Saint Thyagaraja wrote compositions that included many forms and varieties: Divyanama kritis, Utsava Sampradaya Kritis, The Pancharathnas, and the Operas. These musical forms varied from the simplest to the complicated and allowed the novice to the learned scholar to enjoy his music and musical content. In the variety and forms, Sri Thyagaraja has left a veritable treasure house of musical compositions.

While his compositions ranged from the simplest to the most complicated and included elaborately ornamented compositions, the fundamental message was the same. Music is not an end in itself but a path to bhakthi and Rama was the object of this bhakthi. All compositions led to Rama, his personal God and Savior. Whether you are a novice or a musicologist, if you practiced music without bhakthi, it serves no purpose and it is like decorating a corpse with garlands and smearing it with perfumes.

We will briefly compare the various forms of Saint Thyagaraja’s compositions.  As the music of the natakas or the operas (e.g. Prahlada Bhakthi Vijayam and Nowka Charitham), the musicology of the Uthsava Sampradaya and Divya Nama kirtanas is also simple and capable of being sung by those with an ear for music, without any special training. Nevertheless, the music of these songs is strictly classical and makes no compromise. We do not find the influence of folk music styles such as kavadi chindu, Nondi chindu, Vazhi nadai chindu, themmangu, laavani etc. With the limited range of notes and with no sangatis except for minor variations, these songs are ideally suited for group singing.


The Utsava Sampradaya kirtanas represent the upacharas offered to the Deity in the course of Nithyothsava. The songs cover Hethsarika, Koluvu, Laali, Uyyala, Pavvali, Managalam, and Sobhanam; rituals followed during this process. Of Mangalams and Lalis, there is more than one in each class. In fact, there are two Melkolupus, two haratis, six lalis and so on. It is a wonderful experience listening to the group singing of these melodies.

In content and form, the Divya Nama kirtanas presents a wide range from common ragas like Nada Namakriya or Todi to the less common Aandhali, Ahiri, and Gowri. All the common thalas are covered. Like the Lambhaka type, all the Divya Nama Kirtanas have a pallavi followed by a series of charanas. Suitable for the bhajana paddathi, the pallavi can be sung as chorus and each charana sung by the leader of the bhajana. In their content, the Divya nama kirtanas offer simple namavalis, songs describing the qualities of Sri Rama, those bringing out the relationship of Rama to each member of his entourage. For example, in one song, Samkshepa Ramayanam, using synonyms for feet, hands etc. the kirtana takes the story through from Viswamitra Yaga Samrakshanam to Pattabhishekam. The kriti, Rama Jaya Rama in Yadukula Khambhoji starts with Kowsalya petting Sri Rama and through a series of sequential episodes from Ramayana, takes us on to Sits Swayamvara.

One song lists the qualities of a true bhaktha and another, the list of evils that men commit from which liberation is achieved by singing the Ramanama. One song lists the purposelessness of rituals perfunctorily performed. Sri Thyagaraja asks whether monkeys who live in the forest are practicing vanavas and whether the highway robbers who live in caves are practicing ekantha. In all, there are 78 songs in this category, all of which are eminently suitable for group singing.

The Ganaraga Pancharatna kirtanas are a class by themselves. They are not only musical masterpieces but profound in context. Scholars have found material enough in these compositions to write large treatises on them. A professor of English and an Orientalist, gave a five-day talk on these, allocating each day for one of the five kirtanas. The Gowla piece is the longest composition among the five. We will discuss the contents of these kritis in another article when discussing the philosophy of Sri Thyagaraja.

The Kshetra kirtanas are the songs Swami is said to have composed on the deities of the place he visited during the pilgrimage. Five kirtanas each have been sung at Srirangam, Lalgudi, Thiruvottiyur, and Kovur. Two each in Tirupathi, Kancheepuram, Nagapattinam, Sholingur and one in Sirkali. Some of these songs are masterpieces with wide-ranging sangatis. Darini Telusukonti, Mahita Pravrudha Srimathi are examples and that these kirtanas were composed when Swami was over sixty years of age, one can understand the voice range of Swami and how easily he has created these complicated compositions with full of sangatis at every stage.

Dr. R. Krishnaswami
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