“The Spiritual Heritage of Tyagaraja” is a landmark publication in the world of Carnatic music. It is the first work with English meanings for the songs of Tyagaraja and 2008 marks fifty years of the first publication of this book which has seen several reprints.


The book was the brainchild of C Ramanujachariar (1875-1956), a man of many parts. Born in Kolattur, he graduated from the Madras Presidency College and joined as a clerk in the Madras Secretariat from which post he rose to become the Under Secretary, Department of Law and Education. He was passionate about the fine arts and he used them to good effect to channel resources for another passion of his – the Ramakrishna Mission Students Home, Mylapore. This institution, which completed 100 years in 2005 was conceived by C Ramaswami Iyengar, Ramanujachariar’s cousin and when he was struck by paralysis in 1926, the latter took on the burden of running the institution and putting it on firm ground. The story of how he convinced Musiri Subramania Iyer to travel to Malaysia on a concert series to collect funds for the Home is well known. He also ran an amateur drama troupe called the Madras Secretariat Party later renamed as the Ramakrishna Kripa Amateurs, which staged plays regularly and collected money for the Home. Besides these activities, Ramanujachariar was the prime mover in getting music recognised as a subject by the Madras University and it was largely thanks to him that the Music Department of the Madras University came up in 1932. He did the same for the Annamalai University as well.


Ramanujachariar was for many years in charge of organising bhajana ghostis that went around the Kapaliswarar Temple during the month of Margazhi. In this connection, he came into close contact in the early years of the 20th century with the Umayalpuram Brothers, Krishna and Sundara Bhagavatars who were direct disciples of Tyagaraja. From them and from their disciples, he learnt several songs of Tyagaraja. In the later years of his life, it became his ambition to present these songs to a greater public which was not familiar with Telugu and Carnatic music. He collected the songs of Tyagaraja translated the lyrics into English. In this he was helped by V Krishna Rao, retired Telugu Translator to the Government and his nephew TK Narasimha Rao. Sangita Kalanidhi TV Subba Rao also advised them.


In 1946, the death centenary of Tyagaraja was observed by the Music Academy, Madras. Ramanujachariar approached Dr V Raghavan, the great Sanskrit scholar and Professor of Madras University who was then Secretary of the Music Academy and requested him to go through the English meanings he had prepared. He also desired that Dr Raghavan analyse and classify the songs on the basis of their content into various clusters. Dr Raghavan was drawn into the project and the small band of people spent months in analysis and discussions. In the hands of Dr Raghavan, the classification developed into a complete introductory thesis to the book. The help of eminent Telugu scholar Prof Vissa Appa Rao was sought and his suggestions were also incorporated. In all 565 songs of Tyagaraja were compiled, translated and published. It was subsequently decided that Ramanujachariar’s translations in English, along with the text of the songs in Devanagari, together with Dr Raghavan’s thesis be published as a book. During the annual conference of the Academy in 1946, Ramanujachariar made public his plans for the book.


Ramanujachariar organised Navaratri concerts at the Ramakrishna Mission, a tradition that has survived till date. During the 1947 Navaratri he got Dr Raghavan to present his study of Tyagaraja kritis in nine lectures which were subsequently published in the Vedanta Kesari, the magazine of the Ramakrishna Math.


While the book was being prepared for publication, Ramanujachariar passed away on 4th November 1956, mourned by many and chiefly by the students of the Home that he had contributed so much to. The book came out in 1958, along with a foreword written by Dr S Radhakrishnan. On Ramanujachariar, Dr Raghavan wrote thus – “He was primarily a sadhaka, who strove on the spiritual path not only through his tireless karma-yoga in the cause of the Ramakrishna Movement and the education and upbringing of the young, but through the path of bhakti and bhajana, he was a bhagavata in every sense of the term and it is this fact which gave meaning to the dedicated life that he led to the last minute of his existence”. It is also thanks to Dr Raghavan that the story of what went into the making of the book is available to us today.


The book remains in every way a fitting memorial to Ramanujachariar and his high ideals.


Sriram Venkatkrishnan


The article appeared in The Hindu dated 18th July 2008. http://www.hindu.com/fr/2008/07/18/stories/2008071851580600.htm