Sangeetha and bhakthi should be acquired and practiced with humility. Genuine humility brings with it detachment, suppression or conquest of the baser instincts of Man and, ultimately, the annihilation of the ego to bring enlightenment. Mere scholarship without humility and music without devotion is according to Thyagaraja Swami, akin to decorating a corpse. In the Sankarabharana kriti, “bhakthi bhiksha meeyavayya,” Swami says that the most well-sung song if sung without devotion is like brocades and diamonds on a dead man. In another kriti, “Samayamu thelisi,” (Asaveri), he draws another comparison – he who misses an opportunity to do good, performs only an act similar to that of an open, but sightless eye. In the Malavsri kriti, “Enallu thirigethi,” he mentions the case of a scholar who, having been invited to lunch by his admirers, neighbors, and friends, settled down to a long-winded pooja, just to demonstrate his scholarship and erudition while keeping his hosts waiting.

The emphasis in our music is humility (Vinaya) and devotion, and the giving up of pride and vanity (“showing off” in common parlance,” ego projection, etc. In the Mukhari composition, “Sarasseruhasana,” he laments that Brahmotsavam has gone in Kaliyuga and that people have taken to neecha karma; they learn the scriptures, not to practice virtues taught by the scriptures but to show off and to make a living out of their learning. The simple path to salvation is forgotten and, little interest is shown towards Truth. For some, their interest is in the relative merits of saguna-nirguna upasana; the secret of the ashta siddhis; the choice among the Shanmathas, etc. Few choose the easy path to moksha or liberation from the cycle of life and death. This is specifically referred to in “nadachi nadachi” (Karaharapriya). In this composition, he refers to the state of Nirvana “puthu chavvu lem thavvu,” the place where there is neither birth nor death. In the divyanama keertana “Rama Rama Krishnayanere,” Thyagaraja lists the common weaknesses of men and women and adds that to get over the consequences of these sins and to avoid committing them again and again, we need to repeat the nama of the Lord. Then, he also tells us why he chose Rama nama for chanting the name of God. It is relevant to mention here that all schools of bhakthi recommend this path.

We have already seen the dogmatic approach of various mathaas and how Sri Thyagaraja prayed for knowledge or “bedarahita Vedanta” – an approach that can bridge the gulf separating the various schools, with different dogmas. Debate and discussion, however erudite, are of no real use if they don’t do good to society, as a whole. Nama Sankeerthanam or bajana which is the basis of the first three forms of “nava vidha bhakthi” mentioned in the Bhagavata, is ideal. In the Kalyani kriti, “Bhajana Seyave,” he asks why debate and discuss endlessly; realize that the body is subject to the goodness of saptaswara, pranava naadha; realize bliss through Rama nama bhajana. After advising on many kritis that nama-bhajana is the easiest marga, he also tells us why he chose Rama as his chosen deity (Ishta Deiva) and, Rama nama, for parayana.

Rama, the perfect man: The kriti, “manivinaalakincha raa dhate” (Nalinakanti), says that at a time when men were reeling under mere rituals of the Karma Khaanda and wandering directionless in the forest of “bhava,” rama appeared as a man and taught mankind, the conduct that will lead to salvation. “Mummoorthulu” (Atana), “Maakelara vicharamu” and “Rama Rama” (Saveri) are compositions close to this theme.

Here, I may refer to the 5th Prana in the 4th Khanda of the Yajur Veda which contains the sacred Rudram. In Rudram itself, it is namasmarana which is emphasized. The name is stressed in “Namah Sivaya.” It is said that namasamarana confers on the devotee, the “panchaswaroopa gnana.” These are Paramathma swaroopa gnana, Jeevatma swaroopa gnana, Upaya swaroopa gnana, Purushartha swaroopa gnana, and Vidriti swaroopa gnana. In common parlance, this means that a devotee who recites the name regularly and with devotion, will get knowledge of the ultimate and, before that, of the path to it; the obstacles in the way, and, the benefits or fruits of taking that path.

