It was the 15th, August 1992. I remember this day very distinctly. Mani Ratnam’s block buster ‘Roja‘ opened that day. That night, I took a long bus journey from Madras, located in one corner of Tamilnadu, to what is probably both the geographic, as well as the cultural center of Tamil culture -Tanjavoor.
This visit had a dual-purpose. One of my friends had a reception to celebrate his engagement in Trichy. Never having set my foot in this part of the country, I made it a point to visit a few places, in addition to attending this party. The giant Ranganatha temple in Srirangam, the Brihadeeshwarar temple in Tanjavoor were on list. But most important of all, was the place where saint composer Tyagaraja lived and composed his kritis. Tiruvaiyyaru.
A location map of Tiruvaiyyaru
Tiruvaiyyaru gets it’s name from the five branches of Kaveri that flow in the area. A few miles upstream, the river Kaveri splits up into five. The resulting branches are called Kaveri, Kollidam, Kodamurutti, Vennar and Vettar. Tiru+ai+ Aru means the sacred five streams. Or the town of five sacred streams. And this stands on the branch that retains the original name Kaveri.
Tiruvaiyyaru is about 15 km away from Tanjavoor. A small dusty non-descript little town that could be anywhere in south India. Except for the fact that it was the karma bhoomi of Tyagaraja.
Tiruvaiyaaru comes to the headlines once a year. During the annual Tyagaraja aradhana, that celebrates the passing away of the saint composer on the 5th day of dark phase of the lunar month Pushya, thousands of musicians and music lovers visit Tiruvaiyyaru to sing the saint’s ompositions near his samadhi.
However, the day I went there was a very quite day. Like the 360 non-Aradhana days in the town. Someone had told me that I can get the directions to Tirumanjana veedi is virtually from anyone from the town. And it was true. I walked to the main temple in the town first. It was near noon, and the temples of Panchanadeeshwara – ‘the lord of five rivers’, and his consort Dharma Samvardhani were already closed.
Panchanadeesha Temple, Tiruvaiyyaru – Picture Courtey – National Informatics
So I walked to Tirumanjana veedi, to the house where Tyagaraja lived, and spent some peaceful moments there. It felt great to walk in the same room where he sang his compositions.
An artist’s imagination of Tyagaraja’s vision of Sri Rama (Courtesy Google image search)
These smoky walls here had heard Tyagaraja sing and had imbibed his every note, every phrase. They have had the fortune of being with the highs and lows of his life. They have been witness to him saying no to the royal orders to come to the court and sing for the king of Tanjavoor. They had seen how overjoyed he was when a deciple brought in a picture of Rama as a gift on his daughter’s wedding day. They had seen him pray to his lord Rama every day. Before entering the house, I had thoughts of singing one of Tyagaraja’s compositions in the house, but after I went in my plans changed. Of course, I did not want to contaminate the peace and tranquility these walls enjoyed, with my singing!
An idol of Tyagarja in the house where he lived, sorrounded by those smoky fortunate walls!
(Picture courtesy- S Subramanian)
I walked out and stood on the platform (jagali) outside imagining how life would have been two hundred years before here in that house. Probably the master was inside praying to his lord Rama. May be one of the deciples would be here on the same platform where I stood, listening unobtrusively and making notes of the new raaga his master was exploring. Or in the evening, as the utsava of the temple diety goes out in the street, it might be Tyagaraja himself standing where I stood now taking a look at the utsava moorti. Or it might be the master’s wife sitting on this very platform and having a chat with her neighbour, telling how she is managing the household inspite of her husband not worrying about how the house is run. My imagination was running wild.
Later I walked to the Tyagaraja samadhi mantapa on the banks of the river. It is said that in his 80th year, Tyagaraja had a dream where he saw a vision of Sri Rama telling him that within ten days, Tyagaraja would come to his abode. After that Tyagaraja took to sanyasa, and as predicted he passed away on the 10th day after this dream. This was Pushya bahula panchami, 6th January, 1847. Because he was a sanyasi, he was not cremated, and had a samadhi brindavana built around him. This mantapa structure was built with the efforts of an artist in the musical lineage of Tyagaraja, Bengalooru Nagaratnamma during the 1930s.
(Tyagaraja Samadhi – Picture by S Subramanian)
I went in and had a darshana of the Samadhi. There were a few people visiting the samadhi at that time. One of them was a Sadhu who sang some Tyagaraja kritis. After that, I sang a couple of compositions of the saint, and finished with Balamuralikrishna’s composition praising the composer – Tyagaraja Gurum Vande.
This year, the Tyagaraja Aradhana festival falls on 27th January, 2008, a few days from today. By now, musical celebrations might have already started at Tiruvaiyyaru. But if you ask me, you should not go to Tiruvaiyyaru during the Aradhana, which has become more like a fair these days. Choose any other time of the year to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the place.
You can still visit the Samadhi. You can still see Kaveri flowing nearby. You can still go to the Panchanadeeshvara temple. But unfortunately, the house of Tyagaraja stands no more in Tirumanjana Veedi in Tiruvaiyyaru. You will not be able to repeat the experience what I had fifteen years ago. I should thank my stars for visiting Tiruvaiyyaru before this happened.
‘Renovation’ of Tyagaraja’s house – January 2006 (Picture: The Hindu)
Groups claiming to convert Tyagaraja’s house to a memorial, have pulled the house down and were building a concrete structure in it’s place as of 2006 January. I am not sure of it’s current status. If I go by the report in the Hindu, a concrete memorial would be there in the place where the old house stood. Such a sad state of affairs.
So much for our historical sense 😦