top of page


Take attention away from the everyday egoistic self and you may open a gate to the Overself.

This is one method - and the harder one. Let attention be held by a glimpse so that

the everyday self drifts out of focus. This is another method - and the easier. 

The first is Yoga and depends on active personal effort. 

The second is passive and depends on

absorption in art, music, landscape, or a visitation.    …  

  Paul Brunton



Of all arts, music has the greatest power to take us away effectively, easily, immediately and fully from the mundane plane and keep our Spirit absorbed completely in the Absolute's own ineffable essence. Our ancients realised this truth at the very dawn of history. They first extolled the Gods in poetic hymns called riks, but soon fitted their riks to tune, by produceing the sAma veda. Of the many vidyAs or esoteric means of realisation taught in the Upanishads, one is called udgIta vidyA, the worship of the praNava or OmkAra. Chandogya-Upanishad says: 'yat Kalu sADhu tat sAma, yadasADhu tadasAma ' meaning: What is good or perfect is sAman or music; what is bad and ugly is indeed not sAman. Hence it is that Shiva is said to have been propitiated by Ravana with sAma-gAna. Hence it is again, that in the gItA, the Lord says that he is the sAman amongst the vedas: 'vedAnAm sAma-vedosmi'.

In Saint Thyagaraja was seen the rare combination of a complete knowledge of philosophy, devotion, musicology and poetics and a talent of singing his own compositions in the most moving voice. His songs have not only a remarkable musical excellence but a great spiritual value of excellent variety.  The infinite excellences of the name, form, glory and majesty of Rama get infinitely multiplied by the traditional musical techniques which Thiagaraja imparted into his divine compositions and the nuances which he himself gave in singing them. According to Thiagaraja, God is the fittest object of music.  Music bereft of devotion is lifeless and useless. God protects those who combine divine love with music. 'I pray for nothing more than that my tongue should be given to continuous repetition of the name Rama' says Thiagaraja. The Mantra ‘Rama’ was the sheet-anchor of Thyagarja’s music and of the spiritual vibrations it emanated.

The word Mantra in Sanskrit means 'that which protects by being meditated upon'. This protection by the deity of the Mantra is guaranteed when  one has sufficiently identified oneself with the Mantra, heart and soul, the process being, intense repetition. The power of a Mantra could be enormous. The intonation of the syllables of the Mantra brings its own reward. It quiets the mind and brings the deity symbolized by the Mantra into action mainly for spiritual purposes, but, as a bye-product, also for mundane ends. By massive repetition of the same Mantra one obtains the power of the mantra to turn his mind inward towards the Light within. Even by ordinary considerations of psychology we know that one becomes like that which is in one’s mind. So the power of the Mantra is used to harmonize the constituents of the inner body, quiet the mind and stimulate the latent spiritual qualities. It is always used as an invocation to beseech God to indwell the image, picture or deity we want to worship. Whether it is a temple or the shade of a tree or a remote cave or one’s own worship room in the house the Mantra itself will sanctify the place. It sanctifies even ordinary acts like bathing, washing, eating, talking and congregating. In fact if there is one thing that is common to all the votaries of the religion known as Hinduism, spread through its multifarious sects and schools, it is the value and significance that get attached to Mantras - though the Mantras themselves may differ from sect to sect and from school to school.


Tyagaraja's songs of which around 800 or so are available now, depict, among other things, music itself as a yoga and a siddhi, i.e., both a path and realisation, through the power of the Rama mantra. In his own masterly manner, Thyagaraja summarily declares in his song samayamu delisi, in aSAveri, 'It is immaterial if a song that does not refer to Rama is sung or not sung'.   Cf.  'padamu tyAgarAja-nutinipai, gAnidi, pADi emi, pADakuNDina nemi'. The only song worthy of the name is what is surely in praise of the Lord: 'rAma ni pATE pATa'.  (in 'rAma kodaNDa-rAma'  in bhairavi).In his SrI-rAga kIrtana, 'nAma kusuma mulache' he asks us to place the supreme Lord on the bejewelled pedestal of nAda and swara and worship His feet with the flowers of His names.  If one would spend his time adoring the Lord like this, with music and the singing of His holy name, then, Thyagaraja says, human life is the greatest of all lives: 'nara janmame janmamu, O manasA'; and there is none happier than one, who, with flawless tuneful music, keeps ceaselessly singing the Lord's name:

nityamaina susvarapu gAnamuto nirantaramu, tyAgarAjanuta,

sukhi yevaro, rAmanAma-sukhi yevaro  (in kAnaDA)


