SRI TYAGARAJA-23, Ways of Devotion (Post No.8084)

WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No. 8084

Date uploaded in London – – – 1 June 2020   

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SRI TYAGARAJA-23,  Ways of Devotion

The chronicles of Tyagaraja contain  imaginary legends and invented incidents. Pauranikas will relate a story in respect of almost every kriti. Some kritis do have references to some personal issues or concerns, but it is not sound to construct an entire biography of his external life on the basis of his kritis. The life of a saint or Sage does not entirely consist of external events. Nor do they treat external events as we do. The life of a person like Tyagaraja who was almost always immersed in divine consciousness has to be understood on the basis of what he has revealed of his mind and thought and of his divine experiences, and not merely on the basis of  reconstruction of some events supposed to have taken place, as interpreted by us. Sri Aurobindo said that his life was not on the surface for people to see! This applies to all mystics.

Sri Tyagaraja did not merely worship Rama, he experienced Him in many moods and aspects.This is what we have to learn from his kritis..

 The definite elements known of his life are that he led a very simple life, wholly devoted to spiritual pursuit through the medium of devotion to his Ishta Devata- Sri Rama through ritual worship, japa, dhyana and devotional singing-sankirtana.. His literary output in the form of his musical compositions is an exuberant outpouring of his spiritual experiences. The extraordinary variety, richness and depth of his kritis reflect the quality of his spiritual life over many decades. They do give the clearest clue to his mind and heart. Saint Arunagirinatha sang of a devotee being ‘ skilled of mind and pure of heart’- “Matiyaal vitthakanaagi manadaal utthamanaagi”, மதியால் வித்தகனாகி மனதால் உத்தமனாகி what in ordinary parlance we call the qualities of ‘head and heart’. We see this amply proved in the case of Tyagaraja.

Tyagaraja lived in troubled times. The foundations of religious life were being shaken. Orthodoxy was degenerating into mere show and hypocrisy. Hindu society was leaderless, dharma lacked royal protection and patronage.. At the same time the traditional economic arrangements were also breaking down. Independent sources of livelihood were disappearing,  and large sections were becoming landless labourers. Patronage was dwindling for forms of traditional religious life. The crisis faced was thus religious, social and economic at the same time. 

Even so, the Tanjore region- the famed Chola Desa- was still fortunate. There were pockets of traditional art and craft, learning and religion. Above all, some outstanding religious figures appeared and infused new life and arrangements. The chief among them was the path of Nama Siddhanta, and Sankirtan. This could be practiced individually and in groups, did not depend on any social or religious order, though it did not contradict or oppose them, either. It did not need elaborate paraphernalia or organization. Sri Tyagaraja is a great exemplar and advocate of this fresh trend, though he made use of all the ancient elements- like mantra japa and dhyana, legend and lore, itihasa-purana etc. All this is seen in his kritis.

Tyagaraja seeks to know the secrets of worship- from those who are themselves great worshippers- from Sita and Lakshmana- no less!

Pakkala nilabadi

Tanuvuche vandana monarinju chunnara

chanuvuna nama kirtana seyu chunnara

Manasuna dalachi maimarachi yunnara

nenarunchi Tyagarajunito Hari Hari meeru iru

Pakkala nilabadi koliche muchchata

Baaga telpa raada……

Sudati Sitamma Saumitri  Ramuniki iru


O mother Sita! O Lakshmana! Can you not tell me the secret of the service you are rendering to Rama, standing by his side?

Do you worship him by prostrating with your body ( ie by sashtanga namaskar)?

Or do you engage in Nama Sankirtan with devotion?

Or do you meditate on Him in your heart and thus forget your body ( ie lose external consciousness)?

Can you two not reveal the secret to me?

Here, Tyagaraja is referring to the very basics- engaging the body ( namaskar), speech (kirtan) and mind (dhyana). True worship involves all three. Also, he is referring here to three aspects of the nine-step bhakti- vandana, kirtana and manana. It is the true blood of the die-hard bhakta that is coursing through the veins of Tyagaraja.

