The Musical Plays or Operas

Saint Thyagaraja’s contribution to music includes, in addition to his composition, the Uthsava Sampradaya kirtanas and the Divyanama kirtanas. These two are examples of classical Carnatic music in their pristine purity. Not folk music, but common classical music is the substance of these compositions.

Saint Thyagaraja also created two musical plays, commonly called operas. However, I call them music plays as neither Gaya Nataka nor opera seems correct and appropriate. Prahlada Bhakthi Vijaya, a play without Hiranya Kasipu or Narasimha, has some 48 songs and over 120 padyam48song, and addition, invocative, descriptive and introductory gadyas, choornikas, and other forms of prose passages of great merit. Nowka Charitha, the other play is equally fascinating and a creation without any basis derived from Bhagavatham. This play has 21 songs and many padyas and gadya passages. Swami’s poetic genius is brought out vividly in these plays and the language he uses, in some of the lengthy passages highligt this opinion. .

Magnum Opus

Some scholars believe we have inherited only the less important natakas of the Swami and that the magnum opus is, missthe or is available only in fragmented state. We are available some scholar to put the pieces together. In support of this view, they mention that in 1876, a printing license was issued to a Loka Narayana Sastrulu of Wallajahpet, to print “Seetha Rama Vijayam” by one Thyagaraja Brahmam of Tiruvayaru. They cite the kriti Eppaniko in Asaveri, where the saint refers to his desire to write the Ramayana in song and ask whether, after such ,  statement, he would have failed to carry out what he considered his mission. One scholar in urging researchers to look for and put together the songs to make the sampoorna Ramayana drama suggests, that Ma Janaki was sung in the drama by Janaka; Rara Seetha Ramani Manohara by Soorpanaka; Sri Rama Padama by Gauthama and so on. Of course, there is nothing more than belief to justify this view. Prof. Sambamurthi, who made great efforts to locate the press in Choolai, Madras, mentioned in the printing license gave it up in despair. He however, suggested that Ma Janaki in Khamboji and Vanaja Nayana in Kedara Gowla were songs from Seetharama Vijayam, the songs representing “Sambandhi Kelikka” or benign taunting of the sambandhis by groups belonging to both sides.

While the bulk of the songs are in praise of Rama and a few on other deities, there are numerous songs on ethics and morals, worldly wisdom, mental control, etc. One important group of songs is those based on his study of the Sangita Sastras and his practice of Nadopasana. Some composers have made passing reference to the occult and mystic aspect of nada, sangita, and swara, but it is only the Sadguru Thyagaraja Swami, who has left nearly 25 songs on the origin (divine) structure and purpose of music and how the knowledge of Sangita could by itself offer liberation from bondage of the cycle of birth and death. As Mr. T. S. Parthasarathi says, arranging these kritis in the order of their subject matter, one can create a textbook on the subject of Nada upasana, Sangita upasana, and attaining moksha in this life itself. A discussion of these kritis is mattered enough for a separate paper, and so I shall content myself with briefly mentioning some of the songs and their appropriateness. Such a list would include songs such as Nadopasana, Mokshamau Galada, Seethavara, Sangita Sastra Gnanamu, Sobhillu Sapthaswara, Nada Thanumanism, and Swara Raga Sudharasa.

The importance of these and other songs and how Sri Thyagaraja Swami used his compositions to energize our inner spiritual forces and attain moksha in this life are discussed in the article “Nadopasana for Salvation.”

By Dr. R. Krishnaswami
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