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From : 4th May, 1767* To : 6th January, 1847
Father : Sri Rama Brahmam
Mother : Sitamma
Place of birth : Thiruvayyaru
*According to another version he was born on 1759 AD
His Compositions and My Rendition
The fall of Vijayanagar Empire at the end of the 16th century saw many Hindu families migrating to Southern areas which were still peaceful under the benign rule of the Nayakas and the Maratha kings of Tamilnadu. A number of Telugu families went South and formed nuclei of art and culture and Tyagaraja's ancestors belonged to one such group, Kakarla family from Kakarla village in the Kurnool District of Andhra Pradesh.
Thyagaraja was born on 4th May 1767 in Tiruvarur. He was the third son of Sri Ramabrahmam and Sitamma, who were then living in a house on Tirumanjana Veethi in Tiruvayyaru. In one of his songs, Tyagaraja sings "Seetamma mayamma, Sri Ramudu ma tandri" - Seeta is my mother and Sri Rama my father - perhaps with a double meaning. He was named after the presiding deity of Tyagaraja Temple at Tiruvarur.
At the age of eighteen Thyagaraja married Parvati who died without leaving any children. He then married her sister, Kanakamba. A daughter, Seetalakshmi, was born to them, who was given in marriage to Kuppuswami. They begot a boy who was named Tyagaraja (Panchapakesa?) who died issueless, thus came an end the direct lineage of the composer.
No musician, with exception of Purandaradasa, revolutionized and gave direction to Indian music as Thyagaraja did. Because of this he is referred to as Thyagabrahmam.
Thyagaraja had his early education under his scholarly father and later under Sri Ramakrshnananda. Tyagaraja had come under the influence of Saint Narada about whom he acquired a wide knowledge from the palm leaf manuscripts preserved by his grandfather and later from a treatise called 'Svaranava'. His compositions: "Narada Guru Swami" in Darbar, "Sri Narada" in Kanada, and "Vara Narada" in VijayaSri extolling Narada are his tributes to the Saint.
With the influence of Ramayana, he became a devotee of Lord Sri Rama. Thyagaraja's compositions vive comparison with those of Ramadasa and Tulasidasa, especially the latter whose elequent depictions of Sri Rama on the Suvela mountain, Ehi Vidhikrpa Rupa Gunadhama Ram...(Lanka, Doha Ila, Ramacharita Manasa), finds echo in Tyagaraja's "Giripai Nelakonna" in Sahana and "Paritapamu" in Pratapa Varali.
To him music was so creative that he could not be bound in mere traditional grammar. He saw the potentiality in new melodies and from them gave forms to ragas like Kharaharapriya, Harikambhoji and Deyagandhari. He must have breathed life into such simple tunes to make them into ragas. His genius is evident in every song of his but his immortal Pancha ratna kritis - a set of five songs - each song is in different raga and tala reveal the mastery he had over musical technique.
Thyagaraja's fame and the popularity of his songs brought him many disciples. Three branches of his Sishya parampara (line of disciples) need specific mention, namely: Umayalpuram, Tillaisthanam and Valajapet, headed by Sundara Bhagavatar and Krishna Bhagavatar, Rama Iyengar, and Valajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar respectively, who imbibed all that was Thyagaraja and in turn propagated his kritis.
Invitations from his disciples and admirers took Thyagaraja on a pilgrimage to Tirupati, where he composed "Tera Tiyagarada" in Gaulipantu. He next moved to Chennai where he composed five songs on Lord Sundaresa. At Tiruvotiryur, he was drawn by Goddess Tripurasundari to sing five kritis. At Kancipuram he sang in praise of Lord Varadaraja and Goddess Kamakshi. At Nagapatnam he composed two pieces on Goddess Nilayatakshi. His visit to Srirangam is commemorated by five kritis. The next shrine he visited was Lalgudi, known then as Tapastirthapura, where he composed three pieces on Goddess Mahitapravrddha Srimati and two pieces on Saptarshisvara. Besides Kshetra pancaratna kirtanas, Thyagaraja also composed Utsava sampradaya and Divyanama kirtanas and Operas like Nauka charitra and Prahlada bhakti vijaya.
This complete surrender to God made him live a life of detachment, though he was a house holder with a family to care to. He refused to earn a livelihood. He had a house to live in and that was enough shelter. For food, every morning he would go round the village asking for alms - unchavritti, as it is called, and he would not gather even alms more than his daily need. This was not to the liking of his elder brother, Japesa, who hoped that the great art and learning of his younger brother could be used to earn monetary benefits, which the Saint would not agree to. In desperation, the brother partitioned the ancestral house and threw the Rama idol which Thyagaraja worshipped into the river. The sorrow of the devotee cannot even be imagined and in shock Thyagaraja sang begging the Lord to come back to him. In a dream he was told where to find the idol and his life becomes full.
Honors and wealth could have been his, if only he had asked for them, but he would not. He spurned an invitation of the King and sang, "Is wealth (nidhi) the source of happiness or is the proximity (sannidhi) of Rama?"
Thyagaraja took sanyasa towards the end of his life. He says in one of the most moving songs, "Unerringly I saw Sri Rama installed on the hill...Thrilled with ecstasy, with tears of joy, I tried to speak. He promised to bless me in five days.
And so it happened. As promised, he attained eternal peace on Pusya Bahula Panchami in Prabhava (6th January, 1847).