilva (Kethara Gowla), Aaragimpa (Thodi), Vidamu Seyave (Karaharapriya), Upachaara mulanu (Bhairavi) etc.
Lakshmana, in whose form also the Lord incarnated exemplified the ideal of service as a servant, Kainkarya or Dasya, Thyagaraja while describing Rama mentions Lakshmana also often as attending upon him as the most accomplished servant of Rama who knows Rama’s inner intention and who at the mere glance of Rama would carry out his idea. This is specially referred to in the Kriti Lekana (Asaaveri). Similarly Hanuman’s service to Rama also portrayed in the kritis Pahirama (Vasantha Varaali) and Kalu gunaa pada neeraja (Poorna Lalitha). Thyagaraja also yearns to join this company of Rama’s servants in the kritis Thavada soham and Upachaaramu.
Sakya, the eighth form, besides references in many songs to friends of Rama like Sugreeva and Vibhishana and the devotion, there is a mention in Chelimini Jalajaksha, Sami ki sari and O Rama O Rama as Thyagaraja’s friend, Thyagaraja sakhudu and Thyagarajunimitra.
Now come to the important form called Atma Nivedanaa or surrender of one’s self to the Lord as the Lord’s own. Rama is the incarnation par excellence the supreme [exemplar] of protection of those that surrender unto the Lord. Thyagaraja does not fail to make express mentions of this special feature; In the kriti, sarame gaani (pantuvaraali), he describes Rama as the Lord who has the special title of the protector of those who take refuge under him. When the devotee surrenders, he is to surrender everything he possesses. Thyagaraja explained this in the kriti Kaalaharana (Suddha Saaveri). Similarly Thyagaraja says in his Rama Paahi Mega Shyama (Kaapi) that he had surrendered himself and all his good deeds to the Lord. In Nannu Vidachi (Reeti Gowla) and Enaati Nomu Phalamo (Bhairavi), he declares that he and his body are the Lord’s property. When the devotee declares himself as the complete saranagatha, he used to have no more anxiety for anything; all his burdens have been laid on the Lord and it is for the Lord to come and help and save the [refugee]. Thyagaraja asks Rama in the Kriti Maakelara Vichaaramu (Ravichandrika) "Why should I feel any concern? The anxiety is His." Similar sentiments are revealed in another kriti Nee chittamu Naa Bhagyamayya (Vijaya Vasantham).
There are hundreds of epithets and [vocatives laden] with Rama’s gunaas with which Thyagaraja describes and addresses Rama in his songs; in all these, the personal qualities of Rama are extolled. Foremost among the qualities comes Rupa, the personal charm of Rama’s appearance. When Thyagaraja tells Rama "You are my Ishta Deiva", it is the surpassing beauty of this Shyaama Sundara that made him prefer this form. This is described in his song Shyaama Sundaranga (Danyasi). In another song Intanuchu Varnimpa Tharama (Gundakriya), he says even Brahma, Indra and other gods cannot describe the beauty of your benign look, your charming face, surpassing the moon in splendour. In the kriti, Muddu momu (Suryakantam), he speaks of his captivating beauty which bewitches the sages of the forest when he appears before them. In Endu Kaugilintura (Suddha Desi), he admires that "Every portion of Your body, Oh Rama, is captivating. Which portion shall I embrace? Your speech alone is speech and Your brilliance alone is brilliance." We can add number of kritis which [describe] the beauty of Rama like Lavanya Rama (Rudrapriya), Alakalalla Ladagagani (Madhyamavathi), Sogusu chooda Tharama (Kanada Gowla), Mohana Rama (Mohanam), etc.
Lord Rama is Thyagaraja’s Ishta Devatha. This we found in the song Rama Eva Deivatham (Balahamsa). He says that Rama alone is my god. He is the only destroyer of the mental distress of devotees. In the kriti, Rama nee samaana (Karaharapriya), Thyagaraja says "You are the beloved parrot in the cage of Sita’s Bhakti. You are yourself gentle in speech and have brothers whose words drop with honey. Who is there equal to you?" The above ideas are also expressed in Kaaru Vel pulu (Kalyani), Itara deivamula (Chhaya Tarangini), Madilona Yochana (Kolahalam).
An invitation from his far-flung disciples and admirers took Thyagaraja on a pilgrimage which extended upto Tirupati. When he reached the Tirupati temple to have the darshan of Lord Venkateswara, the drawn curtain at the sanctum sanctorum moved him to composer the song Terateeyaga raga (Gowlibanthu) in which he moans "Oh Tirupati Venkataraman! Could you not remove the screen, the screen of anger, arrogance and jealousy, which, taking a firm stand within me, keeps me out of the reach of Dharma and other Purusharthas including Moksha? It effectively hides from vision, the immaculate light of the lamp, Jnana. By the existence of this screen, my mind gets caught by evil, just as ignorant beasts are got into the Hunter’s net. I have been following you faithfully, I pray promptly; remove the screen". Promptly the screen was removed and he had a good darshan of the Lord.