Tyagaraja is a keen observer of life around him. He notices how people indulge in mere show.

Teliyaleru Rama bhaktimargamu

Ilanandata tiruguchu galuvarincere gaani

Teliyaleru Rama bhaktimargamunu

Vega lechi neeta munigi  bhuti boosi

vaellanenchi veliki slaaganeeyulai

baaga paina maarjanalolulaire gaani


People run about in frenzied activity all over the world, but they do not (care to) know the good way of Ramabhakti.

They get up early in the morning, and after bath, apply sacred ash all over the body and adopt other paraphernalia, count on their fingers ( as if doing japa), show themselves like good outside, but only desire to earn money!

Will such people know where Ayodhya is?

Nadachi Nadachi chooche

Nadachi nadachi chooche

Ayodhya nagaramu gaanare

Pudamisuta sahayudai chelange

Poornuni Atmaramuni gooda…..

Atte kanula goorchi terachi sootramu

batti veliki vesadaarulai

puttu chavuleni taavu teliyaka


Atmarama is perfect, and shines in the company of Sita. People wish to join this Atmarama, they  keep walking but have not found Ayodhya!

They just open and close their eyes; they hold the rosary and count the beads; they just don such disguises. They indulge in praising God but do not know the place beyond birth and death. Such people cannot find Ayodhya!

Here, Tyagaraja employs both deep philosophy and pungent irony. Rama is not just Ayodhyapati, but Atmarama ie the ruler of Atma! Ayodhya is not just a place out there, but the space of our heart! Unless we realise Rama as seated in our heart ie as our very Atma, how can we find him in any external, physical Ayodhya?

How can people who merely adopt the external signs and symbols without the inner dedication, lacking in spiritual insight, realise that truth of Atma? Hypocrisy will not do. 

There is indeed a Royal path one must take!

Chakkani Raja margamu

Chakkani raja margamu lundaga
sandula dooranelae O manasa
Chikkani paalu meegada undaga

cheeyanu ganga sagara mele
kantiki sundara taramagu roopame muk-

kanti nota chelage naamame Tyagaraju
intane nela konna aadi deivame yitu-
vanti Srisaketa Ramuni bhaktiyane

O mind! When there is the Royal path, why do you wish to enter the lanes and by lanes?
When there is the nourishing milk and cream, why do you take the despicable liquor?

Rama has the beautiful form which delights the eyes.

He has the name which is ever on the tongue of Lord Shiva ( which takes one across the ocean of samsara). He has his abode at the residence of Tyagaraja, as his ancient Deity. Devotion to Him is the Royal path. When this is available, why do you wish to enter lanes

 and bylanes ( ie take up less wholesome ways?)

This kriti is rather well known among those who listen to Harikatha on Tyagaraja. The pauranikas delight in expounding that this song was sung when Serfoji, the ruler of Tanjore invited Tyagaraja to his court but Tyagaraja declined, incurring the wrath of his brother. The allusion is that Tanjore was full of lanes and by lanes, whereas Tiruvaiyaaru where Tyagaraja resided was better, with broad streets and a famous ancient temple of Lord Shiva. As we see here, the kriti has a philosophical import and can stand on its own. 

However, there is a bit of social history here. Those days the poor labourers used to consume country liquor at the end of a day of hard labour, and roll on the streets, in a state of semi-stupor, as if floating on the waves of the ocean! This was called ‘gangasagar’.

(Incidentally, scenes of such people floating on gangasagar can be witnessed even today, in broad daylight, in several areas in Bangalore!)

This kriti has as its theme the idea that Bhakti is the Royal path and contemplation on Rupa and japa and kirtan of Nama are sure aids- thus instantly connecting it to the classical ideas and authorities!

Kannatandri naapai

Kannatandri naapai karuna manake gaasi

Eduru taanane ingitam berigi

chedara neeka panchendriya mananji
ninvadala leni dhairyasaali gaadani….

karunamanane gaasi

O my Father! Please do not stop showing your mercy to me. 
Considering that I lack the heroism to understand that everything appearing before me is the (one) Self, I am unable to control my five senses ( from wandering among the sense objects), I lack the courage to praise you constantly- do not stop showing your mercy.

