Today, 200114, is, according to the Hindu calendar, Bahula Panchami, and this is the day that
attained samAdhi on the banks of the river Kaveri, at Thiruvayaru, iean Tamil Nadu.
Over the years that I have learnt, and been interested in, Carnatic music, this has turned into a major, televised event called the
I just finished watching it on DD Podhigai, it used to be televised on the Doordarshan TV, the official “Government” channel which was the only channel we had in the beginning of TV! Before that, in Kolkata, I would hear it transmitted over the radio.
Here’s the first of the “pancharatna” (“five gems”…the five special compositio ns by the saint that are the highlight of the musical worship), sung in 1986; you can see stalwarts like Maharajapuram Santhanam, and that towering musician, Semmangudi Sreenivasa Iyer.
Here’s all the “gems” being sung last year, from DD Podhigai (I must say, the shrill singing by ladies, who are trying to sing one octave over the pitch, which is set to suit men’s voices, is quite awful):
Though Thyagaraja was a saint, and his samadhi (and the singing) are supposed to be open to one and all, social prejudices prevailed for a long time. Gender discrimination, particularly, was quite bad, persisting until 1940. For the story of how
laid the foundation stone to the temple to the saint, only to be denied access (women were not allowed in those days),
Carnatic music has also been the traditional bastion of the Brahmin community, with the very interesting exception that nAgaswaram, thavil and mridangam players hail from the Pillai community…Brahmins are a very “exclusive” caste and did not, earlier, even allow other castes into their homes…so this co-existence is intriguing.
My parents conducted the Aradhana in Kolkata, under the auspices of the Carnatic Sangeeta Sammelan, for many years. Apart from this, Rasika Ranjana Sabha (or RR Sabha as it was called) also conducted an event.
The event is also celebrated by the south Indian diaspora, in the US, at
It has also developed into a major event–both a music and dance festival– for the south Indian diaspora, but it is not held at the actual time of the saint’s attaining nirvana; this year, it is from March 28 to April 7. Interesting, this year, to have a Thyagaraja festival dedicated to the memory of another of the trinity of Carnatic music, Maharaja Swathi Tirunal!
There has, of course, been a lot of politics surrounding the festival, and I just try to look past the human element to the divinity that still ensures that many people gather each year on the sandy banks of the Kaveri, and offer geetanjali (musical reverence) to this saint.
The irony, however, never fails to strike me…Thyagaraja was a man who was poor all his life, renounced the world and became a sanyAsi a few days before his death, and reached out to the masses through the simplicity of his songs…and today, he is a gold-plated statue,decked with garlands and jewellery, accessible only to those with “VIP” tickets…he is saluted by the rich and the powerful..and the poor, common people to whom he reached out can attend the concerts that happen over the days of the festival..but not many do. It’s still a bastion of the Brahmin caste/community, and a very “Hindu” event…old divisions continue to live on.