Thyagaraja Swami’s compositions are described as poetry set to music. He was the only poet among our composers. He has considerably enriched Telugu literature of the 19th century. He has composed verses of every known kind from simple kanda padyams to the more elaborate and complex varieties. Among the verses, both introductory and invocatory, appearing in the two operas or song dramas are Seesa padyams, Utpalamalas, dwipadis, sardhoola vikruditham and kandapadyam. There are over 160 padyams in all between the two Gaya Natakas – Prahlada Bhakthi Vijayam and Nowka Charitham.

It is said that Swami composed a third natakam by name Seetharama Vijayam. This claim is made by Professor Sambamurthy and others based on a license granted to one Wallajapet Loka Narayana Sastrulu for printing a poetry drama, Seetharama Vijayam at Gnanabhanu Achukootam, Choolai, Madras. Professor Sambamurthy and his team of dedicated students did their best to locate this press but without luck. Either the work was never printed or the manuscript was lost. Professor Sambamurthy and other scholars believe that the kritis, “maa Janaki” in Kamboji and “Varnaja Nayana” in Kedaragowla belong to this opera and that these two songs depict sambandi kelikkai.

The greatness of Swami’s poetic skill is in that all his verses and songs can be read as prose and do not need to be rendered into prose form or anvaya. The lakshanas (attributes) of pure poetry are all there and so they can be read with meter and prosody with equal felicity. Another noteworthy skill is his mastery over dwitiyakshara prasa or prosody based on the second letter of the opening word in each line. Ha, Ksha, and similar dwitiyaksharas are handled with amazing ease and fluency. “Kaddana Variki” (Thodi), “Gruhabalamemi” (Revagupti) and the only Tisra Triputa kriti, Lalgudi Sthala kriti, “Mahita pravruta Sreemathi” (Kamboji) are good examples.

His description of the Yamuna, with the gopis sporting; of the Kaveri as it flows from the hills and dales; his description of Thiruvayyaru” reflect his poetic skill and imagery, both in Telugu and Tamil. His Satodalankara too is marvelous; in creating an onomatopoeic effect. This skill, one could say, he had acquired by his study of Pothana – “Kala kala mukha kala sokkuche palukulolam ruthamu lolikadu swamiki” in Gandhamu Poyyagara (Punnagavarali) and the charana of the Saranga kriti “Emi deva balkuma” creating a battle scene effect.

Many more examples of Swami’s poetic skill can be pointed out to highlight the point that he not only composed songs on deities but on nature and its beauty as well. Apart from the two kritis mentioned earlier in the context of his description of the Yamuna theera in Nowka Charitram and his choornika with Vaikunta varana in Prahlada Bhakthi Vijayam, we can also mention Anupama Gunambhudi, “Kanakapada dhara nannu kanakapata mela sethuka” He however seems to rhyme Sudha with Katha, Dasaratha with Dayasradha, the tha dha rhyming being a common fallacy noticeable in colloquial Telugu.

Swami has used parayayanams or synonyms very skillfully in narrating the Ramayana. Basing the progress of the story on the Lord’s feet, hands, weapons, eyes, etc., the story is told from Viswamitra yoga Samrakshanam to Pattabishekam.

To give an example, the parayayanams “angrulu, kalyu padamulu” and “charanmulu” are used to say “when am I going to see the feet that walked beside Viswamitra; the feet which made Ahalya come back to life; the feet which pressed and broke the Shiva dhanus and the feet which Janaka washed with milk at the wedding. The story then moves from yagasamrakshanam to Sita Swayamvaram (Please also refer to the kriti Vinayamunu in Sowrashtram). Some people use this, as a daily parayanam of the full Ramayana.

Swami has used words and combination of words of his own creation. This needs some examination to be fully understood. For example, in the divyanama kirtana “Manasa Sancharare” (Punnagavarali), he uses the word “bharye” to mean Chandra. This is derived from “ba” Nakshartram and “arya” or leader or the great one, meaning “sreshta” indicating here the moon. Hence “mukhajita bharye” for mukhajita soma or Chandra. In the adamantine kriti “RamanSalaam Brova,” he uses the expressions, yantha, bantha, nishantha – to mean Ramachandra. This is arrived at by “yantha” or the letter after “ya” that is “ra” in bhantha; the letter after “bha” is “na” and “nisantha” meaning dispeller of darkness (the moon).

This explanation was provided by His Holiness the Paramacharya of Kanchi Mutt when his clarification was sought. He explained that Swami was well versed in mantra sastra, also where such techniques are employed to guard the secret and sanctity of the mantras.

But there are critics of Thyagaraja Swami’s poetry. Thyagaraja Swami, in his compositions, often uses words and proverbs which are not strictly following the Telugu language or its grammar. This often brings criticism of Swami’s grammar. For example, he uses the expression, “Tholi Nenu Jeyu Pooja,” instead of Toli Nenu Jesina Pooja” instead of using the words, “Toli nenu jesina Pooja.” He uses Kechana, where Kachin has to be used (Yochana, Durbar). But, using these expressions with such effect on the entire song or verse is the privilege of great poets. If Shakespeare is allowed mixed metaphors and double superlatives, why not Swami be allowed these minor transgressions in grammar?

Dr. R. Krishnaswamy and P. Sreenivasan
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