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The Musical Works of Thyagaraja by Prabhakar Chitrapu - 4/20/2003 Reviews    Post a Review

How many songs did Thyagaraja write? One comes across various numbers: Some claim that he wrote 22,400 songs, equal in number to the slokas in Valmiki’s Ramayana. Others maintain that the number is around 1000. Still others say that only some 800 songs are available. So, I got rather curious and began to list all the songs systematically. I consulted the following well known books on Thyagaraja:
[1] C. Ramanujachari, The Spiritual Heritage of Thyagaraja, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras, 1981.
[2] T.K. Govinda Rao, Compositions of Thyagaraja, Ganamandir Publications, India, 1995.
[3] Bhavaraju Narasimharao, T.S. Parthasarathy, "Sangita Jagadguru Sri Thyagaraja Kirtanalu" (in Telugu), Triveni Publishers, Machilipatnam, 1988. Part-1,2,3
[4]Kalluri Veerabhadra Shastri, "Thyagaraja Keertanulu," published by Swadharma Swaarajya Sanghamu, 10 Padma Rao Nagar, Secunderabad, AP & 95 Broadway, Chennai 1, 1975.
[5] N.C. Parthasarathy, Dwaraka Parthasarathy, "Thyagaraja Kirthanalu", Part I & II, (in Telugu), Tagore Publishing House, Hyderabad, 1994.

I came up with a total of 710 songs. I must mention that there are some factors that may render this number inaccurate. The first obvious factor is that my search may not be comprehensive. Secondly, there are several songs that are believed to have been composed by others – with Thyagaraja mudra! Why did they do this - to immortalize themselves in a wrong way? Who were these people - clearly they must have been very capable musicians that lived after Thyagaraja’s death (1847) and we know most of them by name! The books referenced above claim a total of 23 songs whose authenticity is doubtful. They are: Abhimanamu ledemi (Andali), Diname Sudinamu (Latangi), Elara Sri Krishna (Kambhoji), Endu Bayara Daya Inakulathilaka Daya (Dhanyasi), Evarunnaru (Malavasri), Ganamurthe (Ganamurthy), Garudagamana (Gowri Manohari), Maaravairi (Nasikabhushani), Nata Jana (Simhendramadhyamam), Ni Balama Nama Balama (Anandabhairavi), Paraamukhamelara (Surati), Paripurna Kama (Hamsabhramari), Parulanu Vedanu (Balahamsa), Raghunayaka (Hamsadhwani), Rama Namamu (Atana), Ranganaayaka (Sankarabharanam), Sarasa Netra (Sankarabharanam), Sarasiruha Nayane (Amritavarshini), Tarama Ni Mahima (Kalyani), Vanaja Nayanudani (Kedara Gowla), Vedalenu (Todi), Vinatasuta (Harikambhoji) and Nidu Charana (Simhendramadhyamam).

In any case, the songs available fall into some natural categories. In no specific order, we begin with the set of five matchless, monumental, demanding Carnatic music compositions, namely the Ghana Raga Pancharatna Kritis. Whether these were treated as such a set at the time of Thyagaraja is a valid question. The answer that I often come across is “No. They were first so treated by Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer in early 20th century”.

Two musical operas written by Thyagaraja are available, namely Nauka Charitram and Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam. (He is said to have written a third opera “Sita Rama Vijayam” which is not available today). They contain 20 & 42 songs respectively. Nauka Charitram is a light-hearted account of how Krishna goes out on a boat ride with several Gopikas, when the boat gets caught in a storm. I do find this to be a very unique theme among all of Thyagaraja’s works, in that it is rather secular in spirit and not heavy with devotion or vairagya. In fact, we even see traces of romance in some of the songs, which I found nowhere else in his compositions. Nice to know that Thyagaraja was also human!

