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Date: Tue Mar 30 1999 - 06:47:42 PST


Dear Bhagavatas,
I wish to supplement Sri Sadagopan's  brilliant and spirited posts on the
subject. In this series, he has once again excelled himself and convinced how
Saint ThyAgarAja is a not only a  perfect Parama Vaishnava and a perfect
ParamaikAnti sArvabhouma but also a  perfect Prapanna  par excellence.

{These are based on the excerpts from the Book "Sangeetha Bhaktisaara" by Sri
K. Sridharan translated in Tamil by U.Ve. Ammaal Sri TiruvEnkatAcharya SwAmi
and published by Sri S. KrishnaswAmy Iyengar, Editor of "Sri Vaishnava
Sudarsanam" Trichy.}

Anbil Ramaswamy
Everyone who is acquainted with classical Carnatic music of South India knows
that Sri ThyAgarAja is a great devotee of Sri Rama. Most of his songs are in
praise of Sri Rama. His songs were written in three distinct styles, namely - 
(A)  Sanskrit, as seen in "JagadAnanda kAraka", the popular Pancharatna kriti
in the Raaga "Naattai"  
(B)  Sanskitised Telugu as seen in "EndarO MahaanubhAvulu" in "Sri Raaga" and 
(C)  Spoken Telugu with words in vogue in the rural areas like "Chinna NADE
naa cheyi bhaDDithive" in the Raaga "Kalaanidhi".

Vedic scholars (as different from Sanskrit scholaras) know that Lord Vishnu is
'Sarva VyApi'  (all pervading). He is omnipotent and omniscient. He is the
indwelling spirit of everything as proclaimed by PrahlAda, who is the guide
and philosopher of ThyAgarAja. This will become clear when we read his musical
drama  "PrahlAda Bhakti Vijayam"- which echoes the Vedic tradition "Sarvam
Vishnu mayam Jagat". 

ThyAgarAja, a Vedic scholar is quite conversant with Valmiki Ramayana and in
the song in "DevAmrutavarshini" Raaga "Evarani Nirnayinchedira?, he clearly
shows the distinction between the whole and the part. Sri Rama, the
incarnation of Vishnu is the whole and everything else is the part. It is
pertinent to mention here that Sri ThyAgarAja on the advice of his father had
recited the Rama Naama 960 million times to win the grace of the Lord. 

In the song in "Karaharapriya" Raaga,  "ChakkaniRAjamArgamulundaga" he asks -
" When the well laid out royal road is available, why should the mind tread
narrow paths?" The royal road is the path towards Rama and the narrow lanes
are the ways leading to minor deities. The worship of the Supreme Lord is like
partaking pure creamy milk and the worship of minor deities is like drinking
toddy, which offers temporary intoxication. In the charanam of this kriti, he
draws attention to Siva, who revels in chanting the name of Rama.

In the kriti, "Nitya roopa yevari pAndithyamu emi neduchura" in the Raaga
"KApi" says ThyAgarAja that the Lord of KAsi administers the Rama ThAraka
mantra to every devotee visiting KAsi.

In the kriti "Yentha raani tana kEntha pOni"in the Raaga "HarikAmboji", says
ThyAgarAja that Lord Siva in order to serve Rama had taken the birth as

In the popular raga "KApi", there is a moving song "Yintha Sowkhya munine", he
admits his inability to describe the ecstasy of the name of Rama and begs Lord
Siva to help.

As his devotion to Rama matured, he took to the practice of "Uncha Vritti".
Singing kritis in praise of the Lord, he went round the streets of
ThiruvaiyAru seeking bikshai. He did not seek bikshai for sustenance, but to
follow the traditional practice enjoined upon a Vedic Brahmin.

[Contrast this sacred practice of the Parama Srivaishnava BhAgavata, Saint
ThyAgarAja with the lure of lucre that has brought us across the seas !]

