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....

Tyagaraja’s Musical Compositions

Prof. T. Prabhakar

Their Literary and Philosophical Significance

Department of English, University of Madras

Sri Tyagaraja is essentially a composer of Carnatic music, but at the same time his compositions can be treated as the outpourings of a great poet and a philosopher. Valmiki wrote his Ramayana in 24,000 Slokas. In the same way Tyagaraja wanted to write 24,000 Kirtanas in praise of Rama and produce a Tyagaraja Ramayana. He was a music composer comparable to Bach and Beethoven, a poet like Valmiki and Kalidasa and a philosopher equal to Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhwa. He combines in himself all the aspects – a musician, a poet and a philosopher. He has not expounded any new system of philosophy, nor has established any code of ethics. His music and philosophy have their roots in the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Puranas. That is why his compositions have been termed as Tyagopanishad.

Much has been said and written on Tyagaraja’s eminence and originality as a composer of music. His great contribution to the growth of Carnatic music has overshadowed the other impor­tant characteristics of his personality. There is absolutely no exaggeration in Professor K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar’s assertion that Tyagaraja has turned the Telugu language into divine poetry,1 and his compositions have gained a permanent place in the literature of that language. The basic merit of the songs consists, no doubt, in music, but the wealth of ideas in them is equally important. We are thrilled by the poetic fancy and the philoso­phical truths enshrined in some of the compositions.

If imagination is the supreme gift of a poet, then Tyagaraja occupies a place of honour among the poets of the world. The intense emotion in his devotion manifests itself in many ways. Since the songs are meant for singing, they are lyrical and convey the Saint’s anguish, his yearning for Rama, his mental suffering in not getting Him soon, his helplessness due to His “indifference” and his repeated appeals for His compassion. For example, in his song “Sitaanaayaka”, he asks Rama whether he went to the Tirumala Hills, being unable to stand the appeals of the devotees, or whether he ran away to Srirangam to avoid the nuisance from the Bhaktas. Tyagaraja possessed all the skill, imagination and expression of a gifted poet. His songs are replete with Sanskrit words and phrases. He shows much originality in the use of his diction, similes and metaphors and alliteration and repetitions. His moral teachings and religious instructions are expressed in the form of simple parables, and beautiful imagery drawn from everyday life.

Tyagaraja was brought up in the highest tradition of Sampradaya. But he united the apparently opposite qualities of conservatism and progress, of reverence for antiquity and impatience of restraint, of the prejudices of the heart and the revolt of intellect. He is a classic romanticist and a conservative radical. 2 Tyagaraja is thus considered as both a classicist and a romanticist. This is probably the result of his genius and perfect assimilation of the spirit of Indian philosophy and Hindu way of life. There is no dichotomy between classicism and romanticism in the Hindu concept of life.

Our seers have insisted on our following the ancient tradition, cultivating implicit faith in the scriptures and living a life of strict Sampradaaya. Our basic tenets are obedience to Guru, respect for elders, faith in the traditions and conventions and, above all, humility and piety. These are all the classical aspects in an ideal Hindu way of life. But at the same time when one attains the highest spiritual experience, it is solely his own individual, personal and intuitive experience. Here there is an obvious synthesis of tradition and individual talent, which are not mutually irrecon­cilable. Tyagaraja exhibits both in his personal life and also in his writings.

With a cultural ground of the Kaveri Agrahara tradition, he followed all the daily routine of a religious orthodox Brahmin. But at the same time he attacked blind superstitions, unnecessary rituals and religious hypocrisy. He found in his time useless controversies and corrupt practices which he denounced vehemently. Like a true classicist, he employs a large number of similes and metaphors to attack them. He displays an uncommon poetic gift and capacity for satire and sarcasm. He attacked hypocrites who were incapable of true Bhakti. He says:

“Raama neeyeda premarahitulaku naama ruchi teliyunaa?” 
“Rama, how can those, who have no love for you enjoy the taste of your name?”

Though he believed in rituals, he never exaggerated their importance. He hits hard at conventionality in such a purely personal and individual affair like offering Puja to God. Prayer should be earnest and should come from the depths of one’s heart. He discounted the value of long pilgrimages to distant holy places. For him Bhakti is more important. He answers his critics in his song:

Teliyaleru Raama bhaktimaargamunu

“Selfish people who wander aboutwith the sole purpose of earning money in the guise of pious men, bathing in the early morning, painting their bodies with ashes and counting the beads, can never understand the path of true devotion.”

The observance of elaborate formalities and blind rituals was condemned by him. He sings:

“Manasu nilpa saktilekapote
Madhuraghanta virula pujemieyunu?”

If one does not have the power to control his mind, what is the use of ringing the bell and conducting Puja? If one is a hypocrite, of what use is it to bathe in the Kaveri or the Ganga?

In another song he says:

            “Manasu swaadhinamaina ghanuniki
            mari mantra tantramuyalelaraa?”
“If the mind is brought under control, where is the need for Mantra, Tantra or Tapas?”

In yet another song he sings:

“Dhyaaname varamaina gangaasnaanamu”

“Dhyaana or meditation of the Lord is itself the most potent both in Ganga; but such Dhyaana should be done with a mind free from longing for others’ wealth and desire for lust.”

