The Messenger of Rama

Saint Thyagaraja’s life and kirtanas are the heritage of Indian culture expressed in classical Carnatic music. This heritage can be described as the eternal verities of divinity. His contribution to posterity is at once devotional, religious and philosophical. His songs are frozen melodies intuited in the inspired depths of a saintly soul. His way of life was illumined by rock-like bhakti, invigorated and sustained by his unshakable faith in Rama. A true understanding of Sri Thyagaraja’s kirtanas serves to deepen the purpose of our existence.

The centre of Thyagaraja’s existence and the summit of his aspirations was to experience in every breath the bliss of Rama bhakti and thereby gain a vision of his Ishta Devata. In many of his songs, this longing finds eloquent expression. The dimensions of his music include not only sangita sastra, but also contain a core of spirituality. It is because of this great quality that his compositions, like the Atman, endure. The consummation of spirituality in his songs is really the Voice of the Eternal.

Through the apertures of his songs, the depth of his bhakti is revealed. The inspirational potentialities of his kirtanas to lead a sincere votary in the bhakti marga are infinite, because every song breathes the fragrance of one aspect or other of the nava vidha bhakti. It is only a devotional approach to Sri Thyagaraja that can unlock the treasures of his spirituality.

Sri Thyagaraja’s life was a confluence and symphony of three streams – spirituality, saintliness and sangita and the harmony of these find spontaneous self-expression in every syllable of his sahityas. The divine words come vibrating from his soul. To describe them as kirtanas would be superficial for his utterances are authentic revelations of what he directly experienced. They comprehend the one and only purpose of music, that is, moksha sadhana. The value of his music is instrumental, a means, but the goal is intrinsic, to lay one’s soul at the feet of Sri Rama.

The greatness of Sri Thyagaraja is the way he linked the human to the divine. What is the saint’s message to humanity? Aspiration is human. Grace is divine. Only through God’s grace can one realise his aspiration, bhakti in the case of a saint. The ascent of human aspiration has to be facilitated by the descent of divine grace. The echoes of this Truth reverberate in many of his songs. The saint has emphasised that man in samsara is like one who has lost one’s identity, lost track of his goal of existence and is in a trance. Through his kirtanas, Sri Thyagaraja has taken on himself to guide, admonish and appeal to erring humanity. His songs give a thrust to open man’s inward eye.

Sri Thyagaraja with his rich gift of felicitous expression in his sahityas, takes us to the very empyrean of poetry. His is the greatest single achievement in music – the most perfect pieces of musical compositions existing in the world. The astonishing vigour and reach of his music touch our hearts and address strongly our admiration. Sahityas fall from his lips full of wisdom and devotional fervor. The most moving songs owe their composition to particular incidents and the state of his mind. The process of his creations are far beyond our comprehension. But the product is before us, each a jeweled beauty.

While all his kirtanas are soulful, Sri Thyagaraja has outclassed himself in his Pancharatnas where he is at his greatest and perhaps touched the pinnacle of Carnatic music.

The fusion of lyrics and melody, the fusion of bhakti and sangita form the very essence of his songs. The melody and sahityas are outwardly distinct, the depth of spirituality is embedded in them. One can well discern from the effusion of his songs that his was not tame bhakti but heroic bhakti. A consideration of the diction in the Pancharatnas and other songs shows that Sri Thyagaraja was not after tricks of rhetoric or a fondness for word play.

In all his compositions, Sri Thyagaraja’s style shows a greatness of manner which marks him as a vaggeyakara par excellence. The outward form and inner meaning is so well meshed that the kirtanas remain unexcelled. At Sri Thyagaraja’s hand each song, each raga gains individuality and in every one of them is reflected the working of a bhakta’s yearning in his soul.

While hearing a Thyagaraja song we are introduced to a world of divinity and each syllable, the pulse of bhakti beats strongly. The sublime relations between the human and the divine, which lie beyond our comprehension find an eternal place in his kirtanas.

We recognise in Sri Thyagaraja a master spirit combining in himself the bhakti of Prahlada, the music of Narada and the vakpatutva of Valmiki. Sentiments are passionate, his reflections on music and life profound. His works therefore stand apart in the history of vaggeyakaras.

Sri Thyagaraja seized all the sense of musical heritage and fused them into one brilliant world of classical elegance. He has bestowed on his kirtanas all the solid graces of Carnatic music. As every song is rendered in concerts, we as listeners are conscious of the power of the saint’s spiritual stature and our moral sense drives us to lift ourselves up, but find it difficult to find the saint’s sense of devotion. His kirtanas are purged of all grossness but he gives them an incandescent glow. If Sri Thyagaraja’s music is sublime it is because it emerged from the privacy of his soul. It is one of the greatest aspects of Sri Thyagaraja that he made the infinite (Sri Rama) finite for us and the ideals of music real.

SVK from The Hindu

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