Then we have the popular, relatively easier set of compositions called Utsava/Bhajana Sampradaya Kirtanas. How many songs form this set? My search came up with 29 songs in this category: They are – in sequence-: Hechcharikaga Rara (Yadukulakambhoji), Koluvaiyunnade (Devagandhari), Sita Kalyana (Sankarabharanam), Napali Sri Rama (Sankarabharanam), Nagumomu Galavani (Madhyamavati), Jaya Mangalam Nitya Subha Mangalam (Ghanta), Jaya Mangalam Nitya Subha Mangalam (Nadanamakriya), Patiki Haratiire (Surati), Sobhane (Pantuvarali), Aragimpave (Todi), Pula Panpu (Ahiri), Badalika Dira (Ritigowla), Uyyala Lugavayya (Nilambari), Lali Lali Yani Yuchare (Harikambhoji), Lali Lalayya Lali (Kedara Gowla), Rama Sri Rama Lali (Sankarabharanam), Lali Yugave (Nilambari), Sri Rama Rama Sri Maanasaabdhi Soma (Nilambari), Rama Rama Rama Lali Sri Rama Rama Rama Laavanya Lali (Sahana), Jo Jo Jo Rama (Ritigowla), Melukovayya (Bhouli), Meluko Dayanidhi (Sowrashtra), Raksha Bettare (Bhairavi), Janakinayakunaku Jaya Mangalam (Dhanyasi), Ma Ramachandruniki Jaya Mangalam (Kedaragowla), Patiki Mangala Haarathire Bhamalaara (Arabhi), Lali Gunasali (Kedaragowla) and Makulamunakihapara Mosagina Niku Mangalam Subha Mangalam (Surati). Please note that 3 of the above are also counted in Nauka Charitram or Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam operas.

Next, there is a set of songs referred to as Divya Nama Kirtanas, which number a total of 75 according to Kalluri Veerabhadra Sastry. Most of them are about Sri Rama, with a couple being about Tulasi etc. In terms of musical sophistication and complexity, I would think they rank between Utsava/Bhajana Sampradaya kirtanas and the ‘formal kritis’ (heavy weights!). They range from simple songs like Dasaratha Nandana (Asaveri) to stately ones such as Re Maanasa Chintaya, Sri Ramaam (Todi).

Among the remaining ‘formal kritis’, one can identify a number of groups of kritis. For instance, there are the Sthala Compositions written when Thyagaraja was visiting various places (generally around temples). Among them are the well known Pancharatnas (sets of 5 kritis): Srirangam Pancharatnas in praise of Lord Rangaraju/Ranganatha; Lalgudi Pancharatnas in praise of Goddess Sri Lalitha (the Sanskrit name for Lalgudi is Tapas Tirtha, which appears in the kriti lyrics); Thiruvottiyur Pancharatnas in praise of Tripura Sundari (when Thyagaraja visited Vina Kuppayyar at Thiruvottiyur, 6 miles north of Chennai); Kovur Pancharatnas in praise of Lord Siva/Sundareswara (when Thyagaraja visited Sundara Mudaliar at Kovur, 15 miles south of Chennai). At a few other places, Thyagaraja composed songs in praise of the local deity, although not in sets of 5. For instance, he composed 3 songs in Kanchi, 2 songs in Tirupati and 1 song at the Parthasarathy temple at Thiruvalikkeni in Chennai.

There is another interesting Pancharatna termed as Narada Pancharatna. They consist of the following 5 songs related to Divine Sage Narada: Narada Ganalola (Atana), Naradaguruswami (Darbar), Sri Narada Muni (Bhairavi), Sri Narada Nada Sarasiruha (Kaanada), Vara Narada (Vijaya Sri).

Of course, one can go on driven by one’s own fancy and come up with various other classes of songs such as Songs about Rama, Songs about other Gods/Goddesses, Songs about People, Songs about his own Life, Songs of Longing and Pleading, etc etc. I shall not bore you with such excercises. But one class does seem to have some merit, namely Songs about Music & Musicians. Thyagaraja composed a number of beautiful songs about nature of music – swaras, tala, laya-, about musicians that he revered, about how music should be sung, about how it originates in the human body as well as the concepts of primordial form of sound and music, namely Nada. The ones that I could identify are: Nada loludai (Kalyana Vasantham), Nadopasanache (Begada), Nada Tanum (Chittaranjani), Nada Sudha Rasam (Arabhi), Swara Raga Sudha (Sankarabharanam), Vidulaku Mrokkeda (Mayalawagowla), Raga sudha rasa (Andolika), Samaja Varagamana (Hindolam), Mokshamu Galada (Saramati) and Vararagalaya (Chenchukambhoji).