[We are reminded of how Swami Desika followed this "Uncha Vritti" practice as
a way of life of a true Vedic brahmin and how when  he found some gold coins
in his 'bikshaa paatram', he threw them away saying they were like vermin. A
similar incident happened in the life of ThyAgarAja also and he reacted
exactly in the same manner!. Perhaps, Great minds think alike!]

His music was pure devotion and was not meant for any commercial purposes. In
the popular kriti in the Raaga "Kalyani',  "Nidhi chAla SukhamA- RAmuni
Sannidhi chAla SukhamA" he says that wealth and pleasure are mere tinsel
before the grace of the supreme Lord.

[We are reminded ofthe VairAghya Panchakam of Swami Desika which conveys the
same sentiments]

ThyAgarAja was a great scholar who was thoroughly acquainted with VAlmik's
RAmAyana, Sukha's Srimad BhAgavatam, Bhakta pOthana's BhAgavatam based on
Sukha Brahmam's work, Vyasa's MahAbhAratam, the Aagama SAstras etc. But he was
a greater musicologist than a scholar and a  greater devotee than a musician.
By his own example, he showed the practical way to attain MOKSHAM  through the
grace of Sri Rama. The name "ThyAga Brahmam" is quite appropriate because he
was engaged in showing the way to reach the ParamAtman.

His literary contributions may be divided into three distinct groups namely 
(1) The popular kritis numbering a few hundreds 
(2) The two musical dramas namely
(a) PrahlAda Bhakti Vijayam and 
(b) NaukA Charitram and 
(3) The five Gana Raaga Pancha Ratna Kritis.

(1) THE POPULAR KRITIS: These kritis became popular in his lifetime. The saint
passed away in 1847. Paper was just about coming into use. Much of the kritis
were written on slate and memorized by a batch of SishyAs and preserved before
printing later. As early as in 1857, twenty of his compositions were published
with notations in a Telugu work called "Sangeetha SarvArtha SAra sangrahamu'.
An authentic version of his songs was issued in 6 volumes by the Tiger
Varadachariar brothers with an introduction by Sir C.P Ramaswamy Iyer.
ThyAgarAja is an acknowledged devotee of Sri Rama and has mentioned in umpteen
places that he is the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He has also mentioned in
umpteen places that Lord Vishnu or Lord Hari or Lord NArAyana is the
indwelling spirit. 
Many would be tempted to affirm that he paid his obeisance to Ganesa
referring to his kriti in "Saurashtra" Raaga, "Sri Ganapathiini SevimparAre" A
careful examination of the kriti reveals interesting details. His conception
of Ganapathi is different from the popular notion. To start with, he uses the
prefix "Sri" to convey that he is thinking of a Ganapathi, who has the
benediction of Goddess Lakshmi, the inseparable consort of Lord Vishnu.
Secondly, in the charanam, he expresses his desire to bow to that Ganapathi
who has in his heart the two lotus feet of Lord Hari. It may be remembered
that  in Pancharatram and other Srivaishnava scriptures, one GajAnaana has
been mentioned as one of the Dalapathis (Commanders) of Sri Vishvaksenar, who
always had in his heart the lotus feet of Lord Hari. Research has it that it
is this GajAnana who was later adopted by Saivites as Ganapathi, the son of
In both "PrahlAda Bhakti Vijayam" and "NoukA Charitram" can be found  adequate
testimony that his evolution towards Vishnu Bhakti reaches hoary heights,
while dealing with the Lord's incarnations as Nrisimha and Krishna. 

