If you grew up in South India, chances are that you woke up almost every morning to the strains of Venkateswara Suprabhatham and Thyagaraja Pancharanta Kritis in the voice of the legendary Balamuralikrishna. You would have also been forced to watch the Thyagaraja Aradhana every year on Doordarshan and hear your parents say that would be the ultimate goal for a music lover, to attend the Aradhana at Thiruvaiyaru atleast once in a lifetime. Over a period of time, it sort of gets to you and whether you are trained in Classical music or not, you begin to hold Thyagaraja Aradhana in reverence.
Every year, we would tell ourselves that we should try and plan a trip to Thiruvaiyaru during the Aradhana. This time, while planning our Kumbakonam trip, we happened to check the distance between Kumbakonam and Thiruvaiyaru and then randomly checked the Aradhana dates and to our delight, the date was very close to our Kumbakonam plan and so, the entire tour was planned around the Pancharatna kriti aradhana date, 17th January 2017.
Lost in the magical world of music at Thiruvaiyaru
Thiruvaiyaru is an hour’s drive from Kumbakonam, we hired a cab because the rest of the family with the kids had planned to stay back at Kumbakonam, we started at 7.00 AM and that was too early for the kids. The route took us through rural Tamil Nadu, good roads and green fields, January is one of the most pleasant months to visit Tamil Nadu.
Thyagaraja Swamy’s Samadhi is located at Thiruvaiyaru and the Aradhana is held every year on his death anniversary. This is a tradition started by his disciples and has continued for the last 170 years. It is a 5 day musical event and on the 5th day, the Aradhana culminates with the singing of Pancharatna Krithis, it is called Goshti Ganama, where anybody, can join the thousands of music lovers and sing the Krithis to their heart’s content ! The event takes places on the banks of the Kaveri river.
We reached Thiruvaiyaru a little after 8 AM, the place was already full with music lovers. There were stalls, a food court serving nice coffee and South Indian breakfast, for a change, we did not indulge ! We were too taken in by the scenes, devout Carnatic music lovers all dressed in their traditional best, ready to pay their tribute to the God of Carnatic music.
Free passes are issued at the entrance and the seating is separate for men and women.
It was only 8.15 AM and the event would start only at 9 AM, so we decided to visit the main temple at Thiruvaiyaru, the Panchanatheeswar temple.
Visiting a temple early in the morning when there is no one around is a beautiful feeling, especially when the temple is as ancient as this one. There was absolute silence and serenity, coupled with the morning freshness, we can still feel it, 4 months after the trip !
We walked through the bylanes of Thiruvaiyaru, the entire village was abuzz with activity as the time for the event neared. It was time for the Aradhana to start. A few minutes before 9 AM, the idol of Thyagaraja Swamy was brought to the Aradhana area in a procession.
It was overwhelming to see the devotion people had for Thyagaraja Swamy and his legacy. The idol was taken inside the Aradhana area. Standing outside, we could hear the Harathi bell and at 9 AM sharp, the entire crowd of thousands of people, in one unison began to sing “Jagadhananda karaka”, the first Pancharatna Krithi. We are not trained singers but BMK and M.S.Subbulakshmi renditions of Thyagaraja’s keerthanas were and continue to be our staple music diet, we joined in the Goshti Ganam, half way through, we found ourselves choked with emotion. We’ve attended concerts of all kinds, classical, western, film music but this was something we had never experienced.
Hundreds of people seated under the shelter before the Samadhi, hundreds outside the shelter under the sun, all lost in their own world of Carnatic music.
Young and old, men and women, anybody who knew a word of the Krithis sat down beside each other and sang, nobody felt like a stranger, one thing was common, everybody was immersed in the ocean of music !
There was a group of young men, singing away, they didn’t seem to even realise that there were people around them, their only focus was their “Thalam”, a mother and her daughter, bonding over the musical outing.
Then, we spotted a very heart warming scene, we saw an old lady, she looked like an ordinary villager, not the kind you would expect to know anything about classical music, she had the lyric book in her hand and didn’t seem to know what to do with it. She sat beside a very traditional looking man, the kind you would think would discriminate against such people but he simply take her book, not stopping his rendition, turned the pages to where the current Krithi was in progress and showed her where she could find the words to the song.
In a world filled with discrimination based on class and caste, here was an example of universal brotherhood !
One after the other, Thyagaraja’s gems overflowed from, people sang from their hearts, except us, nobody else was looking around, each one seemed to have built a world of bliss for themselves, “tanmayam”, for a lack of better word to describe the feeling in English, is what we felt.
The last Krithi, was the most awaited one, “Endaro Mahanubhavulu, andariki vandanamulu”, the Krithi suited the situation perfectly, each and every person who sat down to sing in memory of Saint Thyagaraja was a great human being, every one of them deserved salutations !
The event was over in a hour and before the crowd could disperse, we left the place to avoid road blocks. Back in our cab heading towards Kumbakonam, there was one thought playing in our minds, we often rant about how we are losing our cultural roots, how classical music is fading but as long as Thyagaraja Aradhana is alive, our music is not going to leave us, we may spread our wings to all our kinds of culture and music but our roots have been deeply embedded in the sands of Kaveri !
We just had enough time to pick up our stuff in Kumbakonam, give an elaborate thank you speech to our host Mrs.Vijayalakshmi of Mirra Guest house and get set for the next phase of our road trip.
Before we left Kumbakonam, we had to stop to catch a glimpse of the Mahamaham tank where the nectar from Brahma’s pot fell. Once every 12 years, the Mahamaham festival is celebrated in Kumbakonam. We do not know how the place looks during the festival, for the moment, we couldn’t believe this was the most divine tank !
There are small shrines around the tank, we just drove past the tank and stopped for a quick click. We are sure the Mahamaham festival is a sight to behold with lakhs of devotees thronging Kumbakonam to take a holy dip in the tank.
Armed with a big bag of banana chips, we were back on the highway to our next destination.
- Thyagaraja Aradhana usually happens in January-February every year, one can check the dates and other details at this website http://thiruvaiyaruthyagarajaaradhana.org
- Thiruvaiyaru is about 40 kms from Kumbakonam, it is an hour’s drive by car. One can find buses to Thiruvaiyaru from Kumbakonam but we were told they are usually very crowded during the Aradhana days.
- Thiruvaiyaru is a small town, one may not find accommodation, Kumbakonam is the nearest city.
- There are no eateries in Thiruvaiyaru, during the Aradhana, there are a few stalls serving food and beverages.
- In addition to the Thyagaraja Aradhana, one can visit the Thiruvaiyaru temple, Thyagaraja Swamy’s house which has now been converted into a memorial and the Saint composer’s Samadhi on the banks of the Kaveri where the Aradhana is held. We missed visiting the memorial because we did had to get back to Kumbakonam right after the Aradhana.
- Thyagaraja Aradhana is spread over 5 days, the Pancharatna Krithi Goshti Ganam is on the last day.
The content and pictures on this blog are owned by the authors of http://www.highwayonlyway.com and are not available for copying or reproducing elsewhere without any written consent from us.”