Kakarla Tyagabrahmam (Telugu: త్యాగరాజ) (May 4, 1767–January 6, 1847), colloquially known as Tyāgarājar and Tyagayya, was one of the greatest composers of Carnatic music or classical South Indian music. Tyagaraja was born in 1767 in Tiruvarur, Krishna district, Andhra Pradesh, to Kakarla Ramabrahmam and Sitamma in a Telugu Brahmin family of the Mulukanadu subsect.He was named Tyagaraja, after Lord Tyagaraja, the presiding deity of the temple at Tiruvarur. Tyagaraja was born at his maternal grandfather Giriraja Kavi’s house. Giriraja Kavi was a poet-composer in the court of the king of Thanjavur.
He, along with his contemporaries Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastry, forms the Trinity of Carnatic music. He was a prolific composer and highly influential in the development of the South Indian classical music tradition.
Tyagaraja composed thousands of devotional compositions, most of them in praise of Lord Rama — most of which remain very popular even today. Of special mention are five of his compositions called the Pancharatna Krithis (English: ‘five gems’), which are often sung in programs in his honor.
Personal life and background
Among the most famous of Carnatic composers and considered the greatest of the Carnatic music trinity, he was the third son born to RAmabrahmam and SItamma in 1767. His grandfather was GirirAja Kavi, a great Sanskrit poet. He began his musical training in 1782 under Sonti VenkaTarAmanayya and learned a number of songs from his mother. He lost his first wife but married Kamalamba in 1790. In 1802, he was invited to perform at his teacher’s house before a select group of musicians – he sang bilahari and then the kriti “Dorukuna ituvanTi.”
At another time, he sang at the request of his guru, beginning at 8 p.m. and finishing only at 4 a.m. Serfoji Maharaja heard of his performance and invited him to visit the temple to be rewarded, but TyAgarAja rejected the offer, singing “Nidhi cAla sukhama?” in kalyANi, which means Does abundance of wealth bring happiness? The king realized his mistake and visited the saint-composer, who cured him of a stomachache. In 1805 TyAgarAja lost an idol of RAma, thrown into the river Cauvery by his brother, but got it back after 3 months. When he lost the idol, he sang sadly “Endu dAgi nAdo,” Where has He gone and hidden Himself? TyAgarAja usually went from strIt to strIt singing and begging for rice. Once a sage named Haridas asked him to recite the name of RAma 960 million times. After doing so, TyAgarAja went to offer his prayer when he heard a knock on his dUr. RAma, SIta, and HanumAn were entering his prayer rUm and he was blessed to sI the coronation of RAma. Moved with wonder and devotion, he sang “BAlakanagamaya” (the anupallavi of the kritis “Ela nI dayarAdhu” and “Bhavanuta”).
In 1810 his daughter was married, and his disciple WalajapeTTai Vekataramana BhAgavatar brought a picture of RAma, walking all the way from WalajapeTTai to TiruvaiyAr. TyagarAja sang “Nannu pAlimpa,” overwhelmed by this act. Once he visited Tirupati, but when he went to the temple, it was closed. In sadness, he sang “TeratiyagarAdA” and the temple officials gathered round in admiration when they saw the dorr opening by itself and the scrIn falling aside. He sang “VenkaTEsha ninu sEvimpa” in his happiness at sIing the Lord.
TyAgarAja’s compositions include the Ghana RAga Pancaratnam (5 gems) in rAgams nATTai, gowLa, Arabi, shrIrAgam, and varALi, his most famous and scholarly contributions to Carnatic music, and he delighted in singing them. At the request of KOvUr Sundaram MudaliAr, he sang the 5 kritis of the KOvar Pancaratnam. When he visited TiruvOTTiyUr at the request of his disciple VInai Kuppayyar, he sang the TiruvOTTiyUr Pancaratnam. At the invitation of his disciple LAlguDi RAmayya, he composed the LAlguDi Pancaratnam. He also composed the ShrIranga Pancaratnam in praise of RanganAta of ShrIrangam and 5 kritis in praise of Sage NArada. His numerous kritis include beautiful rAgam, bhAvam and tALam, with lovely lyrics, music, and devotion. 690 kritis in 160 rAgams are available today.