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Thyagaraja: The Great Composer of Carnatic Music

Updated on August 25, 2017
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Radhika is a Carnatic music singer who is pursuing her studies in music. She enjoys other classical forms of art as well.

Sri Thyagaraja
Sri Thyagaraja | Source

After Purandara Dasa, Carnatic Music world got radiance once again from the saint Sri Thyagaraja, who was a devout of Lord Rama. His music compositions in Telugu language are so illustrious that they simply reveal the eternal truth in worshipping God. He had the ability to compose and sing spontaneously; a god gift that he never lured for acquiring wealth. Thyagaraja led the life of a Spartan void of every worldly pleasures and comforts that came over his way.

Biography of Thyagaraja

Sri Thyagaraja was born in 1767 in Tiruvarur in Tamil Nadu to Kakarla Ramabrahma and Sitamma in a Telugu Brahmin family. He was named Thyagabrahmam/Thyagaraja after Lord Thyagaraja, the presiding deity of the temple at Tiruvarur. His maternal grandfather was a Veena player from whom he learned playing it during childhood. After his death, Sri Thyagaraja started leaning towards music when he found a book called ‘Naradeeyam’. Then he started learning music from Sri Sonti Venkata Ramanayya, a scholar in Carnatic Music.

Sri Thyagaraja had the ability of composing music also. The song ‘Om Namo Raghavayya’ that he wrote on the walls of his house disclosed this. During a performance at Thanjavur, Thyagaraja sang his own musical composition ‘Endaro Mahanubhavalu’ beside his teacher. Pleased with his talent in composing music, the teacher informed the King of Thanjavur about this. The King wanted to make him the royal musician of his court and sent for him presenting rich gifts. Sri Thyagaraja who sang for God and not for wealth, rejected the invitation and sang the song ‘Nidhichala Sukhama’ outright. The song’s meaning is ‘does wealth bringing comfort?’ For him, ultimate comfort was in praising his Lord Sri Rama rather than acquiring wealth. After this incident, he was never encouraged by his family members as they wanted to become rich through him.

This complete love and devotion to God made him live a lonely life though he had a home with family to care for. He had no intention of living for them and so he didn't earn. He considered his home just as a shelter to live in. To stand on his toes, he would go for 'Unchavritti' meaning asking for alms all round the street every morning. Once he gets enough food for the day, he returns back home singing praising Rama.

However, this practice was not ideal for his brother, Japesa, who hoped to attain monetary benefits from the great artistic talent that Sri Thyagaraja had possessed. The desperate brother then partitioned the ancestral house to get Thyagaraja out as he could not tolerate him anymore. In the process, he threw out the idol of Sri Rama that was the heart of Sri Thyagaraja. The deeply saddened Sri Thyagaraja, the great devout of Lord Rama, who lost the idol of his austere worship, started begging to the Lord to return to him through his eternal divine songs. It is said that the Lord appeared to him In a dream and helped him find his idol. This event was a turning point in the life period of Sri Thyagaraja.

Wonder if there is someone else who abandoned honors and wealth though he deserved it!!

Sri Ram & Sita
Sri Ram & Sita | Source

What sort of a person was Sri Thyagaraja?

Even after having such a prolific talent in composing music, Sri Thyagaraja never had the desire of luring it for making money. When he was sent for attending the royal court with lots of gifts and rewards, he rejected them outright singing 'Nidhichala Sukhama'.....meaning 'does wealth bring comfort?'

Thyagaraja sought pleasure by praising his Lord Rama through illustrious musical compositions. It is said that Sri Rama appeared before him when he was heartbroken once.

The ultimate trail of Sri Thyagaraja

In the final days of his life, Sri Thyagaraja traveled all across the temples of South India and sang songs for their presiding deities. He took Sanyasa towards the end of his life. In one of his last compositions, Sri Thyagaraja sings with contentment saying, "Unerringly I saw my Lord Sri Rama installed on the hill...The ecstatic me with tears of joy, tried to speak... My Lord promised to bless me in five days".

It happened then. As promised, he attained Samadhi(eternal peace) on Pushya Bahula Panchami in Prabhava.

Sri Rama in Tirumala
Sri Rama in Tirumala | Source

Thyagaraja Aradhanai

Thyagaraja renounced everything as he was about to attain Samadhi. In 1847, this great exponent of Carnatic Music, whose rich and refined music compositions capture the music lovers' environment today, passed away in Thiruvaiyyaru. A small memorial was built at this spot and his disciples returned back to their native places afterwards.

His eternal songs recalled his disciples to visit his memorial in and around 1903. They renovated the place and built Thyagabrahma Mahotsava Sabha where the annual festival Thyagaraja Aradhanai is held. On Pushya Bahula Panchami day, the festival is celebrated by singing his five gems of Pancharatna Kritis by Carnatic musicians who would attend this auspicious function from all parts of the world.

In US also, Thyagaraja Aradhanai is being celebrated in Cleveland where Carnatic musicians staying there preside over.

Sri Thyagaraja resembled Purandara Dasa in all respects though they lived centuries apart. Both led a pious life composing and singing for Sri Krishna and Sri Rama. Their music compositions are concise and evergreen.

Thyagaraja Aradhanai at Tiruvaiyar
Thyagaraja Aradhanai at Tiruvaiyar | Source

Please vote!

Do you like Sri Tyagaraja's songs?

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Thiruvaiyaru Thyagaraja Aradhanai

© 2015 Radhika Sreekanth


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    • radhikasree profile image

      Radhika Sreekanth 2 years ago from Mumbai,India

      Dear Venkat sir,

      Sri Tyagaraja is really a gem in Carnatic music field whose compositions are simply superb. Thank u so much for discussing him in this short hub.

    • radhikasree profile image

      Radhika Sreekanth 2 years ago from Mumbai,India

      Thanks Ruby for the heads up. Great to know that you liked our music. So nice of you.

    • radhikasree profile image

      Radhika Sreekanth 2 years ago from Mumbai,India

      You're most welcome...AudreyHowitt...

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Wow! I also thought of writing about him on my blog Lifestyle tips only last week, but later abandoned as it may not suit lifestyle blog. Now, you have done a great tribute to him here on hubpages. Very good work done. You have done it very interestingly.

      Actually, the disciples, who left to their houses after his demise, used to held public concerts in their own native places to commemorate his contribution on his birthdays. It was later that they combined together in 1903 and erected the Gana Sabha building and started performing on large scales. It is said that he composed more than 30,000 kritis in his lifetime. A very great contribution to carnatic music.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

      A beautifully written hub. I very much enjoy listening to carnatic music. The video is lovely also. Thank you..

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      So very interesting. Thank you --passing this along!