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Friday, February 1, 2013

166th Thyagaraja Aradhana on at Thiruvaiyaru


There are 2 sets of people ~ connoisseurs of music, especially the Carnatic one, who know the nuances; others who know nothing !! ~ … ~  I belong to the latter variety and hence this post may not be anything complete….. If you are to listen to radio or watch TV these days, unmistakably, you would hear about pancharatna kirtis and more of Carnatic music.  A small town on the banks of Cauvery has thousands visiting the place and staying there too…..

It is the town of Thiruvaiyaru in Thanjavur District in Tamil Nadu, situated on the banks of the river Kaveri, 13 km from Thanjavur.  It houses the century old Siva temple dedicated to Panchanatheeswar. Thiruvaiyaru is more renowned for its association with Saint Thyagaraja, who, along with Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Sastri, comprises the Trinity of Carnatic music. Thiruvaiyaru means Five Rivers around the city. The Five Rivers are Arisilaaru, Vennaaru, Vettaaru, Kudamuruttiyaaru and Kaveriaaru.  That water is not flowing in Kaveri itself is another sad story…. Once the rice bowls of Tamil nadu are now dry and agriculturists are living in poverty. 

Till a few years ago, around this time, one can see an ever smiling man smeared with vibuthi on forehead with a big centeric dot of red kumkum  ~  violin was his forte. Known for the dexterity and subtlety in handling the violin, he catered not only to the music scholar but also to the layman. His play reflected his own different moods and the demands of his audience with whom he established and enjoyed a good rapport. He dwelled with ease and competence in the high as well as the low octaves.  People can never forget Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan, violin maestro. His ubiquitous presence in the Thyagaraja Aradhana every year at Thiruvaiyaru is not easily erasable from the minds of people who attended the event. From the start of aradhana he will be there at Thiruvaiyaru till it ends.

If you are wondering what this is all about – the Thyagaraja Aradhana is now on.  Associated with Saint Thyagaraja, it is an annual Carnatic music festival held in January and February. Many exponents of Carnatic music come to perform and are watched by thousands of ardent fans of Indian classical music.  This is done every  year on Pushya Bahula Panchami day when the saint attained Samadhi.  Thyagagaja was a gifted Musician who spent most of his time doing pooja and singing to the idols  of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita, and thus his compositions were inspired and infused with Rama bhakthi. His music as extensive, yet direct and instantaneous.  It is stated that he could sense his end approaching, took to Sanyasa and oh the 10th day merged with eternity. 

For the Thyagaraja Aradhana festival, leading exponents of Carnatic music come to  Thiruvaiyaur, and perform his compositions in a mass singing.  During the aradhana, special abhishekam to his idol, uchavarthi bhajan from his house to samadhi, chorus rendering of pancharatna kritis, procession of Sri Thyagaraja idol (in evening) amidst the music of panchatna mallari  all  take place.

It is stated that the Aradhana in its present format is not even a hundred years old. Thyagaraja died in 1847. A few days before his death, he had renounced everything and had become a sanyasi. When he passed on, his mortal remains were buried on the banks of the river Kaveri and a small memorial was built at the spot. His disciples returned to their respective villages and observed his death anniversary at their own homes. The memorial was soon forgotten and it was not until around 1903 that Tyagaraja's last surviving disciples, Umayalpuram Krishna Bhagavatar and Sundara Bhagavatar returned to Tiruvayyaru, identified the place and had it renovated. From the next year, efforts were made by musical stalwarts to observe the anniversary at Tiruvayyaru itself. In 1905 they conducted the ceremony in style complete with feeding of the poor and worship at the memorial as per Vedic tenets.  It has come a longway since.  Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar selected the five pancharatnas as being best suited for group rendering so that a common homage by all musicians became possible. This idea was adopted and the choral rendition of the five songs was made an integral feature of the Aradhana.

There are many musicians who have ensured that the Aradhana is celebrated grandly and some of them even bequeathed all their wealth to the Tyagaraja memorial.  A huge complex is now under construction at Thiruvaiyaru at this site to accommodate the large audience that come to the concert in ever-increasing numbers every year.  The 166th  festival is on now at Thiruvaiyaru

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

PS : handful of recipients of this mail are acclaimed critics of Carnatic music. They may choose to ignore this post…

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