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An article on bhakti and prapatti

From: Kalyani Krishnamachari (
Date: Sat Dec 13 1997 - 18:28:42 PST


Several years back, I attempted to write my first article related to 
religion and submitted it to our local Chicago tyAgarAja  utsavam brochure.
It was also my first effort to understand the concepts of bhakti, 
prapatti/SaraNAgati etc.  The main intent of the article was to relate 
tyAgarAja's compositions to bhakti and prapatti mArgams.  I would like to 
share some excerpts from my original article with the bhakti members.

I have zero knowledge about music, and would like to request 
bhagavatOttamas and music experts to kindly bear with me and forgive me for 
any misinterpretations, mis-quotes or misunderstandings.

                       rAma, nIvE gati

Bhakti and prapatti are the two paths for salvation.  Both lead the souls to 
the same end; the former is considered to be the more difficult one to follow 
even though the two are intertwined sometimes.  Constantly meditating about 
God till the soul sheds the body is called bhakti. If one is unable to follow 
this path of constant meditation for whatever reason, the alternative that is 
suggested by SrI vEdAnta dESika is the path of prapatti, which involves serving 
the lord with devotion throughout one's lifetime.

In this article, we will try to understand what bhakti and prapatti mean and
concentrate on how saint tyAgarAja lived, breathed and practised both bhakti 
and prapatti in his life through his devotional compositions.


Bhakti as outlined by prahalAda consists of

"SravaNam kIrtanam vishNO: smaraNam pAdasEvanam
arcanam vandanam dAsyam sakhyamAtmanivEdanam"
(SrImad bhAgavatam 7.5.23)

Constantly hearing about God, singing His glory, meditating about Him, serving
His lotus feet, worshiping, praying, acting as His servant and His friend
and finally offering oneself totally to God are considered the different
forms of bhakti.


SrI rAmAnuja has spoken with great enthusiasm about prapatti as a sure 
strategy for salvation (SaraNAgati gadhyam).  SrI vEdAnta dESika systemized 
the whole concept of prapatti. His exquisite exposition of prapatti 
postulates five essential angAs or requirements for prapatti:

1. AnukUlya Sankalpam or resolution to act as per God's will
2. prAtikUlya varjanam or resolution not to act against His will
3. mahAviSvAsam or having unshaken faith that He will give mOksham 
4. kArpaNyam or realization that the individual is limited in his/her abilities
   to observe the rigors of bhakti yOgam, have the modesty to accept this and
   serve Him with humility
5. gOptr*tva varaNam or praying to God for His grace and protection even though
   the individual is unable to observe the required rigorous discipline.

tyAgarAja's practice of bhakti and prapatti:

tyAgarAja rhapsodies in the highest bliss of divine communion.  He was born
in the noble family of rAmabrahmam, who was delving deep in devotional
dedication to Sri rAma, and who sowed the seeds of selfless service and 
sacrifice soaked with bhakti, in his son's mind.  VAlmIki's rAmAyaNa enticed 
young tyAgarAja, and he started seeing rAma in everything (yo mAm paSyati 
sarvatra sarvam ca mayi paSyati - gItA 6.30).  He followed his father's final 
words that he should pray to, live for, sing about, and depend on, only rAma.  

tyAgarAja's kr*ti and bhakti mArgam:

tyAgarAja uses all the nine forms of bhakti yoga suggested by prahlAda, 
even though by far the most important path he chooses for his worship is 
through kIrtana (singing the Lord's glory).  He is said to have composed
about 24,000 songs about Lord rAma, even though only about 1,000 are
traceable now.  

Through these kr*tis, saint tyAgarAja emphasizes the importance of
the other forms of bhakti mArga as well.  He calls rAma-smaraNam (meditation)
itself the efficacious gangA-snAnam in "dhyAname varamaina" (dhanyAsi).  
He expresses his longings for Lord rAma's pAda-sevA (serving the lotus-feet
of the Lord) in at least seven songs.  In "raghunAyaka" (hamsa-dhvani)
he says he could never give up rAma's lotus feet.  He uses arcanA (worship) 
as a path of bhakti yoga in almost all his kr*tis by dedicating these to the 
praise of his Lord SrI rAma.  In "vaddanuNDunade" (varALi) he worships rAma 
with flowers of gold, decorates Him and entertains Him with his songs and 
dance.  Again in "rA rA sItA" (hindOlam) he dresses rAma with golden clothes 
and beautifies Him with kastUri tilakam and brilliance pearl necklace.  He 
longs to be His dAsya (servant) in "tava dAso'ham)" (punnAgavarAli) and 
dedicates at least ten songs to this aspect.  He calls rAmA his sakhA (friend) 
in "sAmi kI sarI" (bEgada).  "daya rAnI daya rAnI (mOhanam) establishes rAma 
as his only friend ("cEli kAdu nI vE rAma").  tyAgarAja makes his Atma 
nivedana (surrender of soul) through as many as 12 kr*tis.  In "mAkelarA 
vicAramu" (ravicandrikA) he leaves all his concerns to rAma who conducts the 
drama in the whole universe with such great skill.  

