Tyagaraja Pancharatna Kritis- The Unparalleled Carnatic Musical Gems

The well-known Tyagaraja Pancharatna kritis- the five group songs, composed by Saint Tyagaraja are rare jewels for not just their beautiful lyrics or for the difficult five ragas of Carnatic music that they are set to, but also for the inherent cosmic beauty contained in the Kritis. The Kritisare basically poems set to musical notes.

An Oil Painting Of Thyagaraja By Naqrayanan Kanhangad

Saint Tyagaraja was born on 4th May 1767, in Tiruvayur district of Tanjavore, Tamilnadu. His father, Rama Brahmam, a Telugu Brahmin, was an erudite scholar, who was proficient in many Hindu texts especially The Ramayana. And maybe it was because of his father’s profound knowledge of the Ramayana or hearing him speak of Lord Rama all the time that Tyagaraja became an ardent devotee of Lord Rama from a very young age. For the young Tyagaraja or Kakarla Tyagabrahmam, as he was first called, Lord Rama was his very breath and his inner soul. Tyagaraja composed around 24,000 songs, most which he wrote in Telugu- the official language of Andhra Pradesh and few in Sanskrit. Of the 24,000 songs written and composed by the Saint, only 700 odd ones have survived over the ages. Tyagaraja mastered the basic nuances of Carnatic vocals before the age of 13. He is also said to have composed his first song- “Namo Namo Raghavaya” in Sanskrit, around that time.

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The Pancharatna Kritis are set to Naata, Goula, Aarabhi, Varali and the Sri ragas of Carnatic music which together are called the Ghanapanchaka. Among the 5 ragas, Naata and Varali are said to be the oldest ragas of the Carnatic music family. All the 5 songs are set in Aadi Taala. The genius Saint has worked wonders with the 5 ragas without ever tampering with the essence of each raga. For example, the Naata raga has this distinctive Swara Stanam- the A in the C scale in the Western classicals, which Tyagaraja ingeniously avoided in his famous composition, Jagadananda karaka, without ever mislaying the basic identity of the raga. And likewise he did work with the other ragas of the 5 kritis but never did tarnish the basic soul of these ragas. He could be rightly called a “Musical Scientist” for having worked numerous experiments with Carnatic ragas for his compositions and most of which were successful too.

The 5 Gems:

It is never easy to give a befitting elucidation to the beautiful poems of the Saint. However this could

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Jagadananda Karaka:

Of the five Pancharatna Kritis, the saint wrote the poem in Sanskrit and composed it in Naata Ragam and set it to Adi Taalam. He wrote the other 4 Kritis in Telegu. In this Kriti, the Saint praises Lord Rama. He says, Rama, the scion of Suryavansha, is like the shining moon among the other Gods. The ever smiling handsome Rama kills the evil that pervades the Universe. The poet says that Lord Rama is worshipped even by the king of the Monkeys (the Vanaras) and the great saints of bygone years. Every line of the Kriti is a eulogy to Lord Rama.

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This Kriti is composed in Gowlairagam and is set to Adi Talam. The great saint probably wrote this poem as repentance for all his faults that he did knowingly or unknowingly. The poet says to his Lord, that he never realized that his Rama resided in all beings and unaware of this fact, he says that he committed many mistakes from when he was very young. The saint says he craved for what others possessed and was forever thinking about making money to live in this world without ever the thought about his God. Tyagaraja asks his Rama, as to who will save him in his last hours on the earth.