Tag Archives: Carnatic Classical Music

Naadayogi Sri Tyagaraja Swami

Sri Tyagabrahma or Sri Tyagaraja Swami (1767-1847AD) is one among the Music Trinity of Carnatic Music. He was born to a pious couple in Tiruvarur in Tamil Nadu. Along with the study of Sastras, he learnt music from the well known Vidwan, Sonti Venkataramanaiah. He was an ardent devotee of Lord Rama, and started composing keerthans at a very young age. To him the idol of Sri Rama was a living presence. Tyagaraja associated simple daily activities like waking up, taking a bath, eating food, sleeping, etc., with the Lord and composed keerthans for all these occasions. He studied the Naradeeyam, a treatise on music. He considered Sage Narada as his Guru and consistently meditated on him. Sage Narada appeared before him and bestowed on him the knowledge of music. 

Tyagaraja was initiated into the Sri Rama mantra. When he completed chanting the mantra ninety six crore times, he heard a knock on the front door. When he opened the door, he was blessed with the vision of Lord Rama accompanied by his consort, Seeta. An overjoyed Tyagaraja sang in praise of his divine parents: Devi Seeta and Sri Rama. 

After his marriage, Tyagaraja led an extremely simple life of a householder. To him, Sri Rama was his wealth. Rama Bhakti was his kingdom. When the king heard of the great musician, he extended a royal invitation to Tyagaraja to become the court musician. He sent royal gifts in the form of silken apparel, gem-studded ornaments and gold coins. Tyagaraja politely declined both – the royal gifts and the glory of becoming a court musician. He composed a beautiful krithi: “O Mind, tell me the truth. What gives you real happiness – material wealth or Lord Rama’s divine association?” The royal attendants went back. 

Tyagaraja’s elder brother was very unhappy and annoyed that his brother had rejected the seat of Asthana Vidwan. He blamed it all on Lord Rama who had become the heart and soul of his brother. At night Tyagaraja’s brother secretly took the idol of Lord Rama from the puja-room and tossed it into the Kaveri river. In the morning, when Tyagaraja went into the prayer room for his regular worship, he found the idol missing. Overwhelmed with grief, without food and sleep, he searched for Rama everywhere. He went on a pilgrimage, and at every pilgrimage centre, Tyagaraja composed beautiful keerthans on the presiding deity of the temple. After a long, arduous search, the Lord appeared in his dream and told him that he was on the river-bed of Kaveri. Extremely happy, Tyagaraja retrieved the idol of Sri Rama and with all festive celebrations reinstalled it back in his prayer room. His brother realized his mistake as well as the great devotion that Tyagaraja had for the Lord. 

It was the marriage function of Tyagaraja’s daughter. One of his disciples brought a beautiful portrait of Lord Rama and Seeta as a gift for the newly-wed. From a distance, Tyagaraja saw his disciple walking and coming with the gift. To Tyagaraja, it was not a portrait. It was the Lord accompanied by Seeta walking towards him. With a joyous heart overflowing with devotion, he sang, “O Lord of my life, knowing that the sole purpose and fulfillment of my life is to have your glorious darshan, you have walked all the way and come along with Mother Janaki to bestow upon me your grace and blessings!”

Once Tyagaraja went to witness a program by a touring groupe. The artists performed to a song in raga Ananda Bhairavi:”Mathura nagarilo”. The sequence was the Gopis asking Krishna who had blocked their path, to give them way to go to Mathura to sell milk. Tyagaraja was overjoyed at the beautiful performance of the artists. He immensely praised and wholeheartedly blessed them. They were overwhelmed to receive such appreciation from the great Musician-Saint. The head of the troupe offered his salutations and made a strange request. He asked for Ananda Bhairavi Raga as a gift from Tyagaraja! Everyone including Tyagaraja was surprised. Tyagaraja asked him for the reason. He said, “in the years to come, people will hear and read of your greatness as a devotee of Lord Rama and a Musician-Composer par excellence. People will then read and hear about this event where you gave away Ananda Bhairavi Raga as a gift to a small insignificant musical troupe like ours. Along with your immortal glories, we will also be remembered and become immortal! Our lives will become blessed and fulfilled!!  Tyagaraja was stunned at his sweet innocence, and gave away his rights over the raga to them. Hence only three krithis written earlier to this event by Tyagaraja in Ananda Bhairavi Raga are available. 
Tyagaraja continued to teach music to all those who reached him. He composed around 24,000 keerthans, but only around 700 are available. His krithis are simple, but full of devotion. They contain the essence of the scriptures. Tyagaraja chose music as his path to God realization: NAADOPAASANA. His Pancharatna Krithis are well known and every year during Sri Tyagaraja Aradhana, these krithis are sung by musicians who gather there for the celebrations. When Tyagaraja knew that his time to leave his physical body was approaching, he took the vows of sanyasa. Lord Rama appeared in his dream, and told him that he would be bestowed with mukti or liberation after ten days, which Tyagaraja has recorded in his keerthan. On the sacred Pushya bahula panchami, Tyagaraja Swami attained samadhi and merged with Sri Rama.


