The Tyagaraja Paduka at Saurashtra Sabha, Madurai

It is now more or less accepted that the songs sung at the Tyagaraja Aradhana are only those of the composer. And yet this was not so at least until the mid 1940s when songs in praise of Tyagaraja too were heard in Thiruvayyaru. Thus we know that till his passing in 1919, Ramanathapuram PoochiSrinivasa Iyengar invariably sang Sadguru Swamiki Sari, his composition in raga Ritigaula in praise of Tyagaraja, at the Aradhana. Later, his disciple Bangalore Nagarathnammamade it a point to sing the same song, when the ritual waving of camphor was done. She also recited an ashtottara (a set of 108 names) on Tyagaraja, that she composed. 

Poochi Iyengar was not however the first to compose in Tyagaraja’s praise. That honour should probably go to the bard’s first cousin and also in all likelihood his first disciple -Manambucchavadi Venkatasubbier. His composition SwamikiSari in raga Devagandhari is a very moving tribute, which incorporates some phrases from a few Tyagaraja kritis. Yet another prominent disciple was Walajahpet VenkataramanaBhagavatar, whose Mangalashtakam, a set of eight verses on Tyagaraja is fairly well known. But there are other compositions of his on his preceptor and these are not heard – Guru charanam (Shankarabharanam) and Guruvaru Mahimala(Ananda Bhairavi) are but two. When Tyagaraja visited Venkataramana Bhagavatar at Walajahpet, the latter’s disciple, Mysore Sadasiva Rao composed a song – Sri TyagarajaswamiVedalina in Todi, which is now lost. It is quite clear that even in his lifetime, Tyagaraja was much venerated and was the subject of songs. 

It is interesting to note that the urge to compose in praise of Tyagaraja continued well into the 20th century. HarikesanallurMuthiah Bhagavatar created Tyagarajaswami Sadguruvani in Hindolam. It encapsulates many details of Tyagaraja’s life as seen in contemporary accounts. Mysore Vasudevachar, also of the Tyagaraja lineage via Patnam Subramania Iyer and Manambucchavadi Venkatasubbier, given his felicity in Sanskrit, chose that language for his piece on Tyagaraja. Srimadadi Tyagaraja Guruvaram is in Kalyani. In more recent times, MD Ramanathan’s Tyagaraja Gurum in raga Kedaramis a great piece. In its gait and in the structuring of the entirely Sanskrit lyrics, it brings to mind Dikshitar more than Tyagaraja but it is one of the finest tributes to the composer. 

There is also no dearth of compositions in Tyagaraja’s praise in Tamil. Koteeswara Iyer’s song in Bilahari – Ini NamakkoruKavalaiyum Illai records a vision that he had in his dream of Tyagaraja. He ends the composition with a line that pays tribute to his tutelary deity Murugan and Tyagaraja together! Papanasam Sivan’s Ittaraniyil Tyagaraja Sadguru is in Begada. It is remarkable for the same sentiment as Koteeswara Iyer’s creation – that the singing of Tyagaraja’ssongs is a cure for all worries. There is also a song by the composer on the Carnatic Trinity – Sangita TrimurthigalaiPanindu in raga Kedaragaula – it is probably the only composition where the trio, Syama Sastry, Tyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar, are mentioned together. 

Women other than Bangalore Nagarathnamma were moved to compose on Tyagaraja too. A song in Tamil is D Pattammal’sTyagabrahma Kathamritham. Set in nine ragas, it gives the entire biography of the composer, as is narrated in the Harikatha tradition. It is noteworthy that in the song, Tyagaraja’s much-maligned elder brother has a new sin visited on him. He is blamed for burning Tyagaraja’s works – a tale not available in any other source. But the song itself a worthy tribute. Years ago, when I called on the great scholar TS Parthasarathy, he showed me a composition on Tyagaraja by Andavan Picchai, which was the pseudonym of a woman composer, better known for her devotion to Murugan. Sadly I made no note of it then. Ambujam Krishna the lyricist, was inspired to begin her journey in music during a visit to Thiruvayyaru. It is therefore no surprise that she has a song,Tyagarajaswami Padambujam in Athana. 

The greatest corpus of songs on Tyagaraja is by yet another woman – KM Saundaryavalli. Titled Sri Tyaga Guru StutiKirtanaigal, there are 30 of them. Bangalore Nagarathnammaherself wrote a letter of commendation, dated November 18, 1951. The songs with handwritten notation by the composer, were privately published. Many of the pieces make liberal use of Tyagaraja’s lyrics. N Rajagopalan, in his compilation The Melodic Garland gives details of her life. Born in 1914, she had her tutelage in music under nagaswaram artiste MurugulaSitaramayya. The death of the first six of her children made her take to composing as a prayer. She was later blessed with healthy progeny. Saundaryavalli became a prolific composer and the songs on Tyagaraja form but one part of her corpus. 

Perhaps no composer before and after Tyagaraja, inspired such a flood of compositions, over a century and more. But then, Tyagaraja is unique.

This article appeared in The Hindu dated Jan 29, 2021 as part of the Friday Features. The original with some great sketches by Keshav can be seen here

Since I wrote this piece I have been alerted by TR Aravindh that there are two more composers. Thiruvottiyur Tyagayyar, the son of Tyagaraja’s disciple Veenai Kuppayyar has composed a stotram – Tyagarajaswamini guruni. Meesu Krishnayyar, has two songs, one in the raga Nadabrahmam (never heard of it) and another in Vacaspati. Aravindh also says Manambucchavadi has composed a Mangalam on Tyagaraja too.

Please read the sequel to this article with more songs on Tyagaraja