Tyagaraja Aradhana What Should We Salute?

Tyagaraja's aradhana is observed all over the world, except perhaps in Antartica, as suggested in the famous cartoon published more than once in Sruti. And it is observed in different ways. Tyagaraja himself is worshipped as a divinity, even though he was a man, a mahatma, and not god; and although he himself frowned on nara stuti, or the praising of man. But this is not unusual in the Hindu tradition.

The singing of Tyagaraja's songs is also part of aradhana observances  and an important part at that. This is as it should be, because Tyagaraja lives in our memory precisely because he was a great musical genius and a superb vaggeyakara. I daresay that, 150+ years after his passing, we remember him not because he was a pious soul and a savant, inasmuch as there were other comparable savants in his time or even later who have remained outside our consciousness.

 In Tiruvaiyaru, the tradition has been that the singing of Tyagaraja's songs is a devotional offering and that therefore the offering should be restricted to the rendering of the pre-composed song without alapana. niraval and swaraprastara. In other words, the performer should eschew the manodharma aspects and even shed his ego. This is still the tradition, though deviations are being allowed; this tradition is followed in observances in some other places too. But it is commonplace today, in many observances, for musicians to sing Tyagaraja's compositions as they would in a concert, adding raga alapana, niraval or swaraprastara as the Muse inspires them to do. Another tradition is the 'akhandam', which is a non-stop session lasting 24 hours or even longer during which several musicians sing/play compositions of Tyagaraja without repeating any one song. The purpose of the akhandam is to bring to the attention of musicians and the listening public the numerous compositions of Tyagaraja which have not yet entered the concert repertoire or which are not in vogue.

 I believe that the akhandam has an important role in propagating the savant's compositions. As additional compositions enter the concert repertoire, they would likely be seen for what they are mostly vehicles for art music and be taken up as the skeletal embodiments of raga-s to be fleshed out with the manodharma aspects, taking the sahitya bhava of the composition as clue.

As for the practice of singing Tyagaraja's songs without the manodharma aspects added, this seems alright when a number of amateur musicians are given the chance to pay anjali or tribute to the savant, even if sometimes paying anjali seems merely a ruse to get on the stage and perform before an audience.

 What I am most in favour of is the full-fledged presentation of Tyagaraja's kriti-s as art music even during aradhana observances. The purpose of such presentations should be to induce artistic or aesthetic relish among the listeners. In my view, this is the approach which would constitute true homage to the savant in his avatar as a great musical genius. Let me summarise:

• I have no objection for Tyagaraja being deified and worshipped as a divinity, so long as we don't forget or ignore or downsize the musical legacy he has left behind, which is why we remember him today.

• Akhandam-s play an important role in enlarging that part of the musical corpus of Tyagaraja which is within the practical knowledge of musicians and music enthusiasts. Possibly there is no harm done except sometimes to Tyagaraja's music itself— when amateur enthusiasts are given opportunities to present the savant's compositions.

 • But what I consider most appropriate and most important for the proper musical appreciation of Tyagaraja's kriti-s (as distinct from his purely devotional keertana-s) is the presentation, even in aradhana observances, or rather especially in such observances, of such compositions by competent musicians as raga or kriti suites, as art music complete with the manodharma element.

The akhandam has been most effectively utilised by the Sri Sadguru Samajam of Purasawalkam in Chennai. (See separate article on the Samajam which highlights this practice and the results it has yielded over the years).

I believe that, in other respects, Tyagaraja aradhana as observed year after year by the Tyagaraja Aradhana Society in Kozhikode has been exemplary. The aradhana is observed here with true devotion to the savant, with pooja-s, unchavritti, etc.; but, in the ultimate analysis, the emphasis is on the musical heritage of Tyagaraja. Here, besides a number of musical aspirants, senior as well as up and-coming musicians are invited to present proper music recitals, with accompaniments, although the time allotted to them is limited. Interestingly, the Society has arranged for all the evening recitals to be broadcast by All India Radio.

