Tuesday 9 August 2011

Bengaluru Nagarathnamma

Tyaga Brahman  Temple : A Temple for The Soul of Tyagaraja in Thiruvayyaru
January is the month when Thiruvayyaru (holy land of five rivers) in Thanjavur district of Tamil gets swarmed by musicians and music lovers seeking to pay homage to the memory of saint-poet Tyagaraja. Exactly one hundred and sixty years ago— January 11, 1847 to be precise— the singer of a thousand songs ended his pilgrimage of Rama Bhakti Samrajya to join the stars that added a  new splendour to our southern skies. The soul of Tyagaraja blesses musical devotees who assemble in their thousands at Thiruvayyaru.
Today, the annual Aradhana has become more a ritual for people wishing to be seen and heard (and televised!) than a pilgrimage to a land of divine music. If Tyagaraja’s  soul were to compose a hymn for one mahaanubhava  to convey his vandanam, the person most qualified is one whose name is almost totally forgotten by the musical fraternity.
The name Bengaluru Nagarathnamma- would it ring a bell for today’s musicians?- does not evoke reverential memories in musical circles. How many old-timers would recall the name of that child prodigy in music and dance who gave up her all to get the Samadhi of Tyagabrahma, who verily was Naadabrahmananda, come up on the banks of Cauvery at Thiruvayyaru ?
How sad is it that in all the dust and din of Suvarna Karnataka celebrations in Bengaluru (Bangalore), not a word was heard about Nagarathnamma, who lent lustre to the twin arts of classical music and dance and then, by divine injunction, dedicated her life to erecting the Tyagaraja memorial.
Nagarathnamma began her music training at the age of five in Mysore, under Giribhatta Thimmayya Sastri, and gave her first concert at the age of nine. Musicians and music lovers applauded her performances at Veena Seshanna’s house and at Jayachamaraja Wadiyar Darbar in Mysore.
Nagarathnamma was born to Puttalakshmi Ammal and Subba
Rao, an advocate, who deserted the family when the girl was only 18 months old. Her mother, bearing the brunt of a turbulent life, nurtured young Nagarathnamma first at Mysore and later moved to Bengaluru, thanks to jealous people around, who poisoned the mind of her guru to stop her training.
It was an uphill task for Puttalaxmi ammal to bring up young Nagarathnamma as a musician. She approached
Violin Vidwan Muniswamiappa to tutor her daughter in music and sought the help of Mysore Desikachar for her Bharatanatyam lessons. By 13, Nagarathnamma became an accomplished artiste in both music and dance.
When Nagarathnamma was just 14, her mother died but by then she was an established artiste and stalwarts like  Thirukkodikaval Krishna Iyver, Ramanathapuram Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar, Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer, and Violin Vidwan Tiruchi Govindaswamy Pillai took her under their wings, and she established her mastery over the nuances of music under there maestros.
That earned her the title of Gana Kala Visharadha Vidya Sundari. Shrimati Bannibai, the well-known exponent of Harikatha (musical discourses) in Kannada and Telugu,
came close to Nagarathnamma. Bannibai later penned her  biography wherein she had recorded that Nagarathnamma rendering of Tyagaraja  kritis enthralled huge audiences, in respect of rendition, Bhava and Bhakti.
The Maharaja of Kochi was so overwhelmed by her music and Sanskrit diction that he presented her with a gold Thoda and salver. The number of medals and Thodas she had received from music lovers is countless, according to the biographer.
Bannibai writes that Nagarathnamma, besides providing incessant feasts for the ears of music lovers, spent money and time to satiate the hunger for food of the poor people with anna dhanam at her home everyday.
After Mysore and Bangalore, Nagarathnamma moved to Chennai, which was the home of all top musicians of that era. Here she got in touch with Thirupayanam Panchapakesa Sastri, a Harikatha Kalakshebham expert, and obtained a photograph of Tyagaraja Swami and began to worship Tyaga Brahmam.
The saint-poet occupied her mind in her waking hours as much as in her dreams. In one such dream, she saw an elderly person asking her to build a temple with her vast wealth. It came again after a few days.
She asked Bidaram Krishnappa, a renowned musician, what the dream meant. He told her that it was none other than Tyaga Brahmam himself. She should build the temple at Thiruvayyaru.
Tyagaraja Swami  samadhi at that time was desolate and forlorn. The place was filled with wild growth of plants and bushes with snakes crawling and wild animals roaming.
Then and there, Nagarathnamma decided to use her wealth to create an everlasting monument.
On October 27, 1921, she got a foundation laid for the samadhi. In the arduous task that followed, rasikas (music lovers) including T. A. Ramachandra Rao, Srirangam Sundaram Ayyar and C.V. Rajagopalachariar, played a major role in making Amma’s dream a reality, befitting the greatness of the sage.
Tyaga Brahman  temple, the brainchild of Bengaluru Nagarathnamma, was consecrated (Kumbhabhishekam performed) at Thiruvayyaru, also hailed as Panchanatha Kshetra, on Saturday, January 3, 1925, seventy eight years after the sage, who lived at Unjavritha  attained what spiritual elders called Advaita Siddhi.
Every year Nagarathnamma moved residence from Chennai to Thiruvayyaru to celebrate the Saint’s festival for six days by arranging music concerts, discourses, etc. Later she got the Samadhi extended by not only giving away all her wealth but also by visiting the houses of Bhaktas in bullock carts seeking their assistance.
As an aspiring musician in my teens, I had the good fortune of having Nagarathnamma as my guru, because my family had moved to Thiruvayyaru during the evacuation days of 1941-1942. A neglected place then,
Thiruvayyaru was without most basic amenities and  visitors to the samadhi often had to go without lunch and eat what was provided by good Samaritans, and had to return to nearby towns before nightfall.
My arangetram (first public concert) was performed in the presence of Nagarathnamma. Nagarathnamma attended my marriage reception in 1951 and even sang a song. It was a cherished memory made more poignant by the fact of her death within a year, on May 19, 1952.
I was a child artiste barely nine years old when Nagarathanamma made me sing on the stage during aradhana. It was the most memorable event of my life. 
I even remember the songs I sang: Seethamma Mayamna and Sobillu Sapthaswara. This was the beginning. I made it a habit to go every year pay homage to amma by participating in the utsavam.
Music lovers of the whole country owe Bengaluru Nagarathnamma a deep debt of gratitude. The state of Karnataka should honour her memory at least once a year.
Article by : Janaki Subramaniam
Source: Bhavan's Journal 31 January 2007
To know more about Bhavan's Journal and to subscribe visit: http://www.bj.bhavans.info/

1 comment:

  1. A very useful article...i read somwhere that Italian marbles were used for the walls on which the krits are negraved...did they get the slabs form abroad...pl give more information available...