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Background information
Birth name Kakarla Tyagabrahmam
Born (1767-05-04)4 May 1767
Thiruvarur,[1] Thanjavur district, Tamil Nadu
Died 6 January 1847(1847-01-06) (aged 79)
Thiruvayaru,[1]Thanjavur district, Tamil Nadu
Genres Carnatic music
Occupation(s) Carnatic composer

Kakarla Tyagabrahmam (4 May 1767 – 6 January 1847) or Saint Tyagaraja, also known as Tyāgayya in Telugu or Tyāgarājar in Tamil, was one of the greatest composers of Carnatic music or Indian classical music. He was a prolific composer and highly influential in the development of the classical music tradition. Tyagaraja composed thousands of devotional compositions, most in Telugu and in praise of Lord Rama, many of which remain popular today.[2] Of special mention are five of his compositions called the Pancharatna Kritis(English: "five gems"), which are often sung in programs in his honour.

Personal life and background[edit]

Saint Tyāgarāja was born in 1767[Note 1] in Thiruvarur,[3] Thanjavur District, Tamil Nadu to Kakarla Ramabrahma and Sitamma in a Telugu Brahmin family. His family belonged to the smarta tradition and Bhardvajasa gotra. Tyagaraja was the third son of his parents, and Panchanada brahmam and Panchapakesha brahmam are his older brothers. He was named Tyagabrahmam/Tyagaraja after Tyagaraja, the presiding deity of the temple at Thiruvarur, the place of his birth. Tyagaraja's paternal grandfather was Giriraja Kavi. Giriraja Kavi was a poet and musician. Giriraja was born in Kakarla village, cumbum taluk in Prakasam district, Andhra Pradesh. He is believed to belong to the Mulakanadu or Niyogi sect. Tyagaraja's maternal grand father was Kalahastayya/Veena kalahastayya. He was a Veena player. Tyagaraja learned playing Veena in his childhood from Kalahastayya. After Kalahastayya's death Tyagaraja found "Naradeeyam", a book related to music. [4] [5]

Musical career[edit]

Tyāgarāja began his musical training under Sonti Venkata Ramanayya, a music scholar, at an early age. He regarded music as a way to experience God's love. His objective while practising music was purely devotional, as opposed to focusing on the technicalities of classical music. He also showed a flair for composing music and, in his teens, composed his first song, "Namo Namo Raghavayya", in the Desika Todi ragam and inscribed it on the walls of the house.

Sonti Venkataramanayya informed the king of Thanjavur of Tyagaraja's genius. The king sent an invitation, along with many rich gifts, inviting Tyagaraja to attend the royal court. Tyagaraja, however, was not inclined towards a career at the court, and rejected the invitation outright, composing another kriti, Nidhi Chala Sukhama (English: "Does wealth bring happiness?") on this occasion.[6][7]

Tyagaraja, who was totally immersed in his devotion to Rama and led the most spartan way of life without bothering in the least for the comforts of the world, did not take any steps to systematically codify his vast musical output. Rangaramanuja Iyengar, a leading researcher on Carnatic music, in his work Kriti Manimalai, has described the situation prevailing at the time of death of Tyagaraja. It is said that a major portion of his incomparable musical work was lost to the world due to natural and man-made calamities. Usually Tyagaraja used to sing his compositions sitting before deity manifestations of Lord Rama, and his disciples noted down the details of his compositions on palm leaves. After his death, these were in the hands of his disciples, then families descending from the disciples. There was not a definitive edition of Tyagaraja's songs.[citation needed]

The songs he composed were widespread in their popularity. Musical experts such as Kancheepuram Nayana Pillai, Simizhi Sundaram Iyer and Veenai Dhanammal saw the infinite possibilities for imaginative music inherent in his compositions and they systematically notated the songs available to them. Subsequently, indefatigable researchers like K. V. Srinivasa Iyengar and Rangaramanuja Iyengar made an enormous effort to contact various teachers and families who possessed the palm leaves. K. V. Srinivasa Iyengar brought out Adi Sangita Ratnavali and Adi Tyagaraja Hridhayam (in three volumes). Rangaramanuja Iyengar published Kriti Mani Malai in two volumes.[citation needed]

Furthermore, Musiri Subramania Iyer, the doyen of Bhava Sangitam, had a vast collection of books in his library. T. K. Govinda Rao, his disciple, brought out a volume of the songs of Tyagaraja in English and the Devanagari script. T. S. Parthasarathy, a leading scholar on Tyagaraja, published the text and meaning of Tyagaraja's songs. There are also many less comprehensive publications in Telugu.