In his song, “nadachi, nadachi”, he observes that if bathing, fasting and closing one’s eyes constitute all that is to be done, surely there are birds and animals who will get the first place in heaven.3 In all these songs his reformatory zeal and his gift of humour and sarcasm are evident. In his song debunking astrology, he says:

“Grahabalamemi Srirama anugrahabalame balamu”         

“What is the power of planets? Rama’s kindness is the real strength,”

Thus in his attack on superstition, vulgarity and hypocrisy, Tyagaraja exercises to a large extent his rational faculty. As a rationalist, he showed implicit faith in Advaita or non-dualistic philosophy. He was born in a Smaarta, Telugu Brahmin family, and followed the old Smaarta traditions of worshipping all the deities in different forms of one Supreme Being. While Rama was his favourite deity (Ishtadevata), he sang in praise of Siva, Vishnu and Devi in different manifestations. He was much in­fluenced by the Advaitic Sanyasin Sri Bodhendra who was the Head of the Kamakoti Peetha in the eighteenth century and his contemporary Sridhara Venkatesa. Another senior contemporary of his was Upanishad Brahman of Kanchipuram who was himself an Advaitin and from whom Tyagaraja received much inspiration. Also he was a student of the famous Advaitic Sanyasin, Sri Rama­krishnammda. He learnt much from Siva-Narayanaswami Tirtha, another Advaitin Sanyasin, a Telugu musician, the composer of the popular Tarangas.

Tyagaraja adopted the recitation of Raama-naama which, accord­ing to him, makes no distinction of one form of divinity from another. He affirms repeatedly that he worships Rama without any Matabheda. To quote Dr. Raghavan, “the Nama-Siddhanta lays down ten draws in the recitation of the Name, one of which is to see Siva and Vishnu as separate”.4 This religious liberalism is a heritage coming down from the Vedas and the Upanishads which emphasizes One Supreme Impersonal Brahman, taking many personal forms. The Bhajana-Sampradaaya which Tyagaraja in­herited is free from bigotry and lays emphasis on One Supreme Being. He had firm belief in one ultimate Brahman devoid of all attributes (Nirguna), though he practised devotion to a personal God with name, form and qualities. In his song, Bhaktuni charitra, he observes that there should be no distinction between Siva and Vishnu: “Siva Maadhava bhedamu cheyaraddu.” He was convinced that though he named his God as Rama, yet God is one. This idea of the Universal God is well brought out by him in a number of songs.

In his song, “Dvaitamu sukhama, advaitamu sukhama?”, Tyaga­raja expresses his dilemma regarding the dualistic and monistic approaches. He asks Rama what conduces to happiness, Dvaita or Advaita? In another song, iTattvameruga taramaa”, he answers the question affirming his faith in Advaita, namely, Tattvamasiand Ahambramhasmi. In his song, “Gnaanamosagaraada”, he prays for knowledge of One Supreme Soul and the Individual Soul. A true Bhakta is one who realises that Paramaatma and Jeevaatma are one: “paramaatmudu jeevaatmudu okadai baraguchunadu.” He regrets that he has not yet realised that You and I are one. In another song, “Neeke dayaraaka”, he says that real happiness is possible only when one realises the identity of I and You.

Tyagaraja understood the Vedas and the Upanishads and practised them in his day-to-day life. He asserted that without Bhakti or sincere devotion one’s learning and scholarship are useless. As a spiritual aspirant, he practised all the methods, namely the Jnanamarga as a Jnanayogi, the Karrnamarga as a Karrnayogi, and the Bhaktimarga as a Bhaktiyogi. But it is Bhakti, through Nadopasana, that he followed most scrupulously. Devotion to Rama is something which all cannot get easily. In his song, “Ooraka galgunaa Raamuni Bhakti”, he says: Can Ramabhakti be attained easily by those who always cherish in their minds worldly life? For him Ramabhakti is a kingdom: Raamabhakti saamraajyam. His Rama is more than the mythological hero of The Ramayana. Rama is all the Trimurtis, and transcends them. So he says: “Raamaayani brahmamunaku peru.” Rama is the Parabrahman and man has no alternative except to take refuge under Him: Vundedi Raamudokadu ooraka chedipoku manasaa.”

Like Tattvamasi, the other affirmation of non-difference is So aham (I am He) and Tyagaraja realised this towards the end of his life. He declares that this is the greatest bliss: Soham anedi chaalu, soham sukham. The end of all Yoga is Jeevanmukti which Tyagaraja attained by NadopasaNa. “By his final Sanyasa, Tyaga­brahmam became Brahmam in reality, Brahmi-bhuta as it is said of the self-realised ones.”5


1 V. Raghavan: Tyagaraja. Makers of Indian Literature, Sahitya Akademi. 1983. p. 11.
2 T. V. Subba Rao: “The Universality of Tyagaraja,” Tyagaraja Satavarshakotsva Sanchika, Ed. Vissa Appa Rao. 1947. English Section. p. 16.
3 V. Raghavan: The Spiritual Heritage of Tyagaraja. 1957. p.84.
4 V. Raghavan, Tyagaraja. p. 24.
5 Ibid., p. 46.

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