All You Need to Know About The Life of Legendary Saint Thyagaraja & His Music

24 Nov 2020
Indian history is full of musical legends who devoted their entire life to “Bhakti” (devotion) and spirituality. Saint Thyagaraja was one such great composer of Carnatic music. He was dedicated to Lord Ram and wrote thousands of “kritis” in his praise (24000 to be precise).
Thyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar, and Syama Sastri are regarded as the trinity of Carnatic music by music lovers. You can say these three were the rock stars of Carnatic music in the 1700s.
Let me introduce you to this great musical legend:
Early Years: Saint Thyagaraja was born in Tamil Nadu on May 4th, 1767. He started his musical journey when he was merely 13 years old under his guru, Sonti Venkata Ramaayya. His first composition was “NamoNamoRaghavaya.”
Career Path: Throughout his life, he and the trinity of Carnatic music remained instrumental in revolutionizing Carnatic music. Most of his work is in the Telugu language, which was his mother tongue. Some of his kritis are in Sanskrit also.
Thyagaraja Kritis (creations of Saint Thyagaraja) are still performed widely in concerts by public demand. He composed and wrote 24000 kritis in praise of Lord Rama. Only 700 of them or so survived through the ages through successive generations of his musical disciples.
Love for The Music: Saint Thyagaraja’s compositions were equally replete with “Bhava” (expression) as they were resplendent with the beauty of raga and tala. He was not only a gifted artist to whom music came naturally and in abundance but knowledgeable in the shastras(scriptures) which shaped the theme of many of his compositions. He did not sing for money or fame , choosing to use music as an outpouring of his unconditional devotion to his favorite deity, Lord Rama. Even hundreds of years later, his compositions have the power to melt the listener’s heart and feature in almost every concert of the musicians of modern times.
Lord Ram & The Musical Legend: The family of Saint Thyagaraja was devoted to Lord Ram. His father and maternal grandfather engraved the seeds of “Ram bhakti” in him since childhood. Music to him was not merely an art. But it was “Nadopasana” (worship of God) for him. His love for Lord Ram was so deep that he dispensed of all the worldly pleasures. All Thyagaraja kritis extolled the virtues of his favorite God, Lord Rama. One of his masterpieces , “Jagadanandakaraka.” enumerates the 108 names of the lord, each describing the unique characteristics of Ram.

There are many stories of the musical legend coming face to face with Lord Rama. He also announced his day of salvation (January 6th, 1847) in advance, having been informed about it from his own favorite Lord Ram, as the story goes.
Notable Work: His musical creations are diverse including a wide variety of themes, ragas and talas. Some of the most popular categories of Kritis composed by Saint Thyagaraja are listed below:
  • Panchratna Krithis
  • Uthsava Sampradaya Keertanas
  • Divyanama Sankeertanas
  • Prahalada Bhakthi Vijaya Opera
  • Nauka Charitra Opera
Thyagaraja was a musical genius whose compositions are not only regarded highly by music scholars but also endear themselves to listeners of all ages through the times. Therefore he is recognized as one of the greatest musical legends in the history of Carnatic music.

Legacy & Remembrance

Saint Thyagaraja attained Samadhi in Thiruvaiyaru.Shri Thyagaraja Aradhanais an annual event held in Thiruvaiyaru and has been conducted for the last 174 years. Various Thyagaraja kritis are performed during this week-long event. But the highlight of the event remains his divine Pancharatna Kritis, sung by the artists and thousands of audiences in unison, charging the atmosphere with the spirit of the Thyagaraja, a divine experience that can only be felt live.
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