Out of 24,000 songs said to have been composed by him, about 700 songs remain now but scholars are skeptical about numbers like 24,000 since there is no biographical evidence to support such claims.[8] In addition to nearly 700 compositions (kritis), Tyagaraja composed two musical plays in Telugu, the Prahalada Bhakti Vijayam and the Nauka Charitam. Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam is in five acts with 45 kritis set in 28 ragas and 138 verses, in different metres in Telugu. Nauka Charitam is a shorter play in one act with 21 kritis set in 13 ragas and 43 verses. The latter is the most popular of Tyagaraja's operas, and is a creation of the composer's own imagination and has no basis in the Bhagavata Purana. Tyagaraja also composed a number of simple devotional pieces appropriate for choral singing.[9]

The 20th-century Indian music critic K.V. Ramachandran wrote: "Tyagaraja is an indefatigable interpreter of the past... but if with one eye he looks backward, with the other he looks forward as well. Like Prajapati, he creates his own media, and adores his Rama not alone with jewel-words newly fashioned, but also with jewel-[like]-music newly created. It is this facet of Tyagaraja that distinguishes him from his illustrious contemporaries."[citation needed] In other words, while Tyagaraja's contemporaries were primarily concerned with bringing to audiences the music of the past, Tyagaraja also pioneered new musical concepts at the same time..

Purandara Dasa and Thyagaraja[edit]

It is said that saint Thyagaraja(May 4, 1767 – January 6, 1847) was greatly inspired by Purandara Dasa(1484–1564). Thyagaraja has paid tribute to Purandara Dasa in his Prahlada bhakti vijayam as దురితవ్రాతములెల్లను పరిమార్చెడి హరిగుణముల్ బాడుచు నెప్పుడున్ పరవశుడై వెలయు పురందరదాసుని మహిమలను దలచెద మదిలోన్ [10][11] Which means that I ponder, in my mind, on the greatness of Purandara Dāsa who shines in a state of ecstasy, always singing the virtues of Lord Hari which transforms all bad fates. While these musical geniuses Purandara Dasa and Thyagaraja lived almost three centuries apart, it is interesting to compare their lives, their contributions to music and philosophical thoughts.[11] There are several parallels in their lives.[11] Both Purandara Dasa and Thyagaraja were pious, saintly and great devotees of Krishna and Rama respectively. The lyrics of their krithis were simple, but with high philosophical and spiritual contents.[11] Both were musical prodigies who disliked royal patronages and gifts. They abhorred 'narastuthi' or praising of mortals. Purandara Dasa was not enamoured of the royal bounty and wealth of King of Vijaya nagar.[11]

Similarly, Thyagaraja too refused invitations from the Tanjavur Maharaja and other Kings of Travancore and Mysore. Both have commented on their feelings in musical forms and idioms.[11] In Purandara Dasa's krithi 'Namma bhagya doddado,Nimma bhagya doddado', he feels more blessed because of the Lord's protection compared to the King, who has just material possessions.[11] In another krithi,' Antarangadalli Hariya kaanadava', Purandara Dasa reiterates the same concept 'Narara sevisa bedavo endendigu', while Thyagaraja says in his 'Nidhi chala sukhama, Ramuni sannidhi seva sukhama', that he does not need anybody's blessings but Rama's.[11]

Purandara Dasa and Thyagaraja have expressed their thoughts and feelings on other aspects of life as well.[11] A general concept of the meaning of their songs is given within brackets. Regarding music,what Purandara Dasa has said in 'Talabeku takka mela beku' Thyagaraja has echoed similar ideas in his 'Sogasuga mrudanga talamu' (basic details of an ideal krithi).[11] The words 'Sakala tirtha yaatreya maadidante nikhila punyada phalavu' in Purandara Dasa's 'Smarane onde saalade' have parallel expressions in Thyagaraja's 'Dhyaaname varamaina Ganga snaanamu' (Plunging in holy waters will not purify from the sins of deceit).[11] To focus one's mind to the devotion of the Lord, the words used by both Purandara Dasa and Thyagaraja in their krithis are almost identical. Purandara Dasa says 'Manava nilisuvudu balu kashta' and Thyagaraja's lyrics are 'Manasu nilpa shakti leka pothe' (Controlling one's mind for worship is hard).[11] Purandara Dasa's 'Sakala graha bala neene' and Tyagarja's 'Graha bala memi' are close in their contents (Strength from the Divine protection is better than those from all planets).[11] Similarly, Dasa's 'Dwaitavu sukhava' and Thyagaraja's 'Dwaitamu sukhama' are alike in their philosophical content (the decision to follow Dvaitha or Advaitha for bliss).[11]

