Relevance of Thyagaraja for the modern times – Part 1(Need for Clarity of Purpose)

The very name Thiagaraja brings to all music lovers a picture of a great saint who excelled in pursuing Bhakti yoga through the medium of music. We all know his music combines melody,poetry,rhythm,bahkti and spiritual message from our scriptures(Upanishads,gita ,puranas etc). Quite a lot of literature is written in glory of these aspects of his musical compositions. Here I would like to write about little known aspects of his ‘kritis’,which are very rich in terms of message for the present day .

The message comes through several kritis. While the main theme of these kritis still remain spiritual in content,there are quite a few lines in some kritis which can be interpreted as message to the aimless masses. In the following pages this  is illustrated with the help of a few kritis,which lend themselves to such an analysis and interpretation.

In this first part of the series I will try to pick out certain compositions which lay emphasis on defining purpose of one’s life with a lot of clarity. 


In the Kriti  ‘Varaalandukomani naayandu vanchanaseya nyayama—-’,the saint demonstrates a great sense of clarity in expressing the purpose of his spiritual pursuit. He makes it abundantly clear that he is not the one to be enchanted by any wordly pleasures,which are nothing but distractions in one’s spiritual journey. He pleads with the Lord that He should not lure or mislead him(‘vanchanaseya’),since he is not interested in any boon that will distract him from his main purpose which is Moksha. While saying so,he draws parallel with great devotees of the Lord  like Prahlada and Dhruva – both were blessed with Moksha,which is a permanent salvation(‘Dhruvamaina phalamosagu’).

The examples taken are interesting. In the case of Prahlada,when he was offered a boon,he was already spiritually enlightened and wanted very clearly only ultimate salvation(he would have none of the material things). In the case of Dhruva though,he asked for temporal gains out of ignorance,but the Lord was magnanimous and offered a permanant status and position in the universe. It is in this background that Thyagaraja is pleading with the Lord not to mislead him and offer worldly boons.

There is a beatiful play on the word ‘Dhruvamaina phalamu’ – it can be translated as results which are permanant and also as ‘Dhruva’ like results'(The word Dhruva is used as an adjective as well as noun). The saint says that one should go for ‘permanent and ultimate bliss which is ‘Moksha’ and not for temporary boons(‘Varaalu’) meant for transient worldly pleasures.  

While this kriti is strictly in the spiritual domain and defines the ultimate purpose of human life,its significance is very evident even for lesser mortals like us,  struggling to define our purpose in our day to day life. The saint exhorts us to have clarity of purpose and long term goals and not get misled by temporary gains coming from small time pleasures.




In another kriti ‘Ennallu Nitrova’—, the Saint again pleads with the Lord for blessing him. He expresses his anguish for being neglected by the Lord,although he is deligently following the path of devotion,which alone he is capable of. He further says that he is going to stick to the only path he knows well,since in his own  words ‘phoolammi bratikevaaru pullalamma bilwa raaru’. He says ‘people who make a living by selling flowers can not be called upon to change their livelihood and sell firewood’. This message also clarifies the confusion that many people might have on the spiritual path to be followed – that is whether one should follow jnana yoga,bhakti yoga or karma yoga. Obviously,the path chosen should depend on one’s temperament and capabilities.

The saint’s message may be applied even for material pursuits and goals. Everybody is endowed with certain characteristics,aptitude,temperamant and skill sets etc. One should stick to one’s area of expertise for achieving one’s goals instead of trying to imitate others . This is true of individuals as well industries/corporations. This reminds us of the emphasis that modern day Management gurus lay on the concept of ‘core competence’.                                                                                                                    






In the same kriti, in addition to talking about what he wants the saint is also very clear about what he does not want. He says categorically that he is not interested in taking part in the world of puppet show(‘Bommalata’). And says with a lot of conviction that he is bound to be showered with his blessings since the Lord’s abode is his birth place(‘puttinillu’).

 The clarity on what he wants(and also what he does not wish to have) is further highlighted in another kriti  ‘Srimanini manohara’—-.  He spells out quite emphatically what he does not wish to have. He says he is not at all interested in any of the ‘Purushardhas'(worldly  attainments) not even ‘ Saarupya’(seeing Him). He merely has a very humble ambition of being able to constantly serve His feet(‘Paada seva’). His unswerving and single minded devotion to the Lord is revealed here. He places very clearly service to God  as superior to  everything else in the world.

 These words are exemplary to all of us struggling in the material world. Even though we may not be evolved enough to seek ultimate moksha,within the material world we should show maturity to make right choices. We should have high degree of clarity on our purpose and the choice should be made with a lot of conviction without mincing words. 


In another kriti,the saint lays emphasis on the importance of mission in life. He says, “Epaniko Janminchitinani nannenchavaladu shrirama”—-, he tells the Lord   in no uncertain terms that his very purpose in life is to sing in praise of Him with great bhakti. He tells the Lord ‘Do not be under a mistaken notion that I am born for some inferior purpose(‘Epaniko’). Another interesting aspect that needs to be appreciated in this kriti is that Thiagaraja is very well aware of the fact that there were great saints like Valmiki who have written wonderful poetry in praise of the Lord. He asks ‘Naa Aasa Teeruna’–,meaning that his desire to sing in praise of the Lord can not be satisfied by the fact of Valmiki’s great poetry written in glory of ShriRama.  

The import of these lines in our lives can be readily seen. Once we have identified and defined a task and purpose with clarity,we should not be deterred by the enormity of the task or by the fact there were lots of great stalwarts who had made eternal contribution in the field earlier.














Published on October 26, 2008 at 5:27 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Hi Sridhar

    I think this is a really nice piece – especially the ref to epaniko … Its so easy to be overwhelmed by the great works of others and stop doing what one can. thanks for sending me the blog address. will check ever now and then and see what you have to discovered.

    I also liked the piece on sundarakandam. its not difficult ot see the connectionf rom thiagaraja – anyone would easily infectde by his enthusiasm. have yopu ever tried translating into english verse ( either thiagaraja or sundarakandam)?

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