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Indian history is full of exceptional devotees who proved the significance of love and spirituality. One such divine and gifted soul was the great “Saint Thyagaraja”. He descended on the land of Tiruvarur, Tamil Nadu in India on May 14, 1767. He was born in a Telugu Vaidiki Mulakanadu Brahmin family.
Saint Thyagaraja revolutionized the dormant Carnatic Music during the 18th and 19th centuries. This form of Music is based on unique “Ragas and Talas” (musical notes) like all other forms of Indian classical music. It beautifully expresses Bhakti (devotion) and Sringara (love). Earlier, it was performed for the praise of God. Later, it included singing the glory of great kingdoms.
Thyagaraja was inclined towards music from an early age. Ramayana and Lord Ram also influenced the musical legend. He sang many kritis (a devotional form of composition in Carnatic music) of Lord Ram. He predominantly created the kritis in the Telugu language. Still, Saint Thyagaraja is a global icon. Two of his contemporaries also gained equal fame along with him in that era. They were Shyama Shastri and Muthuswami Dikshitar. Together, these three were known as the Trinity of Carnatic Music.
Carnatic Music has survived the ever-changing modernization of the music. Its several concerts are being held not only in India but all over the world. Compositions of Saint Thyagaraja are part of almost every show. Isn’t it phenomenal that they are popular and relevant even after 250 years of their creation!
Body of Work
Saint Thyagaraja created over 22,000 compositions during his lifetime. Out of them, only around 729 survived. They lived through the generations of his disciples. One of the most celebrated creations is “Pancharatna Kriti”. It is a combination of five Kritis of Lord Ram. Each one in a different Raga depicting different moods. One of them is in the Sanskrit language. The rest of them are in Telugu.
The great Saint Thyagaraja was not inclined towards the technicalities of classical music. His devotional music flowed like a free waterfall soothing the heart of his listeners. His fans ranged from common Men to the Kings of that era.
Like a Lotus Leaf!
He was detached from worldly pleasures. He was a perfect example of the lotus leaf provided in “Bhagvat Geeta” (a prominent Hindu scripture). A lotus leaf is untouched by water even while floating in it. All the drops of water fall off from its surface, and it remains clean. Saint Thyagaraja experienced everyday family life. He had a home where he lived with his wife and daughter but he always longed for the spiritual connection with Lord Ram. He regarded him as his friend and guide in his compositions. The musical legend never ran after wealth and fame. He used to make his living by “Daan” (Alms) given by villagers and his admirers. He denied an invitation from the King to live a lavish lifestyle. He believed he was born to serve God only.
There are many stories of him witnessing miracles where he reached out to Lord Ram. Eventually, he gave the most significant proof that he was close to God. It is said that his day of demise, January 6, 1847, was announced by himself beforehand. He declared that Lord Ram has appeared in his dreams and promised to take him to salvation. He remained a mystic both in life and death.
Thyagaraja Aradhana – Homage to the Legend
His legacy continues even today through the Thyagaraja Aradhana music festival. It’s an annual event held between January to February on his death anniversary. It’s a week-long musical extravaganza organized at his resting place at Thiruvaiyaru. It has flourished to become an international marvel. Carnatic musicians gather from all over the world to celebrate the heritage of his compositions. It’s a mesmerizing sight when thousands of people together sing “Pancharatna Kriti” in his honor.
Reema Krishnan is a content creator at Acharyanet, a platform for Carnatic music learners where they can learn music from gurus through 400+ video lessons. Being a music enthusiast and a history buff herself, she is able to provide value for her readers and her content is well-received by musicians, music lovers, and music learners of all ages and at all stages.