(a) "PrahlAda Bhakta Vijayam" In this, he identifies himself with PrahlAda and
the joy that accrues to a dedicated Bhaagavata. At the beginning, after
offering prayers to Sri Rama, he invokes the blessings of Vishwaksena, who is
always in service to Lord Vishnu. Then comes the description of the sentinel,
who is wearing a crimson-bordered dhoti and Srichoornam on his forehead. He
goes on chanting the name of the Lord "VAsudeva". This is also brought out in
his popular kriti in "Kalyani" Raaga, "VAsudEvayani Vedalina"

(b) "Nouka Charitram". In this, ThyAgarAja identifies himself with the Gopikas
and displays the "RAsa Leela" episode of Srimad BhAgavatam.  This NAyaka-
NAyaki bhAva  has a Vedic tradition in that God alone is considered Man.  In
the Krishna prema, ThyAgarAja is completely lost and as a Gopika he is
prepared to lose everything that belongs to him including the proud possession
of the sense of shame. 

This is brought out also in his kriti in  "SAranga" Raaga " Odanu Jaripedu
Muchuda Ganare", he enjoys the singing of the Gopikas in praise of Lord Hari.
At the end of the play, he offers mangala Aasaasanam to Lord Krishna.  In the
Pallavi itself, he mentions the relationship of all the beings to the Lord
(which includes himself)  "BhAndavA Vishnu BhaktAs cha SwadesO Bhuvanatrayam"

In the Raaga "PunnagavarAli", he begs the Lord to give him His feet. The kriti
starts with the Pallavi "Hari Hari Nee Yokka Divya PAdha"

In the Raaga "Jayanthasree" ThyAgarAja begs of Sri Rama to reveal Himself. He
says that he had found out after a careful search that Sri Rama is the Supreme
Lord. The Pallavi for the song is "MarukElarA". 

There may be a few kritis attributed to ThyAgarAja which praise the glory of
the minor deities, the number of which could be counted on the fingers. In
fact, the Saint has kritis on Sri LalithA, SriDharma Samvardhini of
ThiruvaiyAru and Subramanian also. Most of them have been found to be
spurious. These must be construed , even if authentic, as only those composed
BEFORE he realized the futility of worshipping them.

[Are not some of our Azhwars shown as having faltered in their early lives
before they turned towards the Lord? Was not the great Thirumazhisai Azhwar, a
devotee of Siva assuming the title of ' Siva VakhyA'  before being transformed
by Pey Azhwar into BhaktisAra? This shows the truth in the saying "Every Saint
has a past and every sinner a future"]

In the kriti in  "ChAyA Tharangini" Raaga, "Ithara Deivamu valanaIlanu
SowukhyamA Rama?", he asks "Is it possible to derive comfort in worshipping
other deities?". Says he in the Anupallavi" Mathabhedamu lEka sadhA madini
Marulukonna" which means " Oh! Rama ! To me whose mind without harbouring any
prejudice against other faiths, is constantly and passionately in love with
you. I am always thinking of you regardless of religious differences". 

In the kriti in "Revagupthi" Raaga, "GrahabhalamEmi", he says "The grace of
Sri Rama, which vanquishes the five great sins (the PanchmahA pAthakAs) is far
superior to the powers of planetary deities. It is noteworthy that this
sentiment is coming from Thyagaraja, the astrologer.

In the kriti in "Kalyani" Raaga, "KAru Velpu Neeku Sari kAru" ThyAgarAja
compares Rama with 'Jilakara Sambha' which is a smooth fine quality of paddy
grown in ThanjAvur and compares the minor deities to  "KAru Samba", which is a
coarse reddish rice. In the same kriti, he compares Rama with a torch of flame
and the other deities with tiny lamps; Rama is like the river Kaveri and the
other deities are like narrow canals; Rama is like the most beautiful
celestial Manmatha and other deities are like handsome human beings; Rama is
the Ocean and the other deities are like lakes; He concludes that there is
nothing on earth to compare with Rama.

In the kriti "PAhi KalyAna Rama Sundara Rama MAm Paahi" in the Raaga
"PunnagavarAli" says ThyAgarAja " All these days, I have strayed from the path
of Sri Rama, having lost my mind.... I have committed a number of mistakes and
had also prayed to you to correct me" Significantly, he addresses the Lord as
the God worshipped by Saint Sukha and points out that he had already offered
his SARANAGATHI to Him. The tone of a Bhaagavata and earnestness to be a true
devotee of Sri Hari is easily discernible.

