In this article, we'll talk about Tyagaraja's views on music. Obviously, music is a very important part of his devotional and philosophical make-up. He viewed music as a tool, a vehicle to attain salvation. In many compositions, he imagines Siva as the embodiment of music (naada tanum aniSam Samkaram namaaminE) , and Rama as the one pleased by the music of Sama veda (saama gaana loela manasija laavaNya dhanya moordhanyu .. leMdaroe mahaanubhaavulu). Traditionally, Sama veda is thought to be the origin of Indian music - this reference is seen in numerous places in Tyagaraja krutis. In addition to this synthesis of devotion and music, Tyagaraja has deep knowledge of the science of music, what the various classical texts had written on the subject, and of the relation between music and the human anatomy. And then, there is his grasp of musical aesthetics - of properly merging such esoteric and elusive concepts as SRti, laya, raagabhaava, etc. He puts forward and illustrates all these features and more in many of his krutis.
Like Tyagaraja's views on philosophy and devotion had evolved over time, so did his approach to music. What was first imagined to be merely a vehicle to the goal became a goal in itself.
God and music became one - he was seeking naada brahma!
jaganmoehini raagam - theme: music, body and mind
Soebhillu saptasvara sumdarula bhajimpavae manasaa .. Soebhillu
naabhee hRt kaMTha rasana naasaadula yamdu .. Soebhillu
dhara Rk saamaadulaloe varagaayatree hRdayamuna
sura bhoosura maanasamuna Subha tyaagaraaja neeyeDa .. Soebhillu
Summary: Oh my mind (1), praise these shining beauties (2) called the seven notes (3). Those
which originate at the navel, heart, throat and nose .. shining beauties ..
Those which recide in the vedas like Rigveda and Samaveda, and at the core of the blessed
gaayatree mantra (4) and in the minds of gods and noble humans alike, those which shine on
the fortunate Tyagaraja .. shining beauties ..
Notes: (1) Tyagaraja frequently addresses himself as O manasA (= Oh my mind) in his
(3) The seven notes shaDja (sa), Rishabha (ri), gaamdhaara (ga), madhyama (ma), pancahama
(pa), dhaivata (dha) and nishaada (ni).
(2) Classical treatises attributed humanesque persona to the seven notes - Tyagaraja imagines
the seven notes standing as shining beautiful persons.
(4) A mystical interpretation of Gayatri mantra defines the mantra as an elaboration of the
cosmic syllable 'ohm'. The seven notes are imagined to have born from the praNava like the
seven colors disperse from white light. This concept is further outlined in the last kruti.
This kruti is typically sung in medium-fast pace, usually in the first portion of the
concert. The raagam and kruti have this sparkling, dazzling energy, quite in tune with the
theme. There's a wonderful rendition by M.S. Subbulakshmi in "Live at Carnegie Hall" album. A
recent release by Balamurali is also good.
Sreeramjani raagam - theme: musical aesthetics
sogasugaa mRdamga taaLamu jata goorci ninnu cokka jaeyu dheeruDevvaDoe? aa dheeruDevvaDoe?
nigama Siroerthamu galgina nija vaakkulatoe svara Suddhamutoe .. sogasugaa
yati viSrama sadbhakti nirati draakshaa rasa navarasa
yuta kRticae bhajiyiMcae yukti tyaagaraajuni taramaa ? sogasugaa ..
Summary : (Oh music !) Who is the capable person that will gracefully join the mrudangam's
(1) beat and make you shine, who is that capable person?
With words containing the essence of the vedas and with purity of notes, .. gracefully join
Following the rules of prosody such as yati and visrama, mixing in the rigor of true devotion
like delicious grape juice and forming the composition with the nava rasas (2) - this skill
to praise you thus - is it possible for Tyagaraja? .. gracefully join ..
Notes: (1) mrudangam, a double sided drum, most prominent percussion accompaniment in
(2) nava rasa = 9 basic emotional elements in Indian theatrics.
This raagam allows for moderate amount of elaboration, so this is typically sung as a warm-up
to the main piece, or immediately following the main piece. M.S. sang this in another HMV
full concert album. Her elaborations on the opening line are a treat. I've heard an old
private recording of late M.D. Ramanathan - he introduces little variations on the last line
like "bhAva yuta kruticE", "vEda yuta kruticE" etc., which enhance the flavor of the song.
Suddha dhanyaasi raagam - theme: power of music
saMgeeta j~naanamu bhakti vinaa sanmaargamu galadae oe manasaa
bhRmgi naTESa sameeraja ghaTaja matamga naaradaadu lupaasimcae .. samgeeta
nyaaya+anyaayamu telusunu, jagamulu maayaa mayamani telusunu,
durguNa kaayajaadi shaDripula jayiMcae kaaryamu delusunu tyaagaraajunikae .. samgeeta
Summary: Oh mind, is there a better path than that of musical knowledge and devotion?
Many great devotees, (all well-versed in music) such as Bhrumgi, Natesa, Hanuman et al., were
praising it .. musical knowledge ..
One knows to differentiate good and evil, one understands that these worlds are full of
illusion and Tyagaraja himself learns the skill of defeating the six enemies (1) such as lust
and other evil habits, .. musical knowledge ..
Note (1) shaDripulu (ari shaDvargAh in Sanskrit) = 6 enemies to meaningful life viz., kaama
(lust) kroedha (anger) loebha (miserliness) moeha (desire) mada (pride) maatsarya (jealousy).
This raagam too allows moderate amount of elaboration. I can't think of any single recording
of this to recommend. One I most vividly remember was by Sri Mulukutla Sadasiva Sastri gaaru
in a live harikatha in Vijayawada. He spent about 30 minutes in singing and explaining this
song that day!
sAramati raagam - theme: origin of music and music as a vehicle to salvation
moekshamu galadaa, bhuviloe jeevanmuktulu gaani vaaralaku .. moekshamu galadaa
saakshaatkaara, nee sadbhakti, samgeeta j~naana viheenulaku .. moekshamu galadaa
praaNa+anala samyoegamu valla praNavanaadamu sapta svaramulai baraga,
veeNaa vaadana loeluDou Siva manoevidha merugaru tyaagaraaja vinuta ..moekshamu galadaa
Summary: Is there salvation to those who are unable to release themselves from bonds of
existence on this earth? Is there ..
Oh omnipresent one, to those without true devotion to you and without any musical knowledge,
.. is there ..
From the synthesis of breath (prana) and fire (anala) the sound 'ohm' is born (1) which
dispersed into the seven notes (2); those who do not understand the ways of Siva who is
pleased by the sounds of veena and praised by Tyagaraja, to such people .. is there ..
Notes: (1) According to an ancient text on music (forgot the name now - I've read the quote
in some book) it is said that once Siva had sat in deep meditation. Through his yogic powers,
he synthesized the breath with the bodily flame (vedas & yoga say that there is a flame at
the center of the heart) which resulted in the cosmic sound 'ohm'.
(2) This is how the seven notes were born. refer to the first kruti in the post.
This song is usually rendered without elaborations. There's a certain meloncholic sound to
it, as if Tyagaraja is despairing at the fate of humanity. Balamurali's rendition in Music
Today series captures this tone very well. There's also a good version by Radha-Jayalakshmi
duo from 1970s on an HMV record.