Having spent this much time on getting an idea of the totality of songs that Thyagaraja wrote, let us now look at the Ragas that he composed in. According to my count, he composed in 215 ragas. I constructed the following graph to show some of the ragas in which he composed 10 or more songs.

It is interesting to see that Sankarabharanam tops the list, followed by Todi. Were these Thyagarja’s favorite Ragas? In a conversation with Sanjay Subramaniam, he cautioned me about such conclusions: One must keep in mind that these numbers include simpler kirtanas (of which there are quite a few in Sankarabharanam) as well as heavy kritis. If one looks at the weightier compositions, Todi would be first.

Of the remaining, there are: 9 kritis each in Asaveri, Ghanta and Surati;
8 kritis each in Balahamsa and Dhanyasi;
7 kritis each in Huseni, Kambhoji and Saranga;
6 kritis in Nilambari;
5 kritis each in Desya Todi, Gowlipantu, Sri Ranjani, Suddhasaveri and Yamuna Kalyani ;
4 kritis each in Ahiri, Anandabhairavi, Kannada, Mayamalava Gowla and Narayana Gowla;
3 kritis each in Bangala, Devamanohari, Janaranjani, Jayamanohari, Kuntalavarali, Nayaki, Purnachandrika, Purvikalyani, Sri and Suddha Bangala;
2 kritis each in Abhogi, Amir Kalyani, Chakravakam, Chandrajyoti, Chayatarangini, Garudadhvani, Gowri Manohari, Hamsadhwani, Hindolam, Isamanohari, Jaganmohani, Kaanada, Kalavati, Kalyana Vasantam, Kannadagowla, Kantamani, Kedara, Khamas, Kiranavali, Kokiladhwani, Latangi, Malavasri, Nadanamakriya, Narayani, Nata, Natakuranji, Navarasa Kannada, Phalamanjari, Ragapanjaram, Ravichandrika, Salaga Bhairavi, Sama, Simhendramadhyamam, Sindhuramakriya, Suddha Desi and Vasanta Bhairavi;
and just 1 kriti in each of these ragas: Abheri, Amritavahini, Amritavarshini, Andali, Andolika, Bahudari, Bhavapriya, Bhinna Shadja, Bhouli, Bhupalam, Bhushavali, Bindumalini, Brindavanasaranga, Cenciruti, Charukesi, Chaya Nata, Chenchukambhoji, Chittaranjini, Churnika, Devakriya, Devamritavarshini, Dhenuka, Dipaka, Divyamani, Gambhiravani, Ganamurthy, Ganavaridhi, Gangeyabhushani, Ghurjari, Gopikavasantam, Gowla, Gowri, Gundakriya, Hamsabhramari, Hamsanadam, Hemavathi, Hindola Vasantam, Jaya Narayani, Jayantasena, Jayantasri, Jhankaradhwani, Jingla, Jujahuli, Kaikavasi, Kalakanti, Kalanidhi, Kalgada, Kamala Manohari, Kapinarayani, Kedaram, Kesari, Kiravani, Kokilapriya, Kokilavarali, Kolahalam, Kunjari, Lalita, Maaruva Dhanyasi, Malavi, Malaya Marutam, Manavati, Mandari, Mangalakaisiki, Manirangu, Manjari, Manohari, Manoranjani, Mararanjani, Margahindolam, Naadavaraangini, Nabhomani, Nadavarangini, Naga Gandhari, Naganandini, Nagaswaravali, Nalinakanthi, Nasikabhushani, Navanitham, Pharaju, Pratapavarali, Purna Lalita, Purnashadjam, Rama Manohari, Ramapriya, Ranjani, Rasali, Ratnangi, Revagupti, Rishabhapriya, Rudrapriya, Rupavati, Saramati, Sarasangi, Saraswati, Saraswati Manohari, Shadvidhamargini, Shanmukhapriya, Siddhasena, Simhavahini, Srimani, Sruti Ranjani, Subha Pantuvarali, Suddha Dhanyasi, Suddhasimantini, Sulini, Suposhini, Supradipa, Suryakantam, Swarabhushani, Swaravali, Takka, Tivravahini, Umabharanam, Vagadhiswari, Vakulabharanam, Vanaspati, Vanavali, Vardhani, Vasanta, Vasanta Varali, Vegavahini, Vijaya Sri, Vijayavasantam, Viravasantam and Vivardhani.

