These five major works of art and philosophy have now, by popular usage, become an essential part of the Thyagaraja Aradhana celebrations wherever they are held. They are sung by a group of devotees and anyone who knows the songs may participate. Some scholars maintain that these songs were not sung in a particular sequence while others say that they are major set of compositions to be sung in the Veena Sampradaya order – i.e. starting with Nattai and ending with Sri Raga. However, one thing is certain: these songs provide a continuous subject matter for the spiritual aspirant.

The Nattai composition is a list of 108 names of the Lord (an astothra satha namavali); gleaned from both the Ramayana and the Bhagavatha. The song is full of phrases and composite words, so well ornamented to fit in with the rhythm. In fact, as far as the laya is concerned, once can write a “sollukattu” for each charana, to fit in with the words and, at the same time, make a laya vinyasa of it. The Sanskrit words, both those of a straight forward nature and those of samarasas and derivation are simply exquisite. “Jaathadipayodi vasa harana” and ” nigama neerjamruta poshaka” are two examples of the kind of literary beauty which have been woven into the song. One of the Upanyasakartas says that it was composed to help in performing a musical ashtothra archana. A scholar in Andhra Pradesh had constructed a thesis on the assumption that the Pancharathana Kritis are based on the Pancha Kosas in which the soul is enclosed (The pancha kosas are – anna, prana, mana, vignana and ananda). Freely interpreted, they may be termed the physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and blissful.

The Gowla Keerthana: “Dudukugala” is a list of man’s foibles that bring him sorrow and misery. A long list of “don’ts” which, if not avoided are bound to bring sorrow. The list of weaknesses and bad actions has been given as though the Swami himself was guilty of committing those “don’ts.” This composition which speaks of several of such undesirable thoughts and actions of the majority of us, reminds us of the conversation on another aspect of Swami’s teachings (if at all he meant to preach or pontificate). Some of my friends are of the view that Swami, as in this kriti, mostly addresses either his Lord or admonishes his own self, and sometimes pleads on behalf of others. Broadly, this view seems to bee all right. As examples of his plea to the Lord, we may cite just one example – “nee bhajana gana rasikula” (Nayaki) and as examples of admonishing himself or addressing his own mind, we may cite “manasa etulordune” (Malayamarutham) – the words “nijamuga paluku manasa” in Nidichalasukhama (Kalyani) and “Vinave Oh Manasa” (Vivardani).

What a contrast with most of us, lesser mortals, who are only too ready to criticize or offer advice, invited or uninvited, irrespective of his own qualifications to advice.

Arabhi: The composition “Sadinchane” points out that none else but I am responsible both for my happiness and sorrow. When one fails to do the right things and finds oneself in trouble, the words of God in the scriptures seem falsified (“bodinchina sanmarga vachanamula bonku jesi”. On the contrary, if one will carefully study the advice of the Lord (in this song) one will know that one is asked to bear the pain or suffering when it comes and to refrain from bad deeds. In other words, we should learn to acquire the six righteous qualities of sama, dhana, titeeksha, uparati, sraddha and samadana – the ability to look away from the temptation; to do no evil; practice self-control; bear suffering without complaint and so on. Volumes have been written on the composition by scholars far more qualified and so, I shall leave it to them to add further comment on this composition.

Varali: Many old-timers question the authenticity of this composition whether Thyagaraja composed it at all. They argue that the kriti alone is in “rendu kalai.” Over the years, it has been accepted as one of the Ganaraga pancharathnas and widely learned and sung: “the paatam” has been standardized and it is a pleasure to listen to the singing by a large group of men and women, in union, on the basis of an accepted standard paatanthram, authentic or not. The subject matter of the song is that His divine presence is more and more enjoyable as you see Him as did the Devas and sages of yore.

Sri Ragam: This is the crowning jewel of the group of songs and lists the various paths to Ananda. Each of the charanams lists one or more paths by which great souls have attained salvation (moksha, Godhood, etc.). The five yamas and the five niyamas are covered by direct mention and an indirect reference as the surest way to salvation. The emphasis on singing the first and last charanas makes it amply clear that music and devotion are, together, the supreme marga or path to Bliss.

P. Sreenivasan
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