Rama Bhakti Samrajyam

Author: Dr. Vasanthy K Rao

The literal meaning of the term Samrajyam is ‘an empire’ and the ruler of the Samrajyam is called an emperor. In the music world Tyagaraja is considered as the emperor who ruled the Samrajya of Rama Bhakti.

The South Indian musical forms are very rich in their repertoire. The Bhakti literatures in South Indian music are in affluence. In fact religion and music were so intermingled that one could not be seen as a separate entity. The epics Ramayana & Mahabharata of 3rd Century Silappadhikaram, Manimekalai in Tamil literature, and the early Prabhandham are few examples. The development of the sectarianism, Brahmanic ritualism and their hymns, samagayanam, Shaivist and Vaishnavist religious books praising the Lord Shiva and Vishnu resulted in Thevaram, Thiruvachakam, Pasuram, Prabandham etc. The Bhakti movement gave abundance to literatures like Meera Bhajan, Kabir Dhoha, Surdas and Tulsidas Bhajans; Chaitanya’s verses praising Lord Krishna, Narayana Thirtar’s Krishna Lila Tarangini and Jaya Deva’s Ashtapadi. Crowning to it was the contributions of the Musical Trinity St. Shri Thyagaraja, Shri Muthuswamy Dikshitar and Shri Shyama Sastri of Tanjore.

The greatest treasure Saint Tyagaraja created not only for himself but also for the entire mankind, is the Bhakti Saamrajyam. The Bhakti Tyagaraja commenced from the very name, love towards chanting of taarakanamam i.e. Rama nama, ardent love to recite, repeat and visualize the lord’s form, the physical beauty of the lord, experience his physical presence, praise his virtues, the rupa and the gunas of Sri Rama, so by reciting and singing his glory, by worshipping his divine feet, serving him as a servant, moving with him as a friend and ultimately treating him as the supreme and surrendering to him. So at every stage the personal attachment of the saint composer exhibits the ‘Aatmanubhavam.’ His compositions are full of emotional experience.

Saint Tyagaraja of Tiruvarur renounced the material world and established a mighty spiritual empire through his compositions, which were deeply rooted with the concept of Rama Bhakti. This Bhakti Saamrajyam with the foundation of Rama Nama has developed into a strong edifice in which Tyagaraja eternally rules as an unparalleled spiritual emperor in the domain of the music world.

Tyagaraja, the king of renunciation as his name suggests, had renounced everything except Bhakti and the naada yoga and true devotion to the lord. This deep-rooted passionate love and adoration of Sri Rama has given him many times the true happiness of perceiving the supreme lord and this state of realization of supreme bliss or mukti is incomparable and inexplicable which he attributes as Brahmananda. This ecstatic state, which he has accomplished, is by visualizing Sri Rama through his Bhakti or devotion. All through his life he had been reciting crores and crores of Rama Nama and the lord had granted him his Darshanam thrice during the lifetime of saint Tyagaraja. He had poured out all his emotions with extreme delicacy and dexterity that the depth of devotion prevails over the domain of spiritualism and the musical world Tyagaraja’s religious fervor and devotional yearnings are reflected in every composition.

He cognized the greatness of taarakamantram Rama- Ra taken from Narayanamantram and Ma taken from Shiva Panchakshari – Nama Shivaya mantra. These two letters have the impact of bestowing benign effects on mankind. Tyagaraja had realized the importance of this Taarakamantra. His Bhakti Saamrajyam is invincible because of the cementing force for the empire is Anaya Bhakti of Sri Rama Chandra murti.

Out of the ten incarnations of Mahavishnu, Rama avatar is considered to be having more inspiration in human life. Since the Indian mythology proves through this epic poem, the character of the nayaka or hero, source of ethical and moral values. Rama as a superhuman creation lives in human faith and belief and they have perennial and pervasive influence on mankind.

Tyagaraja visualizes Sri Rama embodying in him all qualities or virtues saguna nirguna, sri kara nirmala, and subha kara. Sri Rama is eternal, aadi mulam sanaatana santata lokaadhaara, sakala loka naayaka, who is capable of helping the meek, bhakta vatsala, bhajita paalaka, sri chintamani, bhaagavada priya and so he says that total surrender to his feet will bestow the supreme bliss.