There are several examples where the thoughts of these two men run very similar. A few relevant lines are mentioned:[11]

  • Mosahodenallo naanu (Purandara Dasa) and Mosabegu vinave satsahavasamu (Thyagaraja) (Do not get deceived by not thinking of God)
  • Manuja sharira enu sukha (Purandara Dasa) and Pranamuleni vaaniki bangaru baaga jutti in Bhakti beecha meeyave (Thyagaraja) (Praise the Lord to get eternal bliss)
  • Saamanyavalla Sri Hariye seve (Purandara Dasa) and Adi gadu bhajana manasa (Thyagaraja) (false pretence is no bhajana at all)
  • Daasana madiko enna (Purandara Dasa) and Meluko Dayaanidhi (Thyagaraja )(Accept me as your own)
  • Idu bhaagya,Padumanabha paada bhajana sukhavayya (Purandara Dasa) and Ide bhaagya gaka,yemi yunnadira, Rama (Thyagaraja) (blessed is the one who worships God sincerely)
  • Kaliyuga dalli Hari naama (Purandara Dasa) and Padavini sadbhakti galkude (Thyagaraja) (only true devotion to God can bring a status of value)
  • Raama naama paayasakke Krishna naama sakkare(Purandara Dasa) and Raama kathaa sudha rasa paanamu (Thyagaraja) (Drink the divine nectar)
  • Dharma shravana yetake (Purandara Dasa) and Chevitiki-yupadeshinchi natu gaado (Thyagaraja) (Worship of God is more important than other trivial pursuits)


Tyagaraja Aradhana, the commemorative music festival is held every year at Thiruvaiyaru in the months of January to February in Tyagaraja's honour. This is a week-long festival of music where various Carnatic musicians from all over the world converge at his resting place. On the Pushya Bahula Panchami,[Note 2] thousands of people and hundreds of Carnatic musicians sing the five Pancharatna Kritis in unison, with the accompaniment of a large bank of accompanists on veenas, violins, flutes, nadasvarams, mridangams and ghatams.[12]

A crater on the planet Mercury is named Tyagaraja.[13]

Popular culture[edit]

Films on Tyagaraja (biographical)[edit]

As the most famous composer of Telugu kritis or (kirtanas), Tyagaraja, who is fondly remembered as Tyagayya, has caught the imagination of filmmakers in the Telugu film industry. Apart from references to his works, using the kirtanas as songs, two films were made on his life. Chittor V. Nagaiah made a biographical epic on Tyagaraja titled Tyagayya in 1946 which is still treated as a masterpiece of Telugu cinema. In 1981, Bapu – Ramana made Tyagayya with J. V. Somayajulu in the lead role. Another attempt is being made by Singeetam Srinivasa Rao to picturise Tyagaraja's life.


The term pancharatna in Sanskrit means five gems: The Pancharatnas are known as the five finest gems of Carnatic music. All the Pancharatnas are set to Adi Talam. So far as Pancharatnas are concerned, a stable text has been handed over by the earlier musicians to the present day. Several musicians have brought out editions of Pancharatnas. However, Veenai Sundaram Iyer's edition is the most detailed and comprehensive. All the compositions of Tyagaraja show the way for the systematic development of the respective ragas. However, in the Pancharatnas, Tyagaraja has given full, exhaustive and complete treatment as to how to systematically and scientifically develop a raga. The two fundamental conditions that must be satisfied for a systematic development of a raga are the arrangement of the solfa swaras in the natural order of Arohanam and Avarohanam of the Ragas so as to satisfy the sound principles of harmony and continuity. Pancharatnas satisfy these scientific principles in an unparalleled manner. The Pancharatnas are composed in perfect sarvalaghu swaras.

