Monday, April 26, 2010


Madhyamavati Raga , 22 Kharaharapriya janya
Aa: S R2 M1 P N2 S Av: S N2 P M1 R2 S
Taalam: Rupakam



alakalallalāḍaga kani
yarāṇmuniyeṭu poṅgenō

celuvu mīraganu
mārīcuni madamaṇacē vēḻa

muni kanu saika telisi
ṣiva dhanuvunu viricē samayamuna
tyāgarāja vinutuni mōmuna rañjillu

English verse:

As His curls gracefully swayed,
How the sagely heart swelled.

As He rent evil Maricha's pride;
All limits His charms did elide.


As curls His face lighted,
The royal sage delighted.
And so, the sage winked "Now!"

Lo! He'd rent the Great Bow!

This song about Rama's valor and beauty is a fine example of Tyagaraja's poetry. He visualizes the scenes of Rama's conquering pestilential demons and breaking the great bow under Vishvamitra's tutelage. Through the eyes of the sage, he marvels at the beauty of Rama which shone through even whilst performing such exploits. Throughout the common concert repertoire, we seldom encounter the vivid images and emotional expression of Tyagaraja's songs. This sets him apart as the artist among composers. Then comes the fine musical detail. Tyagaraja's songs, like this one, belong as much to the musician as to the poet. If you hear this song sung softly, you will see how both the cadence of the lyrics, and the musical scheme, imitate the gentle tossing of forelocks in the wind. It takes extreme skill to concurrently create such music and poetry- simple, yet graceful. 

Vishvamitra, unlike other sages of the highest rank (Brahmarishi), had originally been a king. Against the entreaties of His father, King Dasharatha, this sage took Rama and Lakshmana away into the forest with him, under the pretext of subduing the demons who destroyed his penances and sacrifices at his hermitage. The king thought Rama was too young. But, his guru, Vashishta, foremost of sages and Vishvamitra's former adversary, counseled the king that Vishvamitra was well capable of subduing the demons by himself. There must have been some ulterior motive, to Rama's benefit, that made him demand Rama to guard him. And there was indeed. The sage first invested Rama with celestial weapons and two powerful chants, Bala and Adibala that made Rama impervious to hunger and thirst. Rama subdued several demons, among whom was the conjurer Maricha, an uncle and vassal of Ravana. He reappeared as the golden buck that Rama chased as Ravana abducted Sita. Rama's travels with Vishvamitra culminated in his shattering the Great Bow of Shiva at Janaka's court, and claiming Sita for his wife. This song alludes to those famous episodes. Even in times of performing such feats, Rama's countenance was exceedingly beautiful, as his shining curls tossed about, as Tyagaraja tells us. As Tyagaraja himself and other sources tell us, He was still in His teens and yet He remained calm and assured when fighting powerful demons like Maricha. When attempting what so many great kings had failed at, He showed not the slightest fear or hesitation and strung and shattered the Great Bow of Shiva. How do we find such counter-intuitive and precocious greatness of character in Rama? The Ramayana describes His many virtues. (..contd in the next post)


Friday, April 23, 2010

Mokshamu kalada

Raga Saraamati, 20 Natabhairavi janya
Aa: S R2 G2 M1 P D1 N2 S Av: S N2 D1 M1 G2 S



mōkśamu kaladā bhuvilō jīvanmuktulu gāni vāralaku (mōkśamu kaladā)

sākśātkāra nī sadbhakti saṅgītajñāna vihīnulaku (mōkśamu kaladā)

prāṇānala samyōgamu valla praṇava nādamu saptasvaramulai paraga
vīṇāvādana lōludau śiva manōvidhamerugaru tyāgarāja vinuta  (mōkśamu kaladā)

English verse:

Seek not to rise heavenward;
When bereft of love for the Maker,
And unwise of musical strains.
Salvation for the Freed, remains.

The first sound with fire finds,
The notes of the seven kinds;
O Lord, of this they know not,
Nor of the bliss Siva enjoys,
In the strings of His fancy;

And from You are ever barred.

This is another song where Tyagaraja extols "Music worship". The goal for the pious in Hinduism is salvation of the individual and merging with the Lord. It is not for example, eternal life in Paradise. This is Moksha. The Freed refers to Jivanmukhtas. They are liberated souls who have by virtuous deeds, expended their stock of Karma, or demerits accrued over their souls' previous manifestations. They are freed from the cycle of life and death and shall not be born again. Great souls who have attained the stage of Jivanmukhti will live out their normal lives. At the end of this life they will rise to heaven. In the Mahabharata and in works based on it, Jivamukthas are described as inhabiting a level of the heavens and shining as celestial bodies. Although a Jivanmuktha may be liberated from transmigration or the cycle of births, he may not yet be worthy of Moksha or eternal liberation and merging with the Lord. 

Prana is considered the life-breath, life-force or vitality of a living being. Anala, literally fire, in this song, but not always, signifies the energy or active force. In the human body, Anala is the fire of the gastric system or the digestive juice. Prana and Anala, together with the primordial sound generated by the mystic syllable, Om, are said to create the seven notes of the octave. "Strings of His fancy" refers to the veena. The allusion to Siva and a veena hearkens to various episodes where His devotees, including Ravana, the demon king, so pleased Siva with skillful veena play, that He bestowed upon them boons of limitless power. Rama is not directly mentioned, but it is He who is being invoked. Siva's association with music, Om and the Sama Veda are mentioned by Tyagaraja in several songs. 