The divine feet’s glory is brought out in the Kriti Sri Rama paadama. Here he shows that Bharata, the brother of Rama who worshipped Sri Rama’s Paaduka has been gracious to merge with him. Here he brings out the simple Bhakti, which can give the Jeevaatma the status of merging with the Paraamatma. As a true devotee Thyagaraja has enjoyed worshipping the Lord through performing rituals, bhajans, pooja, archana, alankaara, dressing decorating Sri Rama’s idol offering him upachaara, are evidenced from his Kriti Upachaaramu chese, Echerika gaarara, Chetulaara shingaara. All his utsava sampradaya Kritis show the form of devotion, which Tyagaraja followed in his daily, routine. For a layman it would be contemplation but for Tyagaraja it had been reality for he had lived in the close vicinity if Sri Rama.

Saint Thyagaraja had in him the rare combination of Bhakti (devotion) and Gnanam (the intellect), clubbed with it was the grace of Lord Ramachandra Murthy, which had made him a great personality all over the world. He has created a special place in the realm of music. Though he is believed to have lived in abject poverty, today so many musicians are living and earning their livelihood due to his numerous compositions. The compositions are in Telugu language – the regional language that the common folk could easily follow. In eighteenth century mostly the compositions were in Sanskrit, which was considered to be the Deva Bhasha. Thus his composition became popular because of its simplicity in expression and depth of Bhavam (aesthetics) and Bhakti Rasa (Emotional expressions.) He being a singer himself and had set his compositions in perfect Ragam and rhythm (talam), added to their lustre. All his compositions are the culmination of his ecstatic mental state, which he had experienced in the various levels of devotion, like reciting, chanting, singing visualising, perceiving the divinity Sri Rama whom he had realised as the ‘Supreme Self’. One can trace the depth of bhakti in its Rakti (full weightage) in his compositions and they embody the highest philosophical ideologies and dogmas expressed in simple and comprehensible medium of Bhakti Sangitham.

Through his life style saint Thyagaraja had shown the Bhakti Marga i.e., deep devotion through naada and sangitha yoga and proved that if one surrenders to the Almighty by destroying one’s ego, Lord Rama showers the choicest blessing on such devotees. The deity Sri Rama and his personality traits had cast a significant influence on the seer’s life that he had chosen Sri Rama as his Ishta Devata (the chosen manifested form of Lord Vishnu in the third century.) Out of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu Rama’s manifested form is full of virtues and bears testimony of the Hero’s of the great Epic Age through Ramayana. Sri Rama embodies all virtues like valour majestic appearance, heroic traits, compassion, obedience, competence, universal fraternity towards men and beast, helper of the meek. Thyagarajaswamy had lived with this deity and the deity’s associates all through his life. He had never felt that they are imaginative or contemplated mythological characters but perceived their mortal form in many occasions.

Thus all his compositions are based on episodical allusions. Sri Rama is Part and parcel of Thyagaraja’s day-to-day life. He had considered all kin of Lord Rama as his own kith and kin. He treats Roma’s consort Sita as his mother and Rama as his father brother, friend, Guru and Dhaivam. Hence he had treated Rama as the Supreme self and he had always found Rama as ocean of Mercy. He addresses Him as Karuna Samudra Rama who alleviates the agony of the devotees. He confers not only the material welfare and riches of the mundane world but also the eternal Bliss. The seer pondered on Sri Rama as his friend, a brother, father and a guide and above all his master. He shows his devotion in various gestures as we do to a mortal companion in our day-to-day life.

Through his various compositions the Saint Thyagaraja had created a massive edifice of Ramabhakti Saamrajyam in which Thyagaraja Swamy is eternally seated as a peerless and an unparelled Emperor in the spiritual kingdom. He had laid the very name of ‘Sri Rama’ as the foundation’ Taraka nama,’ which is capable of removing all tangles of life. And cemented them with the various types of Bhakti towards the Almighty like smaranam (the Divine thought), the nama smaranam (the recourse to recite the name of the Lord Rama,) mananam (mentally recite his name or meditate), Shravana (that is hearing the gospel), naama sankeerthanam (singing the Divine praise through hymns), Bhajanam Group singing of hymns, Dhaasyam (service of the Lord) sevanam and pada sevanam (serving the Divinity and holding the divine feet permanently which can give Salvation or Moksha.