His next move was to the neighbourhood of Chennai where at the insistence of Kovur Sundaresa Mudaliar, he visited the village Kovuur and composed five songs on Lord Sundaresa - Sundareswaruni (Sankarabaranam), Eevasuda (Sahana), Kori Sevimpa Raare (Karaharapriya), Nammi Vachina (Kalyani), Sambo Mahadeva (Banthuvaraali).
At Tiruvettriyur, he was drawn by Goddess Tirupura Sundari to sing 5 kritis - Kanna Talli (Saaveri), Sundari nee divya (Kalyani), Sundari Ninu varnimpa (Aarabi), Sundari Nannindarilo (Begada), Daarini Thelusu Konti (Sudda Saaveri). A srimukam from the noble Sanyasi and Rama Bhakta, Upanishad Brahmam took Thyagaraja to Kanchipuram where he sang in praise of Lord Varadaraja and Goddess Kamakshi- Varadaraja Ninu Goru Vachithi (Swara Bhushani), Venkatesa Ninu (Madhyamavathi), Vinayakuni (Madhyamavathi).
At Nagapattinam, he composed two pieces on Neelaayadakshi - Karmame Balavanthamayya (Saaveri) and Evaru Teliya Boyyeru (Thodi). He visited srirangam also and sang five kritis on Lord Ranganatha = O Ranga Sayee (Kambodi), Chootamu Raare (Aarabhi), Vinaraadhaa (Deva Gandhaari), Raju Vedale (Thodi), Karuna Joodu Maiyya (Saranga). The next shrine he visited was Lalgudi otherwise known as Tapas Tirthapura where he composed 3 pieces on Goddess Srimathi and 2 pieces on Sapta Rishiswara - Isa Pahimam (Kalyani), Deva Sthree tapa Thirtha (Madhya mavathi), Lalithe sri pravriddhe (Bhairavi), mahitha Pravriddha (Kambodi), Gati nee vani (Thodi). He also sang in praise of Lord Panchanatha of Tiruvaiyaru and his consort Dharmasamvardhani.
Madhura Bhava in Thyagaraja’s Kritis (Naayaka Naayiki Bhaavaa)
In the Ritigoula Raga song "CheraraaVade Mira Rama", Thyagaraja says "Just as an orphaned girl married to a man has no other house to turn to and clings to her husband, I entirely rely on you and implore you. How is that you do not come?". In another song, "Paluke Vaemi Naa Deivama" (Poorna Chandrika), Swami asks the Lord, "Oh my Lord! Why is it that you do not talk to me though I have always danced to your tune? What is the reason for your being angry with me? Is it fair that others should laugh at me? My parents gave me devotion and protected me; others tormented me much. Knowing all these, how long are you going to keep quiet?".
In the song, "Chani Thodi Theve" (Harikamboji), where the mind is made the duty to bring the lover Rama to Thyagaraja, the beloved. "Oh, Maid of my mind! Go and bring quickly my Lord. Seek him early and lead him to me with due respect. I want to enjoy happiness for a long time with him."
One may listen to "Rama bi Rama" (darbar), where Thyagaraja says "The maid, my mind, is in deep love with you but you do not seem to respond and take her hand. I have provided for you a comfortable bed".
The Nayaka – Nayaki Bhava is expressed in number of songs like "Patti Viduvaradhu" (Manjari), "Daya Seya Vaiyya" (Yadukula Kamboji), "Sami ki Sari" (Begada), "Joothamu rare" (Arabhi), "Eti Jenma Midilo" (Varaali), "Rama Rama Ramachandra" (Ghanta).
Importance of Bhakti
In one of his beautiful Thodi songs "Tappi Bratiki", Thyagaraja expatiates on Bhakti as the means to keep one free from temptations and vices.
"Is it possible to escape from being lost in the pool of sense pleasures, if one does not worship the Lord with his whole heart and firm mind? Without Bhakthi, is it possible to develop the feeling that valuable metals like Gold are poison, to remain unaffected by the sight of wily and well dressed woman with charming curly hair?"
In another Kriti, "Emi Jesite Mi" in the same raga, Thyagaraja explains the utter worthlessness of anything in the absence of Bhakthi. In "Enta Nerchina Enta Juuchina" (Udaya Ravichandrika), he emphasizes, how in the absence of devotion, even learned men gain no benefit out of their scholarship and became slaves of senses.
To seek salvation in other ways is to resort to bylanes. Not to revel in Bhakthi but in mundane pleasures is to leave off rich milk and cream and to drink toddy. Swamigal says this in the well-known piece in Karaharapriya "Chakkani Raja Margamu". We can see number of pieces for the importance of Bhakthi, like "Rama Bhakthi Samrajya" (Sudda Bangala), "Sangeetha Gyanamu" (Danyasi), "Ide Bhagyamu" (Kannada), "Nee Bhakthi Bagya" (Jayamanohari).
Superiority of Nama Japa
Adi Sankara in his Bhashya on the Vishnu Sahasranama says the superiority of Nama Stotra over the Dharmas and Yagnas. Nama japa does not involve injury to a being in the form of sacrifice; it is an Ahimsa Yaaga. Taking the cue, Thyagaraja in his Darbar piece "Paripaalayamaam", says that the Lord is never more pleased than when a concourse of devotees raise their voices singing aloud his name.
