Classical Telugu Poetry: An Anthology

By Velcheru Narayana Rao; David Shulman | Go to book overview

TWENTY-FIVE
Tyāgarāja
1767–1847

Born in 1767 in Tiruvārūr in the Kāveri Delta, in the Tamil heartland, to Rāmabrahmamu and Sītamma, this poet and devotee of Rāma is among the most outstanding names in the history of Carnatic music. (He was an older contemporary of the great composer Muttusvāmi Dīkṣitar [1776– 1835], who also lived in this small Tamil town.) His great-grandfather emigrated to Tiruvārūr from the Kurnool area in the early seventeenth century; Tyāgarāja's grandfather, Girirājakavi, was patronized by King Śāhāji of Tañjāvūr. Sītamma, the poet's mother, is said to have taught her son to sing the padams of Jayadeva, Purandaradāsa, and Annamâcārya. The boy wrote his first compositions, in padam form, on the walls of his house; his father copied them down and showed them to scholars, who advised that they be saved. He then studied with a great musician, Śoṇṭhi Venkaṭaramaṇayya, with connections to the court of Tulajāji.

In the eyes of the tradition, Tyāgarāja fits the pattern of the temple poet —poor, surviving by begging, and completely oriented toward his chosen deity, Rāma. He is said to have rejected invitations and gifts from King Serfoji II as well as from the king of Travancore, Svāti Tirunāḷ. Like other itinerant singers, Tyāgarāja traveled to other temples and composed music for their gods. Tradition ascribes to him some 14,000 kīrtanas, of which about six hundred survive. He was inventive in expressive forms; among his surviving works are sustained “operatic” compositions (saṅgīta-nāṭakas), the Nauka-caritramu,1 Sītā-rāma-vijayamu, and Prahlāda-bhakta-vijayamu. This was also a period in which musical composition was being fixed in written form. Despite the trend in modern performance to give primacy to the

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1
Recently translated by Y. Bhagavathi, Tyāgarāja's Nauka caritramu (Madras: Sarvani Sageetha Sabha Trust, 1995).

-297-

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