Here, Tyagaraja reveals himself as the essential bhakta, who depends only on the mercy of God. As for sadhana, the things he is listing here are typically those of the jnani or yogi- the idea of universal oneness, the control of the senses and also the resort to constant praises- the path of viveka and vairagya. The other idea is even more fundamental for the devotee: we can never DESERVE God’s mercy, by anything that we do. It is only God’s causeless compassion-universal karuna- that can save us. This is what a bhakta pleads for. Sri Ramakrishna used to say: Mother, keep your jnana with you. Give me bhakti!’.

However, in  a more basic sense, realisation of oneness of existence and control of the senses are common to all paths. Some strive by them as the means, to others they come  as by products!

Everything appearing before me is the One Self: even the bhakta has this attitude- the idea of Vasudeva. In the pujas performed by Smartas, they do utter a mantra at the beginning invoking this oneness: ‘tyajeth ajnana nimalyam So’ham bhavena pujayet’.

Tulasi bilva mallikadi
Uramuna mukhamuna siramuna bhujamuna
karamuna netramuna charanayugambuna 
garunato nenaruto paramaanandamuto
niratammunu SriTyagaraju nirubhadikudai
Tulasi bilva mallikadi
jalaja sumamula poojala gaikonave

Please accept the worship (Puja, archana) I perform with Tulasi, Bilva, Mallika, Lotus etc flowers!
This Tyagaraja performs this aradhana to your blessed chest, face, head, your shoulders and arms, and your feet. He always offers these flowers, with deep love and great joy. Please accept this worship.

On the path of saguna worship, every aspect connected with the Deity’s form assumes importance- his feet, arms, eyes, weapons, his retinue etc. Even the mounts like garuda, peacock, sesha, or symbols in flags like the cock assume importance and their worship acquires cult status! Typically, the dhyana slokas systematically recall and describe these aspects! Every one of them symbolises some deep philosophical idea.

It is typical of Tyagaraja’s universality that he uses both Tulasi  ( held dear to Vishnu) and Bilva ( held sacred for Shiva ) for the puja of Rama! In another place, he says he uses both Shiva and Rama nama for archana!

Kallaladaka molla sumamula nee
challani padamu kollalaaduchu
I performed archana to your  cool feet with jasmine flowers. 

Tyagaraja also takes a typical dig at hypocrites, thereby telling us what we should avoid on the path of devotion.

Adikaadu bhajana
Edalo jenjutokati pai-
yedalo galginacho nokati
Adikaadu bhajana manasa

If what is thought in the mind, and what is performed outside are different, then that is not bhajan, o mind!

Goppadanamukai aasa

kuchchita vishaya pipaasa
meppulakai bahu vesamidi
uppadilledaru…..adikaadu bhajana

Assuming different disguises,( as devotees but) wishing to amass wealth, desiring all sorts of despicable sense pleasures,for the sake of achieving worldly name and fame- this kind of activity is not bhajan!

Bhajana seyumani balikiri gaani 
Nijamuga nee mahima delpa leru
They will say  outwardly that they want to do your bhajan, but in fact these people are not qualified to expound your greatness.

Ajagaja simha srugalaantaramani

The difference is like that between sheep and elephant, or fox and lion – (between these people and the real devotees )

Buddhyanu tallini vishaya vidulaku

proddu nosagi pakamu laarginche
siddhulu sujanula sabhaku raanerani


They have  handed over their buddhi to sense pleasures, like handing over one’s mother to other men. They are the ‘adepts’, constantly engaged in amassing money; they are the ‘ big or great men’ unfit to enter the assembly of holy men. Such people are unqualified to talk about your greatness.

