Sadguru Sri Thyagaraja Swamikal was born at Thiruvarur. He was born on 4th May 1767 corresponding to 25th Chithra,Tamil year Sarvajithu on Pushyam star.
His grandfather Giriraja Brahmam belonged to Mulakanad Telugu Brahmin sect. His family hailed from a village called Kakarla in Prakasam district of Andrapradesh, but later on during Muslim invasion migrated to Tamilnadu and got settled at Thiruvarur. Giriraja Brahmam was proficient in Telugu and Sanskrit and also in Music. Ramabrahmam was his offspring and he used to do Ramayana Pravachanam.
He received Rama Tharaka Manthropadesam from the head of Maruthanallur Mutt. His wife’s name was Seethamma. The couple was bestowed with three sons. The eldest was Panchanatham alias Jalpesan, the second one was named Ramanathan, but he died at childhood. The third one was Thyagaraja. The name was given to him as both Ramabrahmam and Seethamma had dreamt the same dream in which Lord Thyagaraja told them that they would get a son, who would be blessed by Narada and Valmiki and he should be named as Thyagaraja.
Ramabrahmam performed Thyagaraja’s upanayanam when he was eight year old. He taught him Telugu and Sanskrit and Thyagaraja’s mother Seethamma taught him Jayadevar’s Ashtapathi and Purandaradasa’s Kirthanas. Thyagaraja had a mellifluous voice and a natural flair for music.
Once Ramabrahmam planned to go to Benares with his family. On his way when he arrived at Thiruvaiyaru he had a dream. He heard a voice telling him that he need not have to visit Benares and Thiruvaiyaru was sacred than Benares. There is a proverb in Tamil that “ Kaasikku veesam athikam Thiruvaiyaru.”
King Thulshaji who was ruling over Thanjavur also had a dream in which he was told to give land and house to Ramabrahmam. Accordingly he gave land and house to Ramabrahmam at Thiruvaiyaru. Thus Ramabrahmam got settled there.
Ramabrahmam was performing puja daily to Sri Rama Phattabisheka Murthi which was worshipped by his ancestors. Thyagaraja used to assist him by bringing flowers and also used to chant Rama Tharakamanthram which was taught to him by his father. He also joined the Sanskrit college at Thiruvaiyaru and studied for four years. He was also taught Ramayanam, Bharatham, Bhagavatham and vedantha granthas.
When he was just thirteen years old, he was assisting and watching his father performing puja, and all in a sudden he was carried away with deep devotion and started spontaneously singing his first song, “Namo Namo Raghavaya Nama Namo Anisam.”
Both Ramabrahmam and Seethamma were overwhelmed with emotion to hear their son singing spontaneously.
Seethamma said, “Did you hear our Thyagu’s song? It is incredible that without even learning music under a tutor he sings so well. I wish that we do something to bring out his talent. We must look for a guru to teach him music.”
Ramabramam said, “I was struck with wonder when I heard him. I never knew that he possessed so much talent. It is all due to the Grace of Lord Rama. I will request Sonti Venkata Ramanaiyya who is the Asthana vidwan of Thanjavur samasthanam to teach him music.”
When Thyagaraja heard this his joy knew no bounds. When he used to go to pluck flowers near Sonti Venkata Ramanayya’s house he used to listen to his music. He always got enthralled when he heard him singing and used to loiter near his house. Now Thyagu was so happy to hear that he would learn music from his most revered musician.
Sonti Ramanaiya had great respect for Ramabrahmam for he had heard his Ramayana Pravachanam and admired him for his knowledge. When Ramabrahmam approached him to accept Thyagu as his disciple he gladly acceded to his request.
Thyagu was under the tutelage of Sonti Venkata Ramanaiya just for a year. As he was bestowed with great talent and had great proficiency in the nuances of raga lakshanas and kalpana swaras, his guru’s work was made easy. The raw diamond was cut and polished and started emitting its luster. Thyagu outshone all the other disciples of his guru. The guru was proud of his student and he wanted to showcase his talent before music lovers.
