Tyagaraja (4 May 1767 – 6 January 1847), also known as Tyāgayya, was a composer and vocalist of Carnatic music, a form of Indian classical music. He was prolific and highly influential in the development of India's classical music tradition. Tyagaraja and his contemporaries, Shyama Shastri and Muthuswami Dikshitar, are regarded as the Trinity of Carnatic music. Tyagaraja composed thousands of devotional compositions, most in Telugu and in praise of Lord Rama, many of which remain popular today. Of special mention are five of his compositions called the Pancharatna Kritis (English: "five gems"), which are often sung in programs in his honour.
Tyāgarāja was born Kakarla Tyagabrahmam in 1767 to a Telugu Vaidiki Mulakanadu Brahmin family in Tiruvarur in present-day Tiruvarur District of Tamil Nadu. There is a school of thought led by musicologist B. M. Sundaram that contests this and proposes Tiruvaiyaru as his birthplace. He is a famous musician and his family name 'Kakarla' indicates that they were originally migrants from the village of the same name in the Cumbum taluk of Prakasam district, Andhra Pradesh. His family belonged to the Smarta tradition and Bharadvaja gotra. Tyagaraja was the third son of his parents, and Panchanada Brahmam and Panchapakesha Brahmam are his elder brothers. He was named Tyagabrahmam/Tyagaraja after Tyagaraja, the presiding deity of the temple at Thiruvarur, the place of his birth. Tyagaraja's maternal uncle was Giriraja Kavi. Giriraja Kavi was a poet and musician. Giriraja was born in Kakarla village, Cumbum taluk in Prakasam district, Andhra Pradesh. He is believed to have belonged to the Mulakanadu sect. Tyagaraja's maternal grandfather was named Kalahastayya, but was frequently addressed as Veena Kalahastayya as he was a noted veena player. Tyagaraja learned to play the veena in his childhood from Kalahastayya. After Kalahastayya's death Tyagaraja found Naradeeyam, a book related to music. Tyagaraja hero-worshipped the celestial sage Narada, a reference to this is Tyagaraja's krithi Vara Nārada (rāga Vijayaśrī, Ādi tāḷam). Legend has it that a hermit taught him a mantra invoking Narada, and Tyagaraja, meditating on this mantra, received a vision of Narada and was blessed with the book Svarārnavam by the sage. During his last days, Tyagaraja took vows of Sannyasa.
Tyagaraja died on a Pushya Bahula Panchami day, 6 January 1847, at the age of 79. His last composition before his death was Giripai Nelakonna (rāga Sahāna, Ādi tāḷam). He was buried at the banks of the Kaveri river at Thiruvaiyaru.
Tyāgarāja began his musical training at an early age under Sonti Venkata Ramanayya, a music scholar, after the latter heard his singing and was impressed by the child prodigy. Tyagaraja regarded music as a way to experience God's love. His compositions focused on expression, rather than on the technicalities of classical music. He also showed a flair for composing music and, in his teens, composed his first song, "Namo Namo Raghavayya", in the Desika Todi ragam and inscribed it on the walls of the house. His compositions are mainly of a devotional (bhakti) or philosophical nature. His songs feature himself usually either in an appeal to his deity of worship (primarily the Avatar Rama), in musings, in narratives, or giving a message to the public. He has also composed krithis in praise of Krishna, Shiva, Shakti, Ganesha, Muruga, Saraswati, and Hanuman.
Sonti Venkataramanayya informed the king of Thanjavur of Tyagaraja's genius. The king sent an invitation, along with many rich gifts, inviting Tyagaraja to attend the royal court. Tyagaraja, however, was not inclined towards a career at the court, and rejected the invitation outright. He was said to have composed the krithi Nidhi Chala Sukhama (English: "Does wealth bring happiness?") on this occasion. He spent most of his time in Tiruvaiyaru, though there are records of his pilgrimages to Tirumala and Kanchipuram. When he was in Kanchipuram, he met Upanishad Brahmayogin at the Brahmendral Mutt at Kanchipuram.
Carnatic musicTanjavur-style Tambura Concepts
Rāgaṃ Tānaṃ Pallavi
Tyagaraja, who was immersed in his devotion to Rama and led a spartan way of life, did not take any steps to systematically codify his vast musical output. Rangaramanuja Iyengar, a leading researcher on Carnatic music, in his work Kriti Manimalai, has described the situation prevailing at the time of the death of Tyagaraja. It is said that a major portion of his incomparable musical work was lost to the world due to natural and man-made calamities. Usually, Tyagaraja 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. There was not a definitive edition of Tyagaraja's songs.
About 700 songs remain of the 24,000 songs said to have been composed by him; however, scholars are skeptical about numbers like these, as there is no biographical evidence to support such claims. In addition to nearly 700 compositions (kritis), Tyagaraja composed two musical plays in Telugu, the Prahalada Bhakti Vijayam and the Nauka Charitam. Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam is in five acts with 45 kritis set in 28 ragas and 138 verses, in different metres in Telugu. Nauka Charitam is a shorter play in one act with 21 kritis set in 13 ragas and 43 verses. The latter is the most popular of Tyagaraja's operas, and is a creation of the composer's own imagination and has no basis in the Bhagavata Purana. Tyagaraja also composed a number of simple devotional pieces appropriate for choral singing.
Tyagaraja Aradhana, the commemorative music festival is held every year in Thiruvaiyaru in Thanjavur district of Tamilnadu, during the months of January to February in Tyagaraja's honor. This is a week-long festival of music where various Carnatic musicians from all over the world converge at his resting place. On the Pushya Bahula Panchami, thousands of people and hundreds of Carnatic musicians sing the five Pancharatna Kritis in unison, with the accompaniment of a large bank of accompanists on veenas, violins, flutes, nadasvarams, mridangams and ghatams.