In what was a fairly long life by the standards of the time, Tyagaraja rarely stirred out of his native Thiruvaiyaru. If you go by his ‘Koti Nadulu’ (Todi), all pilgrimages were a waste of time, for all the holy waters of the world were available at the tip of Rama’s bow. The tiny Thiruvaiyaru therefore provided most of the inspiration required for his compositions.

It may get its name from the five rivers that are in its vicinity, but Thiruvaiyaru’s eco-system was obviously structured around the Kaveri, on whose northern bank it stands. As per his ‘Sari Vedalina’ (Asaveri), the Kaveri ‘moved rapidly at one place, roared fearfully at another and remained still with full grace at a third.’ He notes in the same song the annual arrival of fresh water, when the locals worship the river with lotuses.

The importance of the water to the place is underscored in his ‘Ennado Rakshincite’ (Saurashtram), where he says that to assure the locals, who, feeling the want of water look eagerly along the river bed, the Kaveri sends in advance western winds and starts natural springs. Today that is rendered meaningless given the river is bone dry for most of the year but in Tyagaraja’s time it must have been a sight for sore eyes.

Even now, it is possible to conjure up that beauty as you enter the village from south. Arrayed to your right are a series of stunningly beautiful pavilions, the most striking being the Pushya Mandapam and the Kalyana Mahal. Walking down the steps to the dry river bed, your attention is caught by a tiny but exquisite icon of a dancing Ganapathi let into a wall of the Pushya Mandapam. Was this the inspiration for ‘Sri Ganapathini’ (Saurashtram), you wonder. Tyagaraja waxed eloquent on the beauty of this view in his ‘Muripemu galigegada’ (Mukhari), singing of the wonderful Panchanada Kshetra ‘in the Chola country…on the bank of the Kaveri, over which blows the incomparable zephyr and which is studded with palatial and beautiful buildings where Brahmans worship, perform homas and chant Vedas.’

These lines bring out the essence of Thiruvaiyaru. The Maratha rulers invited scholars to settle in the village and carry on their traditions. Tyagaraja’s father Rama Brahmam moved here when Tulaja II entrusted to him the task of distributing fifteen houses to learned men. Padinaindu Mandapa Theru — the thoroughfare of fifteen pavilions, is at the northern end along the Kaveri and still has some of the buildings that Rama Brahmam distributed. Several Maratha queens endowed the place with veda pathashalas, in one of which Tyagaraja studied as per the biography by Walajahpet Venkataramana Bhagavatar. These later amalgamated into one that grew to become the Rajah’s College for Sanskrit, Tamil and Music.

Central to the village is the twin shrine complex for Shiva-Pranatharthihara and the Goddess Dharmasamvardhini. Tyagaraja composed a total of sixteen songs on this divine couple. Several streets, in which Tyagaraja must have done uncchavrtti, lead away from this vast temple, all of them ending at the river. Tirumanjana Veethi is one such. Pleased with Rama Brahmam, King Tulaja gifted him, apart from six acres of cultivable land near Pasupatikovil, a house on this street. This was where Tyagaraja lived all his life. The house stood till a decade ago. True, it suffered many modifications by subsequent occupants but it was nevertheless the structure that had housed Tyagaraja. The building was low ceilinged, supported by Maratha-style rounded pillars. You sat in front of an alcove, imagined it to be where Tyagaraja worshipped Rama, and sang to the best of your ability.

Was this the house to which Tyagaraja invited his deity by singing ‘Ra ra mainti daka’ (Asaveri) and ‘Heccarikaga rara’ (Yadhukula kamboji)? Along one side ran a wall that indicated that this and the next property were once a single house. The division happened when Tyagaraja and his brother parted ways after much wrangling and public comment as evinced in his ‘Nadupai palikeru’ (Madhyamavati) and ‘Anyayamu Seyakura’ (Kapi). Alas, Tyagaraja’s

house no longer stands, demolished to make way for an egregious monstrosity of granite, grilles and plenty of gilt. The committee that runs the place considers this a suitable memorial for the man who advocated simplicity all his life. To the extreme south of the village is the ground where sanyasis, including Tyagaraja, were buried. This has a dilapidated Kasi Viswanatha shrine bearing a plaque that claims the composer worshipped there. Tyagaraja’s samadhi shrine is the biggest but several others also stand close by. Facing them is the memorial to the only woman who is buried here — Bangalore Nagarathnamma. When the river has water, the incomparable zephyr that Tyagaraja sang of, blows over them all.

Note: Translations in this article are from C Ramanujachari’s ‘The Spiritual Heritage of Tyagaraja’.

Source: Inspired by Thiruvaiyaru

This article is part of a series on Tyagaraja to commemorate 250 years of his birth. To read the earlier parts, click here:


Tyagaraja at 250

What do we know of Tyagaraja?

You may also be interested in joining us on a tour of Tyagaraja’s Thiruvaiyaru and Thanjavur. If so, click here