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Homage to Thyagaraja

On 15th of January 2009 “Bagula Panchami” by the Hindu Lunar Calendar, Carnatic Musicians will be observing the 162nd annual homage to saint Thyagaraja in his birthplace of Thiruvaiyaru in Tamil Nadu. Let us pause for a moment to enlighten our selves about this great saint musician.

Thygaraja was born in 1767 in the small town of Tiruvarur in Tamil Nadu. He belonged to a pious Telugu speaking Brahmin family whose profession was story telling, ‘Katha Kalakshepam’. Devotion to Lord Rama was the single focus of his life.

Thyagaraja was an outstanding musician and prolific composer. His melodious compositions have inspired many generations and to this day continues to draw many to Carnatic music. It is believed that Thyagaraja composed over 600 songs. Music for him was purely devotional

Perhaps the timeless nature of his lyrics owes credit to the every day situations from which they drew inspiration. Utsava sampradaya and divya nama krithis for instance, were composed as part of his daily Puja routine. When he visited Tirupathi temple to his dismay he found the temple door closed. Sad at not being able to have the darshan of Lord Venkatesha he sang “Teratiyagarada swami” in ragam Gaulipantu (can not you lift the veil swami?)

Noted contemporary musician Sonti Venkataramanayya once invited Thyagaraja to his house to meet other stalwarts. In paying respects to the gathering he sang “Endaro Mahanubhavulu andariki vandanamu” in Shree Ragam. (I salute the myriads of scholars in all humanity) A line more recently invoked by President Abdul Kalam while addressing dignitaries at his Presidential oath taking ceremony.

The King of Thanjavur too once offered Thyagaraja a place among his noble musicians. Not enticed by wealth, he retorted “Nidhi chala sukhama Ramuni sannidhi seva sukhama nijamuga balgu manasa?” (Oh mind tell me honestly which induces bliss; material wealth or the wealth of Lords Darshan and service at his shrine?) in ragam Kalyani.

Thyagaraja attained samadhi in the year 1847. To reaffirm their own faith in this great saints philosophy and music, scores of musicians, and music lovers from all over the world pay their homage, which begins with the singing of all the five Pancharathna krithis in Unison at the samadhi of this great saint.