The name of the composer is Thyagaraja. The word thyaga means renunciation and Raja means king. As his name suggested he had given up all charms of the material world. He never had any lure for the riches of this physical world; he never showed any longing for or sought from the divinity to bestow him with prosperity in this worldly life. He was all along immersed in true devotion i.e., Rama Bhakti. His adoration and amorous love towards the divinity, his recitation of ‘Rama nama’ crores and crores of time has made him perceive the presence of the Lord in person. The deep study of the Epic Ramayana and the significant impression of the Hero of the epic on him, the drinking of the nectar or the ambrosial of Rama Rasa every moment, Thyagaraja had developed an incessant love, Viraga and anuraga Bhakti of Sri Rama. His association and personal affinity is seen from the inception stage of his life. He had been reciting Rama Nama and chanting the holy name crores and crores of times.

Worshipping the lord’s idol in different ways Upacharamu (how one treats a mortal) when he visualized Sri Rama’s physical presence, he showed human courtesy by offering him a drink, milk, food, fruits, beetle leaves and nuts. He had adopted all auspicious ritualistic practices. If we observe his compositions we find the ways Rama and his spouse Devi Sita (also known by different names as Mythili, Janaki , Vaidehi) Rama’s brothers Lakshmana, Bharata and Shathrughana and his true devotee Hanuman (a monkey associated with Sri Rama) all are treated as the associates of the composer, which evidences that Thyagaraja had lived with the Divinity and he had never felt he is different from the Lord.

This is the ultimate stage of realization of the Parabrahman. The Supreme Bliss and Saint Thyagaraja had merged with Sri Rama through his Rama Bhakti and shown the humanity an easy path to attain Salvation through Bhakti. This yearnings of Thyagaraja to merge with the Para Brahmam has brought the Divinity before him which we can observe from the joyful mood in which the Kritis “Kanu Kontini Sri Ramachandruni” – Bilahari. “Inthakannanandamemi Oh Rama Rama – Bilahari” ”Entha Bhagyamuma Baalagalgitivi” – Saranga, all these compositions can be considered as the Thyagopanishad as they are full of phiosophical truths, the veda-vedanta saram in simplified form. The meaningful compositions when analysed in their right perspective gives the Artha and Bhava in which they were composed, the depth of devotion or the shradda which made the Lord to come in person to fulfil the desires of Thyagaraja. In his composition Bhakti concept dominates more than the language or the lyrical or sangitha elements in them. Hence the vital role is of Bhakti in the domain of spiritualism. Adding to the lustre of Bhakti, he had adorned the kritis with apt Ragam and talam which could have been done only by a nada yogi. He had realised, felt, contemplated cognised made a grand configuration of his Lord only through Nadam, Swaram, Rasam. Music or sangitham.

We take the Composition “Naada Suda Rasambilanu”in Ragam Aarabhi he visualises Rama in the form of Naada which is the essence of Vedas, Agamas and Puranas . This is to see the Lord in abstraction and this he could do only because of his total surrender to the lord through his Sangitham. In another Composition Thyagaraja swamy contends “Rama Chinthana chalu” which implies that he is very happy even only with the devine thought. This we find in the composition ‘Dhyaname vara maina’ also. Further the seer goes to corroborate the Devine thought of Sri Rama equivalent to a Dip in the Holy waters of River Ganges. This of course Hindus believe to be having cleansing effect of all human curses both physical and mental, and by this the human being is said to be getting rid of the sin which knowingly or unknowingly one would have committed.