He invited people who had knowledge in sampradaya sangitham and who could appreciate good music and asked his disciple to show his talent before them.
Thyagaraja sang the song “Dhorakuna iDuvaNti seva,” in Raha Bilahari which was composed by him. The song describes the beauty of Lord Vishnu in His abode with his bejeweled and pithambaram attired body relaxing on adisesha and His Devi looking at Him admiring His exotic beauty. Thumburu and Narada are singing songs praising Him, Ambarisha and others are singing bajans and the apsaras are dancing, Brahma and Indra are standing at both sides and in the last charaNam he says that the son of Ramabrahmam,Thyagaraja pushing the swing slowly singing song in praise of him. He exclaims whether it is possible even for those rishis who did penance and even for devas to perform this kind of seva to the Lord.
People who heard him singing were all in praise of him. His guru’s remark was ‘Dhorakuna IduvaNti sishyudu’ meaning can any one get a disciple like him? Thyagaraja sang many other songs and after that his guru gave him lot of gifts that he himself had received. The most precious gift was rare books on Musicology which belonged to Sonti Venkataramanaiya’s maternal grandfather. Thyagaraja studied those books in earnest and learned a lot and used them when he composed songs.
When Thyagaraja was seventeen year old, Ramabrahmam felt that he had one more duty to perform. He had performed Thyagaraja’s marriage with a girl named Parvathi. But unfortunately his married life lasted only for five years. His wife Parvathi died due to some ailment. His father also died three years after Thyagaraja’s marriage. His brother Jalpesan and his mother got him married again to Parvathi’s sister Kamalambal.
After few years Kamalambal gave birth to a female child. Thyagaraja named the child Seethalaksmi. He loved his daughter very dearly. At the appropriate age he performed her marriage and a lot of people attended the marriage. There was a galore of gifts to the bride. Thyagaraja who did not care for material things devoted the costly gifts to Lord Rama. He was fascinated by one gift that was a painting of Lord Kothanda Rama. His most favourite disciple Venkataramana Bhagavathar carried it all the way from Walajabad to Thiruvaiyaru by walk. Thyagaraja overwhelmed with emotion by the beauty of the picture instantly composed the Mohana raga krithi, “Nannu palimpa Nadachi vachithivo.”
In this song he asks Lord Rama whether he came by walk all the way to show his benevolence to him as he was always thinking and visualizing His lotus face.
Thyagaraja composed almost all his songs as if he was directly talking to the Lord through his song. Some of his songs relate directly to some incident in his life.
Once a sanyasi came to his house for biksha. He left with him some granthas related to music saying that he would come back after taking bath in the river Kaveri. Thyagaraja was waiting for him the whole day, but he did not return to take them back.
That night Thyagaraja had a dream in which the sanyasi appeared and said,
“ Thyagaraja! I am Narada and I came in the guise of sanyasi to give those rare granthas. They are rare secret granthas. One is “SwararNavam” and the other one is “Naratheeyam.” They will be very useful to you.”
In the morning Thyagaraja looked at the granthas and found them very valuable as they were related to his favorite subject sangeetha sasthram. He felt greatly indebted to sage Narada for the benevolence he had showered upon him.
Thyagaraja composed songs in tribute to sage Narada. The Bairavi Raga song ‘Sri Narada muni gururaya kanti’ and the Kaanada raga song ‘Sri Narada naadha’ prove that he had darshan of Narada.
Though Thyagaraja’s fame had spread far and wide his financial status was very poor. He never used to take fees from his disciples. In the mornings he used to go for biksha singing bajans with his disciples. His brother Jalpesan was also struggling in poverty. But he was jealous of his brother for his proficiency in music and also had the grievance that he was not using it for making money.
King Saraboji who came to know about Thyagaraja’s high proficiency in music wanted to make him his asthana vidwan. He sent his emissaries to Thyagaraja’s house expressing his desire.
One of them said, “King Saraboji has sent us to tell you that he is willing to offer you land, house, gold and many other gifts. He also has intended to make you his asthana vidwan.”