 Having said this, I must also emphasise that even more attention requires to be paid to the art aspect of art music, in other words to musical aesthetics. When such attention is given, the aradhana observances would really serve to propagate Tyagaraja's kriti-s as the creations of a musical genius whose contribution to the development of art music in Carnatica is not sufficiently understood or appreciated today because of the preoccupation with bhakti, the source of his musical inspiration. And when this kind of emphasis is given to the music offered in aradhana observances, which today usually attract larger number of listeners than sabha performances, the chances are that the appreciation of Tyagaraja's music as art music capable of yielding aesthetic relish or even spiritual upliftment would gain and bring more people into recital halls.

Another aspect that requires urgent attention to improve the quality of music, or rather to eliminate unmusical elements, is the choral singing of the Pancharatna kriti-s, which has become a feature of virtually all aradhana observances. In many cases, especially in Tiruvaiyaru, the 'social aspects' have gained more importance, making a mockery of the practice. (See box). There may be several ways of removing the unmusical elements. One of them was on view at an aradhana observance organised by a ladies club in Chennai this year. (See Pancharatna With A Difference, below.)


A Remarkable Samajam

Sri Sadguru Sangeeta Samajam, in Purasawalkam, Chennai, came into being in 1955, as a result of the merger of three other institutions.

The moving spirits behind this great achievement were violin vidwan T.R. Ratnavelu, M.V. Doreswamy Iyengar, P.B. Chittibabu, Prof. P. Sambamoorthy, Sangeeta Bhushanam R.T. Srinivasa, P.P. Govindan and some others. These men were motivated by their desire to conduct the aradhana of Tyagaraja every year in a meaningful manner. This the Samajam has been doing ever since its inception; only the venue has changed from the Anjaneya Temple to the Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Vellala district in Purasawalkam.

Through his untiring efforts, 4nd Doreswamy Iyengar (who, alas, is no more) could muster the support of a galaxy of vidwans like Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Musiri Subramania Iyer, K.V. Narayanaswamy, N. Ramani, T.K. Govinda Rao, Therazhandur V. Srinivasachari, Srirangam V.S. Krishnamurthy Rao, G.N. Dandapani, B.V. Raman & B.V. Laksmanan, P.S. Narayanaswamy, Calcutta Krishnamurti, A Sundaresan, S. Nataraja Iyer, M.N. Krishnaswamy, P.K. Madurai, Ramnad A. Eswaran, Palghat V.A. Sundaram, Sangottai M. Sundararajan, Kalpakam Swaminathan, J. Ganapathy, D. Damodaran, Nanganallur V. Ramanathan, M.V. Vidya Shankar, T.N. Sriraman, D. Govindarajan, B. Karthikeyan, S. Venkataraman, and R. Krishnamurthy; they all took very active part at various periods as office-bearers of the Samajam which is run solely by the sangeeta vidwans themselves.

Of course, the redoubtable Prof. P. Sambamoorthy, who was the Samajam's first President, also played an important role in building it up. Too, another stalwart, Dr. R. Krishnaswami enduringly known as Dr. R.K. an ardent Tyagaraja devotee, brought into play his enormous energy and influence to bear on the steady growth of the Samajam over the years, with admirable dedication and religious fervour.

As part of its annual observance of the aradhana, the Samajam conducts an akhandam a 24- hour, non-stop programme at which different musicians sing different compositions of Tyagaraja, without repeating any and restricting themselves to the kalpita or precomposed aspect. In 1980, celebrating its silver jubilee as well, it also presented, over the 25 days between 6 February and 2 March, a series of music recitals in different parts of Chennai.

The Samaja celebrated its golden jubilee with an extended akhandam of 50 hours, between 28 February and 2 March, 1986, in Purasawalkam. The participating musicians rendered about 497 kriti-s of the savant.

The Samaja followed the tradition in 1991, its diamond jubilee year, The akhandam, spanning 60 hours, was conducted under the guidance of a special committee consisting of Semmangudi R. Srinivasa Iyer as President, T.K. Govinda Rao as Secretary and R. Yagnaraman of Sri Krishna Gana Sabha as convenor. It covered 533 songs of Tyagaraja, rendered by 5 5 vidwans and vidushi-s without the manodharma aspects of raga alapana, niraval and swaraprastara. (The total number of published Tyagaraja compositions is about 700). Each one of the participating musicians sang at least one or two rare compositions thus helping achieve the main purpose of the akhandam-s, which is to make better known more and more of the not-so-well-known compositions of the savant. Notably. members of the Ramakrishna Bhajana Mandali brought out 20 compositions. Likewise the singers sent by Sadguru Samajam of Tiruchi presented, in two long sessions of four hours each and that too in the wee hours of the night, about 80 songs in all, drawn from the divyanama keertana-s and the two opera-s, namely, Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam and Nauka Charitram.

