Shri Thyagaraja Swami

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Carnatic Music
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Place of Birth: 
Thiruvarur, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu
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Sri Tyagaraja Swami
(1767 - 1847 AD)

Tyagaraja (d. 1848) was one of the most important composers of Carnatic music. He is regarded as one of the "trinity" of Carnatic music composers, along with Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri. He was a devotee of Rama.

Sri Tyagaraja, the most celebrated Carnatic Music saint was a great devotee of Lord Sri Rama. Tyagaraja lived to the full extent that God realization is best achieved through Nadopasana (music with devotion). His songs are filled with an intimate devotion to Rama, all through revealing his deep understanding of the tenets of the Vedas and Upanishads.

Saint Purandaradas is considered as the grandfather of Carnatic Music. Sri Tyagaraja, along with Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri are considered as the "Trinity of Carnatic Music." Sri Tyagaraja has composed more than 800 songs in his long devoted life to Lord Rama, most of them written in his Mother tongue Telegu, but a few in Sanskrit, including the masterpiece "Jagadanandakaraka" composed of 108 names describing Lord Rama's attributes. But, his songs are well loved in Tamil Nadu, the seat of South Indian (Carnatic) Music scholarship and performance.


In Thiruvarur in the Thanjavur district of present-day Tamil Nadu, in the Hindu lunar year Sarvajit 27th Soma, on Chaitra Sukla Sapthami, the 7th day of the bright half of the Hindu month of Chaitra, under the Pushya nakshatram [star], that is on May 4, 1767, a son was born to Kakarla Ramabrahmam and his wife Seethamma. According to another tradition, the year of his birth was 1759.

The boy was named Tyagaraja, after Lord Tyagaraja, the presiding deity of Thiruvarur. Tyagaraja's father Rama Brahmam taught him to worship Rama daily and initiated him in Rama taraka mantra. Even as a boy, Tyagaraja composed his first song on Rama, Namo Namo Raghavaya when he was only 13 years old. Sri Tyagaraja continued to recite the Rama Nama every day and had many darsans of Sri Rama, which inspired him to write songs on his beloved Lord, Sri Rama. His maternal grandfather, Giriraja Kavi, at whose residence in Tiruvarur Thyagaraja was born, was a poet-composer attached to the court of Thanjavur. The family was a pious Telugu-speaking smartha brahmin family of the vaidiki Mulukanadu sub-caste. They are said to have hailed from a village named Kakarla in the Prakasam district of present-day Andhra Pradesh, but had long been settled in Thiruvaiyaru in the Thanjavur district of present-day Tamil Nadu, which is the scene of the life and work of the great composer.

At 18 years of age, Tyagaraja married Parvati, who died when he was only 23. He then married Kamalamba (sister of Parvati). They had a daughter named Sitamahalakshmi, through whom he had a grandson, who died progeniless. Seetalakshmi's only child, also named Tyagaraja, died at a young age; with that, the line of direct descent from Tyagaraja came to an end.

Thus we do not have any descendant of Saint Tyagaraja. But, his tradition is kept alive by his musical disciples and their followers.

Thyagaraja had an elder brother, Japyesa, whose descendents still abide in the same area of Tamil Nadu. Japyesa is often made the villain in stories about Tyagaraja, in the role of the brother who could not understand Tyagaraja's devotion to Sri Rama, a characterization that smacks of caricature and may well be inaccurate. Thyagaraja attained release from the material world on Pushya Bahula Panchami, the fifth day of the dark half of the month of Pushya, in the Hindu lunar year Prabhaava (January 6, 1847).

Tyagaraja started his musical training under Sri Sonti Venkataramanayya at an early age. Tyagaraja regarded music as a way to experience the love of God. His objective while performing music was to repeat the name of God and contemplate on His Divine Pastimes, thereby reducing the vices of the mind, not to display his mastery over Raga and Tala. He had to struggle quite a bit to compose music in which Bhava, that is, emotion, was crowned. (He always felt that Bhava was not to be compromised for Raga and Tala). The legend goes that he was blessed by the divine sage Narada with great musical knowledge.

Being a great devotee of Lord Rama, the only things that mattered to Tyagaraja were Music and Bhakti. In fact, they were synonymous to him. "Is there a sacred path than music and bhakti?". "O Mind, salute the gods of the seven notes". "The knowledge of music, O Mind, leads to bliss of Union with the Lord". Music was to him the meditation on the Primordial Sound:

"I bow to Sankara, the embodiment of Nada, with my body and mind. To Him, the essence of blissful Samaveda, the best of the vedas, I bow. To Him who delights in the seven swaras born of His five faces I bow".

Sri Tyagaraja had the highest reverence for great bhakthas like Prahlada, Dhruva, Hanuman and Narada. Sri Tyagaraja's life is an illustration to the dictum that music and devotion combined make the best path to the understanding of the Supreme Brahman.He is said to have sung Sri Naarada Mouni, a song in praise of Narada, on this occasion.

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Books & Media

Recommended Books: 

108 kritis of Sri Tyagaraja: Text and notation in Devanagari script, with gamaka signs

by Tiruvaiyaru Ramabrahmam Tyagaraja Svami

(Unknown Binding)