Tyagaraja can deal a deadly punch. He uses harsh language to describe bad people. And the sarcasm! Adepts (siddhulu) and ‘big or great men (peddulu)- oh, what venom is packed in these words! The point is, hypocrisy is bad anywhere but in the religious-spiritual sphere, it is just intolerable. See the damage done even now by false gurus and promoters of cults! So, we are tempted to say, ‘Well done, Swami’.

A real devotee need not be a bum.

Swararaga sudharasayuta bhakti
swagaapavargamura o manasa

Maddala taala gatula teliyagane

mardinchuta sukhama
suddhamanasuleka pooja seyuda
sookara vrittira o manasa

O mind! Bhakti accompanied by (singing) with the divine essence of swara and raga alone can confer both heaven and Liberation!

Can we enjoy the playing of mridanga, when the player lacks knowledge of its nuances? Likewise, it is low type of existence, like that of a pig, when some one resorts to puja without a pure heart or mind.

Mariyada gadura

Ragamu taalamu rakti bhakti jnana
yogamu mariyanuragamu leni
Bhagavatuludarasayanule gaani

vaarini veerini  

sarijesi choochuchundedi

O the compassionate Lord!
The (so called ) Bhagavatas who lack knowledge of raga, tala, the right emotion, devotion, basic jnana, yoga discipline, love- are they not interested only in filling their belly? (using the art as a means to making a living, or living like animals)

Is it becoming of you to treat these people and the real devotees as equal, O Lord of compassion!

We do not know the context in which Tyagaraja wrote this kriti. That God treats the bogus and real Bhagavatas as equal may be an observation based on how prosperous some of these musical exponents are, though they lack the qualifications and discipline required for a Bhagavata. Today, most performing professional musicians will sing any song, including a film song, in a serious classical music concert. And they will sing a song written by a known atheist right next to one by Tyagaraja! Because, it is all for the belly, for the money! These musicians treat ‘vaarini, veerini’ as equals! Those who take our classical music as noble and sacred should ponder over the situation. Above all, Sri Tyagaraja did not write for the concert platform or the sabhas. His kritis are the repositories of our traditional spiritual and religious treasure, based on our Itihasa-Purana-Upanishadic lore,and should be accorded the deserved respect, if we are real Hindus. We must create and evolve a separate order and arrangement for the recital of Tyagaraja keertanas. They cannot be reduced to the status of fillers in a sabha program, conducted for the sake of money, or name and fame.

 Aasapaasamula dega kosi yanniyu

Aasapaasamula dega kosi yanniyu
Madirosi karmamu baasi
ninu karunaa vaaraasiyani puja jesi….

(Idhe bhagyamu)

Giving up all worldly attachments, developing intense hatred for them in the heart, giving up all karmas, (one should) only worship You, the repository of all sacred traits.

Only this is real happiness and fortune.

It is important to note here the qualifications prescribed for taking up serious puja. The reference to giving up karma is a direct link to the Gita. Karma here is used in its technical sense- of those prescribed by our sastras, but they are kamya karmas. Gita has dealt with them elaborately, revealing what should be avoided, and what should not. ( We have seen this in earlier postings) Karma is anathema to people taking up the path of devotion seriously. “Give up all dharmas and surrender to Me alone ” is the supreme word of Bhagavan  (Paramam vacha). Sadguru Tyagaraja is sticking to that line, undiluted.

Neeke dayaraaka

Manasu nilvanivaaru  mayajalamujesi
mari mukti konanaune
Meppulagai bahu dharmamu jesite

migul brova dagune
Neeke dayaraaka ne jesiyu panulella

neraveruna Rama

The man who cannot control his mind (or concentrate on any object)- can he attain Liberation by resorting to some magic?
If many dharmas are performed for the sake of attracting wealth, will God save us?
If you do not have mercy on me, can my efforts bear fruit, O Rama!

Siva pujalu mariyunu

Madhava pujala nonarinchuchu
Bhuvi naasari jesevaaru evaranuchunu

yenche aviveka dhanamattula……

(Gattiga nanu)

Performing Siva puja and Vishnu  puja, and puffed up that there are no equal to them in performing puja- such people lacking discrimination but full of the pride of wealth…

Tyagaraja says in this kriti that Rama prevented Tyagaraja from seeking help (begging){ vedaga vaddu} from such people. A true devotee never advertises his piety or practices, nor does he develop pride. 