The dazzling charms of Tyagaraja's music usually blind us to the innumerable noble thoughts  imbedded in the text of his songs. Poetic fancies, learned allusions, moral precepts, enunciation of doctrines, high Upanishadic truths, condemnation of sham, hypocrisy and false paths, happy similies, worldly wisdom, popular sayings,  renunciation of worldly good and of the flattery of the rich, prayer, plaintive pleading, yearning, anguish, remonstrance, sportive rebuke, despair and dejection, self-depreciation, faith, hope, exhilaration, ecstasy of realisation, endearment, joy of service, surrender and dedication, satisfaction at his own devout life, gratitude - in short, every shade and mood of religious, devotional and spiritual experience - make his songs an endless epic record of the mind of a great devotee, which was, till the end, erupting like a ceaseless volcano.


Tyagaraja belongs to the line of musician-saints who employed this noble art for the moral and spiritual upliftment of themselves and humanity. For a long time before him, music in India had been playing an effective role as the handmaid of religion. The best sort of music is, according to Coleridge, 'what it should be - sacred'. In fact the conception of all art in India has been spiritual and it is in our temples and as part of sAdhanA  that all arts, literature, sculpture, architecture, dance and music, have flourished. The rise of the bhakti movement and the bhAgavata sampradAya popularised this path of musical devotion all over the country. The books of this school say that the worship of the Lord with song and dance must be done by devotees as a daily duty (nitya-karma). This belief is elaborately set forth  in some of the purANas. It came to be held that any other and lesser use made this art profane. Again and again, Thyagaraja laid emphasis on this teaching, because many even among the accomplished music masters delighted in the art either for displaying their powers and their mastery of it or for propitiating kings and rich men. In the well-known dhanyAsi song, sangItajnAnamu, Thyagaraja says that music without devotion, would lead one astray; that Music is something high that great sages and saints have practised and its real efficacy is known only to a person knowing the right and wrong and the worthlessness of worldly things, and to that one who has subdued his inner defects  as well as the six inner enemies.


A rAga of music is that which is decorated by the tonal excellence of svaras and varNas which decoration gives pleasure to the mind of the listener. This is the definition of the word rAga in Matanga's brihaddeSI, a musical treatise of the 4th century A.D.:

 * Yosau dhvani-viSeshastu svara-varNa-vibhUshitah /

ranjako jana-cittAnAM sa ca rAga udAhRtaH  //*

In his true poetic way, Thyagaraja plays on the word rAga and juxtaposes two addresses of the Lord as rAga-rasika and rAga-rahita at the end of ninu vinA sukhamu gAna (in toDi). “Enjoyer ("rasika") of music ("rAga")! You are full of compassion ("karunarasa paripurna"), without any trace of worldly attachment (“rAga”). Are you not the very personification ("bhaagadeya") of Tyagaraja’s fortune!” There is an implied suggestion here that the musician's rAsikya should not descend to levels to which it does among many of them.  Thyagaraja condemned again and again such musicians who did not have a high conception of their own art, who degraded it and were bereft of devotion or knowledge.  For instance, in his well-known SankarAbharaNa song 'svara rAga sudhA rasa', he says in the anupallavi:  These (meaning the vulgar musicians)  are verily the crane and the toad sitting on the lotus called supreme bliss - 'paramAnandamanu kamalamupai baka bhekamu'. They are standing by or squatting on the wonderful lotus flower called the supreme bliss, not knowing that it is so; they are not the swans and the bees, the 'nAda-sarasIruha-bringas' as he says of Narada, that know how to enjoy the ambroisal rasa of that lotus of bliss! . Those bhAgavatas who are also rasikas, endowed with taste, become the object of the Lord's protective grace: bhAgavatAgresara-rasika-avana' (in 'nAmoralanu' in Arabhi) .