Thyagaraja said, “Oh! Is it so? What for he wants to give me all those things?”
He replied, “The king wants you to come to the palace and sing for him. If you sing songs in praise of him he is even willing to perform kanakabishekam to you.”
Thyagarja got shocked to hear this and He retorted in anger.
“What did your king think of me? Did he think that I will indulge in nara sthuthi in stead of singing my beloved Rama just for the sake of material wealth?”
The king’s emissary said, “If you come to the palace and sing in praise of the king you will be freed from the clutches of poverty.”
Thyagaraja did not reply to him. He just took out his thambura and started singing the Kalyani raga krithi “Nidhi chala sukama Ramu ni sannidhi seva sukama.”
This shows that Thyagaraja did not give importance to wealth, and he dedicated his music only to Lord Rama.
King Saraboji got very angry when he came to know that Thyagaraja did not accede to his request. He gave orders to bring Thyagaraja forcibly. But sooner than he gave the order he had severe stomach pain. Though the physicians gave him medicine the pain did not subside. He realized that because of his bad intention to humiliate a true devotee of the Lord he was suffering from pain. He went to Thyagaraja’s house and begged for his pardon and also beseeched him to cure him. Thyagaraja prayed to Lord Rama and the king’s stomach pain was cured. After that the king used to come to the temple to hear Thyagaraja’s music.
This news spread like wild fire in Thiruvaiyaru. Thyagaraja’s brother Jalpesan also heard this. He got very angry with Thyagaraja for throwing away a golden opportunity. He felt that if he would have grabbed the opportunity it would have made the whole family rich. He thought that his brother was spending most of his time in puja and teaching music to his disciples without getting any thing in return. He could not control his rage and so that night when Thyagaraja went to sleep after performing puja and putting the Lord also to sleep after singing a lullaby, he went to the puja room stealthily, took the Rama Pattbisheka Murthi and threw it in the river Kaveri.
Next morning Thyagaraja got up and after finishing his morning ablutions, went to the puja room to wake up the Lord with Suprabhatham. When he did not find his beloved Lord, his heart wrenched with pain like a pigeon struck with a sharp arrow. He was in great anguish and asked everyone whether they had seen his beloved Lord Rama. As he did not get reply from anyone he did not have any other alternative other than pleading with the lord himself. He questioned and pleaded with him to reveal Himself. He sang the song “Etla kanukonthuno” meaning how he could find him again.
The Lord did not want to put His devotee under depression for a long time. He appeared in his dream and showed him the location where he was buried under the sand in the river Kaveri. Thyagaraja was so happy and he felt as if a person who lost his vision got it back again. He went to the river Kaveri and found his beloved Rama at the place where the Lord pointed out in his dream.
The Lord looked more beautiful than before. Thyagaraja hugged him, his eyes were filled with tears of joy, and he carried him over his head with great love and respect. He installed him in the puja room and sang with fervour the song “Rara maa intithaka.” And also another song “Etla thirikithivo,” wondering how he got him back when people around him tried to take him away from him. He says that he might have got him back for he had surrendered himself at the Lotus feet of the Lord or due to the blessings of his elders or the way he dedicated his music for worshipping the Lord.
His brother Jalpesan had realized his folly and the greatness of his brother and he repented for his misdeed.
The Idol which was worshiped by Thyagaraja is kept at Varagappayyer street, Thanjavur and could be seen even now.
When Thyagaraja’s father was alive a yogi named Ramakrishna Yathindra had come from Kanchi to his house. He told Thyagaraja that he could have darshan of Lord Rama if he chanted Ramanama ninety-six crore times. Thyagaraja had taken it to his heart and daily he used to chant Ramanama and completed the great assignment in twenty one years. After this he was waiting for the darshan excitedly. He had waited nearly for three months, but was very much disappointed and lost hopes. But one day after puja when he was looking at the songs he had composed someone knocked at his door. When he opened the door who did he see there? Ram and Laksman were standing at the threshold with their bow and arrows and appeared to him as they protected Vishwamithra’s yajna . But they vanished at once.
