Sadguru SRI TYAGARAJA-1 (Post No.7951)

WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No.7951

Date uploaded in London – – – 10 May 2020   

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A New Series on Sri Tyagaraja!


R. Nanjappa

Leading light of Musical Trinity

Sri Tyagaraja is mainly regarded as a musician, the leading light of the Carnatic musical Trinity, composer and musical genius. Though Purandaradasa is considered the pitamaha of Carnatic music, it is Sri Tyagaraja who gave the definitive ‘kirtana’ structure to Carnatic compositions.  This also made the raga swaroopa  clear and distinct. We know many ragas now only through his Kirtanas. While his ‘kritis’ are the mainstay of performing musicians, his life forms a very attractive subject for ‘harikatha’ exponents, who extol him as a Saint. Carnatic music being based on ‘sahitya’, (unlike Hindustani music which is mainly based on ‘swara’,) the quality of compositions becomes important. It is agreed by authorities that his compositions are divinely inspired. Tyagaraja himself sings: “bhukti mukti galgu nani keerthanamu bodhinchevadu” ie it is Sri Rama himself who had taught him the kirtans which confer worldly welfare and  liberation.


It is to be noted that among the Trinity, Sri Tyagaraja alone is called “Sadguru”. Sadguru is not just a vidyaguru, or deeksha guru, but one who shows the way to Truth (Sat) or Liberation. No higher benefit or benediction can be conferred on a human being on earth. So, while the compositions of the Trinity and the other great personalities before and after him are full of musical and other excellences, there is something in the sahitya of Sri Tyagaraja which makes it distinct, unique and sublime. 

Bhakthi based Music

Carnatic music, in its pure classical form, is bhakti based, because music is considered divine and is used mainly as an instrument of soul elevation, not means of mere entertainment. Aesthetic pleasure surely accompanies the musical experience, either as a listener or performer, but all such pleasures, however intense, are transitory and what makes music memorable in the long run is something more sublime than mere listening pleasure, or impressive words of the composition. It has to touch the core of one’s being.

All the great classical composers sing only about God. This, even when they employ the Sringara rasa, as in the case of Kshetrayya or Jayadeva. And it reaches  the high peaks of philosophy as in the case of Sadashiva Brahmendra, or heart melting devotion in the case of Purandaradasa. But somehow Tyagaraja stands above all, and encompasses all as the Sadguru.

Why Tyagaraja is Sadguru

The precise reason why Tyagaraja has to be considered Sadguru is that he combines three ancient and formidable traditions in Indian spiritual experience, and shows how they can be practised in the turbulent times.

  • the  tradition of combining music with devotion, as taught by Narada
  • the tradition of devotion to Ishtadevata, without hatred of other forms of God- mainly based on Purana-Itihasa ie Avatara 
  • the tradition of adhyatmic or spiritual quest,based on viveka and vairagya, as taught in the Vedantic tradition.

Tyagaraja blends all three with natural ease and supreme skill.. This is based on his own personal experience.

Honouring previous saints 

Like most genuine Sadgurus, Tyagaraja blazes his own trail. He does honour all previous saints in general ( endaro mahanubhavulu) and singles out some for special veneration like Narada, ( Narada Guruswamy, Vara Narada , Sri Narada Natha, etc), Bhadrachala Ramadas ( dheerudau Ramadasu) and the Haridasas ( haridasulu vedala, mucchata konni aanandamaye dayalo).

But Sri Tyagaraja Swami surpasses all, and he has combined the essence of all previous traditions. He does not merely follow in the grooves of any fixed tradition, but has shown a new path, suitable for the emerging age. Most gurus belong to a tradition, either in teaching Vidya or giving Deeksha, and they cannot do better or more than preserve and pass on the tradition. But time renders most such traditions ineffective or unsuitable for changing circumstances. Traditional adherents do not know how to adapt, or do not dare. It is the Sadguru who opens up a new path.

It is not that a Sadguru transforms the whole world. No, it has never happened in the history of the world. Even Incarnations have not done it. Christianity spread through political power and commercial and military might, but it has not transformed the world or any part of it. The followers of one God and one Book and the only begotten Son are divided into more than 100 factions and they fought two world wars mainly among themselves. The followers of Prophet Mohammad conquered other lands and peoples with the sword, and openly preach jihad  in the world, though their factions are busy fighting each other where they rule.. But they have not transformed the world . The role of the Sadguru is not to change the world, but to show individuals how they can attain the spiritual goal in a changing world.

We will examine, on the basis of Tyagaraja’s own kritis, whether and how this title of Sadguru fits him. 


1.In the Indian tradition, music i.e., sangeeta, is treated as Gandharva Veda. It is considered ‘Lalitakala’, one which easily pleases. But its instant appeal is to the mind, which has a natural tendency to run out into the world. eg Shakespeare writes : If music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it.” ( Twelfth Night) So our tradition associated it with God and spiritual effort, and this is how our classical music developed. Music is used as a way to reach God.

2. It is held that Carnatic music derives from or follows Narada, and Hindustani music, Hanuman. On this, see Ra.Ganapati’s book, (in Tamil) “Jaya Hanuman”.

3. Today, Sahitya dominates Carnatic music. Though Hindustani ustads sing bhajans and render some ‘bandishes’, it is largely free of sahitya. It is said that this is due to the Muslim invasion and rule of the North, where the musicians had to sing to please the sultans and badshah, and not God. Swami Vivekananda has some interesting observations on music, scattered through his works.

In our effort here, we will be focusing on Tyagaraja’s sahitya, not on music as such.

 tags – TYAGARAJA-1, Sadguru,Bhakthi


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