Snanadi japa tapa yoga dhyana samadhi
suka prada…….(ninne bhajana)

You are the one to confer happiness on those who take to the right path of snana, japa, tapas, yoga, dhyana and samadhi!

These are all traditional methods prescribed by experienced authorities- forming part of Vaidi Bhakti, an essential aid and stage on the path. They should not be discarded.

Good and bad people

When all is said and done, we observe that in the world there are people who are inherently religious and spiritual, while there also others who lack or dislike any notion of God, Religion, spirituality. How does this happen? Bhagavan Krishna explains this in an entire chapter of the Gita- chapter XVI titled ” the Yoga of Divine and Demonic Attributes- Deiva Asura Sampat vibhaga Yoga”. There Bhagavan makes it clear that people ARE BORN with divine or non-divine (Asuric) attributes.  This is entirely due to their past karma. Bhagavan says there that one should avoid acting according to one’s fancy or inclination, but take sastra as the true guide for action, to avoid bad karma and its evil effects. Saints do not blame God for their suffering or difficulties, but only blame their own past karma. Tyagaraja has a moving piece on this subject.

Ninne na valasina demi

Ninna na valasina demi Rama
nannana vale gaaga

Manasuna nenaruna ninu juchi naanaa

Sajjana seva vinayamunu nijamuna jesi naanaa
Gana padamuna puja nonarinchi naanaa
Kalalonu galigina kalumulakale nenchi
valachaka balu tapamunu jesinaanaa

Tolijanmamula puja phalamemo teliya

O Rama! How can I blame or find fault with you? I have only to blame myself.

Did I see you in my mind and meditate on you?
Did I serve the true devotees with real humility?
Did I perform puja to your holy Feet?
Did I consider all the wealth of the world as equal to a dream and avoiding infatuation for it, did I undertake severe penance?
I do not know what is the result of my karma in previous births.

Jalajaaptakula varatilaka veenula
Neekatalu vinna balu paapamulu ponugaani
kalumula palukula chelulu vachyunugaani

O the gem of the line of Surya, who is the friend of the lotus! If one listens to your history, all the serious sins will be annihilated. Besides, he will also get the blessings of both Lakshmi and Saraswati!

Here, Tyagaraja Swami is indicating both that our past karmas bear fruit now and also how to achieve good karma! We should keep Bhagavan in our mind’s eye and meditate on Him. We should serve real holy people. We should perform Bhagavad puja. We should avoid infatuation with wealth and do tapas. Above all, we should listen to the divine lore, especially the accounts of the Avataras. This is the way to get good karma and also wisdom and prosperity in this world. Birth in a noble or pious family, or in prosperous circumstances, association with holy company etc are all obtained through spiritual effort in past births.No spiritual effort ever goes waste, as Bhagavan explains in the Gita, vide Chapter VI, slokas 40-44. When Jnanasambandha starts singing hymns at the age of 3, he states in the very first verse that it was God who blessed him to conduct the worship with flowers in previous birth (“Yedudaiya malaraal munai naal panindetta arul seida”).

While talking of divine and demonic qualities, Bhagavan assures Arjuna that he is born with divine attributes. Can one get the fortune of listening to the supreme words of Bhagavan unless he has sufficient merit? And we, who are able to read and listen to these words now, can also consider ourselves fortunate! The cow gives milk for the sake of the calf, but it feeds other children too!  It raineth for the just, but the unjust fellow also reaps the benefit! So, there must be some small merit which has enabled us to learn these things, listen to the words of holy people, and read these holy books and scriptures. Sadguru Tyagaraja Swami  has given us the accumulated wisdom as the butter roll placed in the palm of our hands- kaivalya navaneetam! Can we thank him enough? We can only prostrate before his blessed feet!

Nee Nama Rupa mulaku nitya jaya mangalam! 

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