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Social Message in Saint Thyagaraja Compositions

Saint Thyagaraja is one of the most prolific composers of Carnatic Music and regarded greatly as the
pathbreaking vaaggeyakaara the world has ever witnessed. His compositions are impeccable in every
respect with an aim of bringing the beauty of Carnatic Music in heartfelt terms to the listener. In the
month of January every year, Thyagaraja Aaradhana is celebrated worldwide as the auspicious day
Chaitra Bahula Panchami is commemorated for the legendary composer. Carnatic Music students all
over the world along with their gurus offer the renditions of Pancharatna kritis as a token of devotion to the composer.

Carnatic music is essentially a devotional centric genre as per the general opinions but a composer like Saint Thyagaraja went the extra mile to even speak about deeper aspects than devotion- such as
spirituality, surrender, vedas and simple living. Moreover, history says that Saint Thyagaraja has been an ardent devotee of Lord Rama and most of his compositions are addressed to the deity.

However, it would be interesting to notice that he has also composed kritis which spoke about the social conditions of those days in a veiled satirical form as well. This would actually make us realize that Thyagaraja was well aware of what is happening in the materialistic world and why he felt the path of musical surrender is the only way to attain enlightenment.

In the kriti composed in raaga Suddha Dhanyasi- the composer says “Entha Nerchina.. Entha Chusina.. Entha Vaaralaina.. Kaantha Daasule” (Meaning: No matter how much you learn, how much you see, or how much you are, you are eventually a slave to a damsel!). With a euphemism, Saint Thyagaraja says about the social conditions of those day when men were after the vices such as physical desires and no matter how much they learn or seek, one of eventually a slave to their desires. Saint Thyagaraja also spoke about the fleeting nature of heart and how the people get carried away in the autopilot mode in the kriti Manasa Yetulorthune in raaga Malayamarutham. He even criticizes the human as a person who is in the lowest plane of thought when he says “Vinavalera.. Gunaviheena!” (Meaning: Why don’t you listen, o lame thinking person!). The very form of addressing a human this way shows Saint Thyagaraja’s thorough understanding about how humans limit themselves by surrendering to materialistic desires and yearnings.

The amazing kriti Gnanamosagaraada in Purvikalyani raagam also speaks about a request to the
supreme being to give the right knowledge. Having directionless knowledge is one of the biggest reasons for people choosing the wrong path and that actually leads to chaotic social conditions. How
wonderfully Saint Thyagaraja spoke about this fact musically?

One cannot ignore the majestic pancharatna kriti Dudukugala Nanne Dora in raaga Gowla which can draw parallel to even the current day retail therapy and consumerism which is confusing the mankind even more. The very idea of “More is less!” which was brought about by the western lifestyles is greatly mentioned by Thyagaraja in this kriti.

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