Tyagaraja clearly did not lay much store by visits to temples. In his ‘Darshanamu Seya’ (Narayana Gowla), he makes fun of the behaviour of the standard temple-goer, whose mind is eternally focussed on external delights. It is no wonder then that he did not go to many shrines.
But what he clearly delighted in were temple processions. There are several songs of his that record his impressions of these events. Perhaps the most detailed among these is ‘Muccata Brahmadulaku Dorakuna’ (Madhyamavati). This song recreates the atmosphere of the Saptasthanam festival of Thiruvaiyaru, an annual event that Tyagaraja participated in all his life. It takes place in April and involves Siva Panchanadeesa/Aiyarappar leaving in a palanquin for the shrines at Thirupazhanam, Thiruchotrutturai, Thiruvedikudi, Thirukandiyur, Thirpoonthuruthi and Thiruneithanam. As the procession moves through each of the villages, the presiding deity of the respective shrine joins Siva Panchanadeesa and by the time Thiruneithanam is reached, there will be seven palanquins, each bearing a deity. The entire proceeding takes as long as 24 hours.
With April being a month when the Kaveri becomes a mere trickle (now it is that way all the time), the riverbed was used as the processional route. There would be plenty of music and in places where a broad sandbar existed, full-length concerts would be held, late at night.
The eminent Harikatha exponent Soolamangalam Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar wrote that Tyagaraja led a bhajana group during the festival. After him, his disciples Umayalpuram Krishna and Sundara Bhagavatars continued the tradition. Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar records a particular year’s procession when the two disciples sang ‘Dorakuna Ituvanti Seva’ (Bilahari). The star singer of the times – Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan, was inspired to then take up ‘Najivadhara’, also a Tyagaraja kriti, in the same raga thereafter. It was clearly an opportunity to demonstrate musical skills and there are records of Tyagaraja having listened to the performances of the composers Anai and Ayya and also of Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan’s father and blessed them.
‘Muccata Brahmadulaku’ begins with Tyagaraja, as he often does, exhorting the women of Thiruvaiyaru to come and see Siva as he goes about, his thoughts ever fixed on Parvati. The song asks the women to shower flowers on the deity and this refers to an important element of the Saptasthanam festival — Poochorital, in which a doll strews petals over the deities. The song goes on to describe the way the procession stops at various places to enable the faithful to make food offerings to Lord Siva.
The last charanam is most significant musically for it describes the grandeur of the bhagavatas performing alapanas in ‘vinta’ (rare) ragas, singing songs and displaying their knowledge of swaras. This is clearly Tyagaraja in the first person, and from the lines we can also see another obsession of his — rare ragas, which merit a separate article by themselves.
If this song describes Siva on the move, ‘Vidhishakradulaku’ (Yamunakalyani) is on Goddess Dharmasamvardhini of Thiruvaiyaru on a Friday evening. In its detailing of the attendant women raising cries of victory, of the Gods hastening to prostrate, the celestial dancers performing, Tyagaraja creates a royal court.
And his Goddess is like a queen — watching the goings on out of the corner of her eye, she, with her necklaces swaying, indulges in a private conversation with Mahalakshmi! Two of his songs on Kovur Sundareswara (‘Kori Sevimparare’ in Thodi and ‘Sundareswaruni Joochi’ in Sankarabharanam) describe the Lord similarly holding court. In his travels too, Tyagaraja manages to be at the various shrines during festivals. In Nagapattinam he sings of Goddess Nilayadakshi witnessing the dance of Siva in ‘Evaru Teliyaka’ (Thodi), a clear reference to the brisk Paravara Taranga Natanam of the deity Sundara Vitanka.
At Srirangam he is on hand to see the Muthangi Seva on Vaikunta Ekadasi day (‘O Rangasayee’ in Khambodi) and also the fast moving Vayyali or horse procession in the month of Chithirai (‘Raju Vedala’ in Desika Thodi). In his ‘Karunajudavayya’ (Saranga) he describes another procession, during an unspecified event, but a rare one nevertheless, in which Namperumal is in the company of the Ubhaya Nachhiyars and the Azhwars. At Kanchi, Tyagaraja is present during the Garuda Seva (‘Varadaraja Ninne Kori’ in Swara Bhushani). And finally, at Tiruvottriyur he is struggling like many of us on a Friday evening, wondering if the Goddess will take notice of him in the general din or just dismiss him as part of it (‘Sundari Ninnandarilo’ in Begada). The joy Tyagaraja experienced in temple processions and festivals comes through in abundance in his kshetra kritis. Clearly, he too was human, like all of us.