An illustrious and devoted disciple of a saint poet Thyagaraja, a prolific composer, a hatha yogi, – these should best describe Srimad Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar.
Venkataramana Bhagavatar was born on February 18, 1781 in Ayyampettai of Thanjavur district in Tamil Nadu to Nannuswamy. He was born as an answer to the prayer of his grandfather Kuppaiyer, to have a grandson bestowed with great musical knowledge. Besides Sourashtram, his mother tongue, he became highly proficient in the languages Telugu and Sanskrit.
Initiation into Music
Right from his childhood, he showed keen interest in music and he trained under his father. His longing for music drove him to Thiruvayyaru to the house of Thyagaraja. Initially, he stood outside Sri Thyagaraja’s house and listened to him singing. However, this was noticed by Thyagaraja who asked Bhagavatar if he would like to learn music from him. Bhagavatar’s joys knew no bounds and for nearly 30 years according to Walajapet tradition, he served his guru with utmost dedication and reverence and became one of the foremost disciples of the saint poet. He would memorize Thyagaraja’s kritis and after returning home, would write down the sahitya and notations.
He was later patronized by the Zamindar of Karvetnagar. By 1854, he appears to have settled down at Walajapet and hence the name, Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar. A portion of his house in Walajapet was set apart as Bhajana Mandiram. He installed a portrait of Thyagaraja here and sang the Seesa Padya in which he mentions that the great saint had been immortalized in his house. He and his son Krishnaswami Bhagavatar revered Thyagaraja and referred to him as “Guruswamulavaru” in their biographies.
Contribution to Music
As a composer
His compositions are of very high standard. His close association with the revered saint Thyagaraja made him a competent composer in Sanskrit and Telugu. He is said to have composed about 2500 kritis. Out of these, about 150 compositions have been traced and only 54 have been published with text and notation. These include tana varnas, pada varnas, swarajathi, tillana and kritis. He used the mudhra “Sri Ramachandrapura Venkataramana”, Ramachandrapura being the Sanskrit name for Ayyampettai.
Rendition of namo namo raghavaaya, headed by Venkataramana Bhagavatar
As a student
Among the Shishya paramparas of Thyagaraja, only the Walajapet School has made an attempt to collect the biographical details about the saint poet. Bhagavatar was instrumental in preserving numerous compositions of his Guru in palm leaf manuscripts for posterity. Through this, we are made aware that Thyagaraja composed three operas – Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam, Nauka Charitram and Sitarama Vijayam.
He was in awe of Thyagaraja’s greatness. As a proof of this, we have some of the following compositions by Venkataramana Bhagavatar:
- Sri Guru Mangalashtakam in Telugu
- Sri Guru ashtakam – dhyana shlokas in Sanskrit
- Sri Kakarlanvaya Ratnashara – Manipravalam in Sanskrit, Telugu and Sourashtram languages
- Adi Guru Ashtottara Panchangam in Telugu
- Gurucharanam bhajare (composed in Shankarabharanam raga)
- Sri Ramabramhamu (composed in Begade raga) and many more!
Bhagavatar attained Mukti on December 15, 1874. His descendents handed over the artefacts of Thyagaraja like Paduka, Tambura, manuscripts, his puja vessels, Rama idol that he worshipped, to Madhurai, which have been preserved by Madhurai Sourashtra Sabha.
Memories from the life of Bhagavatar
The life of Srimad Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar is illustrious of his faith in God and sincere devotion towards Him and his Guru. When Bhagavatar started learning music from Thyagaraja, he was a bit slow in grasping the lessons. So Thyagaraja prayed to Lord Sri Rama and composed “Gnanamosagarada” in Shadvidhamargini Raga to bestow upon Bhagavatar the knowledge of music. It is now widely known that Bhagavatar eventually became an expert musician and was able to record all the kritis in palm leaf manuscripts.
After Bhagavatar had settled in Walajapet, he remained devoted to Thyagaraja. When Thyagaraja visited Walajapet, Bhagavatar requested his Guru to stay with him for 12 days doing bhajans. When he was taken through the procession on the last day, Bhagavatar’s prime disciple Mysore Sadashiva Rao composed the kriti “Thyagarajaswami vedalina” in the raga Todi to record this event.
When Bhagavatar moved to Walajapet, he gifted a Narasimha idol to one of his disciples, Venkatasuri, who in turn, spontaneously composed the kriti “Sri Naraharidarsana Karesi”.
Some of the illustrious students from the Walajapet School, who were instrumental in propagating Thyagaraja’s compositions, were Mysore Sadashiva Rao, Pallavi Ellayyar, Loka Narayana Shastrulu, Kavi Venkata Suri, Munuswamy appa of Bangalore.
Other Famous Musicians to Follow