Tyagaraja was a saint-composer who is often regarded as one of the most important musicians in the history of Southern India’s classical music. Tyagaraja’s works are rendered in almost every modern-day concert in the region. He composed ragas and songs of the genre kirtana or kriti, which are devotional songs. He was one among the trinity of Carnatic music, the other two being Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri.
Tyagaraja was born on 4 May 1767 in Tiruvarur, Tamil Nadu, into a Telugu Brahmin family. He was named after Thyagaraja, principal deity of the Thyagaraja Swamy Temple in Tiruvarur. At an early age, he became a disciple of Sonti Venkatramaiah, a renowned scholar.
He did extensive research on Sanskrit and Telugu, and acquired a thorough knowledge of the Valmiki Ramayana. He composed his first song ‘Namo Namo Raghavayya’ at the age of thirteen. One of his ragas, called ‘Jagadananadakaraka’, contains the 108 most famous names of Lord Rama. For composing his kritis, Thyagaraja preferred his mother tongue Telugu, a language which was more easily understandable than Sanskrit by the majority of people of the region.
Tyagaraja’s songs were generally spread through word of mouth. One of the most important aspects of his performance was his ability to improvise during rendition.
About 700 of the reported 24000 songs he has sung, still survive. It is often believed that his disciples wrote down the songs on palm leaves which are now mostly lost.
Thyagaraja attained Samadhi on Pushya Bagula Panchami day in 1847. His mortal remains were interred in Tiruvayaru.
1) A saint named Ramakrishnananda taught Tyagaraja the Ramasadakshari mantra. It is said that after Tyagaraja chanted Rama Nama 96 crore times, Lord Rama appeared before him, accompanied by Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman.
2) Tyagaraja Aradhana is an annual Carnatic music festival held at Thiruvaiyaru in Tamil Nadu, India. The aradhana is observed on Pushya Bagula Panchami day when the saint attained Samadhi.