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Sri Vidya Upasaka: Dikshitar

Muthuswami Dikshitar (1775 – 1835) was one of the greatest Musician-Saints and is one among the Carnatic Music Trinity, the other two being Saint Thyagaraja and Shyama Sastri.

Dikshitar’s father was Ramaswami Dikshitar who was a Sanskrit scholar and an accomplished musician living in Tiruvarur in Tamilnadu. When Dikshitar turned twenty five, the great Chidambaranatha Yogi of Varanasi visited their house and requested Ramaswami to send Dikshitar with him for further education. His father agreed and Dikshitar went to Varanasi. He was initiated into “Sri Vidya Upasana”, and his Guru told him to constantly worship Sri Annapurneswari, the Bestower of material needs (Bhukti) as well as liberation (Mukti). He mastered the scriptures, the science of mantras, astrology, music, and was an expert in playing the veena. He came under the influence of Hindustani classical music and Western band music.

After a few years, the teacher told him that it was time for him to go back home because he had learnt all that had to be learnt. The young disciple asked the teacher what was the proof that he had learnt everything. The teacher asked him to go to Mother Ganges and take a dip. If his learning was complete, She would reward him. He went to the Ganges, took a dip and invoked Her. Mother Ganges was there in front of him with a beautiful veena in Her hand. She handed it over to him. It had “RAMA” inscribed on it and was different from the normal veenas. The tail end of the veena which is called ‘yaalimukha’ is turned upwards. In normal veenas it is turned downwards. This veena that Dikshitar used is even now preserved in their ancestral home.

With the blessings of his teacher and with this unique veena gifted to him by the Mother of Knowledge, Dikshitar travelled back. He arrived at Tiruttani, one of the famous six abodes of Kartikeya in Tamilnadu. Dikshitar was sitting and meditating on the Lord on the steps of the temple, when Lord Kartikeya came in the disguise of an elderly man, asked him to open his mouth and put sugar candy into his mouth and disappeared. At that very moment, he composed a beautiful kriti on Kartikeya with the mudra (signature) GURU-GUHA. Kartikeya also known as GUHA had come to him as his GURU.

He has composed songs on almost all deities, all pilgrimage centres and brought into the kritis the uniqueness and speciality of them all. Along with Sangeeta sastra, he incorporated the “mantra sastra” into his songs and therefore to render them with correct pronunciation and bhava, with a little understanding of its meaning will bring all prosperity to the singer as well as the listener – singing of his keerthans is equivalent to chanting the mantras.

Instances of Dikshitar bringing relief and solace to individuals as well as to the community through his keerthans are many. With a Kriti in raga Amruthavarshini, he brought the rains down on the parched land of Ettayyapuram (Tamil Nadu). He also brought health back to his disciple Tambiyappan by warding off the evil effects (graha dosha) of Jupiter, by composing a kriti on that planet. 

On the eve of Deepavali in 1835, after he had finished Devi Puja, he had a vision of Sri Annapurneswari and sang “Ehi Annapurne” – his last kriti. He remembered what his Guru had told him and knew it was time for him to leave his body. He asked his disciples who had gathered there to sing his composition “Meenakshi me mudam dehi” (Meenakshi bestow upon me Your grace) in the Raga Gamakakriya. When they sang the lines: “meena lochani pasha mochani” (O! Fish-eyed One, who cuts asunder the knots of bondage), he asked them to repeat these phrases once more. As they were repeating them, Dikshitar uttered “Shive pahi, Shive pahi, Shive pahi” and left his physical body to merge eternally with the Mother of the Universe whom he invoked and worshipped all his life. 
His compositions called “Kamalamba Nava-avarana” Krithis which are full of mystic significance are rendered even today with great religious fervour during the Navaratri festival.

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The Grandsire of Carnatic Music!

