Tyagaraja was a gifted musician. He was also a great composer of songs. He composed as many as seven hundred songs in Telugu. There were three great composers in Carnatic music. They were, Tyagaraja, Shyama Sastri and Muthuswami Dikshitar. Among them Tyagaraja was the greatest and most famous. Tyagaraja was also a great saint. He was a great devotee of Lord Rama, whom he worshipped in his house every day. He even had “darshan” of the Lord, people say.
Tyagaraja was born at Tiruvarur in Tanjavur District of Tamil Nadu on May 4, 1767. He was the third child of his parents, Ramabrahmam and Sitamma. They spoke Telugu at home. Tyagaraja had an elder brother named Panchapakesan or Jalpesan.
There was music in Tyagaraja’s blood. His mother was a good singer. He had his first lessons in music from her. His father was a good scholar in Telugu and Sanskrit. He learnt both the languages from him. When he was seven years old, the family moved to a village called Thiruvaiyaru.
Tyagaraja was interested in music from his childhood. Even as a young boy he used to compose songs and write them on the walls of his house. Noticing his son’s interest in music, his father took him to Sonti Venkataramayya, a musician at the court of King Sarabhoji of Tanjavur. Tyagaraja became his disciple and learnt music from him.
When he grew up, he spent most of his time composing songs and singing them in front of the idol of Lord Rama in his house. He married at the age of eighteen. He had only one child, a daughter named Sitalakshmi. Once a week, he went along the streets singing songs in praise of God and maintained his family with what people gave him. He never cared for wealth. He did not want to join the royal court. But his elder brother, Jalpesan, wanted him to earn money through his music.
One day the Raja of Tanjavur invited Tyagaraja to sing in his court. He offered him a gift of fifty acres of land and a lot of gold coins. But Tyagaraja refused to sing in the King’s Court. Jalpesan, his elder brother was wild with anger. “Your Rama is not going to give you food. Why don’t you sing in the king’s court? We can be rich and live a happy life.” he said to Tyagaraja. But Tyagaraja did not heed his brother’s words. Jalpesan took the idol of Lord Rama and threw it into the river Kaveri.
Not finding his deity at home, Tyagaraja was in a great sorrow. He composed many songs in praise of Lord Rama and sang them with great feeling. After two months he had a dream. In his dream, he saw the place where his idol of Lord Rama was lying. The next morning he went to the place, found the idol and brought it back home. In a joyful mood, he sang many fine songs in praise of his deity.
In his old age, Tyagaraja set out on a pilgrimage. He went to Tirupathi to have “darshan” of Lord Venkateshwara. In the temple he saw a curtain in front of the image of Lord Venkateshwara. He could not see the Lord’s image. He was disappointed. Then he sang a song expressing a strong desire to see the Lord. As he sang, the curtain parted and he had ‘darshan’ of Lord Venkateshwara.
After his pilgrimage,Tyagaraja returned to Thiruvaiyaru and spent the rest of his days there. He composed songs in praise of his deity and sang them with great devotion. One day, when he was eighty years old, he said to his disciples, “I am going to join my Lord Rama tomorrow.” The next day he passed away.
But Tyagaraja lives through his music. He is as popular today as he was two hundred years ago. Today Thiruvaiyaru is a place of pilgrimage for musicians. In the month of January every year, musicians from all over South India gather at Tiruvaiyur to sing his songs and show their regard to the great saint musician.