A day with Tyagaraja – Vocalist S Sowmya takes a journey through Carnatic Legend

And the bard spent it meditating on Sri Rama, says Renuka Suryanarayan, referring to S. Sowmya’s lec-dem.
Vidushi S. SOWMYA, renowned Carnatic Musician

Tiruvaiyaru: If you go to verdant Tiruvaiyaru, you will see Tyagaraja’s house and within a stone’s throw is a Pandurang Temple, which once upon a time must have reverberated with bhajans and abhangs. Imagine Tyagaraja constantly exposed to the surrounding and one can see how he might have been influenced by Marathi devotional music that could have seeped into his compositions.

As we enter Tyagaraja’s 250 birth year, the Tiruvaiyaru Tyagaraja Aradhana becomes even more signifucant.

Appropriately, many lec-dems at the Music Academy took a fresh look at Tyagaraja, and what his life and music mean to us today. Vocalist S. Sowmya took us on a journey through the well-known Dr.S. Ramanathan’s ‘A Day with Tyagaraja,’ a morning lec-dem at the Music Academy recently.

Sowmya began with ‘Nadatanumanisam’ (Siddaranjani), as was Dr. SR’s wont at such talks. With 21 Tyagaraja pieces sung in a short span of an hour, Sowmya took us back in time more than two centuries to the saint’s doorstep at Tiruvaiyaru.

It’s dawn. As we approach his home, we hear the strains of the composer greeting Sri Rama, said Sowmya as she sang, ‘Meluko

Vaiyya.’ (Bowli). Soon Tyagaraja heads for the Cauvery, where his devoted sishyas wait at the banks in the cool morning air.

Back home, Tyagaraja performs Kalyana Utsavam to Sri Rama, and that’s how probably the Sampradaya kritis were born, the singer said as she melodiously brought forth ‘Hechariga ra ra’ (Yadukula Khambodi), Lali, and Nalangu in Navroj. This even as the devoted disciples would sing along with him. At one point, Sowmya even roped in the audience to join the imaginary disciples and devotees in their singing.

In between, Dr. S.R. would talk of Tyagaraja’s repertoire, would mention certain kritis and draw comparisons with folk tunes like ‘Mana Maduraiyile,’ and would hold forth on the composer’s pieces in Nadanamakriya, and Punnagavarali while discussing the great musicians with whom Tyagaraja interacted.

Back to our day with Tyagaraja, who proceeds with the Kalyana Utsavam singing, ‘Jaya mangalam nithya subamangalam.’ ‘Poola pampu’ (the pavvalimpu song in Ahiri), and ‘Vidamu cheya’ (Kharaharapriya) offering pan to Sri Rama follow. He performs all the upacharas singing ‘Sobane Sobane’ (Pantuvarali) and ‘Kshirasagara vihara,’ (Anandabhairavi) said Sowmya as she demonstrated the pieces transporting the audience to Tiruvaiyaru.

Soon, as the saint-composer clad in white dhoti and turban steps out singing with his disciples, the colourful village men and women on the streets join him. One of the songs he loved to voice was ‘Pahi kalyana Rama’ (Kapi), and, at this point, Dr. RS would sing ‘Intasowkyamaninne’ (Kapi) to substantiate, said Sowmya as she struck up the notes.

“Thatha (SR) would explain the intrinsic meaning of kritis like these,” Sowmya said, speaking of how he would talk of Tyagaraja’s students eagerly waiting to imbibe that day’s music be it ‘Swararagasudha’ (Sankarabharanam) or ‘Kshirasagarasayana’ (Devagandari). SR would sing these and explain the meaning of these kritis with special references to other composers such as Bhadrachala Ramadas.

As disciples wait and exchange notes of what he had taught that day, Tyagaraja goes to rest, only to be back in a few minutes; and thus the day unwinds with music, devotion, teaching, and learning.

After this, Dr. RS would demonstrate how Tyagaraja sings ‘Laliyuugave,’ (Nilambari) the oonjal song for Sri Rama to make Him go to sleep, and then retire himself for the night.

The disciples then go to rest, only to wake up at Brahma Muhurtam the next day. How blessed are we to walk the earth where such a person lived, concluded the speaker. ‘A Day with Tyagaraja,’ in the 1970s and 1980s, was Dr. S.R.’s lec-dem series, which he performed at various venues over a hundred times, each time taking up different angles, but in the same vein.

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