Not all the years of watching Thyagaraja Aradhana on TV prepared us for the sheer grandeur and mesmerising atmosphere at Thiruvaiyaru on Pushya Bahula Panchami, the day the saint-composer attained samadhi.
The festival pandal, set up as usual in front of Thyagaraja’s samadhi this year, as always, was filled to capacity not just with the scores of Carnatic musicians but also rasikas. The audience spilled on to outside the pandal and were standing 10-deep in some spots.
Attending the Thyagaraja Aradhana this year was the fulfilment of a long-time wish. Apart from the electrifying atmosphere, it was the village fair-like (thiruvizha) atmosphere that attracted our attention. A school-going resident of Thiruvaiyaru, Jagadeeswari, had drawn a beautiful portrait of Thyagaraja in place of a kolam in front of her house. That was the kind of attachment the locals
have to the festival.
Though we thought we were early birds at the Aradhana pandal, we were shocked to find that it was already overflowing when we arrived. People, sitting on the soft sand spread on the ground, were busy taking selfies and videos with their phone.
Another surprise element was that I had expected to be surrounded by Carnatic music aficionados from Tamilnadu. But I found many groups talking animatedly in Telugu; another family was speaking in Kannada; then came many Malayalees.
I was hoping nobody would see my jaw drop.
“I have come from Chennai and this relative of mine has come from Bangalore for the Aradhana,” said one of the rasikas I struck up a conversation with at the pandal.
And then it dawned on me: They were all united by their devotion to the great saint, Thyagaraja. And why was it that he was special that he drew people in droves to the Aradhana festival? His songs were not just music but they were liberally coated with his bhakti towards Lord Rama.
This was further impressed on me during the rendering of the Pancharatna Kritis (the five gems of Thyagaraja kritis), as many raiskas could be found singing along. A Tamil daily had specially published and distributed a booklet containing the five kritis.
Using this booklet, many joined the chorus – never mind that they were pushed and pulled in the crowd outside the pandal or that they could barely keep their balance in the rush.
I found a small group sitting on the side of the samadhi (which had its collapsible gate shut) and singing along. They did not have a view of the Thyagaraja idol or the singers in the middle. Yet, they sang with gusto.
At the end of the rendering, one of the male members of the group said in all earnestness, “Keep the kritis booklet safe. We will use it next year.”
Apparently, one year is not enough to pay your tribute to the saint-composer.