Some musicians scheduled to take part in the akhandam did not turn up. At very short notice,  a few others, including M.V. Doreswamy Iyengar, completed the songs allotted to the absentees, which included some rare kriti-s. The rare compositions of Tyagaraja rendered during the akhandam included those taught by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (10), T.M. Thiagarajan (50), and Lalgudi Jayaraman (20), to their disciples and others eager to learn. Besides observing the annual aradhana of Tyagaraja in Purasawalkam since its inception in 1955, and conducting akhanda gana sessions in Chennai, the Samaja has also been engaged in various other musically constructive activities.

 • It has been organising akhandam-s in Tiruvaiyaru and Tiruvarur every year.

• It has been arranging groupsinging of Tyagaraja's compositions on every Panchami day in Purasawalkam. Whenever a Bahula Panchami falls on a holiday, the singing session is conducted as far as possible in one or another of the places of pilgrimages visited by the savant, such as Kovoor, Tiruvotriyur, Kanchipuram, Tirupati and Srirangam. On such occasions, the participating musicians render the kshetra kriti-s sung by Tyagaraja in praise of the presiding deity.

 • The Samajam has provided funds for the repair, renovation, mahasamprokshanam and kumbhabhishekam of Tyagaraja's samadhi in Tiruvaiyaru, and for monthly observance of aradhana in that town.

 • The Samajam has further put up marble-stone slabs inscribed with the texts of the relevant compositions of Tyagaraja, not only in Tiruvaiyaru but also at the other kshetra-s he visited. The selfless dedication of the late Srirangam Sundaram Iyer, a retired mail sorter, in this regard can never be forgotten.

All this would not have been possible without the unflinching support, enthusiasm and encouragement of the numerous musicians associated with the Samajam as well as of music-lovers and munificent donors. It has been an enviable cooperative endeavour of wide dimensions not seen anywhere else.

• The Samajam has also brought out a dozen and more publications covering the Srirangam, Lalgudi, Kovoor, Tiruvotriyur and Tiruvaiyaru kshetra kriti-s, and the Tirupati and Kanchipuram kshetra kriti-s, as well as the Ghana Raga Pancharatna kriti-s, with notations by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Lalgudi layaraman and T.K. Govinda Rao who, incidentally, accounts for more than a moiety of these kriti-s. Apart from the Samajam, the financiers of these publications were N. Ramaswami Iyengar of Swadesamitran, Dr. R. Krishnaswamy, Bombay Sisters C. Saroja and C. Lalitha, R. Suryanarayanan and the disciples of mridanga maestro Palani Subramania Pillai. Interestingly enough, these publications were released at the respective kshetra-s by distinguished personalities during Tyagaraja aradhana observances.

The Samajam has also distributed attractive and authentic pictures of Tyagaraja for daily worship by his devotees. The crowning glory of the Samajam is the publication in a single volume, in Tamil, of 675 Tyagaraja compositions with lyrics, meanings and an index of proper pronunciations, which has proved to be an invaluable guide to the vast majority of Tamil-speaking professional and amateur musicians, students and rasika-s not much conversant with Telugu, the bard's own tongue.

This book, titled Sree Tyagarajaswami Keertanaigal, was released by V.V. Giri, then President of India, at Tyagaraja's samadhi in Tiruvaiyaru during the aradhana festival in 1967. The cost of producing the book was borne by that generous couple: M.S. Subbulakshmi and her husband T.S. Sadasivam.

 The labour of love bestowed by the indefatigable T.S. Parthasarathy is writ large on every page of the volume between its two covers. It was the veteran Dr. R. Krishnaswamy's single-minded dedication to Tyagaraja that enabled the Samajam to add to its credit this remarkable achievement.

Looking to the future, Sri Sadguru Sangeeta Samajam has a very ambitious project: to build a tape library of all available compositions of Tyagaraja. Another project to be taken up subsequently is aimed at establishing an Institute of Tyagaraja Studies.