The Nayanmars too have sung these ideas in their “Devarams;” particularly Appar in his “Aindezhuthu Pathikam” — Aindezhuthu means five letters and they are, na ma si va ya.” Also, Thirumangai Azhwar, in his Thiruvaymozhi has stressed this – the Vishnumantram – Namo Narayanaya. Thyagaraja combined these two; the Siva mantra and Madhava mantra, to form the “Rama mantra.” In “evarani nirnayinchira” (Devemrutavarshini), he says that the most important letter is nama sivaya is “ma” and the most important letter in Vishnumantra is “ra.” If “ra” and “ma” are removed, both mantras will become meaningless and absurd. So, he combined both these two important Jeeva letters to derive the word “Rama.”

Thus, he created a common plank for namasankeertana for both the Saivite and Vaishnavite schools. In a lighthearted way, he says that his Rama is superior even to the Hindu trinity – Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva as these three Gods, all have some “defect” or another while, his Rama has none: “endunti vedalithiro” (Durbar) lists the weakness of Siva, Vishnu, and Brahma and, praises Rama’s virtues (also refer to “emani pogadu thura” (Veera vasantham). To Thyagaraja, Rama is a distinctly superior person: the kritis “eka maata oka bhanamu oka pathni vrathude” (Harikamboji); “Vaadera daivamu manasa” (Pantuvarali) and “Sarmegani anya marga vicharameti ke Oh manasa” (Pantuvarali) etc., he asserts that Rama is the embodiment of virtues and that the Trimurthis worshipped him. Hence, repeating his name in groups, with music, is the surest and most pleasant way to moksha.

Here, a note of caution in interpreting the Swami’s approach and attitude to other gods – the Trinity – is warranted. Scholars say that such comparisons and extolling only Rama may be due to the fact that he might have been somewhat fanatical in his earlier years, like anyone of us, lesser people; and, it may also be that in his exuberant devotion to his chosen Deity, he spoke (rather humorously) highly one of his Rama. In this conflict, we may also cite kritis such as “Laavanya Rama kanu lara joodave – nee manasu, nee sogasu mee dinusu vere – thaamasa matha daiva mele, etc. (Poorna shadjam). On the other hand, it was at a very later stage of his life that he composed songs like “Paramathmudu velige” (Vagadeeshwari) in which he stresses the immanence and universality of God in everything, the animate and the inanimate, by whatever name we may choose to call Him. To stress this, he explains these further in the charana of the kriti. This kriti is well worth reading several times and understanding fully.

In the kriti “Ragaratna malikache” (Ritigowla), he says that the Lord will be pleased with the garland of a hundred gems which have been created as the sole means for Thyagaraja’s salvation. These gems of compositions have been created from the truths propounded in the scriptures and of the kind that yogis see and experience – Ananda. Many such songs are meant for singing in chorus by the devotees. Hence, even though elaborately ornamented compositions of the Swami are there for the virtuoso to demonstrate his voice range and quality, and artistic skill, it is the songs composed for group singing which will elevate the common man higher to planes of divine experience. In “melu melu Rama nama” (Sourashtram), Swami explains the ananda experiences at every level, i.e. physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual, by singing Rama nama.

The last few kritis: It is said that when Swami felt that his mission on earth was completed, he sang the Ganavardini kriti “Daya choochutakidi vela ” meaning that it is time for you to take me into you, oh Lord, as I have completed diligently and with devotion, the mission with which you charged me on this planet.” After this, Swami had a vision of Sri Rama with the entourage (Giripainelakonna – Sahana). In this song, he says that he surely saw Sri Rama who assured him that he would be absorbed in Him in ten days. Swami then entered snayasarama. When nothing happened as assured by the Lord, on the tenth day, he sang a reminder – the kriti “Parithapamu Kaniyadina” (Manohari).

Mr. Shyama Rao, one-time thasildar of Thiruvayaru, records that after Swami sang this kriti, an Omkara Naadha was heard and a jyoti was seen to emanate from the head of Swami and traveled upward. Swami then slumped on the thambura he was holding, and become one with the Lord.

By P. Sreenivasan

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