Once he went to Srirangam and Lord Ranganatha was having his Brammothsavam. The place was crowded and people were jostling and pushing to have darshan. Thyagaraja could not have darshan and he started singing Rajuvedala judhamurare and the people who were carrying the Lord got stuck up and could not move. People were wondering what had happened. The archakas saw Thyakaraja struggling to have darshan and they sent one person to bring him near the Lord. Thyagaraja went near the Lord and sang ‘Vinaraathaa naamanavi’ and after he finished the song the archakas showed the karpura deeparaadhana and they were able to move from there. Thyagaraja composed the Sriranga pancha rathnam containing five songs on Lord Ranganatha. In the Kamboji raga kirthana “O Rangasayi” Thyagaraja pleads with the Lord to give him darshan. He says that the Lord has assumed Sriranagam as bhooloka vaikuntam and he was enjoying there with his Lady Love forgetting about His devotee who was yearning for His darshan.
Once he went to Tirumalai to have darshan of Lord Venkatesa. He reached the temple after the morning puja was over and so the curtain was drawn. Thyagaraja pleaded with the Lord to give him darshan and he sang ‘Thera theeyakaraathaa’ in Gaulibanthu. When he finished the song the curtain was removed as the archakas and people came to know Thyagarja had come to have darshan of the Lord. The archakas honoured him with Parivattam ( a silk cloth of the Lord tied around the head of the honoured devotee and also a garland also put on the devotee’s neck that was worn by the Lord.)
From Tirumalai he proceeded to Madras as for the wishes of his disciple Veenai Kuppaiyar. At Madras he stayed at the house of Kovur Sundara Mudaliyar, a devotee of Lord Siva. He went to Kovur Sundareswara temple and there he composed five songs which are known as Kovur Pancharathnam.
When he left Kovur Sundara Mudaliyar gave him gold moharas, but Thyagaraja refused to take them. But Sundara Mudaliyar hid them in the palanquin. When it became dark robbers threw stones to stop them and the disciples who were carrying the palanquin started shouting, “robbers, robbers.”
Thyagaraja got down and said, “Why should we be afraid of robbers? We have nothing valuable.”
Then Kuppaiyar said, “ Sundara Mudaliyar had kept the moharas in side the palanquin.”
Thyagaraja said, “Then give it to the robbers. I do not need them.”
Kuppaiyar replied, “As you have refused to take it, he hid the gold moharas in the palanquin saying that they could be used to celebrate Ramanavami uthsavam. As he gave it very affectionately for celebrating Ramanavami we also could not say anything.”
“Oh! Is it so? Then let Lord Ram take care of it.” So saying Thyagaraja told them to carry on. The falling of stones stopped. At dawn the robbers all came running and fell at Thyagaraja’s feet.
They said, “Swami, please forgive us. We threw stones with the intention of robbing, but when we followed we saw two persons with bow and arrows, one at the back and one at the front guarding the palanquin.”
When Thyagaraja heard this he could not control his excitement. He could very well guess it was Ram and Lakshman who protected them all from the robbers.
He said, “You were really blessed. The persons whom you have seen with bow and arrows were Ram and Lakshman. Lord Ram Himself gave darshan to you with His beloved brother Lakshman means He wanted to bring you under His fold. Henceforth you stop this robbery and lead a pious life. I will teach you the Rama tharaka manthram”
Then he taught them Rama tharaka manthram. The robbers carried the palanquin chanting Rama nama and they all reached Thiruvorriyur. There when Thyagaraja had darshan of Devi Thripurasundari he forgot himself in her enchanting beauty. Yet he could not control his natural urge of composing songs. He composed Devi Thripurasundari Pancha Rathnas praising the beauty and karuna kataksham of Devi Thripurasundari in ragas kalyani, bekada, suddha saveri, arabi and saveri.
