Tyagaraja is incomparable to other Indian mystics in that he falls into the genre of not only poet, but also music composer. He is one of the three emissaries of what is known as, “Carnatic Music” or classical music of South India; the other two of the renowned “trinity” being Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri. These three would comprise the Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva of Carnatic music.
Tyagaraja’s Life and Songs
Tyagaraja was born in Tiruvaiyaru, Tamil Nadu, South India of a musical and educated family – his grandfather Girirajakavi, a famous Telugu poet, and his father Raamabrahman, a vocalist and veena player. Tyagaraja has no direct living descendents, as his only daughter’s (SitaLakshmi) sole son (also named Tyagaraja) died. But interestingly, the repertoire of Tyagaraja’s musical legend lives on more than 160 years later…
The majority of Tyagaraja’s compositions are written in Telugu, his mother tongue, and a handful in Sanskrit. If Carnatic music still attracts today, it is due to the potency of it’s uniqueness and composers like Tyagaraja. I perceive Tyagaraja as the “Tulsidas” of South India. Both writers idolize the same God, Raama, but perhaps Tyagaraja supersedes in the Bhakti (devotion) domain: his songs personally hand-carved and infused with musical nuances that appeal to every emotion imaginable. His writing style though simple, comprises the intricacies of human relationships. He comfortably negotiates and flatters the Lord – all in an attempt to portray an intense angst for the Divine. Indeed, it is how he manages to relate these feelings to the audience that truly intrigues. A Carnatic music concert anywhere in the world is incomplete without Tyagaraja’s compositions.
The poet composed his first song, Namo Namo Raghavaya at the tender age of 13 years and continued till his later years (80 years), to build one of the largest collations of compositions on a single God, in this case, the God-King, Raama. Tyagaraja has a total of over 2000 writings to his name, 800 songs well documented and widely sung today internationally by Carnatic singers. The poet has also composed three plays – Prahlada Bhaktivijayam, Naukacharitram, and SeethaRaama Vijayam, saturating them with his music and lyrics.