The scripture called yAjna-valkya-smRti says 'He who knows the truth of vINA music and is an expert in Srutis and their varieties and understands tALa also, reaches the path of salvation without exertion'.  This thought has been echoed by Thyagaraja in many of his songs. Some of the earlier temples in the Pallava and the early Chola periods, have on their southern side, not the yoga-dakshiNA-mUrti (as is familiar to us now) but the vINA-dakshiNA-mUrti showing the easier way to salvation through vINA and music - about which the scripture above spoke. Thyagaraja has this in mind when he says in his song 'mokshamu galada', 'vINA-vAdana-loludau Siva-manovidha-merugaru mokshamu galadA' meaning: It is indeed hard for one to attain salvation if one knows not the mind of Siva who always delights in playing the vINA. Hence is Narada represented as going about eternally with his vINA, singing the glory of the Lord and proclaiming to the world  that the Lord dwells not in vaikuNTa, nor in the Sun, nor even in the hearts  of yogins, but where His devotees sing: 'nAham vasAmi vaikuNTe, na yogi-hRdaye ravau; mad-bhaktA yatra gAyanti tatra tiShhTAmi nArada'. The music of vINA  has its origin in the vedas, says Thyagaraja. His references to Narada, the first bhAgavata-musician, are numerous. Once Thyagaraja says of him: 'veda-janita-vara-vINA-vAdana-tattvajna'.  In thus tracing the vINA music  to the vedas, Thyagaraja has evidently in mind the playing of vINA in ashva-medha and other vedic sacrifices and the vedic statement which says that the vINA is verily a form of the Goddess of Beauty and Prosperity:  'ShriyA vA etad-rUpam, yad-vINA'.


The control of breath, mental absorption, and the maintenance of a blissful state have all made this art of music a veritable nAda-yoga. Nada is the source of sound, the causal sound. Even the later evolved Tantric, Saivite and Yoga schools assign a definite place to nAda and accept the efficacy of its worship in spiritual realisation.  The substance of all these teachings is found summarised in the beginning of all music treatises in Sanskrit.


Music is not just the means to salvation but salvation itself. In his mukhAri song: sangIta-Sastra-jnAnamu, he says the knowledge of musical lore,  would confer wealth, fame, good conduct, etc.  but finally also, grace of the Lord, and the bliss of oneness with the Lord.  Bhakti, combined with the ambroisal rasa of svara and rAga is itself Heaven and Salvation: 'svara-rAga-sudhA-rasa-yuta-bhakti  svargApavargamurA manasA '.


In 'enduku peddalavale'  (SankarAbharaNa song) Thyagaraja juxtaposes Veda and Sastra,  advaita jnAna and the secrets of the nAda-vidyA, implying thereby that a mastery of the secrets of music confer the same summum bonunm as vedantic knowledge and spiritual realisation gained by metaphysical pursuits.  While the jnAni attains liberation after numerous births (cf. bahUnAm janmanAm ante - B.G. Ch. VII), Thyagaraja says: he who has by nature a devoted mind and has also knowledge of rAgas is verily a liberated soul here itself, i.e., a jIvan-mukta: bahu janma-mulaku paini jnAniyai  baraguta mokshamurA; sahaja bhaktito rAga-jnAna-sahituDu muktudurA manasA'.  It is in this sense evidently that Beethoven also declared that music is a higher revelation than philosophy.


In sum,  Thyagaraja’a music creates what may be called a musical yoga. The sounds of the rAga and the sAhitya that thus emanate almost from absolute silence enrapture the world with a divine power, ‘a forgetfulness of will and individuality’, in the words of Will Durant, ‘of matter, space and time, whereby the soul is lifted into a mystic union with some profound, immense and quiet Being’.

bottom of page