Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

The Nada Yoga of Tyagaraja

T. C. A. Ramanujam

“He that hath no music in himself or is not moved by concord of sweet sounds is fit for treasons, strategems and spoils,” wrote Shakespeare in one of his famous plays. In his famous kriti in the Raga Saramati, the greatest of the Trinity of Tiruvayyar, Tyagaraja, asks:

Mokshamu galada, bhuvilo jeevanmuktulu ganivaralaku
Sakshatkara sadbhakthi sangeetajnana viheenulaku?

Is it possible for any but the realised souls to attain salvation? Is it possible for one who is devoid of real devotion and knowledge of divine music to attain salvation?

While Tyagaraja’s fame as a great composer is widespread, it is not so widely known that he was a great philosopher in his own right. He had, through his innumerable kritis, propounded and elaborated what has now come to be known as the Nada Yoga or the Gana Yoga. In fact, devotion through systematical music is not unknown nor is it new to Hinduism. We have the authority of “Yagnavalkya’s Smriti” III, 115:

Veena vadana thathvajnah, sruti visaradah,
Thalajnascha prayasena mokshamargam niyaschathi

“One who is versed in Veena play, one who is an adept in the varieties of sruties and one who is an adept in tala, attains salvation without effort.” One of the most pleasing conceptions of God is the concept of Nada Brahma–Embodiment of (musical) sound–“The Vishnu Sahasranama” refers to God as “Sangeeta Narayana”, Lord Shiva is known as “Sama Gana Priya.” As Tyagaraja testifies in his Atana piece, Sage Narada is popularly known as Narada Gana Lola. In countless beautiful kritis, Tyagaraja refers to the concept of Nada Brahma and develops it as an independent philosophy of life. In the beautiful Hindolum piece–“Samajavaragamana”–he refers to Krishna as shining like a beacon light on the mountain of Nada of the seven swaras born of the Pranava which is the source of all Vedanta.

Sama nigamaja Sudhamaya gana vichakshana…
Veda Siro matrija saptaswara nadachaladhipa

In another delightful Piece–“Nadatanumanisam”–set to Chittaranjani Raga, he refers to Sankara delighting in the art of seven swaras–Sa-Ri-Ga-Ma-Pa-Dha-Ni–born of his five faces–“Sadyojata” etc. In his Arabhi Kriti–“Nada Sudharasambilanu”– he describes how the nectar of Nada took a human form in Ramachandra, taking the sapta swaras as the seven bells of the bow, the Ragas as the bow itself, the styles Dura, Naya, Desya as the three strings of the bow, the steady pace as the arrow. The sages, says Tyagaraja, attained divinity only by Nadopasana–“Nadopasanache Sankara Narayana Vidhulu Velasiri O! manasa!”–(Begada)

Tyagaraja has, however, no use for music that is not anchored to Bhakti

Sangita jnanamu bhakti vina

Sanmargamu galada, manasa! (Dhanyasi)

But if it is joined to devotion, it is bliss itself–see his Sankarabharana Kriti–“Swara raga sudharasa yuta bhakti Svargapavargamura, O Manasa!”

As a corollary, Tyagaraja condemns all flattery and praise of the vain glorious rich and well-to-do mortals. Having realised God as the only wealth worth aspiring for, he cannot bring himself to flatter low fellows, wallowing in the mire of life–see his moving Ranjani piece–

Durmargacharadhamulanu
Dora neevana jalara
Dharmatmaka! dhana dhanya
Daivamu neevai yundaga

In hisfamous Kalyani Kriti he asks again–

Nidhi chala sukhama, Ramuni sannidhi
Seva sukhama, nijamuga balku manasa

“Tell Me, in truth, O mind, which conduces to happiness–material wealth or the enjoyment of the presence of the Lord?” For wise Tyagaraja (sumati Tyagaraja) the choice has been made once for all: He gives the answer in a moving kriti in Kanada–“Nityamena suswarapu ganamuto nirantaramu, Tyagarajanuta, sukhi yevarao Ramanama”–“There is none happier than one who with flawless music keeps ceaselessly singing the Lord’s name.”

Tyagaraja describes at great length true devotion and points out how it is free from all desires for wealth, progeny, fame, hypocrisy etc. His Varali piece, “Karuna elangante” is reminiscent of the “stitaprajna svarupa” described in the Bhagawad Gita and brings to our mind Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite ‘Vaishnava Janato.’ He unreservedly condemns all outward show of religion like rituals, empty rites and thirthayatras as of no meaning as long as the mind is not purified and anchored to the Lord. The beautiful Abhogi Kriti–Manasunilpa–runs as follows:

Manasu nilpa sakti lekapote
madhura ghanta virula puja emijeyura
ghana durmadulai ta munigite
Kaveri, Mandakini yetu brochunu!

“If one has not got the power to control one’s mind, of what avail is ringing the bell and doing puja? If one is a scamp, how will a bath in the Kaveri or the Ganga save him?” On the other hand, Dhyana done with a mind free from greed and lust, is itself the most efficacious “ganga-snana–Dhyaname Varamina Ganga snanamu” (His Kriti in Dhanyasi.) His Karaharapriya song–“Nadachi nadachi”–is full of satire on those who attach importance to outward forms ignoring the reality of devotion–“If fasting, bathing frequently closing eyes etc., can give us moksha, then surely there are other birds like cranes and crows and animals like goats who will get priority in Heavens!

