Bangalore Nagarathnamma - the Philanthropist & Savant

Ashok Madhav (

Thyagaraja - the most prolific and significant member of the musical trinity has long been an inspiration to music lovers. His musical outpourings, thought to be divinely inspired were creative and original. The benefaction of his music continues to be enjoyed by Carnatic music enthusiasts all over the globe, long after his demise over 150 years back.

Even during his lifetime, Thyagaraja's fame and influence was widespread among the musical world. A large number of his disciples were responsible for immortalizing his popular kritis. These kritis were simple to understand though they were laden with great philosophical ideas and thoughts. This appealed to many scholars and lay people. Thyagaraja's disciples revered him and his music.

Thyagaraja had over 30 prominent disciples, not one of them had the initiative or vision to immortalize him by constructing a memorial or samadhi in Tiruvaiyaru - the place, where he spent most of his life. Even the Umayalpuram brothers (Sundara and Krishna Bhagavatars) who were close to the Saint composer could not set up a suitable memorial for him. Had it not been for the efforts of Bangalore Nagarathnamma - a talented and philanthropic lady, a memorial for Thyagaraja may not have been constructed in a fitting manner.

Bangalore Nagarathnamma (1878 -1952) could trace her musical lineage back to Saint Thyagaraja through her guru Bangalore (Fiddle) Munuswamy Appa, who was a student of Walajapet Krishnaswamy Bhagavatar - a direct disciple of the Saint composer. His father Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar had also learnt music from Thyagaraja earlier.

Bangalore Nagarathnamma, the daughter of a very successful lawyer, had a comfortable childhood. Her musical training began under Giribhattara Thammaya who was a poet at the Mysore court. She also learnt Sanskrit from him. She was taught the violin by her uncle Venkataswamy Appa who was a famed musician at the Mysore court. The well known musician and composer, Bidaram Krishnappa took a special interest in Nagarathnamma and was to a great extent responsible for her becoming a renowned vidushi. Her pleasant voice and strong musical background created a great demand for her concerts. She usually rendered Thyagaraja kritis.

Nagarathnamma was especially fond of the raga -Yadukulakambodi and she rendered this raga in almost all her concerts. Those fortunate to have listened to her rendition of Thyagaraja's "Sri Rama Jayarama" in Yadukulakambodi claim it was an unforgettable experience.

Nagarathnamma was a versatile artiste having learnt Bharatanatyam under Bangalore Kittanna and abhinaya from Tiruvenkatachari. Her talent in singing, dancing coupled with her attractiveness drew support from the Mysore Palace.

She was bestowed with honors and accolades. Being a multi-linguist, Nagarathnamma published works and gave discourses in Telugu, Tamil, Sanskrit in addition to Kannada, which was her mother tongue.

Nagarathnamma in a dream had a vision where she was charged with the responsibility of constructing a memorial to Saint Thyagaraja at Thiruvaiyaru. She thereupon gave up her comfortable life style and set aside much of the proceeds from her many concerts. She took to the life of an ascetic devoting all her time and her resources to the only cause dear to her heart.

She came to Thiruvaiyaru in 1920 and purchased lands adjacent to the samadhi of Saint Thyagaraja on the banks of river Kaveri. She developed the area into a worthy pilgrimage center to pay homage to the Saint composer. She built a permanent Temple around the samadhi, where the mortal remains of the Composer were enshrined and installed a granite idol of Thyagaraja. One interesting feature of the Temple is that the inner walls of the prakaram are covered with Italian marble slabs with inscriptions of the Composer's krithis in various languages.

Prior to her taking charge of conducting the Thyagaraja aradhana, several splinter groups (like Peria katchi and Chinna Katchi) were celebrating Thyagaraja aradhanas all over Tiruvaiyaru and neighboring villages. Bangalore Nagarathnamma combined all these groups into a single entity. The aradhana is celebrated on Pushya bahula Panchami (in the month of January) on the premises of the Thyagaraja samadhi. This has become a national event of major importance. But for the tireless work of Bangalore Nagarathnamma, such organized effort to celebrate Thyagaraja aradhana in Thiruvaiyaru on such a grand scale would be impossible.

In addition to Thyagaraja aradhana celebration in Thiruvaiyaru, in the recent years the aradhana is celebrated in many centers in India, the USA, Canada, Europe, Australia and in the Middle East.


Thyagaraja had over 30 direct disciples drawn from different villages and towns around Tiruvaiyaru. Among them, three prominent groups have been identified as the Walajapet school, the Tillasthanam school and the Umayalpuram school. The music world owes much to the father and son pair, Venkataramana Bhagavatar and Krishnaswami Bhagavatar representing the Walajapet school who made special efforts to preserve Thyagaraja's kritis on palm leaves. The Tillaisthanam tradition represented by Rama Iyengar was known for his beautiful renderings of the composer's krithis and then the Umayalpuram school championed by the brothers- Sundara and Krishna Bhagavatars, who had endeared themselves to Thyagaraja.

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