In the kriti in "SAveri" Raaga " Sri Rama RamAsrithulamu kAma", he asks "Are
we not entitled to His grace?". In this, he speaks not only of Atma Samarpanam
and Bhara Samarpanam but also of Phala samarpanam - the three dedications that
are the sheet anchors of SaranAgathi

The first kriti, "JaganAnandakArakA" in the Raaga " Nattai" he provides a
panoramic presentation of the 'Kingdom of God', who is the cause and
repository of universal bliss. ThyAgarAja's references to Vedic texts are
scholarly and authoritative.

The second kriti "Dudukugula' in the Raaga "Gowla" he repents over the sins
committed (or not committed) by him. In fact, he gives a fairly exhaustive
list of sins. The object of ThyAgarAja is not difficult to perceive. 

[This reminds us of the Naichya AnusanthAnam expressed by the Azhwars and
AchAryas especially, Swami Desika]

In a magnificent tribute to the Lord's grace (KArunya) he asserts that sins of
any dimension and magnitude will vaporize as soon as His grace is attained.
Interestingly and significantly, he points out that music or any fine art
should be employed for the pleasure of the Lord only. It is a sin to employ
music for gain and personal pleasure.

In the third kriti, "SadhinchanE" in the Raaga "Aarabhi", ThyAgarAja excels as
a master poet. Says he that he was advised by Sri Rama not to mingle with
those who are not His devotees.

[This reminds us of PeriyAzhwar's "KoozhAtpattu Ninrreergalai Engal Kuzhuvinil

In the fourth kriti, in "Varaali" Raaga, "Kana Kana RuchirA", he reaches the
stage of self-surrender.To his surrender, he calls upon a number of witnesses,
which include Lord Siva, NArada and Purandara.

[Obviously, he was such an evolved soul that he could perform ' SVANISHTA',
the exclusive privilege of only the most highly evolved souls. It is said that
the saint took TuriyAsramam and changed his name to "NAdha Brahmam" on taking
SannyAsam. And, consequently, we can conclude that he attained MOKSHAM which
others less qualified like us can attain only through ' Uktinishta ' or '
Acharya nishta ']

In the fifth kriti, in "Sree" Raaga, "yentarO mahAnubhAvulu", he is in ecstasy
that he is in the select band of devotees dedicated to Lord Hari. Among the
BhAgavatas, he makes special mention of Lord Siva, NArada,  Sukha, Saunaka,
Thumburu, PrahlAda and ParAsara etc."punyAn ImAn Parama BhAgavatAn SRAYAAMI",
he says. It needs the grace of the Lord, who sports the conch and the disc to
belong to the tradition of Saint ThyAgarAja.

ThyAgrAja's love of Rama is not mere infatuation of a particular deity (Ishta
Deivam) but the devotion of an erudite Vedic scholar. In his evolution towards
NArAyana Bhakti, he reminds us of one of the Azhwars. He may be appropriately
called the "BhaktisAra" of the 19th century.

[If the word "Azhwar" means "one who is immersed in Haribhakti" or one who has
drowned himself in such Bhakti as A.K Ramanujam puts it while referring to
Nammalwar in his "Hymns for the drowning", Saint Thyagaraja is eminently
qualified to be reckoned as a modern Azhwar]

[There is a Slokam in Sanskrit which says that one who has no knowledge or ear
for music is  like an  animal minus its tail:  "Sangeetha Saahitya kalaa
viheenah SAkshAth Pasu pucha VishAna heenah". Shakespeare also echoes saying
"The man that hath no music in himself nor is moved by the concord of sweet
music is fit for treason, strategem and spoils". It, therefore, requires at
least a basic inclination for, if not a thorough knowledge of, music to
appreciate what a glorious musician, an ardent Mumukshu, Parama BhAgavata and
Perfect Prapanna was Saint Thyagaraja]