Tyagaraja: Melodies of Devotion and Musical Mastery

OV Digital Desk

Tyagaraja (4 May 1767 – 6 January 1847), a renowned composer of Carnatic music which is a form of Indian classical music.

Life and Career

He was born on 4 May 1767, in Tamil Nadu, India. His maternal and paternal grandfathers were trained musicians. He learned how to play the Veena as a child from his maternal grandfather, Kalahastayya. He also studied music with an accomplished scholar named Sonti Venkata Ramanayya. He realized at a very early age that music could make him feel God’s love.

A total of 24,000 devotional songs are believed to have been composed by Tyagaraja during his lifetime. Unfortunately, many of these songs have not survived due to poor documentation. There are currently about 700 known songs. Each song is “unique, soulful, and shimmering with divine grace.”

In Indian classical and Carnatic music, his famous contribution is the “Ghana Raga Pancharatnam“, one of the “Pancharatna Kritis,” a play that roughly translates to the “five gems“. “Jagadananda Karaka”, which is in Sanskrit, mentions 108 names of Lord Rama in one of the compositions of the “Ghana Raga Pancharatnam“. His songs were composed in Telugu and Sanskrit.

Tyagaraja was most famous for his praising of Rama, who, like Krishna, is considered an incarnation of Vishnu. At a very young age, he became a Vaishnava devotee and embodies gana-marga, a form of salvation through devotional music. The songs of Tyagaraja are transmitted orally. His contributions, which may have been derived from improvisational techniques, include structured variations of musical lines within performances.

He has also composed krithis in praise of Krishna, Shiva, Shakti, Ganesha, Muruga, Saraswati, and Hanuman. A yearly event is organized in his memory known as Tyagaraja Aradhana, where his songs are collectively sung by Carnatic music personalities and aficionados during January and February in Thiruvaiyaru, Tamil Nadu.

He died on 6 January 1847, in Tamil Nadu, India.