As Syama Sastri and Muthuswami Dikshidhar were contemporaries of Thyagaraja they used to visit his house and listen to his songs and also he used to listen to their songs. They used to discus and appreciate each other’s songs. Whenever Syama Sastri came to Thyagaraja’s house both of them spent hours together chatting and singing songs. The disciples of Thyagaraja would be feeling hungry when both of them were spending time like this and so as soon as they saw Syama Sastri entering they would say, “Oh my God! Today we can’t have our lunch before 2 or 3 P.M.”
Once Thygaraja invited Dikshidhar to his house to see him performing puja to his beloved Rama. Dikshidhar was very much impressed by the divine atmosphere at Thyagaraja’s house. Thyagaraja sang the Bhairavi Raga song “Koluvai unnade” in which he invites all to have darshan of Ram and Sita who are sitting on the simhasanam with all splendour.
Dikshidhar also was very much inspired by the Divine atmosphere. Then he also started singing his Manirangu raga kirthana “Mamava Pattabhisheka Rama,” describing the beauty of Rama on his crowning ceremony.
All great souls’ lives do come to an end. In the year 1846 on 27th December Thyagaraja had a dream. Lord Rama had appeared in his dream. He said, “My dear Thyagaraja, I am very much pleased to tell you that I want to keep you beside me and you will be with me on the tenth day from today.”
Next morning Thyagaraja told his disciples that on the following Pushya Bakula Panchami day one important event would take place and they all should come to witness it without fail. The disciples were surprised to hear this and were wondering what could be the event.
The day before Pushya Bakula Panchami he obtained sanyasa from Paramahamsa Brahmma Narendra Swami and he was given the name Nadhabrahmmananda by Paramahamsa. He told his disciples that Lord Sri Ram had promised him to take him back under his lotus feet on the following day. He told them to sing bajans continuously. When they heard these words from their guru’s mouth they all felt like a calf losing the mother cow. The news also spread like wildfire through out Thiruvaiyaru. The whole village was drowned in a sea of sadness.
January 16th 1847 the day broke with a feeling of darkness and gloominess for those who loved and admired Thyagaraja.
Thyagaraja as usual performed all the daily rituals and puja and then sat with folded hands chanting Rama nama telling his students that he would be attaining yoga Samadhi. He told them that his Samadhi should be erected next to his guru Venkata Ramanaiya’s Samadhi.
As the people were watching with bated breath they saw a bright light emanating from Thyagaraja’s head and diappearing in the sky. The jivathma had merged with Paramathma.
As for his wish a Samadhi has been built and a thulsi was planted. His disciples visited his Samadhi every year on Pushya bakula Panchami day and paid tributes to him by singing his songs.
The Thyagaraja Aradhana festival was started from the year 1907 jointly by Panju Bagavathar, Narasimha Bagavathar and the violin maestro Govindhaswami Pillai.
In the year 1925 Bangaluru Nagarathnamma built a temple at the Samadhi with money saved by her.
Through out his life Thyagaraja utilized his natha yoga in the seva of Lord Rama. He followed all the nine paths, namely sravaNam, kirthanam, smaraNam, paathasevanam, archanam, vandhanam, dhaasyam, sakyam and athma nivedhanam which helps one to attain jeevan mukthi.
In his songs we can enjoy description of nature’s beauty along with bhakthi. His Pancharathna krithis are his master pieces.
He had also composed three musical dramas namely, Prahladaha Bhaktha Vijayam, Nauka Sarithram, and Sita Rama Vijayam.
He had many disciples. Veenai Kuppaiyar, Venkatakrishna Bhagavathar, and Lalgudi Ramaiyar were quite famous among them. Lalgudi Jayaraman is the descendant of lalgudi Ramaiyar and has the credential of coming from the family of direct disciple of Thyagaraja.
Sadguru’s divine music will remain eternal and the music lovers will get enthralled listening to his kirthanas.
I conclude and dedicate this series by paying my tributes to the great Mahaan with his Pancharathna kirthanai “endharo mahanubhavulu andhiriki vandanamu” which reverberates in his brindavan on Pushya Bakula Panchami day sung by all great musicians.
Jai Sri Sadhguru Thyagaraja Swamiki!