Purandaradasa Srinivasa Nayaka (1484 – 1564) was a merchant dealing with gold and precious stones residing in Tirthahalli, Karnataka. Though wealthy, he was a miserly person. Charity was something unknown to him. One day an old brahmana came to his shop asking for some monetary help. Nayaka sent him away asking him to come the next day. He came the next day, but again he was asked to “come tomorrow”. Nayaka thought that the old man will stop coming after a few days but he persisted — every day the old man was there in front of the shop! After months of postponement, one fine day Nayaka threw an old coin at the poor man and asked him to go away. The poor man refused the unusable coin and went away. The brahmana went to Nayaka’s house and approached his wife, Saraswati Bai. He told her how he had every day sought help from her husband but in vain – an old coin was all that he got in response. He asked her for help, but she pleaded her helplessness, saying that she had nothing with her to give him. All money transactions and accounts were exclusively with Nayaka. The old man said that she could give to him the diamond nose-ring which she was wearing. After all that was a gift to her from her maternal house, and Nayaka had no claim or hold over it. She thought for a second, removed her nose-ring and gave it to the old man. He happily accepted it, blessed her and walked away.
With the nose-ring in his hand and a smile on his face, the brahmana returned to Nayaka’s shop. Nayaka was furious to see him come back again. The old man said that he had not come to beg but had come to do business with him. He showed the the nose-ring and asked Nayaka to fix up its value and give him the equivalent cash. A shocked and surprised Nayaka took the nose-ring in his hand and examined it in detail. He immediately knew that it was his wife’s nose-ring. He questioned the old man as to who gave it to him. He answered that a pious generous lady gave it to him. Nayaka told him to come the next day for money, sent him away, carefully put the nose-ring inside a trunk and locked it. He then closed his shop and hurried back home.
On reaching his house, he loudly called out to Saraswati. Seeing her in the courtyard he looked at her face. Sure enough the nose-ring was missing! He asked for it. The poor lady was trembling within and not knowing what to do, said that it was inside. He asked her to bring the nose-ring immediately. She went in, and knowing her husband’s anger, she decided to end her life. She picked up a cup of poison and was about to consume it, when she heard a metallic sound inside the cup. Inside the cup she saw her nose-ring which she had given away in charity! Overwhelmed at the Lord’s grace, she ran outside and handed it to her husband. Nayaka could not believe his eyes. The nose-ring he had locked up in his shop was here in his wife’s hand. Crazily, he ran back to the shop and opened his trunk. The nose-ring was not there! He ran back again home and asked his wife to tell him all that had happened. She told him everything.
Srinivasa Nayaka’s eyes opened! The old brahmana was none other than Lord Sri Hari who had come to “wake” him up from the dream of materialism. Srinivasa Nayaka was a totally changed person now. He gave away everything in charity,  and went in search of a Guru. He came to Sri Vyasa Tirtha who accepted him as his disciple, gave him the name PURANDARADASA and introduced him to the Haridasa Sampradaya.
Sri Purandaradasa travelled extensively and composed songs on all the deities with the signature “Purandara Vittala”. The most difficult and profound philosophical truths were simplified and presented in the form of simple songs, and hence his compositions are known as “Purandara Upanishad”. He formulated basic lessons for teaching Carnatic music by structuring graded exercises which are followed even today. Purandaradasa is known as Karnataka Sangeeta Pitamaha — the Grandsire of Carnatic Music.
Purandaradasa was such a great personality that even his Guru, Sri Vyasa Tirtha glorified him in one of his compositions!!
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Sri Hanuman and the music competition

Narada and Tumburu are the well known celestial musicians who constantly sing the glories of Lord Vishnu. Once when Sri Hari praised Tumburu’s music, Narada became very unhappy. The Lord then sent Narada to learn music from the music teacher of the celestial musicians Ganabandhu. Still not up to the mark, he then went and learnt music from Rukmini, the consort of Lord Krishna. Thus, after sufficient training, Narada wanted the Lord to judge both, Tumburu and himself and declare who was the best musician amongst the two. Narada and Tumburu sang with all devotion unto the Lord. Both of them were very good and the Lord did not want to displease anyone by taking any one particular name. He thought of calling an expert and accomplished musician for this task. He summoned HANUMAN – who is Kavya – Nataka – Sangeeta – Natya – Paripoorna!!

Hanumanji came and the contest started. Tumburu sang along accompanied by his veena – Kalavathi. His music was so enchanting that the whole universe of things and beings came to a standstill, almost froze and became silent! Hanumanji nodded in appreciation. Next was Narada’s turn. He rendered his music accompanied by his veena – Mahathi. The celestial music melted all that which was previously frozen!! Both of them were exceptionally good. Everyone was eagerly awaiting Hanumanji’s judgement.

Hanumanji asked for both their veenas and removed the frets of the veenas (the vertical strips on which the horizontal strings run), gave it back to them and asked them to go ahead and play the veena. Rather annoyed, they asked him how the veena can be played without the frets. Hanumanji silently took the fretless veena and played on it using a small piece of bamboo stick. He was an expert in playing the veena with or without frets. He sang and played on….. All the devatas were lost in the divine ecstatic devotional outpouring of Hanumanji. After some time when they looked around, they found Lord Sri Hari Himself present amongst them listening in rapt attention to Hanumanji’s Sangeeta.

Narada and Tumburu bowed down and acknowledged that indeed Hanumanji was not only the  greatest devotee of the Lord, but also the most accomplished musician !!

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