  • The first pancharatna is Jagadaanandakaaraka, in the raga Nata. It is composed in lucid and poetic Sanskrit. It praises Lord Rama as the source of all joy in the universe. Originally there were only six charanams for the song and when the disciples examined the song it contained ninety names of Lord Rama in mellifluous Sanskrit. The disciples requested Tyagaraja to slightly expand the song by adding two charanas containing eighteen more names of Lord Rama. The saint acceded to the request of the disciples and that is the reason why the song Jagadaanandakaaraka contains two mudras containing the name of Tyagaraja while the other four songs contain only one mudra each.
  • The next is Duduku gala in the raga Gowla set to Aadi taalam. In this song, Tyagaraja takes the blame upon himself for all the misdeeds of men and ruminates on who would come and save him from this deplorable situation.
  • The third is Saadhinchene in the raga Aarabhi,set to Aadi taalam. In this song, Tyagaraja lovingly criticises Lord Krishna for his cleverness in getting what he wants to be done. Saadhinchene is a breathtaking lullaby.
  • The fourth song, Kana kana ruchiraa is in the raga Varaali set to Aadi taalam. In this song Tyagaraja describes the infinite beauty of Lord Rama.
  • The fifth pancharatna is Endaro Mahaanubhaavulu in Sri raaga. It is said that a great musician from Kerala, Shatkala Govinda Maaraar, visited Tygaraja and performed before him. Tyagaraja was enchanted with his performance and then was born Endaro Mahanubhavulu, the composition of unparallelled rhythmic beauty in Carnatic music.

Other notable compositions by Tyagaraja include Saamajavaragamana in Hindolam raagam, Aadamodigaladhe in Chaarukesi raagam, Raaju vedale in Hanumatodi raagam, Ninne nammi naanura in Pantuvaraali raagam, and Nagumomu kanaleni in Aabheri raagam.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ His date of birth according to the Hindu lunar year Sarvajit 27th Soma, on Chaitra Sukla Saptami, the 7th day of the bright half of the Hindu month of Chaitra, under the Pushya star.
  2. ^ Pushya Bahula Panchami – the fifth day of the dark half of the month of Pushya, in the Hindu calendar every year.


  1. ^ a b "Thiruvaiyaru Thyagaraja Aradhana". 
  2. ^ Gopal, Madan (1990). K.S. Gautam, ed. India through the ages. Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. p. 233. 
  3. ^ http://thiruvaiyaruthyagarajaaradhana.org/biography.html.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ "Tiruvaiyaru gears up". The Hindu. 6 January 2006. 
  5. ^ "Manaku teliyani mana tyagaraju". 
  6. ^ "The musical triumvirate". The Hindu. 24 January 2011. 
  7. ^ "Atop a hill, a historic temple". The Hindu. 26 February 2013. 
  8. ^ "The bhaktha who craved more bhakthi". The Hindu. 31 January 2013. 
  9. ^ http://www.acharyanet.com/product-category/020-krtis/tyagarajas-bhajana-marga-krtis/
  10. ^ B.N., Krishnamurti Sharma (2000). A History of the Dvaita School of Vedānta and Its Literature. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited. p. 520. ISBN 81-208-1575-0. Retrieved 12 March 2013. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Madhav, Ashok. "The Trend Setters in Carnatic Music". Retrieved 11 March 2013. 
  12. ^ "Musicians pay homage to saint Thyagaraja". The Hindu. 1 February 2013. 
  13. ^ Retrieved 16 May 2013, from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory website; http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/gallery/sciencePhotos/image.php?image_id=861

Further reading[edit]

  • The Spiritual Heritage of Tyagaraja, by C. Ramanujachari with introduction by Dr V. Raghavan, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.
  • Tyagaraja Kritigal (in Malayalam) by Prof P. R. Kumara Kerala Varma, Dept of Cultural Publications, Govt of Kerala, Trivandrum, 2000.
  • Tyagaraja Kirtanalu (in Telugu) by Smt Dwaraka Parthasarathy and Sri N.C. Parthasarathy, Tagore Publishing House, Kachiguda, Hyderabad, 1995 (Balasaraswati Book Depot, Kurnool).
  • Ramachandran, K.V., "The Melakarta: A Critique", The (Madras) Music Academy Platinum Jubilee Commemoration Volume, Vol. I, 1930–1940. (Original publication in the Journal of the Music Academy in 1938.)

External links[edit]