tyAgarAja is a bhakta par excellence.  The last aspect of bhakti, viz. Atma 
nivedana, leads us to the notion of prapatti.  Just as we see all the 
essential aspects of bhakti yoga reflected in his kr*tis, we also see the 
spirit of total self-surrender (prapatti) soaked in his compositions.  

tyAgaraja's kr*tis and prapatti mArga:

tyAgarAja's resolution to conduct himself in a way that will always please
his Lord rAma (anukUlya sankalpa) is displayed in "atade dhanyuDurA" (kApi)
where he talks about all the good practices to be undertaken to please the Lord.
'ninugA bhAvinci' in "viDajAladura" (janaranjani) shows his determined mind 
which regards all tasks and sights as rAma Himself.  

The notion of pratikUlya varjanam (determination to not do anything 
which might displease God) is reflected in "nArAyaNa Hari" (yamunAkalyANi) 
where he declares that he will not rely on transcient wealth, will not praise
rich men and will not visit places infested by greedy people.  In 
rAmAbhirAma (sAveri) he says he will not be after wealth or other pleasures
of this deceitful world.  In "karuNa yelAgante" (varALi) he identifies the
activities that a true devotee should not indulge in - not serve even
kings, not eat meat, not drink, not be treacherous, etc.  "bhaktuni cAritramu"
(bEgada) reinforces the same concept of pratikUlya varjanam.

tyAgarAja has mahA viSvAsa or unshaken faith in cherishing rAma in his 
mind to attain salvation ("nI cittamu niScalamu nirmalmani ninne namminAnu"
in dhanyAsi).  His supreme faith in surrendering all pleasures to God 
is evident in "samsArulaite" (sAveri), "pAhi mAm hare" in saurAshtra, and 
"enta veDu kOndu rAghava" (sarasvatI manOharI) reemphasize his unshaken
faith in rAma.  

kArpaNyam or modesty that an ordinary mortal human being should have
in realizing his or her limitations and the possible inability to observe
the strenuous path of bhakti yoga, is suggested in many of his kr*tis.
In "prOddu pOyyEnu" (tODi), he describes how a person should realize 
that his/her lifetime is mostly wasted in sleep, mundane pleasures,
flattery of others, getting infatuated with wealth and other possessions
and committing blunders, thus leaving no time for worshiping His Lord rAma.
With great modesty, he cries out to rAma to forgive him for any sins that
he might have committed, in "ETula brOtuvO" (cakravAkam), "tO linE jEsina" 
(SuddhabangALa) and "tOli janmamuna" (bilahari).

This realization leads tyAgarAja to plead with rAma (goptr*tva varaNam) 
to please protect him in spite of all his failures ("pAhi kalyANa sundara"
in punnAgavarALi).  In "duDuku gala" (gouLa) he prays to rAma to save him
even though he might have sinned and not observed the rules for exemplary life.

"SrI rAma jaya rAma" (varALi), "ivaraku jUchinadi" (SankarAbharaNam)
and "O rAjIvAksha" (Arabhi) are some of the other kr*tis through which 
tyAgarAja reveals that he is a great prapanna.  In "aparAdhamula" (darbAr) he 
takes refuge in rAma saying that he had been pretending to be a saintly soul
and eventually became unable to pay homage to rAma.  "kannatanDi nApai" 
(dEva manOhari) is the best example where he prays for rAma's compassion 
and shows us how we should plead with the Lord not to deny us even
though we live only our daily routine life without being constantly
devoted to Him and without realizing the jIvAtmA-paramAtmA relationship.

Trailing Thoughts:  

Pleased with His bhakta and prapanna the Lord did give moksha to
tyAgarAja ("mOkshayishyAmi mA sucah" - gItAcAryan) on pushya bahuLa pancami 
day on 6th January, 1847, in his 88th year.  

Like a flood, tyAgarAja's songs sweep away our mental debris, 
floating us too, Godward.  The foam of words and spray of thoughts 
gushing from the fountain of bhakti in his mind bathe us in a sea
of luminous joy.  His kr*tis fan the embers of God-activation in us.
May be, we too, will become oblivious of the lure of the earth one day,
and become bhaktas or prapannas and eventually reach the summum bonum
of life, viz. Godhead, as tyAgarAja did.

                       SrI rAmajayam

Kalyani Krishnamachari