For Tyagaraja it is inconceivable that anyone can choose the byelane of mundane pleasures when the royal path of Rama Bhakti is open–“Chakkani rajamargamu lundaga sandula duranela? O manasa” (Kharaharapriya). Rama bhakti is the greatest kingdom that one can wish for “Ramabhakti samrajyamu manavula kabbeno manasa”. In the divine love for Rama is the summum bonum of human existence reached–

Nama kusumamulache pujinehe
Nara janmame janmamu (Sriraga Kriti)

His love for Rama is expressed in a number of forms. He conceives himself as the servant (“Banturiti koluva”–in Hamsadhvani) as the son (“Sitamma ma amma”–in Vasanta) and as the bride in love. In line with his illustrious predecessors like Purandaradasa and the Alwars of Tamilnad, he gives beautiful expression to the delicate theme of love in a number of kritis sung in the madhura bhava. In his Yadukula Kambhoji piece–“Dayaseyavayya sadaya Ramachandra”–he prays to Rama to bestow the joy that Sita had at the various stages of her Svayamvara–“dalachuchunna Sita sukhamu”. There is a delightful line in his “Rama Rama Ramachandra” in the Ghanta Raga which brings to our mind some of the scenes in the great literatures of the world–“When my look and yours come together who can know the happiness that I then desire”–“Na chupu ni jupu sarigajesite jeyu na sukhamu yevariki yeruka.”

It is natural that one in such divine ecstasy like Tyagaraja should have nothing but contempt for those who are engrossed in petty feuds and lose themselves in the cares of daily routine. Like the great Acharya Ramanuja of old, his heart goes out in compassion for such people and he asks poignantly-

Evaraina lera peddalu ilalona
deenula brova

“Are there no great men here to protect these people?” (Siddhasena Kriti) Every little incident in his life was an occasion for him for introspection and the story is told of how when he once went to the Tirupati Hills, he found the curtain being drawn as he was approaching the sanctum sanctorum. The result was the famous Kriti “Tera teeyagarada” in the raga Gowlipantu where he asks: “O! Tirupati Venkataramana, Supreme Being! could you not remove the screen of anger, arrogance and jealousy, which, taking firm roots in me, keeps me out of the reach of Dharma and other purusharthas, including moksha.” He realises that happiness, born of quietude, self-restraint and contentment is a blessing bestowed by the Lord Himself–“dama samadhi sukhadayakudu” (see his Pancharatna in Arabhi).

Tyagaraja’s philosophical quest in search of the eternal truth makes poignant reading. Echoing the famous assurance of the Lord in the last chapter of the Bhagawad Gita he asks “why he should brood having surrendered himself to the Lord completely.” (“Makelara ee vicharamu” in Ravichandrika and “Ni chittamu Na Bhagyamu” in Vijayavasantam). It looks as if he was in great doubt as to the correct philosophical path he should choose–for he asks in a Ritigowla Kriti–“Dvaitamu sukhama? advaitamu sukhama?” The Jnana Yogi that he is, he gives the result of his quest in his beautiful kritis composed in the fag end of his life. In two sedate kritis whose ragas Vagadhiswari and purvikalyani breathe an air of serenity and wisdom, Tyagaraja expounds the great Advaitic Truth–“Know all well how Paramatma, the Lord shines in glory in everything, in Hari, Hara, Devas, human beings and in the innumerable worlds–in all the species of creation made of the five elements, in the good and the bad and always in the holy devotees like Tyagaraja.” (“Paramatmudu” Vagadhiswari.)

Again “Won’t you bless me with the divine wisdom which will enable me to realise that I am myself Paramatma, Jivatma, the fourteen worlds and the species of inhabitants thereof and sages like Narada?” (“Jnana mosagarada” in Purvikalyani) In another song in Garudadhvani Raga “Tattvameruga tarama” he asks: “Tattvamasi yanu vakyarthamu, Rama, nivanu paratattva meruga tarama?” Is it possible, O Rama! to realise the great truth that Thou art the meaning of that Upanishadic declaration–“Thou art That (Tattvamasi)?” Adi Sankara stated the quintessence of all the teachings of the sastras in half a sloka–

Brahma satjam jagat mithya jiyo brahmiva kevalam

“Brahmam is the Truth, the world is non-existent and Jiva is Brahmam.”

The great merit about Hindu art is the underlying idea that the purpose of all art is sacramental. Whether it be the music of Tyagaraja or the dance of Shiva, the paintings of Ajanta or the sculpture of Mahabalipuram, the literature of Kamban or Kalidas, there is an under current of philosophic contemplation in the art. As Dr. Radhakrishnan points out, the arts are for the refinement of the soul–“Atma Samskriti”. In the disinterestedness of aesthetic contemplation, the human spirit is momentarily freed from the inconsistencies and confusion of temporal life. Music and dance, literature, sculpture and paintings are intended to purge the soul of its defects and lead it to a vision of the Eternal–“Mokshayate hi samsarah”. No wonder, Tyagaraja concludes that the nectar of Nadarasa gives one the blessings of Yoga, Yaga, Tyaga and Bhoga, and hearkens us to drink deep that Ragarasa and delight, for Nada Svara and Pranava are the very form of Shiva.

Raga sudharasa panamu jesi rajillave manasa
raga yoga tyaga bhoga phala mosange
Sadasiva mayamagu nada omkara svara vidulu
Jivanmuktulani tyagaraju deliyu.(Andolika)

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