The reader new to Hindu culture may find the practice of choosing a personal deity (ishta devata aradhana) as seen here, interesting. In Hindu praxis, as is consistent with the concept of Brahman, the Supreme Self being manifested as the various divinities and as all else, the faithful each choose a personal deity for daily worship in line with their antecedents and milieu. The personal deity, irrespective of the deity's position in the pantheon, then subsumes all attributes of all the gods and becomes the Great God in daily worship. Laymen might be far removed from the concept and pursuit of the Brahman in daily worship and solely identify themselves as devotees of Rama or Krishna or Shiva and so on but would not be fully correct as the manifestation of the Brahman as such, is a constantly upheld notion in Hindu scriptures. Thus, though according to Hindu lore, Rama was born a mortal, was only an incarnation of Vishnu, one of the Trinity, and certainly not equal to one of the Trinity, and prayed to Shiva on numerous occasions Himself, here and elsewhere, He is alluded to as the causer (correctly materialize) of the world and as a transcendent divinity, subsuming the functions of all others. This may seem inconsistent according to mythology at the outset, but it is certainly consistent with Hindu theology.  Interestingly, when western scholars started studying Hinduism in the 19th century, this practice caused some bewilderment among them.

Extra Comments:
The keen reader may note that in the verses, I have swapped the positions of the pallavi and anupallavi. However, the color coding should clarify the word and line order.

It is quite possible to see too much in this song, given the lofty reference to Moksha with which it starts and one or two authors have done this. However, in terms of the actual lyrics and sentiments in the song, it completely in line with other songs and has little novelty in this regard. However, as we do not know the exact order in which all the songs were composed, we cannot say if this song echoes others that are in this vein, or if other songs hold reflected light.

For the keen reader, many details on historicity, accuracy and rigor, as adopted in this site, are given in this essay.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Durmarga chara

Raga Ranjani, 59 Dharmavati janya
Aa: S R2 G2 M2 D2 S Av: S N3 D2 M2 G2 S R2 S
Taalam: Rupakam



duṛmārgacara adhamulanu
dora nīvana jālarā!

dharmātmaka! dhanadhānyamu
daivamu nivaiyuṇḍaga

paluku boṭini sabhalona-
patita mānavulakosage
khalula neccaṭa pogaḍani
śrīkara! tyāgarāja vinuta!
English verse:

Not for me to call him master,
Not the villain of evil ways!

Wealth and grain come after,
A touch of Your upright grace.

Speech, ne'er shall I barter,
Where fiends hold court.
Nor nod to another's sale,
O Lord of wealth and vale!

This is not a commonly heard song; nor is it involved in musical or lyrical detail. But, the thoughts Tyagaraja expresses in it, tell us a lot about his path in life and why he composed such music and such poetry. Cf. with the famous "Nidhi Chala sukhama" song we saw earlier, where he denounces wealth. Here, he is critical of serving the base for pecuniary benefit and considers this a taint upon the learning of men. Speech personified as here, refers to Sarasvati and to learning. Such revulsion for wealth was common among men of learning of his time. Learning was considered an aid to illumination and the Highest and not as a path to wealth. While Tyagaraja was perhaps the most austere of the Trinity, none of them served the great kings of the time as court musicians nor sought extensive royal patronage.

Such renunciation among the pious and scholarly is peculiar to his culture. In the west, we find a starkly different case. Many of the great masters of the classical music there, did not fight shy of wealth and some did acquire it. Mozart, a figure comparable to Tyagaraja in the West, predated him by only a few decades. Much is known about his various patrons and his considerable fees for composition. It has been of some interest whether he died a pauper or not. The Pythagorean notion of finding the sublime in music had long been dead in his time.

Unlike in the west, learning itself was and is considered sacred in his culture and profiting from learning is considered sinful. Tyagaraja's brother who too lived in their ancestral house was said to be highly covetous and eventually, fell out with him. Tyagaraja's devotion to Rama was his sole avocation in life. To his brother's chagrin, Tyagaraja considered wealth as precluding his quest for Rama. So, we hear of the episode alluded to in the earlier song, in which his idol of Rama was lost and found. Such abhorrence of wealth and comforts as pollutants is an ancient and consistent teaching in Hinduism. It is held that they cannot be sought and attained without the debasement of the individual self.

Extra Extra Comments:
Resumption of this website and changes to style:
Friends, I think it is time to resume this website. However, based on the feedback from readers and a review of the new approach I use here, I am making two key changes. Previously, I used to write one song each day and planned to write up to five, so that I covered most of Tyagaraja's oeuvre quickly. Now, subject to health and other vagaries, I plan to write no more than 2-3 songs a week. But, the commentary on the songs will be much more elaborate and comprehensive. I think this will serve the purpose of this website more, as my intent is not to merely provide a compendium of the songs, but to impart, clarify and augment the songs and the wealth in their lyrics.

Final form of this website:
I receive many requests for the book form of this site (Volume 1) and also some questions. I used to send out what was mainly a download of this site, as a pdf document. I have been revising this book form into a much more readable actual book. I will start sending this revised 'Volume 1' out, once it is ready. Once I am sure that I have covered most of thematic content in the songs, on this website, I do fully intend printing this new approach as a serious academic work, as a book set in two volumes.