Thyagaraja embarked in the prime of his youth (in his twentieth year), on the great Tapas of reciting Rama Nama ninety-six crores of times; and took him twenty-one years and fifteen days to finish this Japa; at the end Thyagaraja had the dharshan of Sri Rama. In his ecstasy on seeing Rama, spontaneously he composed the kriti, "Ela Nee Dayaradhu" (Atana). In the kriti, "Sri Raghuvara" (Deva Gandhari), Thyagaraja prays for nothing more than that his tongue should become used to continuous repetition of Lord’s name. We can give number of songs where Thyagaraja explains the value of Rama Nama. Uooraka (Sahana), Pahimam sri Ramachandra (Kapi), Nanu Brova (Abogi), Ninne nera Namminaanu (Pantuvaraali), Neevegaani (Bilahari), Pahimam Hare (Sourashtra), a Divyanama piece.
Chetulaara – (Bhairavi, Karaharapriya)
Before starting the Pancharatna kritis, it is customary to render Chetulaara (Bhairavi) but flute Vidwans. In this song, Thyagaraja explains how to decorate the Lord. He says,
"I shall decorate you with my own hands so beautifully as to elicit the admiration of even Brahma and other devotees and enjoy the sight myself. You will have golden anklets for your feet, high class golden clothes for your dress. Your tuft will be decorated with sweet smelling parijata flowers; your loins will have a girdle of golden beads; your forehead will be bedecked with a pendant of gems in the shape of the sun; your fontal head will be incircled with precious pearls and your body besmeared with sweet scented sandal paste; So made upto my heart’s content, I shall kiss you and hug you to my bosom. Saraswati will come and fan you then. In that exaltation, I shall ejaculate, "WELL DONE, WELL DONE". I shall thus cut asunder all my bondage."
In Jagadanandakaraka kriti, [Thyagaraja] praises the Lord for the good deeds.
Song: Jagadaa Nanda karaka Raga: Nattai
Song: Dudukugala Raga: Gowla
Oh Lord, who transcends speech and mind! Which prince but you will protect one like me who is so evil-minded that he is drawn every moment by powerful evils;
Still [there] is a heavy downpour. Unmindful of the rain the bhaktas and Rasikas are standing inside the Pandal with the umbrellas on their hands that shows the bhava and the beauty of the Pancharathna kritis.
Song: Saadhinchene Raga: Arabhi
Oh mind! Sri Rama, belying the precepts he himself inculcated for treading the righteous path, has carried out what he wanted to and evaded coming to me, uttering words as suited the occasion. He similarly subjected Devaki and Vasudeva to a number of trials. Without fulfilling the heart’s desires of the Gopis, he taunted them. He (Paramaatman) would always make women pine and bow to him. He would [pose] himself as the child of Yasoda, allow her to please herself by kissing him and would smile at her.
Though he was a lover of devotees, an embodiment of all virtues and an eternally stainless one, when I was eagerly expecting that he would free me from the troubles of Kali age and when I was praying to him, chanting his glorious names, he evaded me without protecting me.
He appreciated and lovingly accepted my worship as being typical of a good devotee. He without coming to me, merely advised me not to be put out and not to seek the company of the godless brood and counseled patience in times of tribulation.
Song: Kanakana Ruchiraa Raga: Varaali
Sweeter will be devotee’s pleasures, the more he, with a loving mind, daily sees you and your charming face radiating beauty and unbounded glory.
Did not such a Darsana redeem and render happy Dhruva when he felt mortified at the sharp and cruel words of his step-mother, Suruchi?
Did not the description of the glory of your benign form given by Hanuman transport Sri Sita into a blissful trance?
This, my statement, will be amply testified to by Anjaneya, who longingly and loving holds your blessed lotus-feet in his hands, by Lord Siva, the enjoyer of the superb sweetness of Ramanamam, also by Narada, Parasara, Suka, Sounaka, Indra, Parvati and Sita.
Equally sweet is the pleasure of the Darsan of sprightly Sita devouring the exquisite beauty of Sri Rama’s face with her yearning and modest looks.
Song: Endaroo Mahanubhavulu Raga: Sri Ragam
Great souls are indeed many. Salutations to them all!
We had a pleasant day and definitely we will also get salvation since all these five days we heard the kritis of Thyagaraja and also his five Pancharathna kritis.
Through the exercise of compassion all beings become our fellow-beings. When anyone suffers we also suffer. This is religious socialism as distinct from religious individualism. If man is not to be lost, he should not be collectivized. He must have the freedom of spirit, the freedom to renounce, the courage to own nothing. We must love without grasping give without expecting. These qualities are with Thyagaraja. We also imbibe these qualities and follow the footsteps of Thyagaraja. Let us meet next year.
R. Ganapathi Subramanian is a retired Professor of Physics, National College, Educational Advisor of Srimathi Indira Gandhi College, and Coordinator of all Carnatic Music Sabhas, in Trichy.