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The Tyagaraja Aaradhana – A Unique Musical Tribute

Posted on Trivia – The Spice of Life on 15/01/2023

[ Here’s wishing all the readers a very Happy Sankranti!]


Image courtesy :

Those who are familiar with Carnatic music are sure to know about the Tyagaraja Aaradhanaan annual commemoration of the poet saint Tyagaraja – which is usually held in the month of January. It is held on the banks of the River Kaveri at the place where the great composer Tyagaraja attained salvation on Pushya Bahula Panchami in 1847. This year (i.e. 2023), the Pushya Bahula Panchami (tithi) was on 11th January.

Map Courtesy :

For the uninitiated, Tyagaraja (1767-1847) was a great musician and composer of Carnatic music who lived a saintly life in Tiruvaiyaru (Tanjavur district of Tami Nadu), immersing himself completely in the bhakti of Lord Rama. He was indeed blessed by the almighty for he is said to have composed more than 22,000 songs, though only about 700 survive now. Rama bhakti is the string that ties all these compositions which are set to different raagams and taalams. For the students and proponents of Carnatic music, he is a venerable figure who stands tall. His simple living high thinking philosophy set him apart from the rest. Tyagaraja lived through the reigns of four Maratha kings  — Tulaja II (1763–1787), Amarasimha (1787–1798), Serfoji II (1798–1832) and Sivaji II (1832–1855), but served none of them.

Tyagaraja, born as Kakarla Tyagabrahmam, used to sing his compositions sitting before deity manifestations of Lord Rama and his disciples noted down the details of his compositions on palm leaves. After his death, these were in the hands of his disciples, then families descending from the disciples. Unfortunately, these were not systematically documented. Composed in Telugu, these are as sweet as nectar. In one of his famous kritis Sangeeta Gyaanamu set to Dhanyasi Raagam, he says

Sangeeta jnanamu bhakti vinaa,
sanmargamu kalade, o manasa
English Translation
(Oh mind, the knowledge of music,
without devotion is not the right path)

Rama was his friend, philosopher and guide whom he would worship, cajole, warn and implore in his compositions. It is said that Lord Rama, impressed by his devotion, appeared before him on several occasions. He was a mystic par excellence. The mudra (mudras are the special words used by the legendary Carnatic music composers in their own compositions which help us to identify the works of these legends) Tyagaraja used in his compositions help us identify them as his.

Bangalore Nagarathnamma ; Image Courtesy :

After his death, one of the greatest driving forces behind restoring his glory was Bangalore Nagarathnamma (1878-1952) – a Devadasi who excelled in Carnatic music and worshipped Tyagaraja. Nagarathnamma built a temple over the samadhi of Tyagaraja at Tiruvaiyaru and helped establish the Tyagaraja Aradhana festival in his memory. Within a male dominated festival, she was the feminist aggressive enough to ensure that women artists were given equality to participate in it.

The tradition of choral singing of five of his immortal and seminal compositions which are called the Pancharatna Kritis or the five gems set to different raagams during the Aaradhana is unique. These 5 kritis are:- Jagadananda Kaaraka (Naata Raagam) Duduku Gala (Goula Raagam) Saadhinchene (Aarabhi Raagam) Kanakana Ruchira (Varali Raagam) and Endaro Mahanubhavulu (Sree Raagam).

Kolam : Image Courtesy :

My husband and I were fortunate to attend the 176th Tyagaraja Aaradhana at Tiruvaiyaru this year held on 11th January, 2023. As we arrived at the venue walking through the by lanes of Tiruvaiyaru, the women folk were busy drawing kolam (rangoli) at the doorstep, which of course is a daily ritual in South India. The fragrance of the freshly stringed malli (jasmine) being sold and the aroma of the freshly brewed filter coffee (kaapi!!) at the stalls were breath taking. Many of Tyagaraja’s compositions could be heard being played in the households. The venue of the aaradhana – the banks of the Kaveri facing the samadhi of Tyagaraja was teeming with ardent lovers of Carnatic music who were jostling for a vantage place to observe the musical offerings.

The Aaradhana which is a five day event, culminating on his Samadhi day is akin to a pilgrimage spot for all practitioners and lovers of Carnatic music. Singing in the aaradhana is considered to be a matter of great honour and prestige. The front row is taken by ace vocalists and instrumentalists (such as flute, Veena, violin). The beauty of the entire event is that the kritis are sung in perfect unison without any conductor. The greatest exponents of Carnatic music – both vocal and instrumental – assemble and pay homage to Tyagaraja. Legends like M.S.Subbulakshmi, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and Balamurali Krishna have sung in the aaradhana in the past. The greats of today occupy the first row. The atmosphere at the aaradhana venue transports the music lover to a completely different world. Today, similar aaradhanas are held on Pushya Bahula Panchami in different parts of India and the world.

Tyagaraja’s idol at the Samadhi

Image Courtesy

As we prayed to Tyagaraja after the end of the Pancharatna Kritis, there was a sense of fulfilment. Every year we would watch the live telecast of the aaradhana on Doordarshan with a desire to attend it in person some time. A long cherished dream of attending the aaradhana and soaking in the atmosphere had finally come true. This was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which cannot be expressed consummately in words. This unique commingling of music and devotion made one feel ecstatic.

Disclaimer claims no credit for any image, screenshots or songs posted on this site. The images and screenshots are the copyright of their original owners. The song links are shared from Daily Motion, YouTube and other platforms only to make the post audio visual. The copyright of these songs rests with the respective owners, producers and music companies.

6 thoughts on “The Tyagaraja Aaradhana – A Unique Musical Tribute

  1. Anita,
    This is a wonderful post taking us to the live spirit of Carnatic music which has been devotional and spiritual. I associated him as the greatest of the Great Trinity which included Dikshitar and Shyama Shastri. And also as an icon of music and songs who was cited with reverence.

    I am curious to know who among the current greats have sung there. I was fond of TM Krishna, but down the line he became overtly political and his political line is very opposite to the spirit prevailing at the Tyagraj Aaradhana. Sanjay Subrahmanyam is my another favourite, and he must have been a regular there.

    Thanks again for opening the window to a live experience of the spirit of Carnatic music I had heard of.


    1. AKji, thanks for reading and commenting! I felt that there are many who do not know about this unique tradition and event and thus I wrote about it. Saint Tyagaraja is undoubtedly the greatest of the Trinity. I do not know whether Sanjay Subrahmanyam attends the Aaradhana though he is a very accomplished singer. I have attended one of his concerts.
      We spotted Vishakha Hari, Sudha Raghunathan, O.S.Arun and Mahathi.


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