While portraying his magnificent personality, he uses beautiful epithets, which do not have corresponding equivalent or synonyms. Some of the words describing Sri Rama are Sundara Rama, Sundaraanga, Aravinda lochana, Meru Samana, Dheera, Varada, Kodanda Pani, Raajadhiraja, Rajadhi vinutha Sarwa bhowma, Karuna Samudra. For describing Rama’s valour he uses Asamaana Ghatra, Aja Ravana Ghana (slayer of Ravana and his clan ), Baahu Ravi bhasha, Ati Laavanya. Thus Thyagaraja gives a unambiguous visual image of his Lord. He addresses Rama as Sri Ramudu maaku thanri and seethamma mayamma “which shows his intimacy with the Lord. The composition “Sripa priya Sangithopasana Seyave oh Manasa” brings out the easy means of reaching the lord by worshipping God through Sangitha. Here Sri is the term used to refer to Goddess Lakshmi who had incarnated as Devi Sita, consort of Lord Rama ; PA is spouse, priya is beloved. So he says the true and clean-hearted worship of Lord Rama the beloved spouse of Goddess Lakshmi is the real treasure in one’s life. He uses the term’ Maanasa Dhana ‘ in the anupallavi of the composition. This meditation of sri Rama is capable of removing the human sufferings for which he uses the term “Trithapa Rahitha Sapta swara chari. Tri thapa is the anguish experienced by the human being namely Adyathmika, aadhi bhowthika aadhidhiyvika which means suffering of mind, corporeal and this would be removed by simple sangithopasana. He goes further to give exposition through his composition “Sangitha gnaanamu Bhaktivina Sanmaargamu Galada” the excerpt of the anupallavi of the composition are as under:

Nyaaya Anyaayamu Telusunu Jagamulu Maaya maya mani Telusunu durguna
Kayajaadi shadripula Jeyinche Kaaryamu Telusunu

Thyagaraja confirms that Rama Bhakti empowers in one to distinguish between right and wrong, the fact and fiction the eternal and delusion. Bhakti elevates the soul from the lower mundane delusions of kaama, kroda, lobha, moha, mada and matsarya and enables the human form to realise Supreme Bliss.
He has composed a very beautiful Kriti in Ragam Dhanyasi

“Sangita Sastra gnanamu Saarupya Sowkya Dhaname manasa”
……Prema Bhakti sujana Vaatsalyamu Srimad Raama vara Katakshamu

In this verse he is trying to establish the fact that with Sri Rama’s Grace and benedictions and proper unity of body and mind, if one tries to attain the lord by true meditation, i.e. Bhakti with Rakti, The lord would concede both material and eternal bliss, which Thyagaraja points out as Saarupya Sowkya Dhanam.
In another composition:

“ama neepai thanaku prema bodu ….Manasu neepadamunee
koravinunee peerulakee noorura tanapai idi nee karuneera dinamu
eeveyanimaatalu tanapai anaga ivina bhusanamulu”

In this he portrays that his mind is always immersed in the divine thought of Sri Rama, which he considers as the real treasure of his life. He has not remembered the Lord only at the time of his adversity but even when he is experiencing joy or material prosperity his mind is in the divine thought although his physical form experiences the mirth and joy. Through the following verse he explains the highest philosophical ideal that as a stoic he is not concerned about pain or pleasure but he has longing only in realising the Absolute or the Para Brahmam.The verse is as under:

Bhoghanu Bhavaulandu Baguga Buddhi nee endu
Thyagarajuni hridaya mandu vageesa nanda mandu”

Another significant contribution of Tyagaraja is his Prahlaada Bhakti Vijayam and the Nauka Charitham. These are the natya natakam and shows how far the composer was influenced the Bhakti concept. The devotion of Prahlada a true devotee of Lord Hari (Maha Vishnu) his staunch faith on lord Hari could give him strength to face the demoniac father Hiranya Kasipu and this is due his strong convictions that Lord would rush to rescue his devotee or Bhakta and save them from their foes be it a demon. Similar is the episode of Nauka Charitham in which the Gopis go in a ferry with Lord Krishna enjoying their ride, but at that time there is a hole in the boat, which makes it drown. Now the Gopis are totally helpless. They now appeal to the lord to rescue them from drowning. Herein The Lord shows them the joy in material happiness is just a delusion and the ultimate Truth is the Surrender to the Divinity and he rescues the living being in all their adversities. In the Composition “Pari Palaya, Paripalaya Paripalaya “Thyagaraja asks the Lord Raghunatha to protect him by totally surrendering to him.