All the above analysis is based on the available number of kritis, which is 710. What if really Thyagaraja wrote 22,400 kritis? Our results might very well be turned upside down! So, we should be cautious in translating these results to Thyagaraja’s personality and preferences.

Even if one would dispute the 22,400 number, there are 2 very specific issues that I want to bring to your attention. Thyagaraja himself in his own songs refers to (1) Sata Raga Ratna Malika and (2) Kirtana Susatakam. The first comes from the song “Raga Ratna Malika che” in Ritigowla raga. It refers to a garland of 100 kritis in 100 ragas. Do we know what songs and ragas these are? The second phrase comes from the song “Aparaadhamula noorva” in Vanali raga. In it, he pleads that he, who composed a set of 100 good songs, should be saved. Again, which are these songs? Is it possible that Thyagaraja is using these phrases in a loose way, saying 100 for ‘many’?

Elsewhere I read that Thyagaraja composed in all 72 melakarta ragas. I have to recheck carefully, but I don’t think my collection has them all. Are the others simply lost?

And then there is the question of the dates of various compositions. When did Thyagaraja write which song – date/month/year? At least do we know the sequence in which the songs were written? Which were during his early years, which during his middle age and which when he was a ripe old man? Other than a very few examples, my readings did not reveal much in this direction. Given that Thyagaraja had several students that faithfully copied down the lyrics and swaras of each end every song in a very systematic way, could they not have noted down the date of compositions in some corner? Or did they? I’d only love to know!

As is often the case, when one begins to ask hard questions about the great man that lived but only 150 years ago – when even photography was available in its early days! – I find myself with more questions than answers.
Disheartening at first. But then… sometimes, is it not better to think about some questions rather than be fed with lots of answers? May be.

Finally, I must remind myself that real purpose of music is not to be written about, not to be thought about – it is to be heard. It is to be affected in one’s body and mind and soul (if there is one). It is to be carried to higher heights of purity, excellence and inspiration. It is to feel the gratitude to Thyagaraja – the creator and to the Musician – for rendering it today; for Providence – for willing us to listen.

So, I started to make my own collection of renderings of Thyagaraja’s songs – as many as I could lay my hands on, but all in vocal style, as I like to listen to the words as well. I did not want to be limited to only my favorite singer(s) – for, all trained musicians interpret and celebrate Thyagaraja in their own unique, scholarly and human ways.

So, I chose as many singers as possible. I ended up with 53 artists – some beginners and others veterans. They are: M.L. Vasantakumari, M.Balamuralikrishna, Hyderabad Brothers, Bombay Sisters, Maharajapuram Santanam, M.S. Subbulakshmi, Nagavalli Nagaraj, Indu Vasudevan, Jesudas, Sitalakshmi Madhavan, Sudha Raghunathan, Voleti Venkateswarlu, Srirangam Gopalaratnam, Nedunuri Krishnamurthy,Sanjay Subramaniam, T.M. Krishna, G.N. Balasubramaniam, D.K. Pattammal, Hyderabad Sisters, D.K. Jayaraman, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, K.V. Narayanaswamy, Musiri Subramania Iyer, Madurai Somasundaram, Sangeeta Sivakumar, Shankaran Naboodri, Madurai Mani Iyer, Nityashree, Balaji Shankar, T.N. Seshagopalan, Araikudi Ramanuja Iyengar, N.V. Parthasarathy, Raji Gopalakrishnan, Radha Jayalakshmi, Ashok Ramani, Savitri Ramanand, Rudrapatnam Brothers, Trichur Ramachandran, O.S. Thyagarajan, S. Gayatri, Sheela Ramaswamy, T.V. Shankaranarayan, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Priya Sisters, Sugandha Kalamegham, Sowmya, Sriram Gangadharan, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Neyveli Santanagopalan, M.S. Sheela, Unnikrishnan, Sandhyavandanam Srinivasarao and Jon Higgins.

I have been able to record a total of 348 songs on some 25 tapes. If you like to copy them, please do get in touch with me. I will be happy to share them with you – all admirers of Thyagaraja are friends, by my definition! The sound quality is mostly OK, although sometimes poor. But then, it is Thyagaraja’s music and rendered by some the best musicians of our times. Diamonds keep their value even in dirty mines, don’t they?