Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar - Preserver of Saint Thyagaraja Krithis

Ashok Madhav (madhav@telerama.com)

Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar (1781-1874) was one of the important disciples of Saint Thyagaraja, who had 30 direct disciples instrumental in propagating his compositions. This consequently resulted in popularising Thyagaraja's krithis to a wider circle of music lovers. Walajapet Venkatarama Bhagavatar and his son, Walajapet Krishnaswamy Bhagavatar belonged to the Walajapet school of sishya parampara. The other two, being the Tillaisthanam school, championed by Rama Iyengar and the Umayalpuram school represented by two brothers- Sundara and Krishna Bhagavatars. Besides these three schools, several other disciples learnt music from Thyagaraja individually. For example, Veena Kuppaiyer was an established vidwan even before he came to learn some krithis from Thyagaraja.

Initially Venkataramana Bhagavatar came to Thyagaraja as a disciple from Ayyampettai - a small town close to Tiruvaiyaru and later on stayed with him as an companion doing secretarial work for him. He was associated with Thyagaraja for over a quarter of century. He was a scholar in Sanskrit and Telugu. His son, Krishnaswamy Bhagavatar was a student of the great master too.  Between them, they chronicled much of Thyagaraja's biographical data* and also the many events in Thyagaraja's life for approximately thirty five years. This information documented by them has been invaluable to get a better picture of Thyagaraja's visits to some pilgrim centers and the contact he had with visitors to his humble home.

The most significant contribution of the Walajapet father and son pair, was to collect available krithis and operas of Thyagaraja and preserve them for posterity. From this data we have come to know that Thyagaraja wrote three operas- Prahlada bhakti vijayam, Nauka charitram and Sitarama vijayam.1 The musical world is enormously indebted to the father-son pair for preserving this great legacy. They taught Thyagaraja's krithis to many of their students. Both father and son were also composers of varnas, krithis and swarajathis.

The line of students of the Walajapet school, (mentioned under) not only made their mark in Carnatic music but also were responsible for propagating Thyagaraja's krithis to others in turn:

  1. Mysore Sadashiva Rao- a lakshana-lakshya vidwan and a noted composer of varnas, krithis.
  2. Pallavi Ellayyar- a musician-artiste who painted the portrait of Sri Rama. Thyagaraja on seeing the portrait, became so overwhelmed with emotion and extemporaneously composed the now famous krithi -'Nannu palimpa nadachi vacchitivo' in Mohana ragam.
  3. Munuswamy appa of Bangalore -was a mentor for Bangalore Nagarathnamma, the lady musician who was primarily responsible for constructing the Thyagaraja samadhi building in Tiruvaiyaru. She subsequently bequeathed all her assets to the preservation of the samadhi.
  4. Loka Narayana Sastrulu, who published the opera - Sitarama vijayam2
  5. Kavi Venkata Suri, the author of Ramanatakam, an opera
  6. Arunachala Achari of Kanchipuram

Thyagaraja had enormous trust in Venkataramana Bhagavatar. Thyagaraja knew intuitively ahead of time when his last day on this earth would be, and so he left behind his puja idols, Rama padukas and his tambura in the care of Venkataramana Bhagavatar. It was on the Pushya bahula panchami day that Thyagaraja breathed his last. It is fortunate that Thyagaraja's precious personal items have been preserved even to this day! Pushya bahula panchami (generally falls in the month of January) has become an important day for Thyagaraja aradhana celebrations all over the world.

Venkataramana Bhagavatar was so awed by Thyagaraja's greatness that he wrote the following compositions in Sanskrit and Telugu in praise of his guru.

But for the indefatigable efforts of Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar and his son, many krithis of Thyagaraja would not have been available to us.


1 Amongst many disciples Thyagaraja had, much credit also goes to Tanjavur Rama Rao- who took the initiative to be his private secretary and planned Thyagaraja's trips to various pilgrimage centers and also went along with him. He was also instrumental in noting down in detail many events and happenings in Thyagaraja 's life. It may be mentioned here that it was at Tanjavur Rama Rao's request, Thyagaraja composed the five ghana raga Pancha ratna krithis. The collective information gathered both by Tanjavur Rama Rao and Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar has been the main source for later compilers of Thyagaraja Biography.

2 Sitarama vijayam -one of the three operas of Thyagaraja has not seen the light of the day. Unfortunately, the text is lost.

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