Hymns by Thyagaraja, the legendary saint, in praise of the lord are part of an annual festival at Tiruvaiyyar.
Itís also the time when the Thyagaraja festival is held. Music and dance are an integral part of Tamil culture-Sangam literature predates Sanskrit dramaturgy. Music, however, reached its apogee with Thyagaraja and it is in his memory that, not just Tamils, but all of South India gathers, at Tiruvaiyyar, some 13 kilometres from the temple town of Tanjore.
If you take an early morning stroll through this picturesque village on the banks of the river Kaveri, you will find bare-chested men, clad in crisp white dhotis singing hymns. This is Tiruvayyar. The region is suffused with the music of the legendary saint who immortalised Lord Rama in thousands of hymns and compositions. Every home that straddles the narrow lanes is decorated with rangoli and pictures of Thyagaraja frame every doorway. His music provides the village its sustenance, its very breath, especially in the month of January. Inspired by his devotion and music, many young poets and musicians anoint the shrine with honey and sing songs at his memorial in the belief that they will be blessed.
As a young man Thyagaraja was moved by the Ramayan. He was equally mesmerised by the music of Sonthi Venkataramanayya, his guru. His aspiration was to experience Ramís presence. He managed to achieve the impossible when he was blessed with the vision of his god. The quest to seek the divine finds expression in all his compositions.
Thyagaraja studied the works of great composers like Purandara Dasa, Kshetragnya and Theerthanarayana Yati, but devised an epic style of his own that is exemplified in the majestic sweep of his Pancharatna kirtanas.
His life was a confluence and symphony of three streams-spirituality, saintliness and sangeet or music, each finding harmony and spontaneous expression in his prodigious genius. The fusion of lyrics and melody, without rhetoric or word play stands apart in its simplicity. But one of the greatest aspects of the Thyagaraja kirtanas is that he made the infinite (Lord Ram) finite for us. He could see Ram and speak to him, thereby giving us glimpses of the divine. He speaks to him in anger, beseeching him to grant him an appearance and kindles our souls to seek the same.
For those who seek to explore the world of Carnatic music, there can be no better place than Tiruvayyar. Even if you are not a classical music aficionado, simply being present during the three days of the festival is to come as close as possible to realising the divine. The atmosphere is charged with the bhakti and devotion of thousands of people who throng the village.
Firmly rooted in the rich soil of the Tamil heartland, Thyagarajaís genius lives on. In his music tradition and innovation there is a unique balance which makes his works relevant even today.