Thava Daasoham, Thava daasoham,
Thava dasoham Dasarath

This is another charming Kriti of the great composer where Thyagaraja says to the Almighty that he is the slave or servant of the Lord Sri Rama, the son of king Dasaratha. He entreats the lord to accept him as a loyal ‘Dasan’ and his services. Here Thyagaraja shows that he had cognised Sri Rama’s true form and this is not his mortal form of Rama but he is the Incarnation of Mahavishnu who had protected the true devotees like Gajendra, Vaali, Jatayu, Prahlada and other sages and munis, and pleads mercy by surrendering himself to the Lord who is expounder of Vedas and Aagamas and he has strong conviction that Rama would protect him in the composition” Paahi mam Hare Mahanubhava

Raghava Pahi yanutsu needu padamu paadithi
Paahi Rama yanutsu Parama padamu vedithi
Pahi Rama yanuthsu Dhyana parudha nythini
Pahi Thyagaraja vinutha Bhakthudaina

In these expressions Thyagaraja expresses the total surrender to the Lord Rama. We can recall the Christian hymns which sings “Take my life and let them move at the impulse of Thy love “ One can hardly find any distinction between a saint and the monk Both of them are totally engrossed in the devotion and believes that it is the Lord who concedes the Samrajyam or Heaven or Moksha and easy way to attain this salvation is through Bhakti. This Thyagaraja had experienced all through his own life and thus the Compositions evidence the Swanubhuthi or self-experience of the bliss of the Grace of the deity Sri Rama on the composer. The sentiment of devotion takes manifold forms, and the main emotion of Bhakti is also made up of a variety of allied feelings, which appear as bellows of the sea and go to strengthen the main emotion. Ways of worshipping the supreme are myriad. Srimad Bhagavata mentions nine important lakshanas (aspects) of devotion.

Narada, in his Bhakti Sutras, says that though Bhakti is a single emotion, it takes eleven forms. They are the form of attachment to the several aspects of the Lord as well as attachment to him in different capacities or roles. Of these eleven forms mentioned by Narada, his pupil Prahlada mentions it in the Bhagavata, as we say Puja or Archana, Sakhya, Smarana, Dasya and Atmanivedana. Tyagaraja exemplified all the forms of Bhakti in his compositions expressed richness of Rama Bhakti.

Nine kinds of Bhakti Title of song Raagam (Raga) Taalam (rhythm)
Sravanam Ramakatha Madhyamavati Aadi
Keertanam Inta soukhya Kapi Aadi
Smaranam Sreepate Nagaswaravali Aadi
Padasevanam Raghunayaka Hamsadwani Aadi
Archanam Ennagamanasuku Neelambari Aadi
Vandanam Vandanamu Sahaana Aadi
Dasyam Banturiti Hamsanadam Aadi
Sakhyam Etavuna Edukulakambodi Aadi
Atmanivedanam Raamibhirama Darbar Misra Chapu

Like the harmonious mixture of milk and honey he stands supreme in explaining the importance of Bhakti and music to all musicians musicologists and the public by creating the right mixture of these two-Music and Bhakti, in formulating the path of worshiping god and at the same time removing the differences and hatred amongst the music fraternity.

Eelaghani vivarimpalenu chaala swaanubhava vedyame” (Ramabhakti samrajya in raaga Suddha bangala)

In the song Ramabhakti samrajyam St. tyagarja says that you will get immense pleasure (Brahmanandam) by mere darshan of those enlightened persons who immersed themselves in the ocean of Rama Bhakti. One by him self-only can experience this, and which cannot be explained. Thus Tyagaraja had attained complete union with Lord Rama by experiencing Rama’s qualities by posting himself in the place of Kousalya as mother of Rama, Viswamitra, as admirer of Rama, Sita as wife of Rama, Bharata and Lakshmana for admiring his Elegance, Vibheeshana and Sugreeva who got compelete protection from Rama. If one wants to enjoy the Ramabhakti of Tyagaraja, one has to experience it only through Swanubhuty i.e. self-experience and not by explanations. Let us get ourselves the Eternal Bliss by immersing in the ocean of Rama Bhakti Samrajya, as experienced by St. Tyagaraja.